Genesis 2:15-17,3:1-13 Man, Woman, Snakes and Traffic Lights Martin Baker
3 Now 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’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but 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.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.” 6 So 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. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
8 They 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. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" 10 He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." 11 He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" 12 The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate."
Prayer: May my words and our thoughts be acceptable in your sight, O God our strength and redeemer.
We come to the reading today asking one of the hardest questions there is to ask. Why. If, as Paul said to the Athenians that God is not far from each of us. Why the destruction? Why do people do bad stuff? Why do they do the wrong thing even though they know it will hurt others and even themselves?
Okay, I just want to do a short thought experiment. It’s a bit trivial – but hopefully a bit of lead in to the big questions.
Probably everyone here has noticed a very annoying set of moving traffic lights as you come into Clevedon. They are laying the big blue pipes for water and the smaller dark pipes for sewerage. So a short term pain and a long term gain for the people are in Clevedon and the 2 or 3 thousand we expect to move here over the next 10 years.
Once you get through the traffic lights the speed limit is 30 km an hour between the lights. Has anyone gone over the 30 km speed limit?
I can easily go faster than 30 km. I’m not endangering anyone. The car in front of me is going faster. The car behind me is right on my tow bar.
A couple of weeks ago I was heading up to the lights and they turned red. And the wait at that time could be 4 minutes or more. And the tail of the cars going through was just a few meters ahead of me. Did I go through the red light to catch the tail? If I don’t I might have to wait her another 5 minutes. I’m running late. No one will notice.
Now if I ask that same question and you saw a police car in the vicinity, maybe following you, maybe sitting off to the side of the road, how many of you would change your behaviour?
So, despite the validity of all the reasons you have just given yourself, to not slow down, to run the red, the threat of being caught changes your otherwise quite justified decisions in your mind, behaviour?
So the police officer stops you, and you provide your perfectly valid explanation for not slowing down, and what? Are you expecting the strength of your argument to win the day, and avoid getting a ticket?
Or maybe you offer a further excuse. Like ‘I was running late and the significance of getting to where I was going on time was of a more pressing importance than obeying the sign.’ Or that you had to go that speed because the person behind you was too close and you decided it as the safest thing to do.
(a friend of mine was stopped last year for speeding when overtaking and she explained she had to go fast to overtake and the officer asked her if she knew what the legal speed was for overtaking in New Zealand?)
Maybe in our case, you fib, and say you didn’t see the light change. (and now you have done another calculation in your mind – you say that it is okay to fib because this is a ridiculous law anyway)
And/or you get angry, you blame the officer for doing the job he or she has sworn to do, that is, enforcing the law. Or you say, (or at least think) surely you have more important things to do than police the ridiculous Clevedon traffic lights. The implication being that somehow it is the police officers fault that you have been speeding.
What I am trying to get to here, is the layers, and subtlety around the story today of the man, the woman, the apple and the snake. The nature of sin.
There are some brutal truths here.
We have an endless ability to deceive ourselves. We are very good at justifying doing the wrong thing. It was a stupid rule anyway.
And when we do or say the wrong thing, we love finding others who agree with us. We have terrific people on our ministry leadership team. I admitted to them running the red to catch up with the tail and they were a little bit shocked. I assumed everyone did that and they both told me that they would never do that.
Or that doing the wrong thing now is justified because the outcome will eventually be the right thing. The end justifies the means. I will make it to the train that will take me to Middlemore Hospital to do some hospital visiting.
In our scriptures there is a very robust regard for sin or for doing the wrong thing. Missing the mark is the word used in Greek. What we decide to do personally, how we decide to treat those close to us, the decisions we support as a community, as nation, there isn’t a line drawn between these things.
There are judgements we read against nations, cities individuals.
Grieving civilians or collateral damage in a bombing to bring peace. Saving money on a building, and an earthquake or fire that causes unimaginable suffering. Absence as a father or mother, long hours for the sake of the family, and our children become strangers to us.
Now, it’s not all bad.
There is another layer in all of this. God created us in God’s image. Psalm 8 says that we have been crowned with glory and honour. Paul tells us that God is not far from each of us.
And our story this morning touches on this in a way we often just pass over.
The snake or serpent is not all bad. Remember the snake has already been identified as one of the animals God created. The serpent is not Satan. We are told that the serpent was crafty but the same word can mean shrewd or even sensible.
The woman isn’t all bad either. She’s heard God’s direction, but she’s open to a different point of view. Maybe she thinks that there could be something more than spending life in paradise doing the garden. She shows courage and thoughtfulness, she sees that the tree is good for food and is a delight. Where’s the man in all of this. Just passively off somewhere avoiding work or playing with his new leaf blower. Sometimes we need to pause in the text and not rush on to the end.
So the same humans, the same men and women who are capable of doing the wrong thing, the same people who have the ability to create all sorts of reasons why they have done something wrong, also, the story tells us, have been created to imagine, invent, to create to solve problems, to address challenges to ask questions to do the most wonderful and extraordinary things.
So, let’s think now how we move through this complexity of motives and outcomes.
The first question we hear God ask of the man and woman after the forbidden fruit eating event, the first question God asks, is where are you?
Adam and Eve do not want to deal with the implications of what they have done. It’s the question Jesus would ask in so many different ways as well. Where are you when it comes to your relationship with people around you, with the poor, where are you when it comes to what God expects from you, on the night before his execution even his closest disciples ran away in fear, and that question still remains, where are you?
Adam and Eve we find are hiding. Hiding from the implications of their own actions.
And we have then this comedy almost.
The man said I did this because I heard you and I was afraid. The woman you gave me, accusing God, the woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit from this forbidden tree and I ate. Then God says to the woman what is it that you’ve done is. And she blames the serpent. The serpent tricked me and I ate.
So man blames God and then blames woman. Woman blames serpent.
Man, woman, serpent – all blaming each other. All in a mess. Chaos is creeping. And suffering and death will follow. In Romans, Chapter 7. Paul said
5 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
God and serpent, man and woman, garden and wilderness, blessing and curse—these are the very elements of our existence and the objects of our lifelong quest for understanding and enlightenment.
There are important themes in our story today. Wonderful opportunity, enormous blessing, freedom but also disobedience, fear and brokenness.
And we look at this story from the point of our own faith. The terrible misuse of our power and freedom, the actions driven by fear ends in the death of Jesus.
He was the one who leads us in a new direction. Announcing God’s love and forgiveness, calling us to repent, which is all about turning in a new direction.
The basis on which we exercise our freedom and our huge potential as those created in God’s image has got to be the love that overcomes fear.
I’m not sure if there is some specific Christian response to inconvenience speed signs.
We don’t need to be experts here. In the story we have the ability to blame and sin and make the wrong decisions. But we are also created in God’s image. To plan, to think for ourselves, to be moral to seek the right.
But every day we make choices, decisions, exercise our freedom, our curiosity, our God given gifts, desire to know more. And today we hear more good news, that we are loved, forgiven, gifted with eternal life through faith in Jesus.
And so as we are taught in Colossians.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
And in Thessalonians 5:15 “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”
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