Texts: Genesis 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1; Mark 3:20-35
Everyone has a creation story that goes like this: when you were born… Even people whose births are shrouded in mystery have a story of their beginning. We need these stories because out of the stories we form a sense of who we are and even where we are going.
Our story is our creation myth. The word myth may be used negatively as something childish and imaginary, and therefore to be rejected by rational or mature people. However, myths allow people to find their place in the world, a necessary process in human development.
A culture’s myth goes beyond our personal narratives of birth into a communal story of origin, identity and destiny. Every culture has such a story. Even if the narrative fades, certain ways of thinking or being are still unconsciously transmitted.
Our Judeo-Christian culture’s creation story is in the bible. Some people think it’s curious, quaint, or even dangerous to continue holding on to our story. But if anything, we suffer more when we fail to remember and learn from it. It does not need to be true in any scientific sense, its purpose is different. It is our story of beginning with God by which we make sense of our identity and purpose as God’s people.
The biblical narrative of Genesis goes from creation out of nothing into greater and greater organization. God’s first commentary about creation was that it was good. From the smallest microorganism to the human, everything God made was good.
Next came the garden which God filled with every possible form of life, all named by the human being. Then God’s second commentary was heard by the occupants of the garden. You may eat everything, except from the tree which bears the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. It is a very generous pronouncement, and the restriction is really so very small, isn’t it?
Today we grapple with the next part of the creation story involving the first humans, Adam and Eve. There is a problem. The humans are nowhere to be seen. So we hear God’s third commentary which is along the lines of uh-oh.
In this part of the story we learn some important things about ourselves and God. Perhaps the most important things are that God created everything good and we are God’s good creation. So there is nothing inherently sinful or evil about us.
We never seem to notice is that the serpent is not evil either. If that were the case, when the humans ate the forbidden fruit, they would have immediately seen that the serpent was evil and to be feared. Instead what they feared was God.
This is important information. When the humans in the garden listened only to God they were fine. They had everything they needed. Until one of them listened to another voice, a serpent that sounded so reasonable and authoritative. The serpent suggested that there was a fruit they didn’t have, but was theirs to take. And when they did, everything changed to fear, blaming, loss, and hardship.
The lesson of this myth is not childish or simplistic. Humans possess the freedom and knowledge to choose. Our choices bear fruit. Good fruit and bad fruit. God did not deny humankind freedom. Yet with freedom came accountability. Life outside the garden.
All the problems we encounter arise out of our choosing evil over good. When we are obedient to God, we have nothing to fear. But our disobedience is the seed of human misery and misfortune.
This is our spiritual and material story. We live outside the garden. Yet we still live in God’s creation, we still are God’s creation. As God’s people it is our identity and destiny to discern and promote God’s good in ourselves and in everything around us.
Not that this is always easy. We need constant encouragement. We pay attention to the scriptures because they encourage us. We hear God speaking to us. And though sometimes the voice of God makes us want to hide in the shrubbery, we know God’s intention is always for good, and to save us.
Paul’s words of comfort and hope to the Corinthian Christians mean just as much to us today in our own circumstances. And when we bear good fruit as people formed by Jesus, then we positively influence how people see God. We glorify God with our good fruit.
We know that, right? Whenever we do things in the name of Jesus that are life-giving, just, peaceful and so on, we are giving our witness that God favors life, peace, justice and so on. And God is glorified – that is, others may experience God as we do.
But there’s another side to this equation. When we act in ways that take life, are unjust, or hurtful, and say that we do it because of our Christian faith, it tells people that that God approves, that God is like that. So people are driven from God. And God is not glorified.
This brings us to the Gospel. It’s really two stories about Jesus, one within another. The first is about recognizing and glorifying God, the next is the story of conflict between Jesus and the keepers of the moral code.
Jesus had just come off a grand tour of ministering to people wherever and however he found them. He healed those who were unworthy, welcomed those who were rejected, restored those were cast out, cleansed those who had demons. All the while teaching everyone who came to him and inviting everyone to follow.
As Jesus did these things, he repeatedly broke the laws of God that had been strictly observed for generations. Laws about who was acceptable to God and worthy of love. It came to a showdown between Jesus and some scribes that day.
Who was Jesus to change the way things were? What authority did he have to go against everything that was sacred and right? The scribes accused him of having an evil spirit. Jesus responded by saying that since he was casting out demons, he could hardly belong to the demonic order himself. Therefore the Spirit within Jesus must be God’s own Holy Spirit.
Then Jesus left the scribes with a sobering thought. That the same sentence they so readily pronounced upon others – that they were guilty of unforgivable and eternal sins, was now pronounced upon them.
Jesus’s relatives also thought he might indeed be demon-possessed. They were about to join in preventing Jesus from doing God’s good by taking him away. But the invitation to love and grace is unending. We can always turn ourselves around and make a different choice. That’s what Jesus’s family did. They discovered that their true home and family was in Jesus, to their eternal joy.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.