God the Builder

 Inspired by 2 Samuel 7:1-17

So, since last week’s reading it looks like we’ve skipped a lot of material but really, in the grand scheme of things, we’ve only skipped a few major events. Last week we read about the conception of the prophet Samuel and he did indeed grow up to become one of the greatest prophets of the Bible. He anointed their first king, Saul, which went horribly wrong! I mean, Saul was a real piece of work! In Saul’s defense, it’s pretty clear that Saul was suffering from some mental health challenges. When it was clear that Saul was not going to lead God’s people the way they had hoped, Samuel anoints a new king while Saul was still on the throne mind you! This book is like a season of Game of Thrones! To add insult to injury, this new king was just a boy. Well, just a boy who can slay giants but that’s besides the point. Saul eventually commits suicide and that boy then grew up to become the ruler we now know as King David. Was David an upgrade from Saul? Absolutely not! He turns out to be just as bad but thankfully we don’t even have to get into any of that because today’s passage is from the beginning of David’s reign, before the plethora of bad life choices ensued.

Here, in these first few chapters of 2 Samuel, we get to enjoy the young and naïve King David, a king with all the hopes and dreams ahead of him that he could possibly imagine. And with that in mind, in walks the prophet Nathan, stage left, into this scene with a message from God like no other. This is the prophecy of all prophecies and we get the privilege to watch this scene play out from the audience. So, David begins a conversation with the prophet Nathan by telling him that he’d like to build a house for God. For a little background on this idea, you see, their worship life had centered around the Tabernacle, which was a portable, large but portable, worship space for God, which included the Ark of the Covenant, remember that big gold chest from Raiders of the Lost Ark. That chest and that portable worship space were thought of to be the closest you could get to God on Earth. So, wherever the Tabernacle went, God went and vice versa—or at least, that’s what they believed.

So, David thinks that it’s high time that God got a temple of God’s very own. A central and permanent place for God to dwell and watch over God’s people. After everything God had been through with them, David figured God deserved this. Which, if you think about it, is kinda arrogant in and of itself on David’s part but let’s move on. Nathan tells David to do whatever he wants to, probably thinking that everything else that David has done has been blessed by God and prospered so why not, build God a house. However, that night, Nathan gets a visit from the almighty, and God says no. And if you read between the lines here, it’s almost as if God is doing everything possible to not be offended by this idea! Again, David is young and naïve and a bit egotistical, and so, maybe God keeps that in mind and chooses not to flip out too badly. What God does do is remind David of a couple things. One, God has never needed a permanent residence before. And two, God has never once asked for one.

Then God launches into a monologue of all the things that God has done and will do: “I took you from the pasture; I have been with you every step of the way; I have eliminated all your enemies; I will make your name great; I will provide a place for my people; I will plant them; I will protect them; I will give them rest; I will make a dynasty of you; I will raise up your children; I will establish their kingdom; I will be their father; I will discipline them; I will establish this throne forever.” The key word in all that is forever but we’ll get to that in a minute. Before that however, did you notice where the focus was in this monologue of God’s? That right, it was on God. I lost count of how many times God used the pronoun I! This reading began with David saying what he was going to do and God’s response was, “That’s cute. But let me briefly remind you of what I have done and what I plan to do.” David thought he was the builder of this story, and God was there to tell him that, no, God is the builder, always has been, and always will be. And you’d do well to remember that, little David.

Believe it or not, this passage has been thought of by scholars and theologians for millennia as the lynchpin that the entire Biblical narrative hinges upon, for both Jews and Christians alike. Scholar Tony Cartledge put it this way, “This chapter is the ideological and theological climax of the books of Samuel, as well as of the entire Deuteronomistic History. All that follows is an extended denouement.” This is what draws and binds all the strands of the overall narrative together. Why? It’s because of that one little word, forever. You see, this was written long after the rise and fall of King David, it was written long after the rise and fall of the kingdom itself in fact. And yet, the author believed that somehow, God’s promise to establish David’s throne forever, would still be fulfilled, even if all the external evidence seemed to prove otherwise! The fact that they would even write any of this down, knowing how the kingdom fell, is a testament to their faith in a God who was a masterful builder, so masterful, that God can build anything out of anything, even out of nothing.

My family and I are hooked on a few HGTV shows. One of our favorites is Home Town. It follows a couple who is trying to revitalize their small Mississippi town one house at a time. They are truly masterful house restorers. The husband is known for his carpentry work and he always ends up in some abandoned barn or shed, and when I say abandoned I mean abandoned for like a hundred years! We’d pass by them and just see trash and a demolition site but not this guy, he sees treasure each and every time he goes to one of those abandoned barns, leaves with a truck load of old wood, takes it to his shop, and makes some of the most beautiful wood pieces you’ve ever seen! It’s truly astonishing what he is able to see, when most of us would just see trash, or at most, something that was once beautiful but is no more.

God is in the process of building something bigger, something grander, than our tiny little minds could ever comprehend. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should just sit on our hands and let God do all the building! No, we have a part in this too, we have a responsibility to put on our own tool belts and be ready for whatever God needs us to do, co-workers with God, side by side! But if this chapter tells us anything, it's that God has never stopped building for our future, no matter how hard it may be for us to recognize. Because you see, when God says forever, God means forever! Don’t mind the dust and ashes that you may be sitting in! God is still building! You see, they didn’t know this, but they had faith that God could somehow fulfill God’s promise of forever. And oh boy did God ever! Because one of David’s children, many generations after, would become royalty like the world had never seen, and would use that royal influence to form this world into something a little more like it was intended to be. And that work, still isn’t finished yet, that same work continues—because God never stops building. Never. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Beautiful Things

 Inspired by Exodus 32:1-14

Last week, you and Sara Wilson read the story of the first Passover, when God saved the Israelites from the Pharaoh and a lifetime of slavery. They then escaped Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and ended up in the desert wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. They eventually find themselves at the base of Mount Sinai, but not before a few key events had already taken place between the story of the Passover and today’s story. In between that time they had been fed with manna and quail, they got water from a rock, God saved them from an invading army, they then arrive at the base of Mount Sinai where God gives Moses the Ten Commandments as well as instructions on a wide variety of topics like slavery, human violence, animals and property, and social and religious matters. Moses then comes down the mountain, gives them all these commandments and instructions, and makes a covenant with God that they will obey them all. Moses then goes back up the mountain and gets a truckload of more teachings, mostly around the construction of the Tabernacle, which was basically a portable worship space, and even instructions on building the chest, or Ark of the Covenant, which you will know from the first Indiana Jones movie!

It is at this point of the narrative that we jump in because Moses was up on that mountain downloading all these blueprints from God for a long time, God must have had really bad WiFi up there because Moses ending up being there for 40 days! But the Israelites down below didn’t know that, we as the reader know that but they didn’t. So, as we humans often do, they got restless and impatient. And this wasn’t new behavior for them. Before God fed them with manna and quail they accused Moses of leading them out to the desert to die! And God’s response was not punishment, though that would have been my response if I were God, but no, God instead fed them. This time around, they get so impatient that they asked for Aaron, Moses’ brother, to make them some gods to lead them, and by asking Aaron it also sounds like they’re looking for some new human leadership as well because they’ve seen neither hide nor hair of God or Moses for who knows how long! What is very surprising about this turn of events is that it occurs after they had experienced so much with both God and Moses at this point! And yet, they turn on them both.


Now, like any Bible story, there are a lot of different ways we could go with this, as it’s such a rich story ripe with lessons. But when I read this story as I began to prepare for this sermon, there was a detail that really struck me, one that I hadn’t noticed before. Many a sermon has been preached about sin using this story, and that will be the basis of this sermon too but maybe a little more nuanced than normal. So, the detail that really stuck out to me was this, the jewelry. Did you catch mention of the jewelry when I read it? Now I remembered that Aaron asked them to gather their gold for the calf but I never noticed that the gold they gathered was their jewelry. Earrings to be precise! The author wrote that Aaron said, “’Take out the gold rings from the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took out the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron who collected them and…made a metal image of a bull calf.”

Now, why do I find that significant? I find it absolutely fascinating that they gathered those beautiful things, things that held value to them, that they adorned themselves with, to commit one of the biggest sins recorded in the Bible. And that’s no exaggeration. This sin, the sin of the golden calf, was thought of by Jewish theologians over the past few millennia, as thee sin, the chief sin of God’s people, even worse than the sin of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the sin that got them kicked out of Eden! Yeah, that bad! And if you think about it it makes sense. At least Adam and Eve could blame it on a snake or their naivete. But in this story of the golden calf, there was no snake to blame, and not only did they know their God well by this point in their history, but they had also just experienced God’s majestic rescuing from the hands of the Egyptians. Not to mention the fact that they had just made a covenant with God claiming that they would adhere to the Ten Commandments as well as all those other instructions! They had run out of excuses. This, hurt God far worse than any forbidden fruit incident. But let us return to the jewelry.

It makes you wonder doesn’t it, that as all those men and women were removing their earrings, none of them stopped to think how ironic it was that they were offering up something of beauty and value in order to commit the most grievous of sins. I mean, it’s one thing to get impatient with God right, we all do, we the people of this current pandemic are now masters of being impatient with God! But to commit a sin the way they did, I mean this was so premeditated, with plenty of time to reconsider. You don’t just collect pounds of gold, melt it down, and form a calf in the blink of an eye! No, this took time, and at no time did anyone think that was a bad idea. Not even Aaron, Moses’ own brother! Wow! To be fair, maybe some of them did reconsider, but were too afraid to speak up. Whatever the case, the deed was done and we are left with this sobering account of the sin of all sins committed by God’s own beloved people.

So, a common question that preachers are asking their congregations today is, “What are the golden calves that we create today?” And it’s a valid and worthy question to be asking. But you know me, that’s just too easy. The reason why the jewelry, the earrings, caught my attention, was because it caused me to ask, “What are the things that we value today, that we adorn ourselves with, that we then turn into sin?” Especially without even realizing that we’re doing it! Take, for example, pride. Pride isn’t inherently sinful. We adorn ourselves with pride for our country, for our heritage, for the color of our skin, for our gender, for our sexuality, for our children, all good and wholesome things that aren’t inherently evil. But how quickly that pride can come at the exclusion of others, can’t it! I was recently talking with my dad about how Hitler came to power in Germany, because apparently that’s what children and parents talk about these days. Anyway, we talked about how their pride for their country and their heritage was warped into something ugly, or as I’d put it, something sinful.

I’d love to hear the examples that you come up with. What are other things that we adorn ourselves with, that we value, and turn into something sinful? There’s a bit of a teaser for this Wednesday’s Bible discussion! For now, I just can’t leave you there. I can’t leave you thinking about sin! Because there’s an even more powerful act at work here that must be proclaimed and celebrated. For those of you who have attended my Ash Wednesday services of the past few years, know that our last song for today is one of my favorite songs to use on that night. It’s called Beautiful Things. And though it’s not Ash Wednesday, I couldn’t help but think of this song. It proclaims and celebrates God’s ability, no, more than ability, God’s willingness to make beautiful things out of things that we certainly don’t find beautiful—our sin, our pain, our loneliness, our anger—you name it, God can make something beautiful out of it. Even if it’s you, your very being, your very existence, that you don’t find beautiful.

But that’s not our next musical selection, because, well, I’m a Lutheran pastor and we Lutheran pastors can’t just be all good news. We are trained to also acknowledge the brokenness around us, especially when we are at fault for that brokenness. So, this next hymn is a wonderful, if not alternative version, of a familiar hymn we’d usually hear during Lent called Our Father, We Have Wandered. But have no fear, Beautiful Things is where we will end, because God’s willingness to transform us, and our deeds, into something beautiful is never-ending. Thanks be to God. Amen.

We are the Dreamers of Dreams

 Inspired by Genesis 37 & 50

“We are the music makers,

    And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

    And sitting by desolate streams; —

World-losers and world-forsakers,

    On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers

    Of the world for ever, it seems.”

Those are the opening lines of Arthur O'Shaughnessy’s nineteenth-century poem Ode. In it, O’Shaughnessy explores hopes and dreams, past, present and future, and our own agency in it all, or lack thereof. Not unlike our Bible story that we have today from the thirty-seventh chapter of Genesis. Since last week we have skipped quite a few chapters, too many for me to sum up in detail. We skipped the rest of Abram’s narrative, all of Isaac’s, and most of Jacob’s. Suffice it to say, what we’ve skipped is one dysfunctional family story after another. It’s probably why we love these characters so much and how they have stood the test of time for the past few millennia. They are indeed relatable. Today, we focus on Joseph and his relationship with his brothers.

There is a lot we could talk about from this story. The Joseph narrative takes up more of Genesis than any other narrative. We could talk about forgiveness, family systems, jealousy, betrayal, favoritism, just to name a few topics. However, what I’d like to focus on is the power of dreams. And when I say dreams, I could just as easily say hopes, as I don’t just mean the kinds of dreams that we have when we sleep, but also of what we dream of during our waking hours as well. The hopes and dreams that can just as quickly lead us to despair as they can perseverance. Though Joseph’s dreams came during his sleep, they were representative of something larger at work in his family, not to mention the entire region. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a closer look at the story itself.

The story gets kicked off with a dream that Joseph had in his sleep. When he shares this dream with his brothers, to them it sounds more like a nightmare. Because in Joseph’s dream, his brothers end up bowing down to Joseph. Now, this is significant because in the ancient world, being the first-born was everything! The first-born got the inheritance, became the new head of the household when the father dies. So, for Joseph to imply that things would actually be the reverse in their family, was nothing short of insulting at best. Insulting to his brothers, his father, to their very way of life! Now, we could go on about what or who was the real culprit here in the disintegration of Joseph’s relationship with his brothers, surely Jacob was not innocent either here, but it’s the dream that I want us to keep central—the perseverance of that dream, the enduring quality of that dream, the life-giving nature of that dream.

That is something that no one in that family was aware of. To them it was all about pride, inheritance, family, status, ego, you know, all that human stuff that get’s in the way of what the dream was really about—life. In their defense, they were human, and we humans often can’t see beyond the tips of our noses. But God can, and did, and so there were bigger things at work here than anyone could have imagined. Regardless of that fact, Joseph’s brothers were so incensed, that they succumb to murdering him. Upon further reflection, what ends up happening is that they sell him into slavery, and tell their father that wild animals must have eaten him. At this point in the story I imagine a whole new set of dreams begin, dreams of the other sort, the daydreams of a father who longs for his dead son, the daydreams of sons who long for days when they don’t have to look into their father’s broken-hearted eyes, the daydreams of a mother who longs for simpler times, the daydreams of Joseph who longs for freedom and family. Dreams from so much pain and brokenness, and yet, those are some of the most powerful dreams we have.

Outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there is a plaque commemorating the site which reads, “They said one to another, ‘Behold, here cometh the dreamer…let us slay him…and we shall see what becomes of his dreams.’” A direct quote from our story for today, and obviously a reference to his famous speech delivered on August 28th, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.. It is in the middle of that speech when he begins to use the metaphor of a dream with these words, “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”

Unfortunately, Dr. King did not live long enough to see his dream become a reality. Neither have we for that matter. Regardless, the dream is still alive and just as powerful as ever, in spite of the pain and brokenness, in fact, because of the pain and brokenness that it springs from. Of course, Dr. King was not the only dreamer. So many in our history have dreamed dreams that have made an impact on our futures, whether they got to see their dreams become a reality or not. People like Stormé DeLarverie, Dorothy Day, or Harriet Tubman. Not to mention these Dreamers of our present day…

Thirteen chapters later, at the end of the book of Genesis, Jacob dies, and Joseph’s brothers are stricken with fear all over again. Since that time that they threw him in that pit and sold him into slavery, a famine hit and they had to go to Egypt for food only to find out that Joseph, in a series of extraordinary events, had become the ruler of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. So, there they were, bowing before their brother, just like that dream of Joseph’s so many years before. Because of Joseph’s wise rule, Egypt was the only place in the region that had food to spare. And so, the life-giving dream becomes a reality right before their eyes. However, fearful that Joseph might want vengeance, especially now that their father is dead, they cry for mercy. Joseph responds with one of the most grace-filled words in the Bible, “Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I God? You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people, just as he’s doing today. Now, don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your children.”


Some have interpreted this story to mean that God caused Joseph’s suffering in order to bring life in the end. I wouldn’t go that far. I just don’t believe in a God who causes suffering. However, I do believe in a God that can overcome the evil of this world. I do believe in a God that can make lemonade out of lemons. I do believe in a God who is more powerful than any bad decision that any of us humans can make. Meaning, I believe in a God that can use anything, even the evil that we bring into this world, for our good. Why? Because God is the greatest dreamer of us all! But God doesn’t sit on God’s hands and waits for those dreams to become a reality. No, God is constantly at work in the world doing what God can to make them a reality—and calls us to do the same—as Harriet Tubman said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

My friends, we live in perilous times filled with fear, anger, pain, and brokenness. But for the sake of so many dreamers who have gone before us, so many dreamers who stand among us, and for the dreamers yet to come, we cannot give up dreaming. I’d like to leave you now with the end of that poem I began with from Arthur O'Shaughnessy, as you continue to chew on this old story, as you continue to dream of the future.

“But we, with our dreaming and singing,

    Ceaseless and sorrowless we!

The glory about us clinging

    Of the glorious futures we see,

Our souls with high music ringing:

    O men! it must ever be

That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,

    A little apart from ye.

For we are afar with the dawning

    And the suns that are not yet high,

And out of the infinite morning

    Intrepid you hear us cry —

How, spite of your human scorning,

    Once more God's future draws nigh,

And already goes forth the warning

    That ye of the past must die.

Great hail! we cry to the comers

    From the dazzling unknown shore;

Bring us hither your sun and your summers;

    And renew our world as of yore;

You shall teach us your song's new numbers,

    And things that we dreamed not before:

Yea, in spite of a dreamer who slumbers,

    And a singer who sings no more.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.


Promises in the Dark


Audio is split in two so you can watch the video clip (below).

Inspired by Genesis 15:1-6

Our Bible story for this week, which comes from the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, began with the words, “After these events…” So, some of you may have been wondering what those events were that the author was referring to. Well, last week, we read from chapters two, three, and four, so, we’ve skipped a few stories as we will in the coming months because there’s just too many for us to get to them all. We skipped The Flood, which we read in year one of the Narrative Lectionary, the Tower of Babel, when God first reveals Godself to Abram which is also when God first revealed the promise of a great nation from Abram’s line, a note that will be important later. Abram then journeys to Egypt to escape a famine, where he gets in trouble because apparently, his wife Sarai was so beautiful that he thought they’d kill him to get to her so he tried to pass her off as his sister only to bring a plague on the Egyptians who quickly kick them all out. Oh, silly Abram. Then, he and his nephew Lot, whose family and possessions had been with Abram this whole time, decide to go their separate ways to avoid any conflict between their clans. Abram settles in Canaan, where he prospers, and Lot in Jordan but then Lot gets captured in a war. Abram then mounts a rescue attempt with his own army and was successful. So, these are the events that the author is referring to and that brings us to today’s story.

This story, though short, provides the foundation for, well, for the rest of this book to tell you the truth. God reiterates the promise of a family to Abram, the one thing that Abram wanted but didn’t have. Actually, it’s the one thing that most any man would want in Abram’s day because it said so much about who you were as a man. A man without a family of his own was not really seen as much of a man at all then. A man with no one of his own bloodline to pass on his traditions, religion, possessions, land, was really a lost cause in the eyes of the ancient world. More than that, it was a sign that the man’s god was either displeased with him, or that his god was not a very powerful god to begin with! So, there was a lot at stake here for Abram, his identity as a man, as a follower of God, as a successful businessman, were all under the spotlight, all because he could not produce any offspring.

So, this promise of God’s to Abram, a promise of a family, a family of his own, from his own blood, means more to Abram than anything else that God could have promised. And this promise was a doozy! Not only was God promising Abram a little family of his own, which I’m sure Abram would have been quite content with, but God had even bigger plans for Abram. God promised to make a whole nation out of his bloodline, a nation that would end up being a blessing to the whole world, as God mentioned back in chapter twelve! God tells him to look up at the night sky and count the stars, claiming that was how many descendants he would end up having! And Abram took God at God’s word. This scene always reminds me of a scene in The Lion King. Take a look.

Those last lines are everything here. When Simba says, “But I can’t see them, Dad.” And Mufasa says, “Keep looking, son. Keep looking.” Which brings me to where I think the gospel is to be found in this old story, remember gospel simply means “good news.” And the good news happens not at the end of this story, not with the amazing promise that God gives to Abram. No, grace can be found with those opening lines of God’s to Abram, when God said, “Don’t be afraid.” And if you think about it, it’s kind of an odd thing to say. Why would God say that, particularly at this point in the story? Abram just got back from defeating an army to save his nephew Lot, he somehow escaped the wrath of Pharaoh after he learned that he’d been lied to by Abram, not to mention the fact that he was doing quite well now in his new homeland of Canaan. What would Abram be afraid of? And why would God saying, “Don’t be afraid” be filled with so much grace?

Well, it’s not the words themselves, so much as it’s the fact that God is talking to him at all! In her commentary on this story, Kathleen O’Connor calls this chapter, “Dialogue in the Dark.” And this chapter is rather dark, in spite of the celestial promise given to Abram! But it’s only dark if you can hear this story from the perspective of Abram. If you can slip your feet into his sandals for just a moment, you will see that Abram is indeed in a very dark place. Like Simba, he just can’t see this promise in the stars. Keep in mind that three chapters ago, when Abram first met God, he was already seventy-five years old! At this point, he might be around eighty, not that it matters, right! At seventy-five, he’d already given up on a family! Then God comes along and promises one, only for years to continue to pass by without the pitter-patter of little feet in the tent! So, here is Abram, at ground zero, without a hope in the world for a family. He’d already given up on that old promise of God’s. How do we know this? Because he’d already selected which one of his servants would be the heir to his estate. Some guy by the name of Eliezar. Not only had he given up hope, but he had already gotten his affairs in order. A dark place indeed for old Abram.

And what is God’s response to the unbelieving, unfaithful, doubting, hopeless, Abram? “Keep looking, Son. Keep looking.” Oh, wait, that was Mufasa! But the same sentiment applies because, like Mufasa, God doesn’t give up on the faulty Abram, but instead encourages him to not give up, to keep hold of the hope that he once had, to just trust God. And the real grace here is that God is not like other gods who give up on humans at the first sign of unbelief! The real grace here is that not even Abram’s unbelief can keep God from working in Abram's life. The real grace here is that not even Abram’s hopelessness can keep God from walking with Abram. The real grace here is that nothing, nothing is more powerful than God’s love, not even our unbelief. Belief is not a prerequisite for God’s love. As always, as we will see in these old stories this Fall, it is in the dark that God shows up, to walk with us, to encourage us, to tell us to keep looking, keep looking. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Dog

 Separated into two parts so you can watch video (below) in between! 

Inspired by Genesis 2:15-3:24

Today we begin year three of the Narrative Lectionary. This is the year of Luke, which we will read through beginning the end of Advent, but before we get to that we will be reading through the Hebrew scriptures, beginning with our Genesis reading today, and then continuing with a selection of stories that have been key in molding God’s people for the last few millennia. Some of these stories will be well known to you, and some not so much. One of the things that I love about this lectionary is that these are stories that a pastor normally doesn’t get a chance to preach on! So, for me it has an exciting and adventurous quality to it, and hopefully that comes across to you too. Today’s story comes from the second and third chapters of Genesis. We will be focusing on the third chapter but I felt it necessary to read the last half of chapter two because it gives us some key background for the scenes that occur in chapter three. Those scenes of course are The Fall and the Expulsion from Eden.

I don’t need to spend much time on chapter two, especially because I read and preached on that last year at this time. However, there are a couple of things that I’d like us to take note of, to keep in the back of our mind while we tackle chapter three. The first is this, God placed humans in the garden of Eden and stayed there with them, dwelled there, lived among them. Second, God gave them limits, in the form of a tree that they were commanded not to eat from. Eat from anything else, just don’t eat from this one. Just don’t do it. That was the limit that God gave them. Third, God cares for these humans, and we know that because God immediately surmised that all was not well in Eden. The human needed a companion, the animals were not enough, and neither was God. And so, out of care and compassion, notice that jealousy and rage were an optional response here from God, but no, out of care and compassion, God creates a companion for the human.

Julia Stankova, "Temptation"
So, keep those three points in mind as we continue toward the heart of today’s reading: God dwelled with them in Eden, gave them limits, and cared for them there. Chapter two ends quite harmoniously. Everything’s just hunky dory, that is until the woman screws everything up! Kidding! I’m kidding! You know me better than that! So, the woman has an encounter with a talking snake. Now, if you encountered this in any other type of literature, you’d immediately recognize this as a story, a tale, maybe even a fairy tale. But for some reason, people started reading this story as a historical fact, talking snake and all. Some have argued that it was during the Great Awakenings of 18th century United States, but that’s for another time. Point is, the Bible had not been read that way before that. And so, if you’re one of the many people who have a hard time embracing the Bible because of these fantastical stories that include talking snakes, it’s ok. In fact, it’s more than ok, you’re in good company because the ancients did not take these stories literally, they knew they were stories, tales, legends. For them, it wasn’t a question of if these stories really happened, it was a question of what do these stories have to teach us today. More than that, was the acknowledgement, and the awe, of asking how God was still speaking to us today, through these old, old stories. I don’t know about you, but that makes me love the Bible all the more, that makes me have even greater faith in it’s power, not less. But I digress.

The woman has this encounter with a talking snake and we might be tempted to say, “Well, it was the snakes fault!” or “It was Satan’s fault!” First of all, it’s important to note that Satan nor the Devil is ever mentioned in this story. That’s an idea that we have inserted into it. But regardless of that fact, even if it was Satan, he didn’t make the humans do anything. They, not just she, but they knew full well what they were commanded not to do, and made the choice to do it anyway. Period. Now, scholars and theologians have debated for millennia about things like free-will or original sin or the sexism inherent in this story. Don’t get me wrong, all these topics are interesting and well worth our time and engagement in. But when I ask myself that age-old question that the ancients would ask themselves when approaching any Bible story, “What does this story have to tell us today?”, or put another way, “What is my takeaway from this story?”, I just don’t land on things like why we sin or why is there evil in the world or do we really have the choice to be good.

Where do I land? On the relationship. Chapter three ends on a bit of downer if you hadn’t noticed. The woman and man get handed their consequences of their sin, as does the snake, and if that wasn’t bad enough, they get expelled from the Garden of Eden. And off they walk into the dark sunset of their lives. Like I said, it’s a bit of a downer. But that’s not the end of the story, but first, I have a short film to show you. It’s a film that I have been waiting to use in a sermon for years! I’ve used it in Bible studies with both adults and youth but I’ve never used it in worship. It’s animated but don’t let that fool you. It’s certainly for all ages, in fact, it has been interesting to see what different age groups get out of it. The short film is called Adam and Dog, was created by Minkyu Lee, and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2012. So, without further ado, this is Adam and Dog.

I hope you enjoyed that short film as much as I do. I’ve watched it many times and it never gets old. Now, why did I just show that to you. I shared that with you because it highlights what I feel is the main take away from this story of The Fall and the Expulsion from Eden. And that’s this relationship between God and those first humans, and by extension, with us. But for that to make any sense, we have to read a few verses into chapter four. “The man Adam knew his wife Eve intimately. She became pregnant and gave birth to Cain, and said, “I have given life to a man with the Lord’s help.” She gave birth a second time to Cain’s brother Abel. Abel cared for the flocks, and Cain farmed the fertile land. Sometime later, Cain presented an offering to the Lord from the land’s crops while Abel presented his flock’s oldest offspring with their fat. The Lord looked favorably on Abel and his sacrifice but didn’t look favorably on Cain and his sacrifice. Cain became very angry and looked resentful. Then the Lord spoke to Cain.”

Hold the phone! What is God doing out there with them, outside the Garden of Eden? Imagine, if you can and know that this is hard, but imagine hearing this story for the first time. Imagine your family is new to this religion and knows only about the gods of other nations like Egypt, Greece, and Rome. If this story was being told in those places with those gods, the Bible would be a short book indeed! It would have ended with the humans getting kicked out of Eden! Those other gods didn’t have time for a pair of unruly, unworthy, measly little humans! But not so with this God. This God didn’t remain in the paradise of Eden and wait there until humans were good enough to come back. No! God went with them! God didn’t just expel them out of Eden, God expelled Godself right out of Eden! Just like the dog from our short film.

Now for those of you who think I just compared our God to a dog…you better believe I did! Anyone who knows me knows just how much I love dogs. For the majority of my life I have had a canine companion. I know of no other being on God’s green Earth that loves as unconditionally as a dog. I’d go so far as to say that the love of a dog is the closest thing we’ll ever get to God’s love here on Earth that we can actually give a hug to. The dog in our short film was given every reason to leave those humans. After forming a close bond, a close relationship with the human, he was betrayed, abandoned, and forgotten. But in spite of all that, the relationship is what was core to the dog, it had already taken root, and so, it was a no-brainer when it came to the decision of staying in Eden, or going with the expelled humans, who didn’t even have a thing to offer him. Off he went, into an unknown sunset with those first humans, relationship intact, as it always had been, at least, from the dog’s perspective.

And so it is with God. We have given God every excuse to leave us. We ourselves have betrayed God, have abandoned God, have forgotten God, with both our actions and our inaction. And yet, just when we think God has had enough of our foolishness, lo and behold, there God is, right by our side, a constant companion, ever faithful, always willing to move forward with us, no matter how bad our behavior was the day before. I believe that morning broke that first day outside of Eden, with God by their side ready to make a fresh start, as God does with each of our mornings. This old, old story, is our story. As we move ahead through the Hebrew scriptures, this Fall, journeying with God’s people, we would do well to remember this story, and how, as bad as things got, as bad as we were, God continues to walk with us, continues to include us in the story. Thanks be to God. Amen.