Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Paul in his letter to the Roman’s compares the sin that comes into the world through Adam with God’s forgiveness that comes into the world through Jesus.
“For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.”
Paul is pointing out that Adam introduced into God’s perfect creation, sin and death. Adam and Eve listened to the serpent and separated themselves from God’s will. God said, “Don’t eat of the tree of knowledge” But Adam and Eve thought that they knew better, and they ate.
Adam and Eve’s sin, affected everyone. This is the moment when people began to substitute their judgment for God’s judgment. People began to create their own systems of right and wrong. They put their own individual desires ahead of God’s desires. Paul’s letter points to the collective nature of this sin. Because of Adam’s transgression many (all) have died.
I think it’s very important now, at this moment in our country to think about the collective or communal nature of sin. It might be easier to think about sin as an individual problem with an individual solution. What if Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit and then God had just punished them for their sin, leaving their children and all of the rest of the creation perfect? But the consequences of Adam and Eve separation from God are that we are all separated from God. Human desire is like this. As soon as we say, I want that thing for myself, we are creating a system in which someone else doesn’t get that thing. All of the sins that we can name have consequences for others. All of our individual sins create systems of oppression that hurt other people.
When we sin by hurting another person, the consequences of that hurt extend to so many others. When we sin by succumbing to our desires—our passions for food, for sex, for power---we create a system in which getting those things that we desire means that someone else cannot have what we have. Our personal sins are political sins. God’s hope for the world is that all people, all of creation will live in fullness. The Garden of Eden had everything that Adam and Eve and all of their offspring could ever need forever.
Let’s just look at one or two examples of the communal or collective sin that tortures our community. Here in the wealthiest nation on earth, we have a system that has left some people without homes, living on the street. We have created a health care system that leaves people with mental illness and addiction without the care that they need. We have created a food system that provides beautiful healthy fruits and vegetables and organic meats for the wealthy and leaves one in four children in our country hungry today. Here in the Bay Area we have created a housing system that is so expensive that a family with two wage earners, working hard, working more than full time cannot afford an apartment in a safe neighborhood. We have created a system in which immigrant workers are needed to do the low paying jobs that keep our society functioning—the construction work, the hospitality and service sectors. Without these jobs that we call “unskilled” being done well at a very low wage, our productivity as a society would end. And yet, we do not give these immigrants the most basic human dignity—the dignity of housing, food, health care, education and the freedom to live with their families in the fullness of life that God hopes for them.
Now we could look around at one another and say, I didn’t create those systems. And these people around me, they didn’t want it to be this way and they didn’t contribute to making these systems of oppression. But we participate in these systems. Simultaneously, we are doing the best we can to treat one another with kindness and love and we are looking after ourselves—putting our needs and desires first. This is the nature of being human that we inherited from Adam and Eve.
What is the answer to this problem? The answer is Jesus Christ. We go back to Paul’s statement: “For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.”
How did Jesus bring grace to all people? Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to God’s will. Unlike all of us who try to do what God wants us to do and fail, Jesus did not fail. Jesus looked at the systems of oppression in his day, just as we look at the systems of oppression around us. And he resisted. He found the widows and the orphans, the hungry and he fed them. He found the lepers, the lame and the people who were possessed by demons and he healed them. He found the people who were marginalized in society, the immigrants and those who did the dirtiest, hardest jobs and he invited them to eat with him. Jesus’ followed the will of his Father, he did God’s work. But this work brought him into conflict with the Roman authorities. And he knew that this conflict would ultimately lead him to his death. Jesus accepted this. This reality, as impossible and horrific as he could imagine, a death that he did not want, Jesus accepted.
In making this commitment, this sacrifice of himself to God, Jesus saved all of us. Jesus died and was resurrected to new life with God the Father. Jesus achieved what no other human could do, giving himself up in perfect obedience. Jesus’ act redeemed us all. As followers of Jesus, we have a path to new life with God. Even though we are just human, imperfect and flawed, we can repent our sins and align our lives with Jesus’. We can model our life decisions on Jesus’ life. We can look forward to new life by working with God as the Body of Christ here. Jesus brought grace to us all. His death and resurrection created a new hope that abides in us. His sacrifice made it possible for us to know God’s forgiveness and reconciliation in a way that we could not have known before.
Jesus’ sacrifice was not to help each of us individually. Jesus showed us the way to resist collective sin, collective evil, systemic oppression with radical love, healing and reconciliation that would fundamentally change our human structures so that all people, and all of creation could live in fullness.
Dorothy Soelle (who was born in 1929) was a German theologian, political activist, and feminist. She was a leader among the generation of liberation theologians who reinterpreted the Christian message within the context of socialism and pacifism.
She wrote that liberation is possible only as the liberation of all. To illustrate this point, she recounted a passage from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Kramazov
“It’s like this. Once upon a time there was a peasant woman and a very wicked woman she was. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell God; “she once pulled up an onion in her garden,” said he, ” and gave it to a beggar woman.” And God answered: “You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.” The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her; “Come,” said he, “catch hold and I’ll pull you out .” And he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. “I’m to be pulled out, not you. It’s my onion, not yours.” As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day. So the angel wept and went away.” Sölle, Dorothee. Suffering. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984 (125).
Even at the moment of reckoning, our lives, our will, our hearts, our works must be focused on a repentence that encompasses all of our brothers and sisters. Turning our hearts towards God is a path towards true freedom for all people. This morning we use the Rite I confession and absolution. I invite you to pray into this form your repentence for the sins that oppress all people. I invite you to hear the petitions for God’s forgiveness as a prayer for liberation and grace for all people. When you hear the absolution of your sins, I invite you to know that Jesus’ death and resurrection has provided for us a forgiveness that changes the very foundations of communities.
Our Scripture today juxtaposed the temptation and sin of Adam with the repentence and forgiveness that come through Jesus Christ. Let us pray together that in this Holy Lent we may resist the temptation to live for the achievement of our individual human desires and instead turn our hearts and minds towards God, seeking forgiveness of our transgressions, repenting the evil social and political structures we have created and working with God for the coming of His Kingdom—the day when all people will know the freedom and fullness of God’s love for us here in this place. Amen.