Posted on Mon, Apr 9, 2012
Rev. Dr. Merritt's Sermon for February 26, 2012
Places, Places Everyone
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
February 26, 2012 – Lent 1
I grew up in Florida and I have a profound respect for snakes. The first encounter I remember with one of them was in a public park where my extended maternal family was gathered for a picnic. My aunt Sheila, who is only eight years older than I am, and I were on a swing when suddenly she began to scream, “Snake! Snake!” Several of the men, including my father, came running over with limbs and knives and whatever weapons they could pick up and they killed the snake. Most of the family considered them heroes. I felt sorry for the snake. Years later while I was working at Tampa Bay Academy I encountered another snake. Just as I began to sit down in the bathroom this little tiny creature came slithering past my feet. I leapt up suddenly and almost knocked the door down on the way out of it, pulling up my pants later. What a sight! So imagine Eve taking an afternoon stroll around the biblical garden of Eden when suddenly she encounters not just a snake, but one that talks to her. God’s divine stage is set as the director calls out, “Places, Places everyone.” Would you pray with me?
God we thank you for the many ways you teach us. Show us your ways again this morning, even through the lives of snakes, we pray. AMEN.
Episcopal Divinity School Professor Gale Yee writes, “…the story of Eve and Adam has been pivotal in legitimating a long history of woman’s subordinate status and symbolization as evil…” It is very interesting to me that this story is generally interpreted as Eve being alone with the serpent. However, when we look carefully at the text we realize that Adam was with her the whole time, including the moment when she is involved in this conversation with the snake. Remember that phrase, “She gave some to her husband WHO WAS WITH HER. And, he says nothing to the contrary. He takes the fruit from her and he eats it. Let’s reframe the story right here at the beginning. This is not a story about the woman being tempted. It is about a man and a woman being tempted and both of them giving in to temptation. Those are the real facts of the story.
Now men, you know I love you so let me just say that I am aware of my intent and my potential impact here. Like so many of us are known to do, Adam takes no responsibility for his actions at all and immediately begins to blame the woman. . In his Queer Bible Commentary, article, Michael Carden points out that “many centuries of male exegesis have followed the man in blaming the woman and taking license to engage in astonishing misogynistic vilification. In so doing they have followed the man’s footsteps, continuing the process of subordination initiated when the man named the women”. To take Carden’s thesis a step further, we all know that women are not the only ones whose lives have been impacted by this story. Churches and religious institutions for thousands of years have oppressed people with this thing they call the “doctrine of original sin.” It brings about a false concept of an angry God watching and waiting to punish for being the people God created us to be. Perhaps one word of good news this morning is that we can liberate ourselves from that kind of false doctrine as we embrace this model we call liberation theology. In Liberation Theology, this business about a talking snake and human committing a sin by eating of a tree has different implications for us. It is about shared responsibility for decisions shared by all parties involved. It is not, however about shame and blame and oppression that has followed from Eve all the way through to this generation of women and outsiders.. The doctrine of original sin has no place in liberation theology thinking. Sin is a social issue, so when reflecting on sin, the biblical story that comes to mind for Liberation Theology is the story of Cain and Abel (Cain killing his brother) not the story of Eve eating some fruit. While I’m at it, let me just lay it out there that using a story of two men who committed sin as the model for original sin certainly would have been challenging, and, in fact, would never have happened for the “Fathers” of our faith.
The reality of sin is about people’s separation from God and from one other. A result of that separation is inhumanity among humans. It’s about human cruelty towards one another. It is about those with power oppressing others with that power. Here is the bottom line; sin is about those behaviors that separate us from one another and build walls between us and each other and by doing so, separate us from and build walls between us and God.
The gospel reading this morning sets up the practice of lent perfectly for us as it presents Jesus as both one who is tempted by sin and as one who overcomes temptation. I love what my colleague The Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins wrote about Lent this week. He says, “Lent is for us a liturgical journey toward renewal (Spring, Easter, Resurrection) and empowerment (Pentecost) so that we can move forward in ministry, mission, and outreach (Ordinary Time). We will sometimes be troubled by doubts, regrets, fears (demons) but can be assured that the “better angels of our natures” can prevail and there is important work for us to do.”
So, my sisters and brothers, we have many participants ready to play a role. We have the story of ancient couple that we call Adam and Eve; both of them. We have a talking serpent, some would call the Devil who tempted them and tempted Jesus and continues to tempt us. We have Jesus who both endured temptation and overcame it. And we have ourselves as active participants in the fabric of Lent 2012.
What will you make of it? How will you use it? Let me make a few brief suggestions.
1. Get to know God. Through whatever means necessary, do whatever you need to do to learn and know more about God this Lent.
2. Get to know you. Take an honest assessment of where you are in your own spiritual and behavioral development.
3. This is the hard one. Take responsibility for your own actions, and for the consequences thereof. Avoid the temptation to blame them on someone who is weaker, someone who is long gone, someone who is less powerful.
4. Take on the role model of Jesus who was tempted in every way that you are tempted, and overcame temptation.
My prayer for all of us this season is that along with all these other players, we will take our place in the fabric of the people of God, too. I pray that we will find the courage necessary to conquer our own demons, difficult as they might be. I pray that through this practice all of us together will move further along the path toward living with Jesus every moment of every day of every month of every year …you know what I mean, an on out through eternity.
Places! Places, everyone! God bless you. AMEN.
First Reading Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 Jim East
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’ Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Here ends the reading.
Thanks be to God.
February 26, 2012
*Gospel Reading Mark 1:9-15 Barb Petersen
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
The gospel of Christ.
Praise to You Lord Jesus Christ.