Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LordGod had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 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.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ 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. 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.
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. But the LordGod called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ 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.’
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.
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.’
To the woman he said,
‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.’
And to the man 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;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
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.’
The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all who live. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.
Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever’— therefore the LordGod sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; 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.
Every good story begins with a good line like, “Once upon a time…” And with that line our minds unfurl with imagination…
The first line of a story often gives us a clue about what kind of story to expect. For instance, “Once upon a time…” has taught us to expect a fairy tale.
Stories are not unique to our personal context.
Stories and storytellers emerge from every time, place, genre, generation, period, that humanity has ever lived. Can you even imagine the very first story ever told? Who, where, and why did that happen? We would have to come up with our own story to even imagine that, right?
The discussion of stories and storytelling is really hot right now. There are more Ted talks, books, and quotes about storytelling to count. Even science is in on the buzz, discovering what happens in our brains and how our bodies respond when stories are told.
One of my favorite quotes about story comes from Frederick Buechner. He says,
Every storyteller, whether he is Shakespeare telling about Hamlet or Luke telling about Mary, looks out at the world much as you or I look out at it and sees things happening – people being born, growing up, working, loving, getting old, and finally dying – only then, by the very process of taking certain of these events and turning them into a story, giving them form and direction, does he make a sort of claim about events in general, about the nature of life itself. And the storyteller’s claim, I believe, is that life has meaning – that the things that happen to people happen not just by accident like leaves being blown off a tree by the wind but that there is order and purpose deep down behind them or inside them and that they are leading us not just anywhere but somewhere. The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story.
Julian Friedmann lifts up another critical aspect to storytelling when he states that it is our stories that define us and our stories enable us to look at ourselves.
And isn’t that just how it is for us, we people of faith, people of story? It is through our stories of faith that we look to find meaning – to find ourselves… The creators of our first stories and the editors of our Holy Bible have chosen wisely by giving us a really great first line (can we say it all together?) “In the beginning…”
Wow! Simple, but powerful! In the beginning… what?! Don’t you want to hear the rest of the story!? The power of storytelling weaves through every aspect of our life of faith and discipleship. And of course, we know Jesus was an excellent storyteller… we’re still talking about those parables!
Our Judeo-Christian stories of faith not only begin with a great line, but also connect us to the first storyteller. In the act of life-creating, bearing, and naming, stories are told. Yes, in the beginning with God, but soon thereafter as enacted in the first conversation ever, between the Serpent and the Woman.
Let’s consider our reading today, and this first conversation. In response to the Serpent’s questions/craftiness, the woman shares the story she knows. This is important to note. While it may feel as though the Serpent is giving her a pop quiz, the Woman does not answer with a True or False, multiple choice answer. She shares the story she knows. She is not worried. There is no stress, no fear, no anxiety other than the inflection impressed upon it by us, the audience. The fear, the tension, the “what will happen next?” Is our own. We carry this into our daily lives as well. When we find ourselves stressed or in turmoil, we turn to the stories that shape our truth.
Stories are an attempt to bring meaning to our deepest questions. We just heard the whole chapter 3 together so I’m going to ask you, what questions do you think this story is attempting to answer?
- What makes me me? Why am I this way? Why are we – humans – this way?
- What is good/evil? Why is life so hard? Why does suffering seem so intrinsic to our humanity?
- Here, in this story, we struggle with questions of identity.
The story of Adam and Eve is one of our most fundamental and assumed stories of our faith tradition. Our assumptions fill every gap of this story we think we know so well, including the ways we title it. “The Story of Adam and Eve?” Well, that’s not entirely true… yet. At this point, all we know them as is Earthlings – Man and Woman. Eve is not named until the end of this story. We also hear this story titled “The Fall” or “The Fall of Man.” This title in itself tells its own story. Some may argue this title is a story not even actually told.
Herein lies the problem with a well-known story and the two main dangers of storytelling. First: Some stories, if not checked, can become like a loooong game of telephone that extends from generation to generation. We know what happens in that game. Things get mixed up, words get lost, meanings are changed… Or sometimes, people purposefully change things to suit their agenda. That’s when stories can become dangerous. Imagine what happens when a story that is intended to deal with such big life questions gets tilted and bended with missing words, misinterpreted details, or misinformation. Second: We must own up to the reality that we are very willing to believe what we want to believe. Bias has a way of warping even the most well-intentioned of stories.
Some assumed “truths” about the story of Adam and Eve that are based on this telephone game style of storytelling. While I would love to dive full in with an in depth Bible study of this chapter, I don’t want to keep you here all day. Instead I’ll lift up a few points with the hope that you will be enticed to dig deeper on your own.
- Where is sin?! Sin is nowhere to be found. The Hebrew word commonly used for sin is not until Chapter 4 with the story of Cain and Abel.
- “Christians have allowed this profoundly biblical conception, which refers to broken relationship, to be reduced to sins – moral misdemeanors and guilty ‘thoughts, words, and deeds,’ especially of the sexual variety, that could be listed and confessed and absolved.” – Douglas John Hall
- Even without the utterance of this word in the story, Christians have used the Adam and Eve to encourage this poor misunderstanding of sin.
- The knowledge of good and evil, not the creation of it.
- Eve as the seductress.
- The blame game.
- “The Fall” and curse (only the serpent and the ground)
- Male dominance
This chapter of Genesis alone, it’s telling and retelling, has spurred many concepts that have shaped not only our understanding of humanity, but our religious dogma as well. Stories, paired with religion, is especially powerful.
Remember, it is through our stories that we find ourselves and where we find meaning. This meaning becomes our truth, but truth, as embodied in the stories we tell ourselves and others, is not the same as fact. I mean, what kind of story would it really be if it was only a matter of listing pure fact? Well… it wouldn’t be a story.
So what does the story today tell us about the first big question – What it is to be human? We are not good. I do not say this to emphasize how bad we are, only to differentiate us from our creator. We are not good, because we are not God. In this story, we learn that we are not evil, either. I know this is a wild thing to say, since this is often a story told to teach us of our sinfulness, but really, this is not just a story about our pure propensity to sin, or to lift up the idea of total depravity. We may argue this together as we attempt to better understand, but we must keep this what it is – a story. The ways we fill in the gaps with interpretation says more about us than the storyteller.
In our stories we attempt to understand and bring meaning to who we are, but it is in the life of Jesus that we know what it is to be human. In fact, it is in the life of Jesus that we find that Christ is the meaning of it all. “In Christ the negative (sin, fallenness, estrangement), has been, is being, and shall be overcome (DJH).” In Christ, we are on the way to becoming.
The story of Adam and Eve is the story of humanity. It is not a historical account of something that is over and done with, but a story of humanity that is still being written. To be human is to be who God created us to be, without judgment. Not to arrive, but to be… It is a process, a way…
As Martin Luther said, “Christian living does not mean to be good but to become good; not to be well, but to get well; not being but becoming; not rest but training. We are not yet, but we shall be. It has not yet happened. But it is the way. Not everything shines and sparkles as yet, but everything is getting better.”
“By grace you are being humanized, made human, made truly human…Divine grace does not intend to make [us] into someone else but to make [us into] the self that [we are] before God.” – DJH
The affirmation of who we are as found in our stories of faith is intrinsically connected to whose we are. It is when we know ourselves as whose we are that we discover our meaning. As Paul writes, Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15).
Graduates, and all who sit in this sanctuary on the precipice of a new stage of their life, remember this: It is in our process, our journey, our struggle and work, that we are who we have been created to be. It is in this becoming, in the story of Adam and Eve that continues to live within us today, that God meets us with the free gift of grace so that we may truly live. Humanity’s story is still being written. Your story is still being written. What stories will we tell?