OT Lectionary June 7th Trinity 1 Genesis 3:8-15

Regular thoughts on the oft-neglected Old Testament Lectionary passages

Now that we’re in ordinary time I face a choice over whether to comment each week on the related or continuous strands of the OT lectionary. I’ve plumped for the related stream, simply because it will be more interesting for me, but if I were you I’d scrap the lectionary altogether and preach on what your church needs to hear at this particular time in its history, which of course you can do legally for several months. My How to Preach Strategically[1] can help you with this.

Anyway, for those determined to go on, here’s some thoughts on Genesis 3, the so-called story of the Fall. Our compilers miss out the slightly weird snakey stuff at the beginning, and cut to the chase of the consequences of this event. Our first question, though, is about the degree to which the term ‘Fall’ is a good one. We talk about ‘falling from grace’ and ‘falling into sin’, but I remember hearing one lecture in which it was suggested that a better terms was ‘the rupture’, which is less about tumbling from an exalted position and more about breaking out of proscribed boundaries in our search for something new and better. It is human nature to focus immediately on the one tree which was out of bounds and ignore the other however-many which were OK. But this bursting of boundaries continually goes on around us. We have recently done it to marriage in Britain, for example. I find it a much more helpful way of thinking than falling, and the more I think about it, the more I can see its insidious power, and the more I can see it in my own life.

Hugo van der Goes - The Fall of Man and The Lamentation - Google Art Project.jpg

So what are the consequences of this rupture? One way of looking at it is to see harmony replaced with separation, conflict and enmity. So we see separation between Adam and Eve and God in v 8. Previously they communed: now they hide. There is separation too between Adam and Eve, as blame enters the world in v 12, and equality is replaced by submission (v 16). At a deeper level humans become separated from themselves as they first begin to experience shame: unhappiness with who they are, as symbolised here by the sudden awareness of nakedness. There is a brief interlude for a couple of ‘Just So’ stories explaining why snakes have no legs and why childbirth hurts, but then we see separation and hostility between humans and the created world, as their bursting of the boundaries affects the rest of the created order, and the land itself. There is even separation from life itself, as a few chapters later God curbs human immortality and limits his life, an act of mercy actually.

Bursting, therefore, matters. To us as individuals, to our relationships, to our society, and even to the very land in which we live. Nowadays medical hernias are pretty easy to repair, apparently. But with this rupture, as in the very different story of Pandora’s Box, it is almost impossible to rewind and go back to how things were. That is why the grand sweep of Scripture is less about healing than it is about re-creation, less about life-support and more about death and resurrection. As the story begins here with the rupture, so it ends with a brand new heavens and earth, and a new paradise, free from blame, shame and pain. We are part of this story, disobedient but learning, on the way to re-creation but still broken. Maranatha – Come, Lord Jesus!

[1] Cambridge: Grove W211, 2012

OT Lectionary 28th September Trinity 15 Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

 

Don’t you just love politicians? If they get something right they take the credit, but if they get it horribly wrong they just blame the previous government from the other side of the House, who, while they were in power, got the country into such a mess that it is taking ages for us to undo it and right all the wrongs of their administration. School children have a slightly less mature version of this: when caught out in some mischief the response can all too easily be ‘He made me do it, Miss!’

 

The people of Israel, in exile far from home in Babylon, are playing this game too. You can’t blame us, Ezekiel, for getting ourselves into this mess. It was all those previous generations who ignored God and lived evil and idolatrous lives who went off the rails, while we are now paying the price. That’s the meaning of the common proverb of the time about eating sour grapes.

 

Ezekiel needs to refute this opinion, and its underlying implication that God just isn’t fair. It’s easy to feel like that at times, but for God’s people the starting point must be that if there’s a dispute God must be right and we must be wrong, otherwise he is not God in any normal sense of the word. ‘Will not the judge of all the earth do right?’ asks Abraham in Genesis 18, obviously expecting the answer ‘Yes!’ But God is not just fair, he is merciful too, and again and again in this passage he holds out hope for forgiveness, if only his people will return to him in repentance.

 

This passage teaches us much about sin, guilt and forgiveness, much which many of us still need to learn. Firstly, that God remains unconvinced by the blame game. Ever since Adam told God that Eve had given him the fruit to eat, and she blamed it on the snake, the human race has tried to wriggle out of a sense of guilt and shame by putting the responsibility for it elsewhere. But this doesn’t wash with God, and never has. ‘The one who sins is the one who will die’, he explains in v 4.We all have individual responsibility for our actions, and we can never put the blame on someone else.

 

Secondly, it teaches us that we have choices to make, and that we must bear their consequences. Of course this doesn’t work in the short term, or else the Bible wouldn’t contain those agonising passages about why evil people appear to prosper while the innocent suffer. But in the scope of eternity our choices matter, whether they be choices to sin or to repent.

 

Thirdly, this text speaks, as we have said, of the mercy of God. Against the commonly–held view that God is only there to have fun smiting people at any excuse, Ezekiel affirms that God takes no delight in the death of anyone but, as the liturgy puts is, he would rather they turned from their wickedness and lived. God is neither a spoilsport nor a monster, and genuinely holds us his creatures in love, although never the indulgent kind in which it doesn’t matter what we get up to.

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Therefore, the text seems to ask, why on earth don’t we take advantage of that mercy? Why is it so deeply embedded into human nature that we’d rather moan at God and blame others than simply turn round and accept his forgiveness? Why does it seem the hardest thing in the world to put our hands up, admit our wrong, receive forgiveness and restoration? Have you noticed how often on the telly someone who has had something horrible happen to them or their family tells us that they feel ‘bitter’? And how rarely and how notable it is when someone expresses forgiveness to the perpetrators, someone like Gordon Wilson of Enniskillen? Why hang on to sin and bitterness when forgiveness is so much easier and more rewarding. If Christians haven’t learnt that lesson, what hope is there for the rest?