Monday, March 14, 2011

Sermon for First Sunday in Lent

Hello friends,
Here is my sermon from yesterday. I always have second thoughts after preaching and in this case am not sure I was so fair to poor St. Augustine. Bill Fortier pointed out in yesterday's adult forum that often we are guilty of repeating what other writers have said about someone rather than reading the original for ourselves. I think I probably did that to the good Bishop of Hippo. Back to the original sources to make sure I got it right...

By the way, if you missed Bill's "Bread, Bible, and Battles", do come join us on Feb 27th! Never have I heard someone so compellingly connect church history and modern brain science. Fascinating stuff!

My ideas about sin in this sermon are very much influenced by Marcus Borg's book, The Heart of Christianity, which I recommend highly.

Sermon for 1 Lent, March 13 2011 by the Rev. Kate Ekrem

Today I’d like to talk about sin! Oh good, you are all still here. So, raise your hand if sin means for you something that makes you feel guilty, or you think is supposed to make you feel guilty, or is just a word you
find mostly irrelevant to your understanding of faith. [Lots of hands went up.] Now, Raise your hand if sin for you is a useful concept that helps you in you life and faith. [A few hands.] The church has not done real well on this one. I’d like to blame the evangelicals but I’m not sure I can. Let me try to reframe the word sin a bit today, so we can understand our scripture readings today and maybe better understand what Lent is all about.

Our first scripture reading for Lent is the story of Adam and Eve. And we ‘know” this story is about sin. Right? This is one of those passages that always gets my dander up (right up there with Ephesians 5). But do we know how to, can we, read the story without 30 or 40 or 50 years of sermons and Sunday school classes telling us what to think? What do we read here when we see it without all that in our head? Our modern understand of this story is largely shaped by St. Augustine’s interpretation of it, which was very much overlaid by his own struggle with philandering. He’s the one who said,” Lord, make me good, but not yet.” It may be a bit of an oversimplification, but in many ways the guilt he projected on to it has been handed down for generations. But what do we see when we just look at the text?

Here are some things that are not true about the Genesis story*:
· God created an absolutely perfect and static world
· humans lived in paradise and had no work to do
· the evil serpent is a Satan figure who brings evil into God's perfect creation
· it’s all Eve’s fault
· the central point of Genesis 3 is to explain how evil came into the world
· First, God said creation was good, but God’s creating activity is a work in process from the beginning, not a "perfect" world in the sense of a finished, unchanging universe that we then messed up. God is still creating.
· Second, God asked humans to help out and be stewards of creation, humans had responsibilities even in Eden.
· Third, the idea that the serpent is Satan is not in the text, people didn’t read that into this story until nearly New Testament times.
· Fourth, it’s not all Eve’s fault. If you look closely at the text, it seems mostly likely that Adam was standing next to Eve listening to the serpent the whole time. And he didn’t say a word.
And lastly, this story does not explain how evil came into the world. The ancient Hebrews firmly believed that God created all things, the good and the bad. God created the serpent, and God created the humans. Instead, what this story does is “explore the human condition. It's about describing the reality of what it is to be human, and our mysterious “tendencies to resist God, and to desire to be like God.”

That’s a tendency some people sometimes call sin. So, now that we’ve got a better grip on the Adam and Eve story, what is sin? What do we mean when we use that word? What are we talking about?

We mean, something is not right. In our world, in our lives, in our relationships, something is not quite right. Sometimes, when we look at the newspaper headlines, we know it’s more than just a little not quite right. Sometimes, when we’re awake at 3am about something or other, we know something is not right. And it’s not something we can fix, we don’t have the ability by ourselves to make it all right. Theologians have many ways of trying to put their finger on what exactly is not right. Some say it’s separation or estrangement from God and each other. Some say it’s not trusting or being faithful to God. Some say it’s self-centeredness or pride. Maybe it’s all of those, or maybe the are all different ways of saying the same thing.

But the Bible actually has many more ways of talking about whatever it is, this thing that is not right. Sin is one. Blindness is another. Or being in exile, or in bondage, or we have closed hearts, or we hunger and thirst, or we are lost. Marcus Borg** points out that each of these has an antithesis, a solution. If we’re blind, we need sight, if we’re in bondage, we need liberation, if we’re lost, we need to be found. The traditional antithesis to sin is forgiveness, and that’s the one we tend to get stuck on. That’s the one the church has emphasized all these centuries, and for good reasons. But maybe it’s not forgiveness you need. Maybe it’s sight, or healing, or liberation. Maybe you need to be found. Maybe, like Adam and Eve, you’ve been separated from your roots and you need to come home. If you are reminded of the parables of Jesus, the prodigal son coming home, the lost sheep being found, it’s probably not a coincidence. And not a coincident that’s those parables are what the children are working on in the Atrium this Lent.

The Bible has many stories to tell about sin -- or blindness or oppression or lostness or whatever it is -- and its ultimate antithesis, salvation. In fact, there probably isn’t any story not about this. That’s why they are in the Bible, right? The Lenten lectionary, the readings for these next five Sundays, gives us the highlights, the best of the best of these stories of sin and salvation. Whether it’s exodus from slavery in Egypt, when people were captive and needed to be free, grumbling for food and drink in the wilderness, when people were hungry and needing to be fed, Jesus healing at the pool of Siloam, when someone was blind and needed to see, or raising Lazarus who was dead and needed new life. We get all these stories during Lent. Beginning with this story of Adam and Eve.

So what do you think it’s about? Of all those metaphors for the thing that’s wrong, what seems to best fit with Adam and Eve? What do you think?
· being lost, wanting to come home, back to Eden?
· being alienated, separated from God and wanting reunion?
maybe also about pride, thinking we can do things on our own, independently, forgetting we are part of a web of relationships.

Why don’t we like to talk about sin? When I think about bringing my blindness, my hungers, my oppression, my lostness to God and finding sight, nourishment, freedom, and home, that’s a good thing, right? Even bringing my mistakes, my failures, and finding forgiveness is good.
Why don’t we like to talk about it? What are we afraid of? Being less than perfect, not knowing it all, being unable to fix it ourselves? Maybe we're more like Adam and Eve than we realized. Maybe this is a good story for us to remember. God asked them not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Notice not good or evil, but good and evil. Knowledge of all that’s good and all that’s not good -- in other words, all knowledge about everything. God asked them not to do that, but to stick to their piece of things, to not try to be like God. But they did try to be like God, to be God instead of God, and thus were alienated from each other, from God, even from their selves, their own bodies.

We’re not God. We make mistakes. We can’t, all by our lonesome, fix all that’s wrong with the world. Realizing that is not a tragedy but a liberation. We don’t have to be perfect. Can we see failure as an opportunity to learn or grow instead of a source of shame and guilt? What in your life is an Eden moment? A failure -- on your part, I’m not talking about things people have done to you, but things you wish you hadn't done -- that caused guilt and shame? Can you face that full in the face, eyelash to eyelash as Sabeth said on Ash Wednesday, knowing you have God’s love and support, and see what you can learn, how you can be more whole, from that experience? Can you accept God’s healing, nourishment, freedom, and yes, forgiveness, for you? That’s reconciliation. That’s our Lenten journey.

*This section draws on commentary by Dennis Olsen, Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary, on “Working Preacher”.
** In “The Heart of Christianity”

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