Monday, July 31, 2017

Sermon on Genesis 2:7-17, for the 7th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr Lectionary), "Man of Dust, Man of Heaven"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis 2 is one of the few brief glimpses of life in the goodness and perfection that God made us for, before mankind’s fall into sin. It’s also a foundational Bible passage of who we are and what we were created for as human beings. God makes Adam in the midst of the Garden of Eden—the original paradise.
So who are we? The creation of mankind comes as the highest and most tender parts of the story of existence—God had made everything else which was good—all living plants and animals. But then He pulls aside and with special care and attention, as a potter working with raw clay to make a new vessel, and God personally shapes and forms Adam out of the dust of the earth. His very chemistry was linked to the ground that God would give him to farm. And yes, after Adam sinned, God would promise “dust you are, and to dust you shall return”—Adam would die and return to the earth from which he came, as all children of Adam one day do. But marvelously, we are so much more than mere animated dust, or just biochemical machines. God stooped down to the lifeless form of Adam, which He had hand-made from the dust—and God breathes into “his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” What a “breath-giving” statement!
Mankind shares the basic biology with animals, and yet is unique and distinct from the animals. No others were created in this way, but to man alone God breathed in the breath of life—face to face. In Hawaiian culture, the or “breath of life” is considered sacred, and the ancient form of Hawaiian greeting was to breathe nose to nose in a warm and welcoming gesture. It certainly echoes something of that same reality, when God breathed or the breath of life into Adam. God made mankind His special creation, a unique and distinct kind from the animals; a spiritual creature. We are not evolved from subhuman ancestors, but were specially made, man and woman, in God’s own image.
1 Corinthians 15, the great chapter about the Resurrection of the body, goes back to this verse to explain both our bodies now, and our future bodies in the resurrection. Paul writes: 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam [Jesus] became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man [Adam] was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man [Jesus] is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.(1 Cor. 15:45-49). Some of this we’ll return to later, but first note that we bear the image of the man of dust. We are flesh and blood descendants of our Father Adam, and Eve, the mother of all the living. We bear all their sin, frailty, and mortality—but also the ruined glory of God’s special creation—intelligence, creativity, speech, love, music, and all the amazing abilities from art and architecture to marathons and mountaineering. But we possess a perishing form—the image of the man of dust. We are dying, because of sin—Adam’s, and our own.
That would be a tragedy almost impossible to bear, if not for God’s plan of redemtion. But also I want to note that both of these passages establish—that our spirituality is not something that hovers above or outside of our body or flesh, but that is intimately connected to it. Our soul is not a “ghost in the machine”, waiting for some liberation from the body, but we are living souls in a fleshly existence. Death, or what’s sometimes described as the separation of body and soul, is an unnatural thing. God didn’t make us for that. But the beauty of the 1 Corinthians passage, is that Paul is driving home the point that as we have born the image of the man of dust—Adam—we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven—Jesus. We will have a spiritual body in heaven, but it will be a body, like Jesus’. The resurrected body of Jesus that bore the tell-tale scars of His crucifixion, and that dined on fish and bread with the disciples, and that was made of flesh and bones, unlike a ghost.
So this is something of what Genesis 2 says of who we are—namely creatures uniquely made in God’s image, who are living souls. But the passage goes on to explain God’s good purpose for Adam. Now remember, this is before Adam had sinned—God places him in Eden—a lush and pleasant garden that Adam is to cultivate. Verse 15: The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work and keep it. The word to “work” can also be translated to serve. It’s a simple, but obvious fact, that work was an original “good”. To cultivate and maintain the garden, would have been a delightful labor for Adam, and he would have reveled in the good fruits of his labor. It’s worth reflecting for a moment on how our own work—however God has given it to us—whether as contractors or farmers, or teachers or businessman, or parents or students—our work is meant to be a God-pleasing and faithful duty. Out of that duty we are to find satisfaction, fulfillment, the reward of labor.
But here we must also contrast the before and after of the Fall into sin. This blessed condition of work did not last, because after Adam and Eve sinned, a major part of the curse that fell upon Adam was on his work: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19). Adam’s work turned to toil, or a difficult, painful, tiresome and sweaty job. Much of the joy and delight of work was lost. We can all relate to the curse as it affects our work—but we should remember that work is in itself a good and necessary thing, and that God can still redeem and use our work for His good purposes. In fact one of the joys of the Gospel, that was celebrated and renewed in the Reformation, is that no matter what our vocation or calling in life—provided it’s not sinful or criminal—is a way of serving and honoring God.
Adam served the garden God had made—and we likewise are servants, under God our Master, who have been given a duty of stewardship, or care towards this creation. Though it’s scarred and broken in many ways through sin, God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and to fill the earth, is still in effect, and as God made Adam and Eve masters over the creation, so also are we to wisely steward His gifts, to show good faith to our Master for what He has entrusted to our temporary care. Stewardship of creation was an original good, and still is our duty today.
But the most important part of this passage is how God commanded Adam (note Eve had not yet been formed): “You may surely 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 surely die.” The tree of life was there for their taking and use—but this tree of the knowledge of good and evil was forbidden. Here was a single boundary they must not cross, and must revere and honor God by obeying this command. God has perfect knowledge of all things—we call it omniscience—He knows all things, but is not harmed, tempted, deceived, or drawn in any way to evil. God hates wickedness and violence. God warned them against this evil and that choosing this tree would lead to certain death.  But Adam and Eve did not realize the poison that it would bring. Before they knew only good. Now, knowing evil, they were deceived, tempted, drawn, and harmed by it as with deadly venom. They could not erase or undo that knowledge, they could not back away from the evil that they let loose—like the fable of Pandora’s box—they could not recover from the step they had taken. The knowledge of evil now gripped them and filled them with sinful desires and guilt and shame. Their relationship with God was completely altered. It converted their loves from things that were good and pure, to lusting after what was forbidden and harmful to them. In their son’s own generation they would already see how Cain’s love for self and his own pride would become greater than the love of his brother Abel’s life. Sin distorts love.
We likewise are often deceived to think that we can handle the knowledge of evil, and all too often we pollute our eyes and minds and hearts with sinful desires and forbidden pleasures. We think that it’s no harm to know these things—but then out of our heart and mouth come “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). But St. Paul tells us what is worthy of our thoughts and knowledge in Philippians 4:8, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”.
But we can’t truly know and love these things from our heart—love what is true, honorable, excellent, etc—if not for our rescue by the “man from heaven.” The other part of 1 Corinthians that we left off, is that verse: Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. God did not abandon the creatures He had so lovingly made in His own image, face to face—God did not abandon Adam and Eve to suffer an irreversibly broken relationship to Him—but God from the very first gave them the promise of  redemption. He promised one of Eve’s offspring to war against and defeat the devil. He promised them Jesus, the man of heaven—God’s Son, come to earth, to take on our flesh—join Himself to our suffering, sinful, humanity, and to give victory where our entire human record is failure. To defeat sin at every turn, to have His mind set completely on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy. All this Jesus knew and He loved. He was filled with a perfect knowledge and desire for what is good, and no knowledge of evil never gained mastery over Him. He resisted the devil at every turn, and resisted all the abuse, mistreatment, hatred, and tricks of those who made themselves enemies of Him. And He did it delighting in the law of the Lord (Ps. 1) and honoring God always.
And because Jesus was faithful even to death, death on a cross—that faithfulness reaped for us such a reward as a restored and healed relationship with God, by the forgiveness of sins. Such a reward as to take away the dreadful curse of that first sin—the death that holds our human race and planet captive—and for Him to burst it, so that in His life, we shall also live. And such a reward as to make us sons and daughters of God—born into His image—the image of the man of heaven. This dying form that we bear now, is going to be resurrected as He was, in the new, living image of the man of heaven—a body made for eternal life—a new and greater Paradise—and, by His Name and His blood, we’ll have access once again to the tree of Life, together with Adam and Eve, and all of the saints. This Jesus, the man of heaven, we worship for all He has done for us. Amen!  

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. What is unique about the way in which God made man (in contrast to the animals)? Genesis 2:7. What does this teach us? What did God make Adam from? What significance did this have after Adam sinned? Genesis 3:19b.
  2. Of the two specifically named trees in the garden, which were they permitted to eat? Genesis 2:9. Which did they, and what was the consequence? What significance does that tree hold in the rest of the Bible? Genesis 3:22-24; Revelation 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19.
  3. Did “work” become a part of creation before or after Adam and Eve fell into sin? Genesis 2:15 What should that teach us? What changed about the nature of work, after the curse of sin? Genesis 3:16-19. How does God redeem our work through Christ Jesus? 1 Corinthians 15:58
  4. What continuing role of stewardship do human beings have toward God’s creation? How does being a “steward” rather than just an organism within the creation, or even an owner of the creation, change how we view our responsibility?
  5. Why was eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil self-destructive? Genesis 2:16-17. Note that after they ate the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were banned from the tree of life. Once humans gained the knowledge of good and evil, they were unable to resist the evil. How did it corrupt the heart of man? Genesis 6:5-6; Matthew 15:18-19.
  6. Who gains access to the Tree of Life in heaven? Revelation 22:14; How do they “wash their robes”, in order to gain this access? Revelation 7:14. “He broke the age-bound chains of hell; the bars from heavens’ high portal fell. Let hymns of praise His triumph tell. Alleluia!” (LSB 464)

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