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Genesis 3.1-13, 22-24

I Corinthians 15.20-23

II Corinthians 5.16-21

Adam’s Shoes

Third Sunday in Lent


I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in paradise lately.  I’m working on a project that includes a deep dive into the opening chapters of Genesis, the stories of creation and of the first man and woman, Adam, from the Hebrew word for “earth”,” and Eve, the Hebrew word for “life.”  I’d like to invite you to join me in paradise this morning as we consider the place of our primordial ancestors in how you and I understand ourselves and our relationship with God.

Scientists at England’s University of East Anglia and Sweden’s Uppsala University are sequencing the genetic makeup of acorn worms in a way that enables them to triple their life expectancy.  Why the acorn worm?  They and we - human beings - share approximately 70% of our genes, and it is conceivable that someday their work will make it possible to dramatically extend human life expectancy.  What will happen if the experiment makes the jump from that creature that creeps with sinuous trace, the worm, to human beings?  Would you like to live three times as long if you could?

A pregnant woman in a major teaching hospital wanted to determine the gender of her baby.   Already the mother of four boys, who were frankly more than she could handle, she desperately wanted a girl.  In fact, she had already confided to her doctor that if it were going to be another boy, she would seriously consider terminating her pregnancy.  But when the doctor got the results of the test, he refused to share that information with her, because his personal code of ethics would not allow for an abortion of convenience for gender preference.  What would you have done if you were the doctor?  What would you have done if you were the woman?

Members of four Native American tribes in the southwest had donated blood as part of a government project to identify the source of diseases which seemed to be particular to their peoples.  A year or so later, in response to a request from the Human Genome Project, which is creating a map of human DNA, the government gave portions of those blood samples to genetic researchers.  When the Native American groups learned their blood had been shared in that manner without their permission, they sued to have it returned, because it was their belief that the possibilities of gene-patenting inherent in that kind of genetic research were in sacred violation of their ancestral tribal religion.  Should the blood be returned, considering that the original research into tribal disease was far from finished?

As the Genesis creation story tells it, the first man and the first woman ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and humanity has been living with the consequences ever since.  I wonder what might have happened if they had resisted the tempter’s lure:  instead of knowing good and evil, and being continually tossed about between those thorny horns, what would it be like if humanity only knew the good.  “And God saw everything that was made, and behold, it was very good.”  What kind of wonderful world this could have been if we had never known evil!  It would be as though Pandora had never breached that bothersome box, as if the ills and mischiefs of the world had remained forever bolted up in some safe, out-of-reach vault.  Of course, most theologians insist that Adam and Eve never had a chance against the tempter, that it was not within the realm of human ability to refuse that knowledge dangled so seductively within their reach.  Adam and Eve could not not have sinned, some would say; it is human nature to test God, to attempt to claim for humanity what rightly belongs to the divine alone.  Protestant reformer John Calvin held that the human predilection toward sin would militate against the first couple’s ever making the right moral choice.  But still, it’s fun to wonder, “What if…”  What if there were no evil in our world?  What if hatred and injustice and war were completely unknown?  What if it were part and parcel of human nature to make the correct moral choice, every single time, without fail?  The deeper question this Lent is, what if sin were not part of the human story?  What if we could not be tempted?  When my colleague Chris Mereschuk wrote about temptation in last Monday’s devotional, he described an old television “reality” show called  Temptation Island, saying, “I don’t need to be on a manufactured reality show to struggle with temptation.  Actual reality is my own personal temptation island.  And I don’t think that’s uncommon.”  But what if the Genesis story had turned out differently?  What if the first man and woman turned around and walked away from the tempter?

There are a lot of things we can say about humanity besides our tendency toward sin, of course.  Men and women are material beings:  “The Lord God formed humanity from the dust of the ground, and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life.”   We are gendered beings:  “Male and female God created them.”  We are free-willed beings:  “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food… she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.”  We are self-aware beings:  “Then their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked.”  And, amazingly, even after all of this, we remain near-to-godly beings:  “Behold, the man and woman have become like one of us, knowing good and evil.”  Or as the Psalmist expresses it in that great psalm of creation, Psalm 8:  “What is humanity, that you are mindful of us… and that you care for us… yet you have made us little less than God, and crown us with glory and honor.”  Nevertheless, we cannot undertake the search for humanity without somehow making our way through the garden of Eden.  The Christian story, the story of Jesus Christ has, not just its beginning in Eden, but its meaning as well.  As Claudia read from Paul’s words to the Corinthians:  “Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”  It is telling that, for as much as we celebrate the second part of that story, our redemption in Christ, we tend to avoid its necessary first part, mortality as the consequence of Adam’s and Eve’s choices.  We rebel against the prospect; we ask, “Why is it that because the first human beings sinned, it must automatically be assumed that I am a sinner too?  I may have my faults, but I am still basically a good Christian person, right?”  Right!  Paul says, we are – because of Jesus.  “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”

It’s still a difficult pill to swallow.  If you and I were standing in Eden – by the way, I was in Eden back in October, I didn’t see any apple trees, and I wasn’t driven out, I drove myself out – of Eden, Utah.  But if you and I were standing in Eden and we were told not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, something in us wants to believe we would have listened.  I mean, surrounded by all that paradise, if we had been in Adam’s shoes, or in Eve’s pumps, would we really have taken the risk of losing it all with that one forbidden fruit?  Adam and Eve did, but I’ll bet there lurks inside each of us here the sneaking suspicion that we somehow could have, and would have, resisted temptation, because something within us refuses to admit the human proclivity toward sin and disobedience.  The fruit of that tree, the tempter wants us to believe, would have been safe with us.

But how many of us remember, even after hearing the familiar story of the garden, how many of us remember that there were two trees in the garden?  The first of them was violated by the man and woman.  And God, having learned the hard way that simple proscription was not enough, sent an angel armed with a blazing sword to guard the second tree, the tree of life.  “Behold, the man and woman have become like us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest they put forth their hands and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever – ”  The writer of Genesis deliberately leaves the sentence unfinished.  God protected the tree of life, not with words of reason or persuasion, but with a sword of flame.

And so you and I do wear Adam’s shoes, because at the end of the story of the Garden of Eden, the tree of life remained unmolested.  Is it still safe today?  Is it all right with us that we do not possess the secrets of life?  Is it all right with us that we can’t live longer than we do now?  Are we satisfied to leave that divine, forbidden fruit where it is, hidden in the innermost recesses of the human genome, that most basic building block of life?  What are we going to do once we have unraveled and deciphered the DNA molecule?  Who is to say we will not want to live longer, to reach for the golden ring of immortality?  Who is to say we will not desire to choose not just the gender, but also the genetic makeup of our yet-to-be conceived children?  Who is to say humanity will not attempt to manipulate the hereditary markers of relatively powerless minority peoples?  The second and third anecdotes I described earlier, about determining a child’s gender for the sake of parental preference, and about the ownership of certain components of the blood of those Native Americans, is a type of human encroachment on the tree of life.  And even though they are both in the realm of the possible, both are also hypothetical; the scenarios were manufactured by the Human Genome Project as an exercise for ethical debate.  But hypothetical or not, they present a genuine dilemma.  The first scenario though, about the acorn worm and the Universities of East Anglia and Uppsala, is real.  Who wouldn’t want to live longer, if that possibility were held out to us – not necessarily forever, but maybe an extra ten or fifteen years, or maybe even three times longer?  Who wouldn’t want even a little taste the fruit of the tree of life?  Who could refuse even a little taste of the knowledge of good and evil? 

Who wouldn’t want to wear Adam’s shoes?

Maybe it was not such an easy, cut-and-dried decision for the first man and woman to make after all.  This is why every one of us walks, at some point, through the garden with them.  But we do not remain in the garden; we only walk through it on our way to the cross; it is a necessary stop on the journey.  This too is part of human nature.  Kyle Snodgrass of Chicago’s North Park Theological Seminary writes, “Sin is not God’s intent for humanity.  In fact, to some degree, sin is the refusal to be authentically human as God intended.  [Jesus’] incarnation, cross and resurrection are intended – not only to effect salvation – but to reveal what a human is and may become.”  If we might put this in other words, you and I were created to be redeemed.  To be authentically human is to be freed from sin, which means that to be authentically human is to be in Jesus Christ.

Remember that Jesus too wore Adam’s shoes, not because he sinned, but because he was human.  We must first wear Adam’s shoes through the garden before we wear Jesus’ shoes to the cross.  This is why Paul wrote, “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”   In Jesus Christ, we are more than forgiven; in Jesus Christ, we become most fully and most authentically the human beings God has always known we can be.

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