The Continuing Story of a Garden and a Tree
Feb 26, 2023
First Sunday in Lent
Text: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
The Season of Lent has arrived; and as was the case in Advent, our focus will be on the Old Testament readings with references now and then to the Epistle and Gospel for the day.
Today we go back to the beginning, to Genesis and the Garden of Eden. The humans are in this garden, a place of beauty and abundance, and are free to eat the fruit of every tree, except one. God says, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for it the day that you eat of it, you will die.” So, the characters and the setting are in place, the encounter with the serpent is imminent, but what is the purpose of the story?
We often view it as an explanation of the presence of evil in our world. And, yet, a careful look at the text reveals no reference to where evil originates. We are told that God made the serpent; it’s clear that this crafty creature somehow took a wrong turn away from God, but how and why that occurred is not explained. So, it seems that the purpose of the story is not to address the question of evil, but to illustrate what has been happening all through history in the relationship between God and people.
This account is about the choices people make and what it means to be human. Some would say that while this is not a description of real events, it certainly is true. And it all begins with the serpent poking a hole in the trust between God and people with the question, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’” That, of course, is not at all what God said, which the woman, Eve, quickly clarifies. But, the seed of doubt has been sown, which is perhaps
why she adds the detail about not being allowed to even touch the tree, which God did not stipulate.
Then, the serpent makes the hole larger. “You will not die,” the serpent says, and then goes on to question God’s motive by noting that God is keeping them from eating that fruit because, if they do, they will be like God. The message is something like this – God does not want you to flourish, or be happy, or be powerful. God is holding you down. You were made in the image of God, why not be equal to God? This is an explanation for the natural human tendency to rebel against God and to make gods of ourselves.
And the rest is, as they say, history. Eve took a good, long look at the tree, it was inviting with delicious-looking fruit. Besides, what could be wrong with becoming wise, and understanding good and evil, she reasons. So, she ate the fruit and shared it with Adam, and their eyes were opened.
While in the story they did not physically die, when the choice was made to disobey there was death: innocence died and was replaced by shame; harmony with creation died and became enmity and struggle; peaceful relationship between people died, shattered by accusations; communion with God died and a wall of separation from God was constructed. That’s just the beginning of the list of what died due to human choice, including the eventual arrival of physical death.
Why, then, did God give them a choice? Why this insistence on freewill? It’s because without choice there can be no genuine obedience, no meaningful trust. God wanted a creation capable of a real relationship involving the heart, mind and will. Choice is at the heart of human
life, and the ultimate question is, who will we trust? Will our relationship with God be one of trust?
Here’s an interesting detail; commentator Scott Hoezee writes that in Genesis 3:1-7, the description of the interaction between Eve and the serpent, God is referred to in Hebrew in a less personal way than is true in Chapter 2 and the rest of Chapter 3. It’s as if her conversation with the power of evil is drawing her away from her personal relationship with God. Also, did you notice that God is being talked about, not to? Pastor Hoezee writes, “…the personal God drops out of the picture and is replaced with an abstract idea of who God may be, what God may desire and what God may or may not have said.” (1) That, of course, makes it easier to cast doubt on God’s motives and promote one’s own desires.
This week during preschool religion class I told a story about poor choices in which the sister sheep Twisty and Rebecca were each given a delicious chocolate chip cookie by their grandma. Twisty snarfed her cookie down, but Rebecca decided to save her cookie. Seeing this, Twisty decided that Rebecca must not REALLY want her cookie, sneakily took it and ate it, and then lied to both Rebecca and Grandma about her dastardly deed.
I then paused and asked, what should happen next? All of the children, the youngest to the oldest, wanted Rebecca to be given another cookie, although the older ones were more creative about how that might happen. At least one child in every class, more in the older groups, brought up the need to apologize to Rebecca and to Grandma. But, the idea of apologizing to God, that is, asking for forgiveness, had to be prompted by me.
One thoughtful boy asked, “Why would she have to say I’m sorry to God? She didn’t hurt God.” And so it was that his class was introduced to the idea that when we hurt each other, we
hurt God. That’s easier to ignore if God is an abstract idea, not a loving creator who wants what is best for us.
Eve and the Serpent, and then Adam, tried to do something behind God’s back, but God’s back is never turned, and from there it was a downhill ride … replayed over and over again in human history. But, then, the direction began to be reversed. Jesus undoes what Adam and Eve did.
Did you see that in Romans 5? It’s particularly clear in the final verse: “For just as by one person’s disobedience (meaning Eve/Adam) many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience (Jesus) the many will be made righteous. And, in the Gospel, Jesus faces temptation in the wilderness – the opposite of the lovely garden – and resists and obeys, trusting the word of God rather than the power of evil.
As Lent begins we remember the story of a garden and a tree, and the consequence of human choice. In the weeks to come we will move toward a reversal and restart of the story, on a tree, the cross, and in a garden where the tomb is empty. AMEN
(1) “Commentary on Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7” by Scott Hoezee. February 26, 2023, www.cepreaching.org