Genesis 3:1-13; Mark 2:1-12

3rd Sunday after Trinity

St Barbara’s 16.06.2024

Rev Tulo Raistrick

The memory is still etched in my mind almost 50 years on. Me and my middle brother were playing football against the outside wall of our conservatory, a wall that was waist high and above which was a large window. Along came my older, slightly less sporty brother and took one kick. The sickening sound of shattered glass caused us to run in all directions. I fled into the garage and tried to hide behind the lawn mower. I didn’t come out until my dad came and found me twenty minutes later.

It wasn’t as if we hadn’t been told. My dad had said we could play football anywhere in the garden, even at risk of trampling the flowers. We could play out on the big common just behind our house. Nowhere was out of bounds, but the one place he asked us not to play was against the wall of the conservatory. The windows there were large and the panes of glass were thin. Knowing we had done wrong, we went into hiding. I’ll let you know how it worked out later in the sermon.

But that experience helps me to identify with the Old Testament story we are looking at this morning, of Adam and Eve. Last week, we looked at how the Old Testament made sense of the beginnings of the world. This week, we are looking at how those Old Testament writers made sense of how evil, bad things, came into a world that was inherently good.

And those writers do so by essentially telling a parable, a parable involving a talking snake and two people who represent the human race. Its a story that would have been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years, and that would have shaped the world-view of people at the time of Jesus.

For people would have heard the story while sat around the fireplace on an evening, or would have it heard read from the scrolls of scripture in the synagogue on a Sabbath morning, and they would have known that it made sense of their experience of life.

For it made sense of why life felt disconnected, why life did not run like a cart over a smoothly made road but instead like one stuck in ruts and mud, a constant struggle. They would have been able to identify with Adam and Eve and their guilt, that sense of fearing God, hiding from him, not feeling able to be in his presence. They too would have felt that sense of being exposed, naked, vulnerable, before God, acutely aware that they were not good enough, acutely aware that they had messed up. And they would have felt that sense of separation from him too, that sense that God seemed far off, distant.

May be there are times when we can identify with that too. When God feels far off, distant from us. When we feel it is difficult to be honest in his presence because we know we have not acted as we should. And there can be times, when we have got so used to that state, that we think it is the norm, that we think it is just how life is, to feel distant and out of touch with God.

Has it just been me, or have you also wondered at times during these last few days of unseasonably cold weather whether the sun actually exists or whether the thick cloud cover is all there is? But of course we know the sun has never gone away. It just feels like it because the barrier of the clouds has prevented the warmth of its rays from fully reaching us. As we think about our experience with God it is worth asking ourselves: are we experiencing the warmth of God’s love and presence or have we put clouds in the way of his light? What might those clouds be for us and do we desire for them to be removed?

The sense of alienation and separation that the story of Adam and Eve highlights about humankind’s relationship with God is also replicated in the way it reveals humankind’s alienation from each other. Look how quick things fall apart – how quick Adam is to blame Eve, and God, – “The woman you put here with me – she made me do it”. No sense of self-responsibility, no acknowledgement that he was right alongside her when she made her choice and could have urged a different course, no sense that he could have chosen not to eat the apple. No – just a desire to blame others, to evade responsibility.

For the people of Jesus’ day, they would have seen how that worked out in personal relationships. How people’s refusal to take responsibility, their willingness to blame others, led to dysfunctional families, hurting marriages, embittered neighbours; how it could even lead to violence and oppression in the form of Roman military rule. 

It may make sense of some of the challenges in our lives too, of some of the relationships that have gone wrong for us, whether that is at work or at school or with neighbours or with our families. Have we been guilty of just wanting to blame others when at least some of the problem may lie with us? And it can begin to make sense of the breakdown in relationships at national and international level too – the refusal to acknowledge wrong, the desire to blame others. It leads to the ridiculously adversarial nature of our politics when surely consensus would be more effective. It leads tragically to war, when compromise and reconciliation would  lead to better living on all sides.

The story of Adam and Eve would have confirmed for the people of Jesus’ time the all-pervasiveness of sin, of wrong, of that sense of it being around since the very beginning, and its impact of cutting them off from God and each other. Their response to this story was of two types, and often people did both. The Sadducees, who were the priests in the temple in Jerusalem, said that the only way to deal with sin, the only way to restore relationship with God, was through making animal sacrifices. This was the only way to show God that you were serious about your sin and needing his forgiveness. The Pharisees, who tended to be the leaders of the synagogues in the towns and villages scattered across Israel, said that holy living was the only way to get right with God. Both approaches had the same thing in common: it was human effort, human action, that made us right, that could bring us to a place of forgiveness. Ironically, it was the same way of thinking as Adam and Eve in our story, who thought that they knew better, could do better, than God himself.

Into that context came Jesus. He preached a message that was radically different. Human effort would never be enough. We would always fail. Instead, as we heard in our gospel reading, Jesus simply declares to the paralytic: “Your sins are forgiven”. It is his action, as the Son of God, that counts. Not our human effort.

As the apostle Paul reflected on Christ’s life, he thought back to the story of Adam and Eve. He wrote: “For since death came through a man (Adam), the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man (Christ). For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” For Paul, for the early Christians, Jesus was the second Adam, the second start of humanity, but this time he was choosing the way of God. Just as we saw last week, John described Jesus “in the beginning” as the re-creator of the world, so here Jesus is the re-birth of humanity, a chance to start again, to reverse the fall.

And that happens through Christ’s amazing gift of grace. We may think we have to earn God’s forgiveness, that he will accept us if we do certain things, achieve certain things. If I pray enough, am kind enough to others, stop over-eating or swearing, and so on, then God will accept me, then he will forgive me.

And so often that is our approach to our relationship with others too. If I do such and such, if I can achieve such and such, people will think better of me, I’ll get the credit I deserve, I’ll be happier, I will feel accepted.  And we can give those messages to others too. We may say to others: “Think of how people will respect you once you have achieved such and such” or “doing this will make you feel better about yourself”. But that approach rarely, if ever, leads to the acceptance we long for.

Grace reverses that whole dynamic. Christ accepts us just as we are. In the words of the author Philip Yancey: “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. And there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.” Grace is God’s gift to us. Our starting point is that we are forgiven, loved, accepted by God. We don’t need to prove ourselves to God. And it is from that acceptance that our sense of well-being and purpose in life grows.

Well, I promised we would return to me hiding in the garage as that little boy. When my dad found me hiding both from him and  the consequences of that smashed window, his response was this: what we had done was bad but it paled into insignificance compared to how much he loved us as his children. I had the choice. To accept what he said was true and come back into the house and live as part of the family, or to disbelieve his words, and stay out in the cold in the garage, cut off from all that was good.

As it turned out, it wasn’t really a difficult choice. It shouldn’t be a difficult choice for us either. In Christ, God offers us forgiveness and acceptance. We don’t need to live as Adam and Eve in that story, hiding in the garden, cut off from him. We can take up his invitation of grace, and walk with him in the sunlight once more. So the question for each one of us: Will we accept his invitation of grace and forgiveness, or stay hiding amongst the bushes in the cold?