The Primal Sins

Last Sunday I continued our series exploring the great ‘Acts’ of the story of scripture, focussing on the Fall. Here is the summary of my sermon.

For the last few centuries the story of the fall has always stuck in the throat of Western culture. It is an affront to our narcissism, and a stumbling block to our desire for complete individual autonomy and mastery of our world.  Adam and Eve’s choice to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than the Tree of Life, sets in motion a devastating break in creation. A fracture between humans and God, between human and human, and between human and creation. This break spirals throughout history and into our day. Thus the story of Adam and Eve speaks deeply into our current situation and contemporary day failings.

Gen 2:15 tells us that God has given humans a commission, that is to be guardians or stewards of his creation. When I hear Steward I think of a guy in a flourescent vest keeping people off sports fields. The Hebrew word is Shomer, a term which carries with it a deeper meaning. In Rabbinical law, a Shomer is someone given charge with guarding something for another, it is a vow, a promise to safeguard an item in your care. Someone who keeps the Sabbath is a Shomer Shabbos. Human’s role in the earth is to cultivate and guard God’s creation, the home he has created for us to live in with him. But by the end of this story, the role of Shomer will be swapped for the quest to be like gods.

Into this story enters a strange creature, a serpent, but nothing like the serpents that we are familiar with. This serpent stands upright like humans, like God he speaks. Why is he there? We do not know? Did he feel aggrieved being passed over as a companion for Adam (Gen 2:20)? Again we do not know. The cherubim that Guard the garden of Eden, also guard us from the answers to these questions. But if you think about it a snake is indicative. Snakes are cold, their eyes glassy, their demeanor speaks of detachment. A snake standing the way a cobra does, looks something like a question mark.

And so the snake begins the crack in creation with a question. God speaks, the serpent who the new testament writers will link to Satan, questions. His questions are not honest inquiries for knowledge but rather undermining traps. Leon Kass observes that by intimating that Adam and Eve will be like God, that it is the serpent who first raises the possibility of polytheism and paganism, by suggesting that anyone apart from God may be gods.

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Removing God from Eden

At Church we have been working through the ‘acts’ of Scripture. Last sunday I preached on the story of Creation, we explored Genesis 1 and Psalm 104. We started by listening to Sam Sparro’s Black and Gold, exploring the world view and theology of the song.

We then looked at Edouard Manet’s 1863 painting, Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe. Asking what was the worldview and theology of the painting. Noting the way that the work copies the composition of Michelangelo image of God creating in his Sistine Chapel Fresco. Manet replaced God, in his painting with a young bohemian, thus effectively removing God from the act of creation. The desire for Eden stays but God is gone and hedonism reigns.

Amy Stephenson did a great job of writing up my sermon. Below is her write up.

Create and Sustain

Can you picture it?  The people of Israel sit alongside the rivers of Babylon.  Looming over them is the magnificent city of their captors.  At the pinnacle of the city is the Babylonian temple, the Ziggurat, laden with it’s stories of capricious gods and violent clashes creating the cosmos, stories which cast humanity as slaves to the divine.  As the fire crackles one of the elders clears his throat, silence falls and everyone leans in, the elder starts his story with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”

 Think of the effect this story would have had on the captive people of Israel.  It re-cast them in their own story, no longer were they merely slaves, they were priests created to work alongside the High Priest in stewarding His temple.

God builds His temple

The language of the creation story is mirrored in the building and commissioning of God’s temple in Israel.  The Israelites would have understood what can be lost on us reading the same story today – that God built the earth to be His temple, His dwelling Place, He is not separate from it but intimately connected.

The Hebrew word we translate as ‘create’ is ‘bara’, which means more than just create, it means to sustain, commission, to give purpose and function.  John H. Walton explains God’s relationship with His creation, saying that “as a result of  taking up his residence in the cosmic temple, he sustains the functions moment by moment, as the very existence of the cosmos depends on him entirely. Both initiating and sustaining are the acts of the Creator God.”

We see this language of God sustaining the world in Psalm 104:

You send rain on the mountains from your heavenly home,

and you fill the earth with the fruit of your labor.

You cause grass to grow for the livestock

and plants for people to use.

You allow them to produce food from the earth-

wine to make them glad,

olive oil to soothe their skin,

and bread to give them strength.


Re-casting God

The notion of God being intimately connected – even sustaining – every function of the earth can be hard  for us to grasp.  We can hold a theology which no one has necessarily taught us, but which says that God exists somewhere outside of the universe, that He is separate from the world.  And we can pray for Him to occasionally intervene in our day to day, but He is generally not a part of the small things of our lives, they are not important to God.

Like Manet’s picture we desire to return to the Garden of delight, but without God, in fact re-casting us in His place.

Perhaps as we hear the story of creation today it is not us that need to be re-cast in our minds – it is God.  The language of being stewards of God’s earth is familiar to us, but do we consider that we are inhabitants of God’s dwelling place?  And that God is dynamically involved with every function of the earth?

This way of seeing God’s relationship with the day-to-day changes everything.  There is no separation of what matters to God and what doesn’t.  We live our lives as priests in His temple, commissioned to work for and alongside Him.

God didn’t create the world and then leave.  He created it as a place for Him to dwell and He invests in and sustains it’s every function.  And our day-to-day involves Him, He hasn’t left us, He didn’t disappear.

Understanding Where We Stand in the Story

We are exposed to stories all the time. Tonight we will be exposed to yet another, the story of a common girl, who wins the heart of a Prince. Interestingly there seems to be far more interest in the Royal Wedding outside of the UK, in places like Australia and the US, where we have a whole generation raised on the repeated tellings of the disney princess story. The reason that so many will watch the marriage of Kate and William tonight is because it is in the news, there is blanket coverage, and so on. But many will watch because it taps into a deep hidden desire. A desire communicated to us through story since childhood.

In our Western secularized world we are surrounded by stories, stories that carry with them worldviews. The unimportant man made rich and famous by a force of will, the transformation and personal enlightenment that comes through pursuing pleasure without limits, the touch of heaven on earth that we can achieve through changing our exteriors.

We may read scripture, or hear it in Church, but often is fragmented. So many of our cultures good things are the fruit of an attempt to live out of the biblical story, but as time goes by, we as a people become distant from the story of God’s creation of, and involvement with the world.

That is why I believe it is essential that leaders, regularly take your Churches, small groups, ministries, teams through the story of the bible in a macro sense. In order to again understand the plot, the pace, the turns, the twists of the biblical narrative out of which we live. Yes we need more effective and more relevant Churches and ministries, but perhaps more importantly we need the people of God to live their lives out of the Biblical story.

Here are three great tool to use to help yourself or your people reorient themselves back into God’s story for the world.

Roshan Allpress and Andrew Shamy the Insect and the Buffalo is a light, readable, and yet deep introduction to the biblical story. Great to give to someone to give them an overview of the way the story of the Bible interacts with our lives.

Sean Gladding’s The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible is a fantastic retelling of the biblical story, the way you would have heard it you were sitting around a campfire in ancient Israel hearing the story of your people, or in the early Church hearing about the coming of Christ.

Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew’s The Drama of Scripture is a great starting point to understand the overall themes of scripture and the way that those themes interact with our daily lives. Goheen and Bartholomew use six acts–creation, sin, Israel, Christ, church, and new creation to help us navigate and grasp the overarching story.

At Red Church we plan to each year take our congregation through the overarching themes, in order to continual reorient ourselves. This Sunday the whole service will be geared around a dramatic retelling of the biblical story complete with images and spoken word. It is a good idea to do for your community. If you are in Melbourne feel free to drop by to see how it is done.

Location: 310 Elgar Rd, Box Hill, Australia 3129

Sun: 4:30 pm