“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there. The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.
The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”
I love a good story….don’t you? One that is descriptive and exciting and full of surprises. As stories go, this one sure has it all! There is obedience and disobedience; great joy and great pain; excitement and confusion; pride and shame; people and God and a snake and those well-known trees. Yes, as stories go, this one is quite fantastic! It is scheming and intriguing. A story we turn to in reflection on many things—from marriage to obedience to sin. Yes, this story of Adam and Eve offers many lessons.
First, we are reminded anew that the God we worship is a God of love and beauty and generosity. Last week, we reflected on the story of Creation together, and of the care God shows for what God has made. This morning, as we reflect on Eden, we can imagine this Garden as a place of unbelievable exquisiteness! Created entirely for God’s chosen ones, and spectacular beyond measure. We can imagine everything we know and appreciate about the world we live in now magnified 10,000 times to be purer and cleaner and more breath-taking than anything we’ve ever known.
God intended that this Garden would be a working garden—one from which those whom God created could enjoy the boundless plenty of God’s earth. This wasn’t a place for idle hands, but for activity and exertion, A place of appreciating what was given and returning that love to the Creator.
The story of Eden is first and foremost a story of creative generosity and God’s protective and loving care….a story of productive energy and a reliable Sustainer. It begins in beauty and faithfulness and plenty.
But, like all stories that have their lesson to share, this one has its shadow side. And there in its darkness is the reality of ignorance and disobedience and betrayal. The downside to all this abundance is the reality of greed. The ugly truth of overindulgence and entitlement. The serpent knows just how to make his crafty schemes come true. In no time at all, Eden goes from being a place of perfection to a place of banishment. There are consequences to falling away from God.
In the Beginning, it was truly a perfect world that we initially inherited. And we were a perfect people. We could study Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden from a hundred different angles and no amount of explaining the Garden story will ever dilute that fact. Sin is costly. Falling away from God leads us far away from Paradise. Once Adam and Eve began to slip from their Perfect place, it all came crashing down in a heap. Adam didn’t want to disappoint God, so he tried to hide from the truth. Eve didn’t want to be left alone with her mistake, so she blamed the snake. Like any lie, it backfired on them. Broken and afraid, they didn’t confess immediately and accept their punishment, they deflected, blamed, and hid.
Yes, this is a story about Creative Beauty, but also about Creative Destruction…one in which the perfect union that God created—-between God and Creation; between Man and Woman; between Human and The Rest of Earth—were all threatened. Light and Darkness playing off one another perfectly. Like all good stories, this one is full of celebration and grief.
It would be easy to stop listening there….to let this story “wrap up”. To think that this introduction meets its climax and conclusion in a handful of sentences. There isn’t any question about what ultimately happened, is there? We read it right there in the text—they were banished from the Garden. There were rules, those rules were broken, and the consequence is getting thrown out. It would really be easier for us if there was a straightforward and clear ending. But this story is allegorical, not mythical….there is no singular story line with one clear moral lesson. God is far too big to be contained in one story. This story has a hundred truths woven into it, creating for us a beautiful tapestry of God’s love and care that spans God’s world from Eden to Revelation. The story doesn’t end when the “worst things” come to pass. It would be easy to do as Adam did to Eve and Eve did to the serpent—-to blame the story. To look back and mourn the perfection we once we promised. But the story doesn’t end with the clanging lock of a Garden gate.
The story of Adam and Eve is a story about sin and disobedience. But that’s not all it is. This is more than just a recounting of “what might have been had we not made mistakes.” That is a small and simple ending. And we don’t have a small and simple God. No one likes a story where the Protagonist doesn’t win.
The Holy Spirit speaks through stories. And scripture is at once, both hundreds of stories and One Story. Reflecting on this story from a regretful place outside Eden’s Gate is to read the story backwards. It doesn’t end with Adam and Eve and what they did wrong. It points us forward to reconciliation and love and what God did perfectly. We had so much to learn.
Again and again, God speaks in stories. From the Garden, through the Exodus. From the fall of kings to the rise of prophets. From exile to reconstruction to exile and back again. From the manger to the Cross. Story after story, parable after parable, miracle upon miracle. God knew that things would happen as they did. God knew we could not and would not stay “perfect”. God loved humanity enough to know we would fail, and to call us back again and again.
Perhaps the gift of the Garden is the very thing that resulted in our failure in the Garden —that we are seen and we are known. Even now, when the raw nakedness of the mistakes we make weighs heavily on our hearts, this story points us to who God is and what it means to be God’s people. God’s story is our story; and our stories are God’s story.
We could get so caught up in this story that we let it end with sin. That we seek—and find—only this one truth in its message. We could make the Garden only about the Fall of Man. Or we could let the Garden be the place where God plants seeds of hope and reconciliation that will bloom in their time.
We are seen and we are known in this story. And being seen and known is a dangerous proposition, from ancient moments to the present. One only has to take the briefest glance at the world we live in to know that. We spend a lot of time trying to hide who we are. From the excesses of our societal obsession with social media to our individual reluctance to face the hard and difficult truth of our internal weaknesses and failures, our very lives are stories of frustration, and loss, and grief, and failure, and sin, and triumph.
The Gift of the Garden is that God searches for us….and finds us. And though there are consequences—there are always consequences to falling away from God—God ultimately reconciles us. This story stretches end to end. Don’t forget that the perfection of Eden will be seen again in the visions of Revelation. The gospels will tell us stories of God’s humanity. Paul will connect human and divine from Adam to Christ. God sees us and knows us…..and, like Creation on its first day, still calls us GOOD. The story doesn’t end in sin. It continues to reconciliation. Sometimes, when we are in our lowest valley-days, we turn away from God. Perhaps we are ashamed of looking in the mirror and being confronted with the shadow reflection of Adam. Or the dark side of Eve. Or the aggression and deception of the Snake peering back at us. We long for the perfection of the First Days in the Garden and we fear we will never have them back. Like Adam and Eve in the story of Eden, we shrink from God and try to hide from His gaze. We fall away from worship—whether in body or in spirit—-because we don’t want to risk banishment from the Kingdom when God sees us for who we really are. But this is a story of a hundred threads and a hundred truths. Thank goodness God didn’t decide to stop speaking where we stopped listening. Thank goodness there is more to this story. Thank goodness God saw Adam and Eve in their nakedness and sees us in ours, and still calls us back to Him.
God is a God of second chances. A God of forgiveness. A God of unity. This story *could* end in shame and mistrust. With nothing but the banishment. With being seen and known and rejected forever. But that is a small and simple ending. And we don’t have a small and simple God. There is nothing we can hide or that we have to hide. We are seen and known, in all the ways, both good and bad, that we reflect the Beginning…and, like all exciting stories, this one closes, not with a locked Gate, but with “To Be Continued…” God redeems His creation again and again. The story is still being written. Amen.