We have begun in liturgical time what some call the Great Green season, also known as Ordinary time. It is not ordinary because it is boring, but it is ordinary in terms of time that is counted. The Sundays until All Saints’ Sunday and then again until Advent, will be the third or fourth or fifth, etc. Sunday after Pentecost. In this season after Pentecost, there are two tracks of readings for the Old Testament and the Psalm. Generally, with three different years for the lectionary—year A, B and C, priests try to alternate the Old Testament tracks so that we get a lot of the Bible read over six years. I can say if the only Bible you are hearing is what is read in church, you will hear a lot read because of the new revised common lectionary, but there are also some passages of the Bible which you will never hear in church. For instance, only one passage of Leviticus shows up once in the six-year cycle. This week’s particular reading from Genesis (also known as the second creation story) appears only once every six years if the priest alternates between the two tracks.
As a church, we may not hear this story very often. However, there are few Biblical readings that are as well known. There are some who will concern themselves with biblical literalism, in other words, “do you think this story is true?” and there are those that don’t, but who recognize this story as myth, with a capital “M,” meaning essentially all the “take-away’s” about this story are true, even if the details of the narrative are a stretch. What could I mean by that? Creation stories abound in all different cultures. In this Judeo-Christian landscape, this story tells us truths about God and truths about ourselves.
We learn several things from this short story. We learn that God is involved in the process of creation and God is involved in the outcome. When we, as humanity, mess up, God looks for us. I don’t think it is that we as humanity hid so well that God couldn’t find us. However, when we don’t want God to find us, God instead hunts us down to have a conversation. Now what we learn about humanity is that we are really, really good at the Blame Game. Adam blames, not only Eve whom he claims lead him astray, but he also blames God because God gave Eve to Adam in the first place. (And let us not forget about a portion we didn’t read just prior to this passage where actually Adam is in the vicinity when Eve has this referenced conversation with a snake. And this perhaps is a pretty good indicator that we should be a little wary of biblical literalism—do you actually believe literally a story with a talking snake?) Likewise, Eve then blames her situation on the snake who tricked her. Our own behavior is the result of our upbringing, which is dependent on someone else. Whatever we do, however we act, it is someone else’s fault. We can always blame someone else, and often do.
And so, the story goes, we—humanity—we get kicked out of the garden. It is a story, a true story, a myth story. And just like the other truths, the corresponding reality is not much different than how a person is as a person grows up. As we grow from babies to children to adults, we first gain free will and then we gain knowledge of good and evil. The story is a microcosm of just how it is. And through it all, God stays in relationship. This model of God staying in relationship with us is instructive for us to stay in relationship with God, and as Jesus then expounds, also to stay in relationship with each other.
And it’s not always easy to stay in relationship (with God or other people). Even Jesus’ family was not quite so sure he was okay mentally. (Remember that his brother James and mother Mary were part of the Jesus movement, so it is not that they were against Jesus.) Still there are always times when we think someone we love is not quite right in the head. And there are people with whom maybe we shouldn’t be friends, the friendships we make may be not our best choices. Maybe his family was concerned about his choices. Jesus may have seemed a little rude to his family in this story, but importantly Jesus broadens the concept of how we think about family. Your family is not just your blood relations, but it is who has claims on you. Through Jesus, the human family has claims on you. Instead of the option of blaming the human family, we have the opportunity, and even the obligation, to care for the entire human family.
A house divided cannot stand, and yet, we as a country, and we as a church are divided with all kinds of factions, little subfamilies. You might think, for example, we were not following the same Jesus as the evangelicals of our country. (And the Catholic Jesus and the Evangelical Jesus are definitely not the same.)
However, we have more in common than we think. There is a reason why the myths have such universal appeal. We need help embracing and being kind to those who sin differently than we do. We don’t have to like what someone else does, but we DO have to recognize the God in each other. When we recognize God in each other, we have the obligation to care for each other and to treat others with kindness. We don’t have to FEEL love for them it; we do have to show them love, we have to show them grace. We are one house, one nation, one world, the more factions we have, the less we can stand. In all honesty we are all from God. In the big scheme of things, as God shows us hesed— that loving kindness or grace to each of us in spite of all our sins – we are to show others that same hesed… that same loving kindness or grace. Then, and then only… what unites us, where the spirit is moving, is love, loving kindness, grace.
The readings today do give us a word of caution. There is one thing that just will not wash, will not be tolerated. that is… We cannot be actively against God and expect it to be okay. Don’t call something evil, or dark or not of God.… If we aren’t sure whether something is righteous— if something is of God— , then it is best to keep our mouths shut and our heart open. What matters to God is that we don’t get in the way of God’s purposes. You can have your own purposes. What you can’t do is accuse the prophecy from God, the words of God as being something against God, of being demonic. On this one thing, don’t be on the wrong side.
God is not threatened when we don’t care or even if we blame God for our misfortunes. But God makes no beans about what is acceptable and what isn’t. Where God does not allow us to transgress is AGAINST GOD, against the Holy Spirit.
So, may the Holy Spirit lead us into less blaming, all caring and loving, and the full embrace of wherever the Spirit would lead us.