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Sermon for July 15, 2012

Original Sin or Original Blessing?

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

 “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied.  “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.  “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and the woman heard the LORD God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the LORD God among the trees.  Then the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

 He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”
 “Who told you that you were naked?” the LORD God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”

The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”

 Then the LORD God asked the woman, “What have you done?”

“The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”

Then the LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this, you are cursed
    more than all animals, domestic and wild.
You will crawl on your belly,
    groveling in the dust as long as you live.
And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

 Then the LORD God said to the woman,
“I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy,
    and in pain you will give birth.
And you will desire to control your husband,
    but he will rule over you.”
And to the man God said,
“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
    whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
    All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.
It will grow thorns and thistles for you,
    though you will eat of its grains.
By the sweat of your brow
    will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
    from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
    and to dust you will return.
Genesis 3:1-20

So . . . my mother calls her tax accountant. The accountant is excited. She says to my mother, “Oh I’m glad you called. Your sister is sitting right in front of me. So is your brother and your mother.” Strange coincidences happen all the time right? This one’s not really that unusual. They all use the same accountant. They could all happen to show up at the same time and have a good laugh about it. Here’s what threw my mother off. My mother’s mother -- my grandmother -- has been dead for many years. So I asked my mother, how did grandma get to the accountant’s office? And of all the places for the spirits of the dead to visit, why would grandma choose the accountant’s office? It all started years ago when my uncle talked probate with the accountant. Mid sentence, the account suddenly froze  and started to zone off and stare into the distance. And then her eyes rolled back in her head. My uncle thought she was having a seizure, and when he arose to get some help, she snapped out of it and said that my dead grandmother was now in the room with them. Since then, departed relatives visit regularly at tax appointments. My grandmother and grandfather have talked through the accountant, as well as other relations. I don’t know what to think. When I go to the accountant, I plan to talk about . . . well, taxes. I think this accountant is overstepping her professional boundaries a bit. It says even more about my family that they are willing to stay with this woman. I think they like the visitations from the spirit world. Plus, the woman is a wonder of an accountant.

I am unsure whether the accountant’s behavior is a blessing or a curse. Are her actions helpful or sinful? I can ask that about a lot of people’s behavior, including my own. In my relationships with people, do I bless them with my words and actions, or am I liability? How about our relationship with God? Were we created to be blessings, or do we carry the mark of original sin in us? Is it written into our genetic code that we will always say the wrong things, make the wrong decisions, and alienate ourselves from each other all before we even get out of bed in the morning?

The traditional way of thinking about sin comes from our understanding of the events in the Garden of Eden. God says, don’t eat the fruit of that tree. The snake tempts the woman, the woman tempts the man, the man and the woman eat some fruit, gain knowledge of good and evil and then God punishes the whole bundle of them in an explosion of fury.  And their offspring. And all generations since. And each generation has been passing on the seeds of this rebellion in this fractured world. In Christian theology, we call it original sin – what the Reformer John Calvin called hereditary depravity. Here’s our question for today: do we enter a torn and sinful world as wanton, sin-stained blotches on existence or do we enter the world as good, beautiful, original blessings?

Last week, we took some time to listen to the Bible’s first account of creation. The Bible does not begin with a story of temptation and failure. Scripture opens with splendid, generous, abundant blessing. Each day God creates something and calls it beautiful.  Humans are created with such great possibilities. We are fragile, radiant beings. So, how is it that we humans, the glory of God’s creation, are scarred by the infection of original sin?

If you grew up Catholic, or Evangelical Christian, or in a Calvinist tradition, the assumption of original sin is embedded in you. In these traditions, the evidence of original sin is losing control. Any passion is a loss of control. Lovemaking and any expressions of sexuality are seen as a loss of control. How many of you had to sit through scary religious lectures about the evils of your bodies and how you were all one bad decision away from burning in eternal torment? From the earliest days of Christendom, Christian theologians declared God has no passion. God never loses control. God never has to repent. Unlike us, God is unchangeable, even to the point where, in typical Trinitarian language, theologians declared God the Father did not suffer on the cross with God the son. God relates to corrupted humanity by removing God’s Self from it, sustaining us and judging us all at the same time. It’s called antipatripassionism. The doctrine, as I understand it, says: 1) Passion, the loss of control, causes pain, 2) God does not suffer pain, therefore, 3) God must not experience passion. Our congregational ancestors taught the same thing as they sailed for safety from what they saw as the decadent culture of the day, taming their wild passions while they tamed the wilderness of their new colony. But take out your Bible sometime and scrutinize the texts. The first humans are disobedient to God’s one and only rule – don’t eat the fruit of the tree.  They do just the opposite and get the Lord God really, REALLY upset. In this scene, the Lord God is gratuitous in wrath as much as God was gratuitous in bounty in Genesis 1. However, the doctrine of original sin is not found in any writings of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is certainly not in the first three chapters of Genesis. Look closely at the basis of humanity. It’s not the curse, but the blessing. 

The “original sin” is not so much a rebellion but rather laziness, passing the buck, blaming the snake, and not owning up to responsibility. In other words, we are originally blessed, but for some reason we can’t handle it. It seems that in the past 10,000 years humans learned something rather well, and it is not a reflection of our original blessing. We have times when human ugliness shows through, much to our embarrassment.

We still look at other people who are different than us with fear. We judge others. We protect ourselves from “them.” We talk about “those people” but fail to think about how we function in the system.

Instead of celebrating and being gentle to our bodies we are hard on them, working them long hours, depriving them of sleep, putting all kinds of foreign substances in them and otherwise wearing them out before their time.

Instead of emphasizing the healing of the whole people of God, the whole earth, we want our own personal salvation, and our own piece of the economic pie, and we want it now, even if two-thirds of the world must suffer to support our selfish standard of living

Our desire to experience ecstasy and the joy of sexuality turns on itself and we use the blessing of sexuality to sell cars, and boats, and cosmetics, and of course, Viagra.
The opening chapters of Genesis remind me that yes, we make mistakes, and yes, God has a different plan for the world. Original blessing is the basis what it means to be human.

What if we took this idea of original blessing seriously? What happens when we begin to understand ourselves as originally blessed, rather than originally cursed? How much better might we feel about ourselves?

What if instead of being suspicious about our bodies, we welcome our bodies and we treat each other with gentleness?

What if the word “humility” no longer mean despising of one’s self? The word humility and human come from the same root – hummus. It actually means dirt. Humility literally means to befriend one’s earthiness.

What if instead of trying to control and dominate our relationships, we become ready to experience and celebrate the ardor of life?

What if instead of regarding humans as sinners, we regard ourselves as those who can choose to create or destroy?

So, which is it? Are we originally blessed or originally cursed? Fred Craddock, a well known teacher and preacher, was driving through Tennessee some years ago. He stopped at a restaurant for a meal, and he was intrigued as one man went from table to table greeting everyone. When the man came to Craddock and learned he was a minister, the man insisted on telling a story. The man had been born in the mountains not far from where they sat. His mother was not married when he came into this world. In that time and culture, the mother and her son were scorned. The boy grew up feeling the love of his mother, but also the contempt of the townsfolk. At recess, his classmates would exclude him, and he learned to keep to himself in order to avoid getting teased. At age 12 the boy took up going to church on his own. A new minister had come to the church near his house. The boy would slip into the back row just as the services began, and leave before it was over so that no one would ask him, “What’s a boy like you doing here.”

However, one Sunday he so wrapped up in the service that he forgot to slip out. Before he could quietly exit, he felt the big hand of the minister on his shoulder, light and gentle. The preacher looked at him and asked, “Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?” The boy’s heart sank, and perhaps his pain showed on his face. But then the preacher answered, “Wait a minute. I know who you are. The family resemblance is unmistakable . . . You are a child of God.” With those words, he patted him on the back and added, “That’s quite an inheritance. Go, and claim it” The boy was now an old man greeting people in a restaurant. He told Craddock, “That one statement literally changed my whole life.” The man’s name was Ben Hooper and he elected the governor of Tennessee -- twice.

Do we hurt others, live by our compromises, and forget some of the important things?
    Absolutely.
Do we take what God created as good, and manipulate it for our own gain?
    Of course we do.
Do we suffer the consequences of the others' bad decisions?
    Yes, we do.

Are we the bearers of hereditary depravity, cursed and rejected by God? All I can say is this, I know who we are. The family resemblance is unmistakable. We are the children of God. We bear the beautiful image of God. Our legacy, and our potential, is exceedingly good. Now go and claim it.

Sources:
“Original Sin or Original Blessing” by The Rev. Rod Frohman
Original Blessing,  by Matthew Fox.
“Making Sense of Sin” by The Rev. Ricky Hoyt.
“An Original Theology: Creation and Matthew Fox” by Michael D. Obrien.
“Exceedingly Good” by Rev. Bruce Southworth.
“Original Sin” at Wikipedia.
“Puritans” at Wikepedia.
God: A Biography, by Jack Miles.

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