The Very Rev.Tom Callard – March 1, 2020
In this reading, God takes Adam and puts him in the garden of Eden. And God essentially tells Adam– look, this is all yours. You’re free to do here whatever you want. You can’t eat from this tree, of course. But beyond that, the garden is yours to explore – to play with, to use, to build up, to take care of, any way you like. That’s how God is speaking to Adam today.
I think when we hear this passage we always focus on the fact that Adam is told by God that he cannot eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But what God is really saying is that everything is yours except that one tree.
And knowing human nature as we do, I think we all would agree that this passage from Genesis is pretty true to life – and that if someone tells you that there is something you cannot do, you’re going to want to it, whatever that thing is.
A few months ago I went to the doctor to talk about my triglycerides. And the cardiologist told me what I should eat and what I should not eat. And I remember quite specifically he said that of all the foods out there, that of all the trees in the garden, the one thing I should definitely not eat is French Fries, because French fries have this deadly combination of carbohydrates and fat, sugars and fat. And so when he told me, I could think of nothing except eating French fries, because the doctor had, in a sense, called them out. He put this magic fence around French fries that had not been there before. And they became for me like the tree in the garden of Eden. They became special.
Before that french fries weren’t special. They were delicious and I would occasionally eat them. But then suddenly I wanted them, because I couldn’t have them. They were like the abandoned building that says “No trespassing,” which you never noticed until that sign went up, and then suddenly it looks like a great place to explore. Or like that lake that says “No swimming” and you look at it and say: I bet that feels really good to swim in.
Perhaps if God had said nothing to Adam and let the tree of the knowledge of good and evil be just one of the other trees in the garden, Adam and Eve never would have even thought about eating its fruit. But suddenly, with that prohibition, it becomes special. And the serpent gets involved. And then the serpent talks to Eve, and it’s all over.
What makes something that is unavailable or prohibited into something special is probably best explained by psychologists, and I am not a psychologist, although I am the child of two. But from a practical perspective, I think it would be much better if all the things that were bad for us, like French fries, were just boring and unappealing. Like dirt. It’s not good for you and you don’t want to eat it. That’s how things should be.
And the way that it should operate, in terms of things that are special, is that it should be special just to do your job. It should be special just to be a good person. It should be special just to tend to your kids, love your family, and be nice to other people. These things should be special to us. And they are, and we get fulfilment and purpose from them, that’s true.
But often, like Jesus in the desert, we also get these voices. And we hear these voices. And the voices are saying – turn these stones into bread. Because bread is special. And you don’t have bread. You have stones, but you don’t have bread. Throw yourself down from this pinnacle and trust God because you don’t have faith. Or you have just a little faith, but you need to get more. You’ve got to be better at your faith, the voices say. And become the ruler of all. Become owner of all. Because you don’t really rule much, and you don’t really have enough. You need more.
This is the allure of what we do not have. It is making special and attractive those things that are out there, whatever they are, just because we don’t have them. And what we have in comparison is small, boring, old, and it has grown dull. This is what much of our shopping is based on. The allure of those things we don’t have. It is what wars are fought over, the desire for that land we don’t have. It’s what drives our jealousy and our resentment and our envy toward others. That they have it and I don’t.
So going back to Genesis, it’s so important to remember the basic proposition that God has for Adam at the beginning of the passage. We have to go back to the beginning of the passage where it says that, “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may eat freely of every tree of the garden.’” Period. And we stop there.
If we stop there, we look at the fact that God, in Genesis, is giving Adam and Eve this gift. This is the point of creation, this is the point of separating the day from the night, of separating the water from the land, of putting the moon in the sky at night and the sun in the sky by day. It is the point of making the sea animals and the land animals and of making the creature, Adam, and of making the creature’s mate, Eve. It’s a gift. God’s delight in creation. God’s delight in us. And God’s desire is to make us happy.
That’s beautiful. And it’s important to remember that for many gifts there are going to be conditions. That often you’ll give something, but it’s something that needs to be treated a certain way and cared for a certain way with some specific instructions.
My nephew who is 17 was recently given a car by his parents. It is a new car, for him to drive and to enjoy and to take out as he likes. But they didn’t just give him the car. They also gave him conditions and responsibilities about how he should drive, and about what it means to have a car. Of course, that’s what you do. His parents told him: You have to drive carefully. You may not drink and drive. You have to wear your seatbelt. Check the oil, and so on.
There were lots of conditions. Yet he enjoys the car. And if he gets upset about all these things his parents told him he should and should not do when he’s driving, at some point he remembers how great it is to have a car. It’s way better than taking the bus or walking.
Our religious perspective on Genesis and creation is that we must balance out the temptation and prohibitions we face with the blessing of the gift that we have been given. That we’ve been given this gift, and it comes with conditions. We can be resentful about it. We can be drawn to things outside of the conditions. We can be drawn to that fruit and drawn to those things we cannot or should not have. But then our balance is to go back to the gift and to be grateful and to focus on our relationship with one who gave it to us, who is God. That’s the spiritual work. Go back. Focus. Balance.
We have been given a beautiful garden by God who loves us. It’s been a wonderful place to play, and raise our children, and for us to grow up in. And to say that at the end of the day, the story stops here is to praise God for creating the gift. We know will want more. But faith means return to how grateful for what we have.
Which gets to creation care. Part of our Lenten discipline this year is to focus on caring for this gift of the earth. And I think fundamentally that humans have gotten away from valuing this gift much or most of the time.
Of course, we’re not going to live like Adam and Eve with the fig leaves for clothes. We need clothes and houses and indoor plumbing and running water and heat. We need electricity and cool gadgets and ways to communicate and flat screen TV’s.
But at some point it crosses a line. And we’re getting away from the part of Genesis where we are just happy with the gift. As we get to what comes after, where what we’re doing is forbidden, something probably best not to do, and we are going further and further away from valuing the garden.
Disposable plastics. Waste which goes into rivers. Inefficient motors which throw out pollution. Different things which we know are not good for us, which have been, in a sense, drawn with a fence around them by scientists and experts who say – this is not good for you. Do not keep doing this or you will be expelled out of the garden.
But because they are convenient and easy and we are essentially complacent, we let them turn our stones into bread all the time. We allow that to happen and we participate.
So how do we go back? That’s what creation care asks – not how do we get rid of our stuff, but how do we care for that gift? How do we value that which God has shared.
At the Cathedral we have done already a couple of things, including adult education programs and promoting a series of articles written by Paul Barten on the simple and practical things we can do to reduce just 2%, which is what they say will make a huge difference in preserving the gift. In case you missed them, the articles are printed and they are on the table in the foyer.
In addition, as part of our Lenten journey, we are invited to consider a little more. At the forum after the 10 a.m. service today Liz Stevens will talk about a Creation Care group that is starting. The group will help the Cathedral focus on recycling, plan formation programs, and find other ways for us to thank God for the gift. And you are all invited to participate in some way in this ministry
And the other thing Liz will talk about is how easy it is to schedule a home energy audit. At our house in Springfield we have done this twice. What they do is come to your house and give you a basic assessment as to where you can save energy. And for us, they gave us lightbulbs, new power strips, an electronic thermostat, and we got a great discount on insulation, which cut down on our heating bill. All you need to do is schedule a visit. There’s no cost, it’s paid for by the state. If a lot of people do this, it will make a huge difference.
I hope you will participate in some way in our creation care ministry as part of your Lenten discipline this year. Talk with Liz or talk me for more information.
So the reason I have had no French fries, or almost no French fries, since I talked with the doctor a few months ago is not because the doctor told me I could not have them. The reason I have had no French fries is because I decided to focus on the gift, which is my life. The French fries are not the gift. The extra stuff we want in our life is not the gift. The plastics, the disposables, the convenience is not the gift. All the tempting prohibitions of life are not the gift. Our life is the gift. Our earth is the gift. For this lent, let’s focus on these things