Sunday, September 23, 2012

Playing Favorites: A Sermon About Joseph (Genesis 37:3-8, 26-34; 50:15-21) -50)

The scripture can be found here...

Let’s begin by talking about jealousy. And when I say “jealousy,” I’m not speaking of a passing sense of wishing you had what another person has… a great house, or pair of shoes, or even, a relationship. I’m talking about the kind of deep-seated resentment that stays with you, perching on your shoulder like a malevolent pet, or burrowing into your gut, crowding out all other feelings. Jealousy, as in the feeling that you have a rival, and while that rival has success, or advantage, or superiority, or love, you can never have enough.

And jealousy is the force that tips over the first domino in the story of Joseph. We are in a great transition moment in the story of God’s people: that moment when they move into Egypt. This sets the stage for what is surely one of the key stories of scripture. And for us to be in Joseph’s story now we have sped past countless other remarkable stories. I commend them all to you, but especially those of Jacob, the scoundrel. Joseph’s father Jacob, whose name is eventually changed to “Israel,” the one from whom God’s people take their name. I particularly commend to you the stories of Jacob’s particular biblical model of marriage: First, his marriage to Leah, by the trickery of his father-in-law, and then his marriage to her sister Rachel, his first and true love. In addition to these two wives, Jacob takes as wives the two slave women, Bilhah and Zilpah. By these four women Jacob has twelve sons and a daughter.

Why start with jealousy? Let us count the ways.

The first line of our passage tells part of the story: “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children… and he had made him a long robe with sleeves” (Genesis 37:3). Imagine being a son of poor Leah, the woman Jacob was tricked into marrying. Imagine being a son of one of the slave women, used as surrogates and tangled up in the rivalry between the two sisters. Joseph is none of these. He’s a son of Jacob’s old age. And he’s the first born of Rachel, the love of Jacob’s life, the favored wife. And that favoritism, now passed from mother to son, is openly displayed. Jacob, whose early career included some time in the kitchen, continues to show his domestic abilities by crafting an unusual and somewhat royal garment for his favorite son, a coat with long sleeves. If you’re wondering where we get the “coat of many colors,” this is what happens sometimes with bible translations. In the era of the King James translation, as today, coats with long sleeves were common, so to translate it literally would have left the reader puzzled. “What’s so special about a coat with long sleeves?” So the team of translators decided that a coat “of many colors,” would convey the coat’s uniqueness, and the extravagance of Israel’s gift to his youngest. Jacob was playing favorites. And when Josephs’s brothers saw that coat, they hated him for it.

But that is not the only way in which Joseph provoked his brothers. Those dreams! Joseph has this incredibly annoying habit of sharing dreams with his brothers, dreams whose general theme is that Joseph is in charge and everyone else must bow to him. The dreams are pretty telling. In one sense, they betray a sort of cluelessness that we might just chalk up to his youth—he’s seventeen, and a culture of bragging isn’t exactly unheard of among teenage boys. In another sense, they show an arrogance, maybe even a meanness of spirit that is kind of breathtaking. Even his father gives him the verbal equivalent of a smack to the head after one of these episodes. Just who does he think he is? His brothers hate him, we are told. They cannot speak peaceably to him.  Jealousy, burrowing into the gut, crowding out even the ability to speak a word in peace.

But none of this—not the favoritism, not the arrogance, not the hate, not the soul-consuming jealousy—nothing can justify what happens next.  In a scene we didn’t read this morning, the brothers first discuss whether or not to kill Joseph. The plan is to return the beautiful coat to their father covered in blood, pinning the death on a wild animal. Reuben, the oldest and the child of the unloved wife Leah, has an attack of conscience, and persuades the rest of them not to kill Joseph, but to simply throw him in a pit. (His plan is to spirit Joseph back to their father at a later time.) They agree. They strip the clueless kid of his beautiful robe, throw him into a pit with no water to drink, and sit down to lunch.

When Reuben is gone, the brothers see a band of traders passing by. Judah, the youngest of Leah and Jacob’s sons, says, hey. We can kill two birds with one stone here: get rid of the dreamer and get ourselves some cash at the same time. When Reuben returns and learns that Joseph has been sold into slavery, he goes wild with grief and horror, tearing his clothes, trying to imagine what on earth they will tell their father.

They decide to go with the wild animal story. Jacob is presented with the exquisite garment he made for his favorite son, smeared with blood. He is told the boy is dead. In response, he tears his own clothes, and puts on sackcloth (the traditional garment of mourning), and weeps for many days.

And the brothers? Even though most of the remainder of Genesis focuses, not on them, but on Joseph, it’s good for us to imagine just how things go for them from this point on. The brothers have done, if not the unthinkable, then something approaching that. What they have done to Joseph, it is fair to say, will haunt them.

As for Joseph?  His path is one of peaks and valleys—literally, as well as figuratively. From his high position as daddy’s favorite he is cast down into an actual pit, and sold as a slave. But he ends up in the household of Potiphar, a captain of the Pharaoh’s guard, where he is given a chance to shine. “The Lord is with him,” we are told—which is interesting, because we never heard that God was with Joseph when he was being coddled by his father at home. And for all his arrogance, for all his teenage bravado, qualities begin to emerge in him we might not have imagined. The Lord is with him, and Joseph turns out to be a man of talent and character. He rises to another peak in the house of Potiphar, only to fall again after he spurns the advances of Potiphar’s wife. Once again in the valley, Joseph finds himself in prison.

But even in prison Joseph manages to land on his feet. The head jailer entrusts him with care of the other inmates, and Joseph rises to the top of the heap there as well. And suddenly an opportunity to truly distinguish himself arises: Someone has a dream.

Did you ever meet someone, and upon first meeting them, you had, well, not the greatest impression of them? In fact, you didn’t really like them at all? But then, you met them again… under other circumstances. And you felt that maybe, just maybe, you had misjudged them. I bring all this up because this is not the first time dreams have played a major role in Joseph’s story. And that first time, everyone—Jacob his father, all his other brothers, and, yes, we, the readers, thought. Hey. This guy is kind of a creep. He’s annoying. Of course people want to throw him into pits and worse. If he were in high school in Lima, Ohio, he’d be getting Slushies in the face on a regular basis.

But when Joseph is in prison interpreting dreams, we learn some key information. When it comes to dreams, Joseph is a veritable Carl Jung. His knowledge and intuition are stunning. He has a gift. And we begin to wonder… might those other dreams of Joseph’s have meant something after all?

It’s dreams that finally bring Joseph out of the pits and to the heights of power. When the Pharaoh, the Egyptian king, hears about Joseph’s impressive abilities of interpretation, he brings him out of jail and into the royal court to interpret a dream of his own. Joseph correctly tells Pharaoh that his dreams are warning him of a time of famine for which they will have to prepare. Three guesses who Pharaoh puts in charge of the preparations! By the end of this episode, and forever after in this story, there is no one in Egypt, save the Pharaoh himself, more powerful than Joseph.

Meanwhile back in Canaan… the famine hits. And after many years, during which Joseph has been making his peaks-and-valleys climb to power, and the brothers have been living in guilt, in daily contact with their forever grief-stricken father, the men’s paths intersect again. The details of the story are less important than the big picture: the brothers come, with their proverbial hats in hand, to the land that has prepared well for the famine. And they have no idea whatsoever that the very Egyptian looking overlord who is dealing with them is the brother they sold away so long ago.

Joseph toys with them. Just a bit. Joseph manipulates his brothers so that they are made to twist in the wind with the guilt he can see they are still carrying. And so Joseph indulges his desire, for a time, to exact a kind of emotional revenge on his brothers. But in the end, in a scene that I dare you to read without weeping yourself, all is revealed. The brother whom they sold into slavery makes himself known. And he forgives them. “Do not be distressed,” he tells them. “[Do not be] angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:6).

And, in some storybooks, that would be the end of the story. But the bible is not just any book of stories. The bible, in many places, shows such depth of insight into the human psyche that reading it is like looking into a really good, really well-lit magnifying mirror. Ever look into one of those? And see, really see, all those things we manage most of the time not to notice? Reading the bible can be like that. The nature of the human being on full display, in all its glory and all its decay. Joseph forgives his brothers. But… they don’t feel forgiven. Oh, they relocate permanently to Egypt, which is a key moment in the Biblical narrative: How’ God’s Chosen People Get to Egypt. This is how. And there, in Egypt, all their cares are taken away, and they are well housed and well fed and the family of the very powerful and well-loved Joseph. But they carry with them the memory of what they did to their brother because their father played favorites with him. They carry it with them for years and years, and after Jacob’s death, many years later, they turn to one another in certainty that the other shoe Still. Might. Drop.

‘Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?”’ (Genesis 50:15). And all Joseph can do when the brothers, even now, even years later, come to him begging for mercy, is to weep. When he can speak again, he says, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.”

If the story of Jacob, the very flawed father of many children, and the story of Jacob’s children, including the arrogant and annoying Joseph, can tell us anything, it can surely tell us this: God works through the actions of flawed and broken people and actions. God worked through Jacob’s misguided favoritism, endowing Joseph with the sure conviction that he was all that and more, and sure enough, when the time was right, he was. God worked through the jealousy and anger of Joseph’s eleven brothers, making Joseph a stronger and better man in the process, and saw to it that this chosen family had a safe haven in time of famine. And God worked through Joseph, not only to provide food and shelter for his family, but also to provide the unexpected blessings of grace and reconciliation.

God uses flawed people, broken people. God uses us, even when we’re not at our best. God even uses us at our worst, though the outcomes of those moments can be hard to foresee… they may take years to play themselves out. Listen: I’m not saying God uses us like puppets, I’m not saying that God made those brothers do their dastardly deed. I do believe we have some measure of free will. But once the deed was done, even that was not beyond God’s power to somehow redeem, reclaim and repurpose. God uses us—in all our goodness and all our frailty—to bless the world. And God uses us—in all our beauty and all our brokenness—to convey God’s message of grace and forgiveness to one another. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Now What??? Sermon on Genesis 15:1-6

Scripture can be found here...

Have you ever heard of a BHAG? A BHAG is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It’s usually generated by a business, a kind of mission statement, if we want to translate it into church-language. BHAG’s are supposed to be just what they sound like—the kinds of goals set by companies when they want to challenge themselves to rise to unprecedented levels of greatness. Amazon Booksellers have the following BHAG: “Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.” And Disney’s BHAG is this: “Be the best company in the world for all fields of family entertainment.” I think my favorite is Ford Motor Company’s: “Democratize the automobile.”
When an individual sets a BHAG, she sees a future for herself in which she accomplishes something she never imagined she could. I have a friend who, after losing a significant amount of weight with the help of diet and exercise, has set herself the goal of competing in a marathon next year.  For some of us a BHAG might be to get rid of our credit cards, or to pay them off in full every single month. For others, it might be to grow the perfect rose or orchid.
By embarking on the Narrative Lectionary this fall, we as a church have set ourselves an audacious goal: to read across the entire bible in the space of nine short months. In just thirty-seven Sundays plus Christmas Eve we will familiarize ourselves with the whole, big story of scripture. Not every book, mind you—there are sixty-six books in the Bible, so, as you can tell with the help of math, that won’t be possible. This starts to feel a little like what a seminary professor of mine used to call “roller-skating through the Louvre.” (“Look at that! Look at that! Look at that! Look at that!”)
And we’ll be doing a little of that this morning, since we have skipped all the way from the very beginning, the creation stories, and are now, not even at the beginning of the Abraham and Sarah story, but already a few chapters in.
When we started our Monday evening bible study four and a half years ago, we took note: the first eleven chapters of Genesis are the history of the whole cosmos, and then, of the whole of humanity. These are the chapters that include the story of the first murder, one son of Adam and Eve killing another, Cain killing Abel. God says to Cain, “And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Genesis 4:11). But God deals with the murderer Cain by protecting him—God doesn’t want him to be killed.
And these are the chapters that include the story of, not an angry God, but a God who “was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:6). That God decides to send devastating floods upon the earth, though he provides a way to survive for a faithful fragment of the human race, and of the animal kingdom as well. This is a troubling story, a story we tend to domesticate in our Sunday school so that it appears to be about a wonderful watery adventure for Noah and the animals. But it is a story of a God who has had it and, for a time, who seems to give up on his own creation.
But God changes his mind. This happens from time to time in scripture, so we shouldn’t be surprised or scandalized when it does. God relents, God repents. And instead of utterly destroying creation, God re-creates, and gives the sign of the rainbow to humans as a reminder of God’s new intention:
I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood… I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:11,13).
These are also the chapters that include the story of the tower of Babel, a story about human beings arrogant enough to believe they could literally get to heaven with enough brick and mortar, which turns into a “just-so” story. God thwarts the arrogant humans by creating different languages, so that they can’t understand one another to cooperate.
These are just a few of the stories in the chapters between last week and this. “Look at that, look at that!” And then we come to the end of chapter 11. Do any of you remember the beginning of the movie, “The Sound of Music”? It starts with a bird’s eye view of the Austrian Alps—snow capped mountains, breathtaking landscapes. Slowly we descend to the green slopes below. And then, the camera swoops in towards what is, at first a dot, which is gradually revealed to be a woman, and, once in close-up, she throws wide her arms and sings. This is what happens in chapter 12. The story swoops in on one man and one woman and their one family.
Here is the problem: God has created a universe, and a world and inhabitants of that world. And the human inhabitants have been created in God’s image. God has called all this creation “Good.” But God is still faced with the reality of brokenness in creation. Humans are prone to wander. Humans are prone to fail. Humans are prone to hurting one another and killing one another and trying to get to heaven on their own steam. And so, at this point, the story is faced with the real question: Now what?? How shall God respond to this problem?
The answer to “Now what???” is what happens at the end of Genesis 11.  God tries something new. God focuses in on one man and one woman and their one family. God enters a second covenant, this time, with Abraham and his family.
When we meet him, Abraham is seventy-five years old. His name is Abram; the change comes later. ‘Now the Lord says to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”’ (Genesis 12:1-3).
Abram and his family become God’s BHAG—God’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Humanity has not, so far, been able to perceive itself as a good and blessed part of God’s creation, ready to work in partnership with God. So God creates this partnership, and makes its specific. God enters into this covenant, a covenant promising three things: land, children, and blessing.
The promise of land is a complicated one. The claim on the land for God’s people is one that is reasserted and lost again and again throughout the Old Testament. The promise of being a blessing—“in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”—is one that, perhaps no one who lived these stories saw realized in their lifetime, though we know it is true today. As for the promise of children: we are told at the outset that the promise is doomed to failure. In keeping with the primitive understanding of biology and all things scientific in biblical times, the lack of offspring is inevitably blamed on the woman: Sarah is said to be “barren.”
And so we come to chapter 15. You can tell right away that something is amiss, because the very first words God speaks are words of reassurance. “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” You see, between chapter 11 and chapter 15, the promise of children has been put in serious peril. At one point Sarah has been taken into the harem of a king. At another point Abram has become enmeshed in a battle involving the hostage taking of his nephew and no fewer than nine kings.
Thus God’s words of reassurance. Abram responds, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2). Abram is a practical man. He has selected one of his slaves to be his heir. He knows that God has promised him offspring, but… he’s willing to help the promise along, right? What’s wrong with that? Doesn’t the Lord help those who help themselves?
Well, no. That is not, in fact, a scriptural sentiment. There is no bible citation for that very American-sounding proverb. In fact, that quote is almost the exact opposite of what is going on here. What is going on here is grace, a one-way promise of blessing. Abram did nothing to earn it. Abram needs to do very little to keep it. And God is quick to correct his misguided attempt to hedge his bets.
No, God says. That man will not be your heir. Your very own flesh and blood will be your heir, just as I promised. And then… this happens sometimes, early in Genesis especially: the character of God is described much as any other character. God plays with mud. God walks in gardens. God blows a puff of breath into people. And now, God takes Abram outside, just as if that were the most normal thing in the world. A startling, very human-like God a very anthropomorphized God, pops up now and then in the bible. This is one of those moments.
God takes Abram outside. I like to imagine them lying down in a field, or maybe on a sand dune. There is absolutely no light pollution where they are. They look up, and the stars are so thick, it’s like the stars themselves form a blanket across the heavens. You and I will never see with our bare eyes the number of stars they see.
Look at that, God says. Will you just look at that. That is how many children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren… and so on and so on and so on… that is how many you will have. Beyond your ability to count.
And Abram, perhaps chastened, perhaps with his seventy-five-year-old, maybe at this point eighty-year-old eyes full of tears, nods. And he believes. And that makes both God and Abram feel better.
So, three things about this man, and about us. First: God’s promises can be a long-term proposition. This is a lesson Abram learns over and over again. This is a lesson we learn over and over again. Have any of you ever had a Big Hairy Audacious Goal—a goal like, say, losing a bunch of weight, or starting your own business, or starting a family—and you realized, one day, that it just wasn’t going to be as simple and straightforward as you had originally imagined? The promises of God are like that. They can be believed. But you will have time for stargazing while you wait for them.
And second: being a faithful man or woman, being a righteous one, does not mean silent acquiescence during your long wait. Sometimes being faithful means voicing our complaints to God in loud and clear tones. I learned this at a young age by means of a book in which a young girl began her prayers, “Are you there God?” In times of duress, in times of trial, in times of disappointment, and long-term waiting, when we are not sure any more just what God’s promises for us are, a shout out—a hearty “Are you there God?” may just be the most true, most profound, most holy and righteous and faithful prayer we can pray.
And third: we are blessed so that we will be a blessing. Blessing is not something we accrue, like coins in a piggy bank. Blessing is something that passes through us, like the air that fills our lungs and then becomes a part of the life cycle of plants, or the food that strengthens our bodies and then becomes energy for our living. We are not receptacles for blessing, we are conduits. We are vessels. The blessings are meant to flow through us and on to the rest of God’s beautiful and broken world.
The promise of children for Abram will come true, but it will take a long time. There will be more false starts, more attempts for the humans involved to take matters into their own hands, more time for the promise to be in jeopardy, and just more all-around bad behavior. And in his lifetime, Abram will see, not a sky full of children, just two, Isaac and Ishmael, whom tradition believes to be the fathers, respectively, of today’s Jews and Muslims. Abraham will end his days, perhaps, gazing at the stars in wonder and realizing: faith, trust  in the promise might just be enough.
And we, perhaps, can draw from his story the lessons of trusting in God, and of voicing our complaints in faithful relationship, and of being a blessing where we can. And, maybe, of the holy act of simply looking up and out at something infinite, mysterious, and beautiful. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Story Begins: A Sermon on Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17, 3:1-8

The scripture can be found here...

The summer season is drawing to a close, but one of the greatest gifts of our travels and our visits, our reunions and our celebrations, is the opportunity we have to share stories with one another. Think of it: Friends gathered around a campfire, or perhaps a backyard fire pit. You and someone you love side by side on a beach or at an outdoor cafĂ©. Family members normally scattered across the miles, all, for a brief moment, seated around the same table. And the stories begin to flow…

We tell one another the stories of the high points, the mountaintop experiences (sometimes, literally!). How we participated in a triathlon, or ran a 10-K for charity. How our child graduated with honors, or threw the Hail Mary pass that won the big game. How we finally grew the perfect heirloom tomato, or bowled a perfect 300 game, or became grandparents. How we overcame our fear of swimming or flying or being alone.

And we tell one another the other stories, too. Stories of the crisis at work, the loss of the job, our kid’s first fender-bender, our loved one in the hospital, in rehab, in the doldrums. We may even share the story of the one in prison, or going through a painful divorce, or an ugly custody battle. The stories aren’t always happy. Sometimes they’re hard. Sometimes they make us want to weep. But they’re our stories, and the stories of those we love, those we call family, community.

Stories delight and entertain us, and teach us. Stories remind us of who we are, and of the kind of world we live in. And stories bring us closer together.

This morning we begin a year-long project of immersing ourselves in the story and stories of scripture, in a way we have never done before—not as a congregation, anyway. We begin a time of reading through the bible in canonical order—that is, in the order the stories are set out for us. We will read highlights, the major episodes of scripture, and we do this for several very specific reasons. First, we do it in order to learn—to see scripture not as we often do, a collection of disparate stories, letters, songs and histories, but as one story, a Big Story, with a definite arc, a shape, and a theme—a story that starts one place, and ends in another. I’m going to tip my hand and tell you the theme right up front: The story of scripture is the story of God’s amazing love for us. It is a story worth learning! Second, we do it in order to be reminded of who we are. The stories of scripture are our stories, the stories of the people of God across time. These stories belong to us, they speak to us, and they include us. And finally, we do this, we read through the bible together, in order to recognize that we are all in this story, not simply as uniquely created individuals, but as a community, as God’s community. We do this to be reminded that the story of scripture is a story of belonging.

Our passage this morning begins in the second chapter of Genesis, the first book in the bible, and it is the bible’s second creation story. Those of you who were here last Sunday had the opportunity to read responsively the first creation story, the beautiful liturgy of the seven days of creation, the one in which God sees that the creation is very good. This second story focuses in on the creation of humanity. In this story, we are told, “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). And so, the first thing the story of scripture tells us today, the first thing we learn, is that humans are intimately connected with the rest of creation, particularly the  earth. In fact, the Hebrew words are connected in a way you can hear immediately. The Hebrew word for human is ’adam and the word for earth is ’adamah. The ’adam was formed from the ’adamah. The earthling came from the earth, the human came from the humus.

We are connected to the earth, not separate from it. We and the earth together are part of God’s creation. So much so, in fact, that, the ’adam, the human, is told to “till and keep” the earth—Hebrew words that also mean “serve and protect.” Our responsibility towards the earth, given us by our Creator, is to serve and protect it. This is a far cry from our usual relationship with the earth. But this is, apparently, one of the things we were created to do: to participate with God in the work of Creation, by guarding it.

The next thing we learn in today’s story is that God puts limits on the human. God draws a line and says, “This far and no further.” The item in question is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. What’s amazing is that this prohibition is couched in terms of absolute abundance. “Any tree,” God says to the human. “Any tree, except this one.” And the reason seems to be a good one: If you eat of that tree, God tells the human, on that day you will die.

But we learn, in the same moment, practically, another truth about human nature: To know that something is off limits is often to know how very, very much we want it. This is a pretty universal human experience, but one that is highlighted by the conversation with the serpent, who points out something that ends up being true: “You will not die.”

We are used to thinking of the serpent in this story as an evil figure, even a figure we associate with Satan, the Tempter. But that is to miss out on a lot of the symbolism the serpent would have held for those who first gathered around a fire pit to hear this story. In the ancient world, especially this part of the ancient world, serpents were wisdom figures. In fact, the Hebrew word translated as “crafty” here, is translated as “prudent” elsewhere. The serpent is wise. It has some truth to offer. And one of the truths the serpent highlights is that same thing that every dieter knows, that is borne out in studies of three-year-olds who are told they can play with every toy except the one in the box: it is the truth of the desirability of the forbidden fruit.

The woman and the man, together, eat the fruit God has forbidden them from eating. Please notice—there is no seduction, there is no greater guilt on the part of either of them. And the serpent is right: they don’t die. Was it a test, one they failed? Was it God-as-overprotective-Parent, trying to keep the newly hatched children from learning all life’s difficulties too soon? I think all those layers are possible interpretations of the story, as is the traditional Jewish interpretation: this is a coming of age story. This is the story of the original humans learning a hard truth about themselves: the ability to discern good from evil does not equate to the ability to choose good over evil. Just because we know the right thing to do doesn’t always mean that we choose it. In the hot mess that is the human psyche it quite frequently means just the opposite.

The humans are ashamed—see how they try to cover up their nakedness, just as we so often try to cover up our own bad deeds, or even our uncomfortable deeds, or even the deeds of those we love who have somehow messed up—such a human impulse.

God the Creator does not destroy the disobedient humans. But in the part of the chapter that comes later, God gives them clothes to wear, and sends them off to another place to live, a place where they’ll be fine, though they will certainly have to work harder than they would have had to in the garden. Is the garden childhood? And the exodus from the garden adulthood? Hard to say. But know this: the Creator of the garden and of the humans does not abandon them. God does not wash the divine hands of these disobedient children. They still belong to God. They still belong to the earth they are called to serve, and they still belong to one another. God still tends to their needs. The God of the Old Testament is shown, in this first encounter with these disobedient children, to be a God of compassion and mercy, a God who is kind while being just. And that is the true beginning to the long and beautiful story of God’s relationship with us. God is a God of justice, compassion, kindness and mercy. We belong to God, and nothing can change that. Thanks be to God. Amen.