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.

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