Meg Peery McLaughlin
Do I Have to Believe That? Original Sin
January 29, 2023
It feels impossible to hear this story without wrapping it in old baggage.
But God, it is also true that it is impossible to encounter your Word
and not have the Holy Spirit nearby. So may your Spirit open our ears,
we pray in the name of Christ, Amen.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die, 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pangs in childbirth exceedingly great;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
17 And to the man[b] he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
20 The man named his wife Eve© because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife and clothed them.
22 Then the Lord God said, “See, the humans have become like one of us, knowing good and evil, and now they might reach out their hands and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent them forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which they were taken. 24 He drove out the humans, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
My dad and his siblings grew up in a frugal household.
There was plenty of money, it just wasn’t spent freely.
The oldest in that clan is my uncle George. When he was about 12 or 13,
he wanted a bike and was told that he could only have it if he earned the money.
It was a three speed, with handbrakes,
the first one sold in his small Virginia hometown.
So George raised the $125 delivering the Bluefield Daily Telegraph on his paper route. But once the bike was in the garage,
an additional last minute requirement was added by my grandmother.
To ride said two-wheeler,
George must first memorize the entire Westminster Shorter Catechism.
Here’s only a snippet.
Q. 28. What is Sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of the law of God.
Q. 31. What was the sin of our first parents?
A. Eating the forbidden fruit.
Q. 32. Who tempted them to this sin?
A. The devil tempted Eve, and she gave the fruit to Adam.
Q. 35. What effect had the sin of Adam on all mankind?
A. All mankind are born in a state of sin and misery.
Q. 36. What is that sinful nature which we inherit from Adam called?
A. Original sin.
William Henry Belk (founder of Belk Stores) used to give every child in the Presbyterian churches in North Carolina a silver dollar if they memorized the catechism. I don’t have one.
Jay Klompmaker told me this week that in his church growing up they talked about
sins of commission and sins of omission.
Doing something bad was a sin of commission.
That’s what the preacher talked about all the time, Jay said.
Not doing something good, though, that never got airtime.
Which is why when Karen Vandersea was trying out a Christian group in college she noticed that they seemed to spend less time on Bible study and more time discussing who had been spotted on Patterson Court over the weekend. You Davidson people will know Patterson is where the parties took place. The Sin Score Card Keeping was too much for her.
With all of this swirling in my brain, plus all the study I was doing for this series,
I asked my own 11 year old, Naomi. What do you think sin is?
Without missing a beat she said: Sin? That’s SIN, Science Interactive Notebook.
Nice dodge, Na. Good work.
Speaking of science, last week we read the creation story and heard that humankind is made in the image of God, and we are called good, indeed very good.
So, church, which is it?
Are we born into a state of sin and misery or are we good and very good?
Let’s go to the Word, we say. Good idea, we say. Open to Genesis chapter 3.
But guess what?
The first line of preeminent Old Testament Scholar Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on this text is this: No text in the entire Bible has been more misunderstood than this text. Great!
If you have your Bible open in front of you, you’ll see that even the title added to the chapter, which reads, The First Sin and Punishment, is already misleading.
The word Fall is nowhere in this text.
The word sin doesn’t show up until Cain murders Abel.
God does curse two things:
the serpent, apparently taking away its legs,
and the ground, making it harder to farm.
Yes, childbirth hurts and yes, work will require sweat,
yes they have to leave the garden
but neither Adam nor Eve are cursed.
Here is something I didn’t notice until it was pointed out:
When Adam and Eve realize they are naked,
they use fig leaves for clothes.
Now I just bought a fiddle leaf fig tree for my office.
I can tell you those leaves aren’t soft.
When God hears that Adam and Eve have eaten of the tree
God makes garments of skins to clothe them. Soft leather. Much more comfortable.
Even in the moment of rebellion, God performs an act of reconciliation.
God offers them a blessing.
The catechism says that the devil tempted Eve.
But nowhere does it say that serpent is Satan.
It says the animal, which we are told that God made, is crafty.
Later theologians wanting this to be a story of the origin of evil name it such.
But here’s the thing, this story doesn’t give us the origin of evil,
instead it gives us a picture of what it looks like to grow up.
It is a coming of age story.
Biblical Scholar Dr. Sib Towner writes this:
There is no Fall in this chapter,
if by Fall one means the doctrine of shattering the divine image in humankind, the loss of morality at an early moment in human history,
and the inexorable transmission of original sin through human genes ever after. What Genesis 3 gives us is a paradigm, a story about every human being rebelling against the commandments of God and thus discovering alienation and despair. It is a powerful, primitive rendition of a reality all of us know full well—the truth that life is a pilgrimage from innocence to maturity.
Most of us are already grown up—
we have had to navigate succeeding and failing, loving and losing.
Its already done for us.
But there are fleeting moments when we can actually see
innocence fading into maturity in other people—
think about observing our children or nieces or nephews.
I’m not just talking about when they start lying about who punched who,
though that inevitably happens too.
I mean that day they no longer jump out of the bathtub
and run through the house in their birthday suit.
Instead, they wrap up in a towel behind a closed door
not because their bodies are bad or have done anything bad
but because, all of a sudden, they are aware of them.
Nancy did a beautiful job describing sin as missing the mark.
Sin means that we have fallen off the mark of who God makes us to be.
Not that we are fallen and can’t get back up.
I wish someone like Nancy would have taught me that when I was younger.
I got the message that sin was separation from God,
which was confusing to me because I was also taught that
nothing could separate me from the love of God.
It wasn’t until I was in seminary when I was introduced to theologian Shirley Guthrie
who said that sin is separation from ourselves.
And if sin is separation, not from God, but from our true selves,
then first we must rightly understand who we are—
Human being who have limits,
and who are called good.
Sin is when we pretend we have no limits
and sin is when we forget that we those blessed with the divine image living in us.
When we get too big for our britches, and alternately when we play too small,
we make a mess of the world around us.
I included an adaption of Apostle Paul’s words from Romans as our prayer of confession today: He says I do not do the good I want. I do what I do not want.
He’s trying to articulate the pain of not acting like yourself.
And that pain is universal. Sin infects us all—individually and collectively.
All of us fall short of the glory of God.
But, the doctrine of original sin says that this problem is in our genes
like blue eyes and brown hair. And if that’s so, then why even try to fight it?
That’s part of why I think for it to be taught from pulpits is dangerous.
But perhaps even more so is what Original Sin says about our bodies.
If this sin problem is in our genes, then it has to get passed down through sex.
So now we have twisted our God-given sexuality into the vehicle for sin.
This is why Roman Catholics say that for Christ to be sinless,
Mary had to be a virgin, and not only that but that Mary had to be conceived without sin, hence the Immaculate Conception,
which is why you’ll hear: Mother Mary, “full of grace.”
But friends, from the top of our head to the tips of our toes we, too, are full of grace.
How could we not be, if we are indeed made in God’s image?
Our bodies are good. Blessed to be a blessing.
Lastly, I will say that Original Sin narrows our understanding of Jesus.
Ask a stranger why we need a savior and they might say
“Jesus died to save us from our sins.”
That’s not wrong, but if that’s all, aren’t we missing all the other parts of Jesus story?
When Eve and Adam, trying to be know-it-alls,
eat the fruit that God tells them not to eat,
the serpent tells them they will be “like God”.
They try to blur the limit between humanity and divinity.
When the angel shows up at Mary’s house, and tells her this crazy plan that God has cooked up, that plan is that God has decided to collapse the boundary between human and the divine, not so that we could be like God,
but so that God could show us in flesh and blood,
God’s very own birthday suit,
show us how deeply we are loved .
That’s why we need Jesus, ya’ll.
not only because of our sin problem,
but because of our blessing problem.
We are in the terrifying and tragic habit of forgetting we have an original blessing, a blessing that comes from a God who will do anything and everything to be with us. God has been trying to tell us this all along . In his dying, yes, but also in his rising and healing and eating and teaching. The salvation we know in Jesus is wider that we’ve ever imagined.
Y’all are troopers to last this long with a sermon on sin,
and sit with this most misunderstood story.
And if it is indeed a story of growing up,
then grow up we must, church,
in a hurry,
for we live in a world of colossal problems,
problems that cannot be left in the hands of those who are not grown ups
and this world is waiting for the blessing we hold inside,
so grab your grown up two-wheeler bikes church,
let’s ride straight toward who we are made to be.
Thanks be to God. Amen.