Adam and Eve for our generation...

NOTE: Here are my worship notes for Sunday, May 2, 2010. To be sure they are a little like the up-coming episode of "Fringe" that takes on a gangster attitude - or the old Star Treks that would go back in time to put Shatner and Nimoy in Shakespearean garb or worse - but it was fun to try, too. And there is a long (and only partially successful) tradition of dream-stories in both scripture and church life. So... we'll see how it goes. When I told my wife today that I wanted her to sing part of Peggy Lee's "Fever" in worship, she burst out laughing. Then said, "I can't wait to figure out your connection... hmmmm maybe I can wear my new leather skirt!" Perfect. Join us if you are in town at 10:30 am on Sunday. We'd love to visit.

Please pray with me: Precious Lord, Alpha and Omega, First and Last, glory outshining all the lights of heaven: pour out upon us your Spirit of faithful love and abundant compassion, so that we may rejoice in the splendor of your works while we wait in expectation for the new heaven and the new earth you promise when Christ shall come again. Amen. (UCC Worship Ways)

Today’s message will NOT be linear – it will NOT be a sophisticated, well- reasoned theological explication of the story of Adam and Eve for 21st century sensibilities – nor will I try to squeeze some contemporary ideas into an ancient context. Because, you see, today’s message came to me in the form… of a dream – and a rather weird dream at that!

I suspect that it was inspired by that sweet, sweet scripture reading from the Apocalypse of John wherein it is revealed that: See, the home of God is among humankind. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.

I love that passage of the Bible – and trust that it is true – because it so accurately frames the whole Christian message:

• Scripture starts out telling us that in the beginning, the beauty of God’s creation triumphed and the Lord brought order out of chaos and existence out of the void. God made man and woman in beauty and promise and fashioned us to be companions for one another in love and trust.

• But then something went wrong and God’s beloved not only trusted themselves more than the Lord – that’s what it means to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – but they tried to hide it, too. In their guilt and shame they tried to fake it with God.

So before you know it, the beloved ones of the Lord are not only forced into experiencing the consequences of the actions out in the cold, cruel world, they are no longer in the garden. They acted like they knew better than God so the Lord said, “Fine – see what it feels like to live that way.” And ever since, people have been trying to find their way back home again, right? That’s why today’s scripture is so sweet: it tells us that God has been aching for that home-coming, too.

• In the beginning there was a sacred embrace – then we pushed God away and wandered alone and ashamed. But that isn’t the end of the story for the Bible closes with another embrace – a reunion or home-coming – where we will know once again that we are beloved.

• See, the home of God is among humankind. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.

But, as one of the theologians of the Berkshires, Arlo Guthrie, has been known to say: that’s not what I came here to talk about. Really – all of that theological, biblical background was just the inspiration for my dream – and it’s that dream I want to tell you about. And it is just as wild a dream as St. John had back on the island of Patmos.

• It takes place in heaven – whatever that really means – and in my dream it had something to do with the end of time as we know it: past, present and future were all rolled into one in this dream.

• What’s more, special relations were not all that important because while the sacred conversation in my dream took place in heaven, everyone was sitting around a campfire at night. Go figure…

But when I realized who it was sitting around that celestial and sacred campfire, then I really started to pay attention. First there was St. Augustine of Hippo – one time womanizer and student wild man who later became one of Christianity’s finest theologians – defining for us our whole notion of original sin based upon the Adam and Eve story. Jesus was there, of course, along with the great Protestant reformer, John Calvin of Geneva, but Calvin mostly let Augustine do all the talking.

There was an ancient, wizened Jewish story teller – who looked to be about 4,000 years old – and it seems that he was the man who collected all the early stories of creation from his people as they wandered in the wilderness. And then, as you might expect from one of my dreams, there were two musicians – the jazz singer Peggy Lee and the boss man of rock and roll Bruce Springsteen – and they both had honored and respected seats around the sacred fire in heaven.

And here’s the deal: they were all talking about sin – especially how St. Augustine got the essence of sin right – estrangement and separation from God’s love – but how he also messed us all up with his confused notions of sex in the story of Adam and Eve.

• The old Jewish story teller said, “Augustine, may I call you Auggie? Look, you were on to something when you located the mystery of sin back in the garden. That’s what I was trying to say in my story: there is a brokenness to all humanity that does not begin with us and that no one escapes!”

• Both Calvin and Augustine smiled and nodded in approval, but the old Jew added: “Put for the love of God, man, why did you have to put in all that sex stuff! What were you thinking?”

At this point, Peggy Lee jumped in protesting: “Now wait just a minute. If it wasn’t for Auggie’s confusion of sex with sin – and women with the source of all sin – I wouldn’t have had my biggest hit record back in 1958.” And with that, she snapped her fingers and started to sing “Fever.”

Now as the dream unfolds, Jesus is just watching all of this, never saying a word. After the song, Calvin tries to stick up for his theological mentor saying, “Ok, I will give you this. St. Augustine used mistaken and incomplete science – really faulty biology – when ‘he located sin’s transmission from one generation to the next in the act of sexual intercourse… to be sure, he fumbled in his sexual confusion. But nevertheless, he was on to something of the universality of sin and the need for divine grace… (because all the pain and wounds of the world cannot be blamed) simply on fate.” (James Nelson, Thirst, p. 69)

“Good point” says Bruce Springsteen who then stands up and start to snap his fingers. “What I hear you saying is that there is something in us – something mysterious and dark – that cries out to us in the night. It’s a kind of tension and we all know it… like we’re all tramps who feel that we’re born to run.”

Then he puts on his guitar – and out of nowhere the E Street Band shows up behind him in heaven – and he says, “It’s like everything that God wanted got all mixed up so that greed and sex and sin and cars became one confusing mess… that sounds something like this because if you're gonna preach today, man, you need a beat!”

After the Boss sat down, things got quiet – real quiet – and they let it all sink in around the fire. Eventually Jesus said something – and while I’m not sure I got it all right – I think he told his friends: “Look, I gave you a new way to come home, right? Love one another as I have loved you. Do you remember when I first said that?”

• Augustine quickly replied, “Yes, Lord, it was at the Last Supper.” To which Calvin added, “Right after you washed the disciples feet and you said that your love was a servant love that was costly.”

• Christ nodded with a smile and poked the Jewish story teller saying, “They were listening, this is good.” Then he added: “The story of Adam and Eve is NOT about sex – sorry Auggie – it’s about the fact that everyone experiences times when the goodness God put inside of us is corrupted – can we agree on that?”

“And,” he went on, “we are not entirely responsible for that corruption, ok? ‘It is not entirely of our choosing.’ (Nelson, p. 68) There is mystery involved – things no one can understand – but that are still true. So here’s the deal – here’s what I want you to do when you realize that you have fallen or wandered or sinned and tried to hide it from God – there are two steps.”

• First, you have to know that sin loves to be alone – it wants to keep you lonely and in the dark – so as long as you hide your sin like Adam and Eve, it will be in charge.

• Second, when you bring your sin out into the light – and you can do this with anyone who embraces you in my name, right – how does the story put it: whenever two or more gather in my name there am I in the midst of them? Whenever you bring your sin out into the light – call it confession, a fearless moral inventory, therapy – whenever you do this, God meets you sin with a loving embrace.

Not punishment or banishment, not fear or disgust, an embrace just like St. John said: See, the home of God is among humankind. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.

And then I woke up – a little frustrated I might add because I had a lot of questions I wanted to ask of this group – but I woke up. So I walked around with that crazy dream for a few days thinking: “This really is about the upside-down kingdom of God” only to stumble upon these words of theologian James Nelson:

We need not adopt Augustine’s dark suspicion of all things sexual to embrace the notion that something is passed biologically from one generation to the next. That fits with what we know about genetically based vulnerability to (all kinds of illness and disease…) the Christian tradition’s awareness of original sin, therefore, says that something beyond our own individual choices and actions has gone askew in the scheme of things. We don’t fully understand why. Blaming our mythic ancestors in Eden’s garden will not particularly help. Nor will blaming God or fate. But it does help to know that we are caught up in a mystery with which we must live as creatively and responsibly as we can. And, it helps to know that we cannot live this question all by ourselves. God’s grace and human companions are utterly necessary.

And that, Christian friends, is how I have come to understand Adam and Eve for our generation: they point to the mystery of real life – the fever in our pink Cadillac – the brokenness that is beyond our control and God’s gracious invitation to live into it all with creativity, love and responsibility. Oh, and one thing more: Adam and Eve begin the story being at home in God’s love, and the Bible ends the story by telling us that God’s love keeps calling us home until we respond. So how about singing one more old song with me as the start of our affirmation of faith?

Because, you see, an affirmation of faith is not really about intellectual or theological words, but rather the union of our heart and head in the celebration of grace: our homecoming with the Lord. And there isn’t a better song about that homecoming than this…

Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home



Black Pete said…
Y'know, Diane singing "Fever" would be part of the liturgy to end all liturgies! Rock on!
RJ said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
RJ said…
It was a great PRACTICE! Our other female singer, Eva, added a very sultry harmony and Brian has some killer percussion effects. Too much fun!

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