Divine Fruit

Benicia Divine Fruit

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 27, 2022

4th Sunday in Lent

Genesis 3:1-13; Matthew 26:36-41

 

“The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” is a documentary created by Ken Burns. The series features the park system and traces its history. Highlights include stories of people like John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Rockefellers. Images stream across the screen of national treasures like Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks, the Grand Canyon, the Great Smoky Mountains, and Shenandoah’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Another wonder might have made it into the mix—if it had been on American soil—if we still had access to it—a garden of God’s design in another time and place—the Garden of Eden—one of God’s Best Ideas!

Scripture tells us a river flows out of Eden to water the garden and it is there that the Lord God takes the man—to till and keep it. In other words, Adam’s job is to care for the garden and protect it. Only one stipulation is given, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” The whole garden is available for humankind’s enjoyment except for one forbidden tree.

Then God makes for the man a helper as his partner—a woman. Indeed, in every way it is Paradise, until onto the scene walks the crafty serpent eager to share his venomous lies and deceitful ways. The snake, of course, twists God’s words, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The woman is tempted—how wonderful it would be to know the things God knows. So, she takes the fruit and eats it. She gives some to her husband and then, their eyes are opened. God creates the first man and woman for a special task but in a moment of weakness they choose another path of their own devising.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes,

The snake was right—they did not die as God had said, but it was the end of life as they had known it. In one afternoon they lost everything: their paradise, their innocence, their intimacy with God. All it took was one stupid, willful decision, and there was no going back. They had acquired the knowledge of good and evil, along with the knowledge of which one they had chosen. From the moment they left the garden, life was hard. Life was painful. Life was forever out of whack.[i]

Eating divine fruit is dangerous business because we are not equipped to see as God sees. The truth of our broken, human condition is this: We are much better at plundering and exploiting than caring for and protecting.

The Garden of Eden is a place of beauty—a place where God and humans commune in harmony. After the Fall, no doubt, things change, but our yearning to be near God does not change. Oh, we may try to fill the void with other things like money, power, drugs, alcohol, excess food, and material possessions—when what we really need above all else is a right relationship with God. Nevertheless, our yearning for God does not change. Neither does our longing for a holy place where we can commune with God. Sometimes we are drawn to church to commune with God. Sometimes we choose a quiet place in our own homes. Often, nature calls us and a garden, oh, a garden can be a sacred place to listen for God’s still, small voice.

Jesus is drawn to such a place—the Garden of Gethsemane. He frequently visits this garden on the side of the Mount of Olives. Our reading from the Gospel of Matthew marks Jesus’ last visit and Peter, James, and John are with him. Knowing what is ahead, Jesus wants his closest friends nearby. But he might as well have been alone for all the good they do him. While he prays, they sleep. In disappointment he admonishes them, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

As we continue our Lenten journey this morning, we pause to consider how sin can wreak havoc on our lives. When we pit our will against God’s will, we sin. When we do what we want to do, knowing full well it is not what we should do, we sin. With each bad choice, we travel down a road that leads us further and further away from God. In time, we feel so distant from God. We feel shame, guilt, embarrassment, and fear. We stop talking to God. We stop listening. The sin of pride grows within us—so much so—we become convinced that we can deal with our own issues—our own lives. We don’t need God.

Often during the Season of Lent, I re-read Christ Walk written by Anna Fitch Courie. Recently, when I did so, I found the following on the topic of sin:

Because we are not divine, we are flawed. Sin is a part of human nature. However, God’s grace gives us the strength to move past sin. Only through God’s redeeming grace do we have the opportunity for forgiveness and love and starting over each time with God. God can lift us above our sin. God is infinitely forgiving…Forgiveness is free to all who choose the gift of God’s love. And forgiveness happens over and over because we sin over and over. To sin or not to sin is the choice we made when we decided that abiding in the Garden of Eden was not enough. And God loves us enough to [allow us to] make those choices and still be there with us through it all…[ii]

Only through God’s grace will we have the strength to move past our sin. It is true for Adam and Eve whom God loves so much he gives them garments sewn by God’s own hand to replace rough, scratchy, fig leaves.

Only through God’s grace will we have the strength to move past our sin. It is true for Peter, James, and John, who fail to stay awake with Jesus when he needs them most. Yet, in the end, they are used in mighty ways to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Only through God’s grace will we have the strength to move past our sin. It remains true for each and every one of us. How are we moving past our sin? How are we responding to God’s grace? Are we gathering to worship with other believers on a regular basis? Do we commit to daily prayer and meditation?  Are we seeking a word from God in God’s Word?

How about our relationships with others? Do we maintain healthy boundaries? By the way we choose to live, can people tell we’re followers of Christ? Do our lives exemplify the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

And what about how we care for ourselves? Are we making healthy choices, exercising, getting adequate rest, and making every effort to tend to the temple of the Holy Spirit—which is our body—so that we can do the work God has called us to do?

What happened in the Garden of Eden might have severed our relationship with God forever. But God’s love will not die. God’s love, embodied in the flesh, cries out in the Garden of Gethsemane for our sake. God’s love breaks forth even from a Garden Tomb. And God’s love and grace and mercy continue to pour down like rain upon the earth, refreshing us. Thanks be to God! Amen.

(Silent Reflection)

 

*Cover photo by Glenda Hollingshead

[i] Barbara Brown Taylor, Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation, 44.

[ii] Anna Fitch Courie, Christ Walk: A 40-Day Spiritual Fitness Program, 55.