(Genesis 2:15-3:7; Psalm 51:1-12; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35)
As part of my training to become a pastor, I worked as a chaplain at Bridgeport Hospital for a summer. The two hospital units for which I was the chaplain were the Psychiatric Unit and the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. There was a woman in the Psychiatric Unit to whom I ministered who I will never forget. She was an addict attempting recovery. She felt she had sinned so badly that she could not be forgiven by her children or her fellow church members. She felt trapped in sin, as if sin were quicksand or a tar pit. She could see no way out.
This woman’s condition is not the vision God had for us when God created us. God created the world and its creatures out of an outpouring of love. Our planet and its creatures, including we humans, exist because of love. We were created out of love so that we could live in love and share it with one another and experience heaven on Earth. We see what this looks like in the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden. There was water flowing from rivers; trees and plants with food to eat; animals and birds; and humans – not just one human, but two, because we were created to be in relationship with one another. As God stated, “It is not good for [humans] to be alone” (Gn 2:18). The Garden contained everything necessary for a flourishing life. There was only one restriction to humans’ interaction with the garden: They were not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gn 2:16). The reason for this restriction: If humans eat from this tree, they will die (Gn 2:17). The restriction, therefore, was for our benefit. God was protecting us by making it.
Into this heaven on Earth, however, slithered evil, in the form of a serpent. God creates; evil destroys. We know this truth not only from the Bible, but from all of the stories we’ve read and movies we’ve seen with this theme: Star Wars; the C. S. Lewis Narnia series; the J. R. Tolkein Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series; fairy tales; Disney movies; and so on. God and good desire life and love and creativity; Satan and evil desire death and hate and destruction. The serpent slithers into the garden and sows seeds of doubt, telling humans that God has not set this restriction for their good, but for God’s good. The serpent says that God has not given humans all they need; God has kept from them the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil so that they will not become like God. All of the sudden, what God has given them is not enough! They desire the one thing God has not given them. Adam and Eve turn their gaze away from God and focus on the forbidden fruit. God had given them everything they needed to satisfy their hunger, but they became focused on the one thing that could not satisfy their hunger.
They eat the fruit, their eyes are opened, and they realize they are naked. Remember, from the Genesis scripture reading today, that before eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve were naked but they felt no shame (Gn 2:25). Nakedness represents vulnerability. They were completely open to God and to each other. There was nothing to hide. After eating the forbidden fruit, however, their eyes are opened, they realize they are naked, and they cover their nakedness. Evil’s most powerful weapon – shame – has entered creation. Adam and Eve are ashamed, so they cover themselves. The coverings represent a loss of vulnerability and a loss of connection. The coverings represent separation. Adam and Eve are no longer completely open to God and each other. Not only do they cover themselves: They also hide from God when God visits the garden in the evening. Evil has done its work, and shame, with it’s attendant separation and isolation, has entered human experience. Adam and Eve do not die physically, but their innocence dies. They die a spiritual death. They now know that evil exists, and they now experience its effects. The Garden of Eden is no longer heaven on Earth.
The woman to whom I ministered in the Psychiatric Unit at Bridgeport Hospital was caught in the quicksand/tar pit of the shame that comes when we feel sinful. With shame comes separation and isolation, and she was experiencing both of those things. She saw no way out. I, however, as a minister of the gospel, knew and know that there is a way out, a way that Jesus has provided us with his life, death, and resurrection. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:23-24). I shared with this woman that it didn’t matter what she had done; whatever it was, God’s grace through Jesus Christ would forgive and justify her! God is always doing a new thing and God could do a new thing with her! Evil, sin, and shame do not have any ultimate power when we turn to God and let God lead the way into our future. She did not have to separate herself from family and church and live in isolation, which would only feed the addiction; she could repent, ask for forgiveness, accept forgiveness, and walk into a future of recovery in the light and love of God.
The good news I shared with this woman is true for all of us, of course. All of us will turn – at one time or another, or at many times – to people, places, and things that cannot satisfy our spiritual hunger, just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. Once we have eaten the forbidden fruit (whatever form it comes in), we will realize that it doesn’t satisfy, and we will feel shame. We will be tempted to hide our sin from others and God, but that is not the way of redemption. Redemption comes when we turn to others and to God, confess, repent, and receive the balm of forgiveness that God is ever ready to give us. God offers us the food that satisfies spiritually: Jesus Christ, the bread of life. This bread gives life to the world and to us perpetually, continually, eternally. It is always fresh, always delicious, and always satisfying. May we feed on Jesus Christ, letting his righteousness fill us. Gradually, the forbidden fruits of the world will lose their attraction until they tempt us no more, and God is all in all. May it be so for all of God’s beloved children. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, August 5, 2018, the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost.