Sermon transcript for March 9, 2014
“Lost in God’s Garden”
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-9
Belmont UMC—March 9, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching
We know this story from Genesis. It has an ancient and primitive feel to it, but in some ways it can seem quite contemporary and it can remind us of how human nature has stayed the same for a very long time.
The episode comes on the heels of the creation. God puts the human that God created right in the middle of the Garden of Eden, the garden’s name means “delight” and from it we get the idea of paradise. God gives the human the mission to “to farm it and to take care of it.” The human is to take care of and serve the creation of God. That mission continues to be our responsibility even today, but we have not always fulfilled the mission of creation care, have we?
The story we read today also describes how people become alienated from God. In Romans, Paul describes this alienation this way, “For I do not do the good I want but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (7:19) Why is that?
When I was 18 years old one of the persons responsible for the renewal of my faith was a friend named Dinah. She was a young school teacher who nurtured me and a lot of us along the beginning of new found faith in God. One day Dinah and I were supposed to rendezvous at her home for a trip to church. I arrived first and I could hear the vacuum cleaner, an ancient bullet shaped monstrosity that had been passed down to her by her grandmother. The door was open and I could see into the living room through the screened door. To my horror, my spiritual mentor was screaming at the vacuum cleaner, which was clogged and I watched as she threw sections of the vacuum across the room. I did not know whether to knock or run away.
Dinah saw me standing there and she started laughing, though angry and frustrated tears still flowed down her face. She said, “How does a human being get so far away from God because of a stupid vacuum cleaner?” Why is that? How do we get alienated from God?
I haven’t found any place in the Bible where it says that it’s a sin to curse the Electrolux but Dinah’s question has stayed with me over the years, “How do we get so far away from God?” (I had a similar experience with a weed eater last summer and does feel a bit like sinning.) And the Genesis passage is a story about alienation, vulnerability and human nature.
The setting of our story is Paradise. The setting is the place of blessing. The setting is the place of God’s graciousness. It is the garden of God’s creation and I try to picture some of the most beautiful and idyllic places, from hiking Cascade Canyon in the Grand Teton Mountains or up the Porter Creek Train in the Smokey Mountains during the height of wildflower season, or watching glaciers calve in Glacier Bay in Alaska. Try to imagine a place more compelling, a place where God has given creation everything needed, even companionship with each other, with God.
God said to the humans, “Look around, make yourselves at home. Eat anything you want.” There was this one exception: one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and of that tree God said, “Do not eat the fruit from that tree.” Then human nature kicked in and the trouble began.
The story gets a bit familiar. Imagine parents saying, “Children, you can have a snack when you get home. There are healthy snacks in the refrigerator, there’s string cheese and fresh vegetables and yogurt. We even have apples and potato chips. We are well stocked with snack foods. Feel free to eat any of those snacks, but you may not, under any circumstance eat any of the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that are in the yellow cookie jar beside the stove.” Hearing that, all the children can think about are chocolate chip cookies.
Imagine if God said, “You can sit anywhere in the garden. There are garden benches all over the place. But you may not sit on this bench. I painted this bench just a few minutes ago with dark green paint and the paint is still wet. That’s why it has a wet paint sign on it. Do not get near it. Do not touch it and get your finger prints on it. Do not even think about it!” And as soon as God leaves the garden, I’ll touch that bench just to see how wet that paint really is.
When our oldest son was a little boy, his mother wrapped his birthday gifts and then said something like this, “Lars, I have wrapped all your gifts and put them by the desk in the bedroom. Stay away from them.” (This was not her finest parenting moment.) When I came home that afternoon and went into the bedroom, I found that all the presents had been cut open and Lars had tried to conceal his sin by taping them back with little suture like strips of green florist tape. There was a part of me that wanted to show him how sneak a peek at his presents more deceitfully.
What is wrong with us? Why are we so disobedient? We judge the human beings in our story today for deliberately disobeying God—especially after God had been so gracious and generous. Was it so hard to stay away from that one tree? How hard could that be?
The setting of the story is the setting of God’s blessing and God’s graciousness and this is the setting of our lives as well. God has been so good to us so gracious. God loves us and in the setting of this gracious, we fail and become alienated from God. Things have not changed much.
The man and woman ate from the tree and then went and hid themselves among the trees in the garden. They felt alienated from God. When I got into trouble as a child, I would go and hide in the woods for awhile. But one cannot hide forever.
Do you ever feel that kind of alienation from God? We all do from time to time. We blame the Sunday School literature or the hymn choices or the sermon. Or maybe it is because we went to church under pretense, unwilling to be honest about our utter helplessness without God. I suspect there is no better hiding place than right here on Sunday mornings. We can at least try to fool the neighbors, even if we cannot fool God.
And God said to the man (Adam), “Where are you?” The rabbinical interpretation I read about this went something like this: Yes, the all knowing God knew where the Adam was, but the Adam did not know where Adam was. Adam needed to confess “I a here, I am hiding, I disobeyed, I’m lost in your garden. I just realized that I’m naked and cold.”
During the season of Lent we need to hear God asked, “Where are you?” And spiritual transformation begins when we are able to answer that question openly and honestly through self-examination and awareness.
We know that Adam and Eve were not ready to answer this honestly. Adam said, “The woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit and I ate it.” He blames God for creating the woman and he blames the woman for giving him the fruit. It is not his fault. And he disassociates himself from the woman. He does not say, “My wife gave it to me.” Have you ever said, “Do you know what your child did while you were at work?”
Eve is not ready for confession either. She says, “The serpent did it. He tricked me and made me eat it.” How quick to blame someone else for our failures!
I was throwing the ball to my little boy in the back yard. Time after time he swung his bat and missed the ball. He’d pick it up, look frustrated and throw it back to me. I threw the ball and he missed yet again. He picked up the ball and he walked up to me like a professional catcher coming out to the pitcher’s mound to talk to the pitcher. It held that ball up toward my face and said, “You are not very good at this, are you? You are supposed to hit the bat. Try again.”
“Lord, I could do better if you would quit missing my bat. If only you were a better pitcher, Lord.”
We need the season of Lent. We need to smear the ashes of our humanity on our foreheads and start to be honest about where we are on this journey. We need to come out of hiding. We need the time to say to God, “This is who I am right now. I know it is not a very pretty picture but it is who I am, and I know that only by your grace and forgiveness will I be able to be your disciple.’
We need the season of Lent to honest about our failure to fulfill the mission, to take care of the garden, the creation. We can use the season to find new ways to do this well.
We need the season to reflect on our relationships with each other and seek ways to make them better. We may need to forgive someone and be reconciled.
We need this season to hear God ask, “Where are you?” “Where are you, Ken?” And our gracious God will always be there, waiting to love, to forgive and to fellowship with us.
Sermon transcript for March 2, 2014
Belmont UMC—March 2, 2014
In Matthew 17, Jesus says, “you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” God always wants us to ‘face the mountain,’ but what does that mean? For me, it is about overcoming what seems impossible and the little fears that hold you back.
It’s fitting that my favorite movie is The Sound of Music. I remember as a child watching it with my dad, and I grew up with the lessons it taught me. As I grew older, I began to understand these lessons and how I could incorporate them in my life. Maria is terrified of the mountain in front of her. She runs away and returns to the comfort of the abbey. The Mother Abbess says to Maria, “these walls were not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live.” The Mother Abbess speaks on behalf of God. God wants every one of His children to reach the dream He has for us. But, He wants to challenge us to figure out what potential is by placing the mountain in front of us.
Ever since I was little, I have had a limited understanding of the world around me. I always say that I have grown up in the ‘bubble’ of my everyday life. I have had little variations of what it means to overcome the mountain in front of me. But after this past summer, my limited knowledge of God’s global village expanded. I participated in the Youth VIM team to Malawi, Africa and experienced different interpretations of facing your own mountain. Each one of the nine youth and four adults that travelled on the trip had to conquer one of their mountains God placed in front of us. I had to overcome my comfort zone and face the unknown. As the trip went on, I took little steps to get over the mountain until I reached the peak and realized that God would not challenge us with something unless He knew we could overcome it. Teaching and traveling is what I want to continue to do for the rest of my life. I heard God’s call to maybe be a teacher while I was in Malawi, playing with the children at the United Methodist Conference Office’s preschool in Blantyre. I began to understand that each obstacle He places before us are meant to be a challenge so we can grow from it and become better children of God.
God has told prophets such as Moses and Elijah to climb the mountain. For them, climbing the mountain was a way to receive the message that God wanted them to share with God’s people. As a result, more people began to see the miracles God performs every day, and they understood what it meant to be a Child of God. God told Moses the Ten Commandment, which spread through His kingdom and more people began to follow and belief, overcoming their personal mountains to do so.
As a result, God’s children realized why they were put on this earth: to utilize and glorify the gifts God has given them. They must grasp the idea that in order to apply their gifts, they would have to climb the mountain God has placed in front of them. Our ancestors passed this understanding to their children until it has reached us today. Therefore, more and more people were living to their fullest potential, and that is all God wants from us. He wants us to experience him in our everyday life, and in order to do so, we must know why we are put on this earth.
Some people never come to accept their gifts or realize their fullest potential of life. I would say the age we are living in makes it even harder to understand God’s dream for us. But I hope one day, you will reach the dream God has for you. It will be hard to climb over the mountains to reach it, but it will be worth it. He wants to challenge us to find our gifts, or else life would not be fun to experience. It might take years to understand why God make you the way you are. I know that I haven’t seen God’s full plan for me. I hope to know in the next couple of years as I move to a new adventure in college. And I also realize that there will be enormous mountains that I will have to climb. That’s the part I look forward to the most, overcoming the mountains to a new realization of God’s intentions for my life. Psalm 99:9 says, “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy.” Praise God’s mountain, because that is what allows us to live God’s dreams.
On the mountain... To stay, or leave?
Hello everyone, and good morning. For those of you who don't know who I am, my name is Kaleb Tench, I am the oldest son of Chris and Vicki Tench, and the older brother of Riley and Owen Tench. Most of you who know me will know that I'm usually disinclined to do things involving writing, and, as expected, this was done practically last minute, and as a side bonus, made my parents a little irritated, but, I digress.
The passage of Matthew 17: 1-5, tells of Jesus taking Peter, James, and John, up a high mountain, transfiguring before them, and presenting them with a vision of Moses and Elijah. Now, in all honesty, this seems like a story that isn't at all serious. I mean, come on, transfiguration of his clothes and face, and random visions of Moses and Elijah?? That's a little difficult to believe, even for the work of God. Yet, when Peter speaks, he doesn't want to leave, it's near paradise for him. He wants to make temples and monuments for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. He wanted to stay in the place where he could continue to feel the warmth of love and fellowship for as long as he desired. However, as he spoke, a large cloud overshadowed them all, and God spoke to them. And both of them were overcome with fear. Now, there's another question I have... Why fear? Wouldn't most of us be in awe if we encountered God's voice and presence? I mean, I know I would; I'd be fearful yes, but awe would overcome my fear, and I'd be like Peter. I wouldn't want to leave. Leaving a feeling like that would probably be equivalent to... Well, something that I don't know. Sometimes I think we all feel like Peter did. We sometimes don't want to leave the places and /or people that allow us to feel God's presence. I know I've felt like Peter before, and I can say for certain that I would definitely return to where I could feel His presence.
Over the past summer I went with the choir on a tour to Charleston, South Carolina. While we were there we visited quite a few places, and sang at most of them. To be more specific in this story, one church we sang at was the Trinity United Methodist Church, in Charleston. About a three to five minute walk from where we were staying, unless you're with Gayle and you REALLY have to be somewhere -now-; in which case more like a one to two minute walk. In any case, we sang for the church that Sunday morning and were presented with a rather fantastic spaghetti lunch and afterwards sang for the cooks in the small chapel room that was on the same floor. The fellowship of this trip, and the friendliness and happiness that the people we met at Trinity showed, gave me this near overwhelming feeling of God's presence. One person and particular stood out, yet, sadly, her name eludes me; but, I digress. She was extremely friendly and incredibly nice, and this lady did something that I don't think many people have done for the Belmont UMC Open Door Singers. Because when we left Trinity UMC, and made the three hour drive to our next stop at Greeneville UMC. We sang for the people who came and afterwards discovered that the lady from Trinity UMC had driven all three hours from Charleston to Greeneville simply to see us perform again. This gave me an increased abundance of God's presence and although there wasn't fear in my thoughts, the sheer awe that this lady had driven just to see us sing again was... More than I usually have. The love and friendship and fellowship this lady gave off took me completely by surprise and, to tell you the truth, I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay in this place and just bask in the feeling of it. But, as Jesus told Peter, and as I realized shortly into wanting to stay, I had to head down the mountain and rejoin reality and the people of the world. However, unlike Peter, I was able to tell of what I experienced. I was able to go into the world with a feeling of pride, and a continued presence of God on my shoulder. Peter wanted to stay with the Presence of God and the presence of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, in his near paradise; but in the end, he had to come down to reality and do what everyone else has to do: Go with the presence of God, remember friendliness, fellowship, and kindness, and never miss a chance to present them to other people, even if they may not need it.
In Matthew 17, the story of the Transfiguration begins with Jesus leading Peter, James, and John up the mountain. Suddenly Jesus undergoes a transformation, God speaks to the disciples and says “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” After the disciples quivered in fear, Jesus came to them and said, “Get up and do not be afraid.” In this story, Jesus brings comfort to the disciples with a few simple words. Not only does God show the disciples His power, but He also shows them His love. God is pleased with the work Jesus is doing on earth, just as God is pleased with the work each of us are doing in the kingdom of God. A little before the reading that was shared today, Jesus tells his disciples “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). This applies to us today, as we are called to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.
One way I have applied this to my life is through service opportunities Belmont has given me. Throughout the planning of the youth mission trip to Malawi, I was excited, but also nervous to travel to a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know anyone. Plus, it was my first time to travel out of the country without a member of my family. While I was nervous about the adventure I was about to embark on, there was no other group I would rather experience the trip with than the youth of Belmont. During our time in Malawi, I had the opportunity to hear the stories of people who daily pick up their own cross and follow God. One of these people is Joyce, who runs Kayesa Inn, a place we made our home for four nights. Before opening Kayesa, Joyce served as a Malawi Member of Parliament. She quit her job, because she no longer felt like she was helping others. Joyce donated land to local non-profits and kept some of the land she owned to start Kayesa Inn. Joyce has opened her home and her heart to several children in Malawi, who now help her run the inn. The Sunday we were staying at Kayesa, we were going to the farm for worship and Joyce came with us. Her presence in Sunday school and at church was a blessing to every one present. Joyce walked away from wealth and a comfortable lifestyle to follow God’s call. I know that God looks at Joyce’s life and the lives she has changed and says “This is my daughter with her I am well pleased”.
The theme for this year’s youth Sunday is facing the mountain. This mountain can be a literal mountain like Mount McKinley, Mount Rainer, or the Appalachian Mountains. Or the mountain can refer to a difficulty a person has to overcome in life.
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about the word mountain is Beersheba. Every year for the past 18 years, I have spent one weekend on the mountain celebrating and feeling the presence of God in my life and at work through Belmont. It provides a place to be together in community with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. People of all ages gather together to learn more about Christ, as we take in beautiful landscapes and escape from daily life. Beersheba creates community and family bonded by our love for one another and our love for this church. Some of my favorite memories from my childhood have occurred at Beersheba. Whether it was a hike led by Dr. Cooper, four square with Cato, or Vesper’s led by the youth, Beersheba always proves to be a rewarding weekend full of laughter and fun. The memories I have of looking at the stars and realizing the beauty of God’s earth sustain me as I go through everyday life. At the end of a long week, made longer by my excitement for the weekend ahead, Beersheba is a reward. As we leave the mountain, we are reminded of God’s call in our lives. Whether that call looks like going across the ocean to Malawi or being in relationship with people in our every day lives, we trust that God will guide our footsteps through the journey.
In a similar way to Joyce, I see Belmont carrying out God’s call of creating disciples out of children and youth. Belmont has shaped and strengthened my relationship with God by providing me with opportunities to experience new adventures. I first discovered my passion for service on a VIM trip to Slidell, Louisiana in 2005. Every mission trip I have participated in since then has strengthened my call to be in service with others. Through Appalachia Service Project, I spent time repairing houses to make them warmer, safer, and drier. I have seen God’s work within the Golden Triangle Fellowship through tutoring and leading Mission Nashville. I see people within this church, who daily pick up their cross to follow God and their own personal call. The youth group has taught me the importance of making a change in this world, not only through mission trips, but also through living out your daily life for Christ. It has helped me to grasp the importance of a personal relationship with God and challenges me to think harder and delve deeper into the word of God. The music ministry has shown me that music can serve as more than a beautiful sound, but can be an outlet to share the word of God with others around the world and in our own community. I have grown into the person I am today because of the impact several members of this congregation have made on my life.
For me, Belmont has always been more than a place to come to worship. Belmont has given me friends that I could not find anywhere else. Most importantly, Belmont has given me a home to come to when I am weary and when I am in need of spiritual renewal.
As I travel in the fall to Elon University in North Carolina to start my college experience, I will hold the memories created through trips and experiences with Belmont close to my heart. I will face the mountain that is created with a new school, a new state, and being hours from my family. But most importantly, I will remember that Belmont has shaped me and has given me the power and the knowledge to know I’m not facing the mountain alone. And I have a home waiting to embrace me with open arms when I return to Nashville.
Belmont is more than the church on 21st and Acklen. Belmont is a family daily striving to serve God’s kingdom in whatever way possible. And I am thankful for this community, where we are challenged weekly to answer God’s call in our individual lives.