Choosing to Lose Paradise
Note: This sermon begins with a 3-minute video clip from the opening scene of the 1995 movie Rent-a-Kid. In the video, three orphans arrive at their new home to meet their adoptive parents. The mansion is perfect, filled with lots of toys and everything a young child could want including a miniature train and carousel they can ride. The parents give the kids a tour of the home and end by explaining the one rule of the house. There is one room, which they must never enter. The kids are then turned loose to play and we see clips of them riding the train, the carousel and playing. Then they walk back by the forbidden room. Molly, the little girl, opens the door to see what is inside. When she does, it leads out of the house to where the potential parents are waiting to take them back to the orphanage.
It took only a short time before the kids broke the one rule of the house by entering the forbidden room. They never even spent one night in their perfect house, with their perfect parents. It goes just like the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
I have been asked before if Adam and Eve were vegetarians when they lived in the garden. Of course, they were vegetarians. The only thing Adam and Eve ever ate in Eden was the fruit of the one forbidden tree.
The story of the Garden of Eden reads like a test case for free will. We usually have good excuses for bad choices. Someone could steal to feed his or her family, or kill in self-defense and we could say that it is justified. But the Garden of Eden is paradise and the only two human occupants have everything they need. There are no excuses.
Food is taken care of. They dont need clothes as they dont even realize they are naked. No animal will harm them. Adam and Eve were created as perfect companions for each other. The Hebrew describes Eve as equal and corresponding to Adam, the King James Bible translated that the closest by calling her his Helpmeet, meaning a helper who was meet, or equivalent to him. What need could they have? God even walks in the Garden with them.
In to this perfect situation, comes the one choice. Right in the middle of the Garden is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve tells us that it is a nice looking tree, with very tasty looking fruit. Who made the tree? Who made the snake for that matter? God did.
God made humans with a choice. There is no human paradise without the ability to choose. God wanted those of us created in Gods own image to choose the Paradise of Gods own designing. However, you cannot choose one thing without something else from which to choose.
On one level, the only choice in Eden was to decide whether to avoid eating from that one tree or not. But at another level, the real choice in the Garden of Eden was to decide whether or not you can trust God.
God says do not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil for if you eat of it you will die. God warns them not to eat from that one tree for their own protection. If Adam and Eve trust God, they could never eat from that tree. The only way you could decide to eat the fruit of that tree would be to first decide not to trust God.
What could Adam and Eve base their decision on anyway? They eat of the tree as soon as God turns his back the first time. It is not as if they had spent years hanging out with God in the Garden. You can almost imagine the conversation that never took place.
Eve says, How do we know if we can trust this God guy anyway. God seems like a nice enough creator as far as they go, but what do we really know about this deity? What kind of name is God anyway?
Adam, who has known God longer than Eve clutches the side where he used to have an extra rib and does not say a word.
Humor aside, Adam and Eve did know God. Scripture presents Adam and Eve as knowing God as one knows another human. They can stand with God in the Garden and chat.
Lets look a little harder at the reading for today. The conversation with the serpent is interesting. For one, the serpent subtly expands what God told Adam. God told Adam not to eat of the one tree. The serpent asks, Did God really say you shall not eat from any tree in the garden?
Eve clarifies the point, letting the talking serpent know that they could eat of any tree in the Garden but one. Then Eve herself expands Gods prohibition. Eve says that not only can they not eat of that tree, they cant even touch it. This is more than God told Adam. Of course, we dont know who told Eve not to eat of the tree or what they said. But by the time she repeats the story back to the serpent, the story has changed. Now they cant even touch the tree or they will die.
The serpent goes on to tell Eve that they wont die and we should note here that the snake is right on this point. Neither Eve nor Adam does die. In fact, the snake is right in telling her that what will happen is that they will know the difference between good and evil. The snake says that eating of the tree will make them like God and on this point God agrees later on, in the section past our reading for today.
So the snake uses the truth to lure Eve into checking out the fruit. Eve gets a nice piece of fruit, examines it closely and finds that it is a delight to the eyes and, knowing that it can make one wise, she takes the fruit and eats. Then Eve gives some to her husband.
Notice that Eve does not go track Adam down to bring him up to speed on everything. Adam was there all along, going along with everything first by not speaking up, then by eating. Like the brothers who ran to see what was in the forbidden room in the video clip, Adam was together with Eve in desiring the forbidden fruit. They both choose not to trust God.
Well, the snake was right. The fruit did give them knowledge. Now Adam and Eve know that they are naked. Pretty cheap knowledge really. If I were going to get myself tossed out of paradise for knowledge, I would rather learn something more impressive than that I need clothes. But Adam and Eve didnt need to know things like Is there a God? Or How can we feed all mankind? Or How can we get and keep world peace? Those questions were not even questions in Eden. They knew God and they lived in a world with neither hunger nor war.
Cheap knowledge is all Adam and Eve get for their disobedience and they go from eating forbidden fruit to wearing homemade Fruit of the Looms made from fig leaves in nothing flat. Adam and Eve were given one choice to make. They chose not to trust God and eat of the fruit of the one tree God said could kill them.
While the fruit did not kill them that day, through disobeying God, Adam and Eve became mortal. They were destined to die for their wrong choice. But that is not the end of the story. When our Old Testament reading for today ends, Adam and Eve are hiding in the Garden, fearful God will find them cowering behind their fig leaves.
God will make Adam and Eve own up to their wrong choice. They will confess and be punished for their disobedience. The cost is mortality and expulsion from the Garden. But God does not leave them alone. As a professor of mine put it, in expelling Adam and Eve from heaven on earth, God became a tailor and a real estate agent.
We are told that God fashioned clothes for Adam and Eve and caused them to settle East of Eden. Innocence was gone. Paradise was lost. The way back into the Garden was barred forever and yet with all that said and done, God did not abandon his first two humans. Even in expelling them from Eden, God provided a future for Adam and Eve.
As a test case, Eve and her quietly consenting husband Adam show that given everything they could ever need, humans would still choose to disobey. I have heard it claimed that this proves that Adam and Eve were teenagers. While funny, that claim is neither fair to teenagers nor honest to adults. All of us can be given every chance in the world and still make bad choices.
Unlike Adam and Eve, we already have the knowledge of good and evil. With that knowledge, most of our choices, the ones that matter, boil down to either trusting God or not trusting God. God warned you not to murder, steal, commit adultery, etc. Just look back through the Ten Commandments I read at the start of todays service. God says that if you do those things you will die. Do you trust God or not? If you trust God, you will try to keep his commandments. If you do not trust God, you will ignore them as you go through life.
Know that you have a real choice. You can decide not to trust God. You can live your life as if God does not exist, make your decisions without ever putting God in the picture. However, that choice will come with a cost. Just as Adam and Eve made the wrong choice and found death, you too will one day find death further down the road of not trusting God.
But notice that even in your wrong choices, God will not abandon you. The grace in Eden was that even when Adam and Eve did the one thing they were told not to do, God still cared for them. It would be as if we rewrote the video clip that started this sermon. Instead of blaming the little girl and sending the kids back to the orphanage, the parents would sternly tell the kids how disappointed they were. Then the parents would set the kids up in an ordinary, less than perfect home next door. The parents would still make sure the kids had what they needed, they just would not dote on them they way they planned to in the mansion. Then the parents would further hold out hope that one day the kids would be able to come back in live in the mansion after all. Thats the way God wrote the story.
In Gods story, wrong choices have bad consequences, but God still offers us a chance to make the right choice. The way God tells the story, you can go your own way and choose to lose paradise, or you can trust God and live.
During this season of Lent, you are called to examine your life. Do you trust God? Are you willing to live your life as if Gods promises in scripture are true?
God is offering you a chance to give your whole trust. God is still holding out hope that you will one day come home to the Garden.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526