“What’s Wrong With Apples?” or “The Nature of Sin”
Rev. Jeff Long-Middletoton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Genesis 2:15 – 3:21
October 7, 2018
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4 & 5i
So they ate it. We know why. Verse five gives us the reason. “…you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Doesn’t sound all that bad – I mean the part about knowing good and evil. That’s what we try to teach our children. Some would say that all of life is trying to follow the good and avoid the evil and you can’t do that it you cannot distinguish one from the other. Right? So what’s the problem?
Well, simply put my good may not be good for you. Indeed, what I see as virtuous may not be so virtuous in your eyes. Now if everyone would just agree with me, all would be fine. The problem is that everyone wants everyone else to agree with them!
You see, as soon as they bit into that proverbial apple, they wanted to be like God and we’ve wanted to be like God every since. We place our individual selves at the center of the universe. Our sense of good and evil becomes the normative measure for all of humanity. Not only does this occur on the individual level, nations do the same. The freedom fighters our nation defends are seen as terrorists by others.
This miscalculation of our virtue is bad enough. It leads down the road of self-deception. But the problem is larger yet. Should I be successful in recruiting others to my understanding of good and evil, we can be filled with self-righteous furry. We can take up the sword. We can go to war because our virtue is more virtuous than those whom we have labeled “enemy.” The death camps of Nazi Germany, the genocide of America’s native peoples, the killing fields of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, the gulag of Stalin’s Russia, the cultural revolution of Chairman Moe, Jim Crow in America – all of it is a result of thinking ourselves God and proclaiming one person’s right to be wrong.
I see no way out of this mess. It can be mitigated by being aware of what we are doing when we demonize those different than ourselves, but Christianity calls for the active engagement of its believers with a fallen world. We will always be subject to the misguided measures of our private desires. We will inevitably sin because in our finitude our vision is limited. We cling to what we know and proclaim it be known by all. When others fail to comply with the good we proclaim, we judge them blind to the will of God. We need to make this insight of Reinhold Niebuhr our own:
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”1
It is that forgiveness we proclaim each time we come to the Lord’s table. Jesus does not wipe away our sin. I sinned yesterday, I will sin today and tomorrow will be more of the same. There is an old Yiddish folktale that captures this reality:
Moisha was an “…extremely devout Orthodox Jew who was close to death. His wife and daughter came to his bedside, and his wife said, ‘Moishe, you’ve been such a good and pious provider to us all your life, is there anything we can get you?’ Moishe answered, “Yes, I want a ham sandwich.’ Both were aghast, but they got the ham sandwich and he ate it quickly. His wife finally summoned the courage to ask him, ‘Moishe, all your life you’ve been so devout and strict on yourself, how could you do this?’ Moishe replied, ‘So I’ll tell you. I know I’m going to die, and I know that when I get to heaven the Lord will judge me. He’ll say, ‘Moishe, all in all you lived a very good life, but remember the time you stole those apples as a boy, remember the time you were mean to your wife and family, remember the time you were so nasty to your brother-in-law Sol, remember the time…’ Well, as soon as he gets to the ham sandwich, I’ll know it’s over.'”
My friends, Jesus cannot save us from sinning but He can save us from sin. In Him we have come to know the unconditional love of God. It is the Second Person of the Trinity that died on that Friday long ago. It is God taking on the darkness of death, the pain of loss, the anguish of betrayal. In that moment God bears the price of our separation from God and in Christ’s rising from the dead, the humanity of Jesus makes God’s history our own and with Jesus we rise, too.
This table has been prepared that we might remember the life, death and resurrection of our Lord. We do not come because we are pure or free of the stain of sin. We come to reaffirm that despite our sin, we are not forsaken but loved, not lost but found, not abandoned but welcomed home. Let us come seeking a presence and praying for a spirit. Let us pray….
1 Niebuhr, Reinhold, The Irony of American History, Scribners, quoted in Context, February 15, 1992.
i Genesis 2:15 – 3:21
15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
18Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.
21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” 24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.
3Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. 8They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
9But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”10He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
11He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
14The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
16To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
17And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
20The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
21And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.