Sermon – March 9th 2014
Lent I (Year A)
By Roland Legge
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Do you believe in “Original Blessing”? I do. I like the idea of “Original Blessing” much better than original sin. When you look into the eyes of a new born do you see sin? I don’t think so. So why has the doctrine of original sin been such a powerful force within Christianity?
Original sin came as a way of understanding why humans can do terrible things to each other. It explains why Jesus had to die on the cross so that we could be free of our sins which was only possible if our natural inclination to sin could be broken. As Christians we came to believe that Jesus died for our sins.
We do know that the doctrine of original sin was first developed, in the second-century, by Irenaeus. At the time Irenaeus was struggling against Gnostic cults which totally focused on the pure spiritual side of God through special knowledge. Irenaeus and others thought that the Gnostics were doing unspeakable things with their bodies, while claiming they had clean spirits. Now later scholarship shows this not to be true. None the less, Irenaeus was trying to compel people to believe that what they did with their body could lead them to eternal hell and anything that involved sex and romance must be suspect. Augustine of Hippo added to the doctrine of original sin when he wrote that original sin was passed through lust, which accompanied sexual reproduction, which made the will weak. Most of Augustine’s disciples also equated original sin with lust.
Then St. Anselm was the first medieval theologian to open up a new thought; separating original sin from lust and redefining it as a loss of righteousness. Even later than that, Thomas Aquinas presented a more positive view concluding that the fall had left humans to their natural abilities while depriving them of supernatural privileges.
Matthew Fox believes that Augustine (354-430) and the Council of Trent, 1546, has had the most influence on how original sin continues to influence us today. Augustine took an interest in the doctrine of original sin and began to mix it with his peculiar notions of sexuality. Later in the Council of Trent it became even more ingrained in our church doctrines.
I would like to spend a little time going over today’s Hebrew Scripture reading from Genesis because this story has been misinterpreted to justify the doctrine of original sin. What is this story really about? Is it really about the fall of human kind? I don’t think so. I think it is about how God was preparing God’s two children to go out into the big world themselves. The Garden was kind of like the same home we hopefully grew up in—where our parents took good care of us.
I like to think that God set up the tree of knowledge in the middle of the garden to be the sign that would show God when they were mature enough to leave the “nest”. Here are some questions that God might be asking to ascertain if the children were ready to leave home. Were they ready to think for themselves? Were they ready to take risks? Were they ready for an adventure without any knowledge of how it was going to turn out? I believe there would have been great sadness for God, Adam and Eve when they needed to part from the Garden—just as parent and child have sadness when the children move away from home for the first time.
Adam and Eve is a coming up age story and not the story of temptation and sin. We must rid our society of the view that Eve was responsible for all sin in the world. We must portray Eve in a new way. Here is a wonderful description found in the book Bad Girls of the Bible; Exploring Women of Questionable Virtue that reflects an image of Eve, after the incident of the apple, that shows her more in the image of God.
She thinks and speaks—with the man and the serpent and to God. She is able to engage in substantive theological debate. She respects authority and exercises her own freedoms. She appreciates beauty. She is a seeker—she wants to be better, wiser than she was created to be.
She is an adventurous risk taker—just like God! She is courageous—she eats the fruit without knowing what the future will hold. She is willing to take the risk, despite her fear of death.
Bad Girls of the Bible; Exploring Women of Questionable Virtue by Barbara J. Essex the Pilgrim Press Cleveland Ohio 1999 page 12
Why should we care about this today? We need to care because this destructive doctrine has been used to justify the oppression of women and other groups that are seen by main line society as a threat. Too often women are blamed for the problems of the world. Any women who dares to speak up for herself is often seen as a threat. Many women who try to get ahead in our business world find a glass ceiling that prevents them from advancing in their career. Men get away with rape because the defense argues the woman was seducing him by the way she was dressed. Even today, women get less pay for the same work as a man. Women who choose to have children and work away from home are looked down upon whether or not this by choice or necessity. Women who choose to stay home to raise children are still seen as second rate because they are not bringing in a financial income.
This is not just bad news to women, but it is also bad news to men too. Men and women need to live in healthy and just relationships with each other. When a man is holding a woman back he is also holding himself back. If he always blames women for his problems he is not taking responsibility for himself. If he is limiting what a women can do in the world he is also limiting what he can do. For example, I like to cook, wash dishes, clean the house, and mow the lawn. I do not like fixing anything electrical, mechanical or doing wood work around the house. Jen likes the latter and can do a much better job than I in those areas. Men and women should be free to be fully who they are. We are all equal in the heart of God.