Creation and Fall. That’s one way people have labeled and understood what we heard from Genesis this morning. Every time I read this story, I find myself in it and experience God in a new way. We read it this morning as a community, and I think we’ll find that God has something to say to us about life in relationship.
God created the human out of the dirt, breathing into it the breath of life. The name that we so quickly associate with this creature is Adam with a capital “A.” But at this point in the story, it might be best to keep that “a” lowercase because the word “adam” comes from the Hebrew “adamah” which means dirt. There is yet no separation and no naming. This new human creation is given the vocation to till and tend the garden, and the command to avoid the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, located in the center.
This human was not complete, it longed for companionship. It was created for relationship. God created animals from the earth, just as the human had been created, but none of these seemed to fulfill the human’s need for a partner. God created again, differently this time, and instead of one human creature, there were two, a man and a women, forming the first community. They are created in God’s image, to reflect God’s existence in community. The story continues to show how very fragile that community can be.
When the serpent speaks to the woman, he attempts to subtly twist God’s command. After the woman clarifies God’s words, the serpent introduces confusion over the purpose of the tree. Hearing that the fruit of the tree would make one like God, and seeing that it looks good to eat, both woman and man eat it, and they are changed. When God comes to walk with them in the garden, God finds them hiding. Questioning begins. Fault and consequences are passed around.
How quickly this community and these relationships are mired in stories and rumors and blame. This account from Genesis has all the intrigue and messy relationships of a daytime soap. Someone’s questioning one person’s intentions, one person goes behind another’s back, and a friend joins her in this betrayal, then the secret is out, and fingers get pointed all around.
It’s all such a mess. And it’s so sad because we, the audience, know that these creatures had such a good life, but they just weren’t satisfied enough to keep it. We want to shout- “No! Don’t do it!” – and we shake our heads… and close our book.
But this isn’t just another dramatic story. We can’t turn off the tv and go on our merry way, being thankful that we’re not like those people, and forgetting the story. This is our holy Bible. God draws us into the story, and we find ourselves in these words, meeting God, who reveals both ourselves and Godself to us. I see this story playing itself out all too often.
Thursday morning found me in a panic. I had a great night sleep, Laila had only woken up once, and I was ready for a great day with some fun church opportunities ahead of me. Pastor Jeff and I bounced Laila back and forth, getting her fed and clothed, got the dog fed and watered, and gathered up the things we’d need for the day. Pastor Jeff helped me carry some things to the car so that I wouldn’t have to juggle three bags and a baby (I think he’s nervous I’d drop the baby). So, he hops into his car and drives off to meet the assistant to the bishop for some business in Grand Forks, and I strap Laila into her carseat. And then I realize, I don’t have the car keys with me. So, I leave the car door open and run upstairs to grab them.
But, the keys are not the basket, which is designated as their primary home. They are not in the special owl that has become their secondary home. They are not in my purse, or my backpack, or my jacket, or my sweatshirt, or on my dresser, or on the desk, or on the table, or in the bottom of the diaper bag. So, I call Pastor Jeff, both dreading and hoping that the keys are sitting on the carseat next to him. It would be so much easier if it was all his fault and the mystery was solved. But, he replies that the keys are not with him. And he tells me the same helpful and unhelpful thing so many people do to those looking for lost things… going through the list of all the likely hiding places.
I realize I’m not going anywhere quickly. So I unstrap Laila from the car and bring her up to her bedroom and stick her in her crib where I know she’ll be safe as I tear apart the house. As I’m digging through drawers and checking the pockets of all the pants in the laundry chute, I try to picture what I could have done with those keys! Or maybe, I wasn’t the last one who had them. Of course I would have put them somewhere I remember… it had to have been someone else.
Then I begin to think… maybe Pastor Jeff left the keys on his desk in the office. Maybe he carelessly stuck them in the console of his car. Or maybe it was our dog. Iggy is a good retriever- I found one of Laila’s socks outside recently… maybe he carried off my keys and hid them in the bushes. Or maybe my headache is all Laila’s fault. She’s started to love tearing things off the coffee table, and my keys would probably be just as fascinating as the remote control seems to be…
Just as I’m about to give up and start walking to Hope, I take one last look under the couch cushions. And there those keys are. Just waiting for me. When I called Pastor Jeff to let him know that, after an hour and fifteen minutes of frantic searching, I had finally found them, together we reconstructed the story of how I had come home from picking up Laila from daycare, sat on the couch with her, let her play with my keys, and then decided they weren’t the safest toy, and hid them behind the couch cushion as I tried to distract her with a new toy. So, it really was Laila’s fault… and Pastor Jeff should have remembered where I put them. Although… if I would have done a more thorough vacuuming the day before, I suppose I would have found them then!
Blaming. It’s the easiest way to deal with a problem. From the big things to the little: from large financial decisions and life path choices to an overflowing sink of dirty dishes, it’s so much easier to say that our problems and headaches have come to us because of someone else.
It’s been humanity’s most natural course since the very beginning. When God comes to the humans and the serpent, no one takes responsibility for their actions. Each declares they acted because of someone else. In Genesis, God seems to play along, and the consequences to each party begin with the serpent, the last to be blamed.
The human cycle of relationships mired in blame is not our only option. Jesus resets human relationships and restores community. On the cross, Jesus is both the victim of the world’s blame and the one who chooses to take on the punishment that all our blame seeks to displace.
Religious and political authorities, cheered on by the crowd, killed him to keep the community together. They shifted the blame to Jesus so that the stress on the occupied community could be released. Jesus chooses to be the sacrifice onto which all the blaming finds its root, so that fault can end outside the community, on him, alone. When fault lies with Jesus, blame doesn’t have to weigh down other relationships, and the community can be at peace.
Jesus chooses to take on the punishment that should belongs to us. Often we seek to blame another for our faults because we don’t want to take responsibility for our actions and admit our mistake. If we did take responsibility, we would need to take a new course of action, or do what we can to heal the wounds we have caused. This is difficult work. Jesus goes ahead of us. Jesus claims his responsibility by accepting the punishment of all the world’s wrongs. Jesus allows the world to say all injustice and pain and wrong is his fault.
Jesus gives us an easy out, if we want to take it. We can shift the blame to him, and Jesus has already proven he’s willing to take the consequences on himself. Or, we can be strengthened by Jesus as we seek to become more truthful and honest about our own responsibility for our destructive actions. If we go this difficult route, we can be assured that Jesus walks with us to support us through the hard task of reconciliation ahead.
Last weekend, Pastor Jeff and I attended a conference on recovery and addictions. People living in recovery came to share their experiences. There were similar threads in many people’s stories, which I’ll merge for you in a character named Bill. Bill is an alcoholic. He explained how his perception of other people had changed through his recovery. While he was drinking, he felt that people were horrible. He felt that it was their fault that he wasn’t doing well. When they confronted him about his drinking, he really hated them. But in his process of healing, he was able to acknowledge his own role in acting on this addiction, and admit his actions to others rather than blaming them. When his need to blame others was overcome by his willingness to accept his own fault, his view of others changed for the better. Recognizing that his addiction is bound up in his body’s chemical responses was helpful, but accepting his own role in acting destructively gave him the opportunity to choose to act differently, supported by faith and a community. In accepting himself and his past, he was able to be more grateful for the relationships he had, and loving of the people in those relationships, because he no longer spent so much time finding the source of all his faults in them.
The cycle of blame ends when we are able to make confession: honestly declaring our destructive actions. On most Sundays, we begin our worship with a confession of our sin in which we name our fault before God and each other. We have a time of silence in which to reflect on wrong we have done and good not done. Perhaps we would be better served by an opportunity to name these faults, to claim them as our own. Whether or not we allow ourselves to be completely honest at that time, we hear God’s response to us. Jesus takes the blame away from us. God forgives us for everything. God heals our relationship so that we can be in community with God with the same closeness and joy of the first man and woman in the garden.
God will always forgive you and welcome you back into relationship. May this promise give you the courage to be honest with yourself and your communities. You are not perfect. When you fail, do not be afraid to admit it, God will not let it stand in the way of God’s relationship with you. You don’t need to push the blame onto anyone else. May you thus be freed from seeking fault in the men and women with whom you have been created to live in community. God forgives you, may others as well.