For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
Last week, we began exploring the one story of the Bible. Scripture is a complex book because there is poetry. There is history and biographies of a sort, and there is apocalyptic literature with terrifying images of monsters.
It can be hard to find the thread of what the story is all about, and my hope is by the end of the series, the one story of the Bible known as “The Salvation History of God,” will become clear.
We began by exploring paradise, the perfect place in which humanity is at one with God, each other, and with creation, and today human brokenness enters into our story.
But despite this reality, we will find that this story ends even better than it began! Better than paradise, so tune in over the next few weeks to discover what that is. But sadly, there is a tremendous amount of heartache and tragedy that leads the way.
The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, chapter 3 gets at the most intractable of problems within the human condition: our ability to shoot ourselves in the foot, so to speak, when all is right with the world.
Yet in some ways, it seems the fall of humanity is inevitable; a finite creature of flesh and blood, subject to sleep deprivation, hunger, and disease, endowed with free will? And besides, endless bliss is boring. I love sitting on the beach, feeling the mist of the ocean spray, hearing the waves crash on the surf…but frankly, my patience only lasts about an hour, and then I’m ready to move on to something more exciting. On a visit to Augusta National, perhaps the most famous golf course in the world, at first, I was awed by how perfectly everything was maintained. Not a blade of grass out of place! But by the end, I was frustrated. Show me a weed, please!
Surely God made humanity for something more than endless strolls in beautiful gardens.
Adam and Eve must’ve gotten stir-crazy. They wanted some weeds.
And they wanted to be something more, but sadly they wanted to become something more than they were spiritually ready for, they wanted to become as gods, with the knowledge of good and evil.
And there are a few facts within this story – telling things within the story that at first reading, we may not catch – that show how, despite its age, scripture’s keen insight remains perfectly pertinent.
Very quickly, the blame game enters the human heart. Eve blames the serpent, and Adam, blames God! “The woman YOU gave me offered me the fruit!”
Secondly, perhaps even more tragically, those in power to shape this story in the retelling multiplied sin upon sin! For centuries men twisted this story to justify patriarchy!
But it is telling that the Bible does not blame Eve more than Adam, but both equally, and in fact, the Apostle Paul, in the New Testament, blames the original sin on Adam not Eve.
The whole rest of the Bible is trying to undo this fundamental brokenness within the human heart, our propensity to push each other down; our fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God, and ourselves.
This becomes clear in Paul’s words to the Galatians. “No longer male nor female; slave no free; Jew nor Greek, all are one in Christ.” Paul is telling the Galatians and us to stop this nonsense. The priorities and the power dynamics have all been leveled. It is meant to be the unwinding of original sin.
But we are not yet at the end of the story. And we daily face the nature of this powerful Tree of Knowledge. Will we choose good or will we choose evil?
Despite our sin, God doesn’t want us beating our breast all day in anguish. Rather God wants us to add to the goodness of the world, for the only thing that can overcome evil is the power of love.
How will you use your power and your knowledge to be a force of good for God’s sake?! How are you going to work to let them know that God; that through God, we are more than conquerors. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “nothing can separate us from God, not death, not earthly powers, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ, Jesus, our Lord!”
God calls us to be people of courage and of action; one man, one woman, one person can make a difference!
Look at the life of Stew Clifford, God rest his soul, longtime member of Brick Church, specifically in his support of the Seminarian Program. Through his generosity an entire generation of pastors were nurtured by Brick, and they are now all around the world sharing God’s love.
Just last year one of our interns wrote these words:
The Brick Presbyterian Church …changed my life and deepened my faith. This program will always be responsible for connecting me with the place and the congregation where I first waded into the waters of ministry, where I felt the presence of God in helping to lead worship, where my discernment became formed. …I had the privilege to be surrounded by an unbelievably hardworking and talented team of ministers and staff. All of these things I will cherish and carry with me throughout my life and especially throughout my ministry, which, in no small part due to this program, I am excited to begin. My Seminarian Internship here has been without a doubt the most important part of my education and formation at Princeton Theological Seminary.
That is a legacy that Mr. Clifford left us.
Using your resources and choosing good one day at a time can be phenomenally powerful. And resources are not only counted by dollars in the bank. In the ninth grade, my brothers, father, and I spent the summer in San Luis, Colorado living in a trailer with a woman of titanic strength and grit, Thea Adler. She was gruff and foreboding and more than a little scary to a 14-year-old boy.
I learned she was a force to be reckoned with. She fought for water rights for the local people, she fed the hungry, she clothed the naked, she lived out the mandates of God.
Twenty years later I took a mission trip back to that valley. Thea had passed away by that time, but the story of her love had only grown stronger. Though she had almost no dollars in the bank, her investment in people for her whole life turned her into a legend of good for the choices she made.
But of course, the good and the evil are not always so easy to distinguish. At times it is so impossibly difficult to not only do the right thing, but to know what the right thing is. Because God has imbued us with such fantastic potency that we have such astounding capacity not only for good, but for evil.
For those of you who have seen the absolutely stunning and remarkable movie,Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan, you remember an early scene in which Oppenheimer approaches Einstein with his fear that a bomb might ignite the atmosphere, thus setting the entire world on fire and destroying humanity in one stroke. This turns out not to be the case, as we know from history. But near the end of the movie, Oppenheimer visits Einstein again.
“When I came to you with those calculations, we thought we might start a chain reaction that might destroy the entire world.” “What of it?” Einstein replies. The camera holds on Oppenheimer's face for a beat, and then he says the dagger of a line, “I believe we did.”
Oppenheimer’s fears eerily reflect the events of Adam and Eve and the situation. Each of us finds ourselves in a daily battle. We have knowledge, we have power, and even in trying to do good we can also do harm.
But the Bible’s message is always ultimately one of hope. Hope in God. And this brings us to Maltbie Babcock, Brick minister who wrote another favorite hymn of mine. He tragically died after pastoring here for only a year in the 1901.
“Though Babcock only served our congregation for 18 months, he made a lasting impact on both the church and community. In February of 1901, Babcock traveled to Egypt and the Holy Land, and died suddenly in Naples en route home three months later.” (Brick Hymn notes)
….After his death, his wife Katherine Babcock published several of his poem’s including This is My Father’s World. The tune that accompanies it is sweet, endearing us to a God who claims us as children. And the text tells us in whose hands the battle rests.
This is my Father's world:
Oh let me ne’er forget;
that though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet,
This is my father’s world
The battle is not done
Jesus who died shall be satisfied
and earth and heaven be one
Use your knowledge to choose the good and know that when we inevitably fail, the battle and our story is not done until that day when God in Jesus Christ unites earth and heaven into one, Amen.