listen to: Longing for Enough Part 1
Light—the separation of waters—dry land—sun and moon and stars—fish, birds, animals, humanity–God looked upon creation and said it was good. It was very good. This seems to be the understatement of the whole of history. Shouldn’t have God said that it was perfect? But God did not. God said that it was indeed, very good. It seems that from the very beginning, God left room for growth.
God took the man and placed him in the garden and said, and pay attention to the language, “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.” Notice the language used. You may freely eat . . . you shall not eat. There is freedom in following the will of God. “You may freely eat of every tree.” Some have asked why God planted a tree in the garden from which we could not eat. It’s a fine question, and it certainly speaks to the human condition. God provided the freedom to choose out of God’s abundance, yet we ask, “Why not that tree?” This is one of the reasons I rarely preach on the devil. There’s a temptation in making the devil sound more interesting than God. I think that God reveals to us why that single tree is not to be desired—God knew that we could not follow God’s will without community. Let me explain.
Immediately following the command not to eat from a single, set apart tree, God says to himself, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” It is the first time that God pronounces something to be “not good.” Isolation and loneliness and extreme solitude is not good, which is why there is only one tree from which God commanded us not to eat. God separates it and shows humanity physically what God’s will is. The forbidden tree is isolated, apart from God’s abundance. It is not good that the man should be alone, so God created woman. Community is born out of God’s goodness and desire that we not be alone. Being in community is God’s gift, which reminds us that God’s will is not only about me or you, but me and you. Jean Vanier in his remarkable book, Community and Growth, writes, “Community is the place where the power of the ego is revealed and where it is called to die so that people become one body and give much life.” Jesus said that ‘unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’” (John 12:24). God separates out the tree from which we shall not eat, and the man who was alone is given community, and it is good. It is very good.
Mark Twain once said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand, it’s the parts I do understand that scare me.” God’s will is clear, and yet it’s not enough for us. The serpent asks the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman replied, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” God’s command is not enough. Humanity felt the need to add to it— “nor shall you touch it,” the woman replies. This gives the serpent an opportunity to plant seeds of illusion. “You will not die, you will become like God, knowing good and evil.” Now humanity’s eyes have lost focus. God’s will begins to unravel. The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that the tree was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her (by the way, some folks conveniently forget that Adam was there as well) and he ate and their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked.
It all sounds good enough. The tree was good for food. The tree was a delight to the eyes. The tree was to be desired to make one wise. What is so wrong with nourishment and delight and the desire for wisdom? Nothing, except that it is no longer God who is good, but the tree. The tree is good—three times over, once forgetting the Father, once forgetting the Son, and once forgetting the Spirit. I’ve mentioned this before, but the problem with sin is that it’s half right at best. Before God spoke of the tree, God called to the man and the woman and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Sin is half right. It’s great at multiplying, but it is never fruitful. It is a cancer of sorts because it is fruitless multiplication. There is nothing wrong with seeking the goodness of food, but at what cost. “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.” “Man does not live by bread alone.” There is nothing wrong with our eyes being filled with delight, but at whose expense? David peered over the walls and saw that Bathseba was very beautiful. There’s nothing wrong with the desire for wisdom, but at what price? Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? “Why do you call me good?” Jesus replies. “Only God is good.” Having the knowledge of good and evil is not the same as following. James Howell writes, “We may voice a holy intention: “I ought to pray more. I ought to read the Bible. I ought to volunteer. I ought to go on a diet.” But “ought” doesn’t get us anywhere. The first Christians were accused of turning the world upside down! God’s will is not simply what is better than our “oughtness.” God’s name is not “I Ought,” but “I Am.”
God’s will is something holy and subversive. It is the grain of sand upsetting the machinery of the world. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, a treasure buried in a field, a pearl found in the darkness of the ocean floor. It is simple and precious and transformative and it is something the world wants buried. This is why when Jesus gathered with his disciples he said, “This is my body broken for you. This is my blood of the covenant poured out for you.” He didn’t call together the exalted leaders of his day. He called to be his followers a tax collector and a zealot, mortal enemies of one another. He shared his body and his blood with Judas who betrayed him and Peter who denied him. God offered his broken body to broken people. You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it is upon this tree where I will send my Son. When God’s will unravels God offers himself to bind up the broken pieces. When Adam and Eve were hiding because of their nakedness, God fashioned for them clothing. When God’s will became undone and the cruelty and hate and evil of humanity placed Jesus on the tree, our knowledge of evil was transformed into a Good Friday, because he lept out of the tomb so that we might trust that God’s will ultimately leads to good, the same good which God proclaimed when he rested on the seventh day and marveled at creation. Why did God just say it was good? Because God left room for the perfecting grace of Christ.
Now, hopefully you received a letter in the mail over the weekend about our first ever commitment campaign here at The Well. Here’s what I’m asking you to do. First, I would like you to think about the Garden of Eden. Imagine that in it are ten trees. God says, “Here are nine of them. You can eat freely from nine of these trees. Leave one for me. Let me cultivate it. Let me take care of it. Let me produce the fruit from this one tree.” God certainly could have commanded more. We are so fearful. We fear that nine of the ten trees won’t be enough. Now, I preach this sermon to myself a lot. Having three small children . . . well, in the words of Dave Ramsey, “Sometimes there’s more month than money,” but then I think, “Are nine trees not enough? Is 90% not enough?”
The second thing I would like you to do is sit together as a family and read John 6. Maybe just before dinner tonight, you read the story together. Maybe you can read it as a morning devotion when you wake up on Monday. Maybe you read it again on Tuesday. How has the story changed with the second reading, and so on and so forth. Finally, I would like you to sit down as a family and talk about what you can give to the work that God is doing here at The Well and across the world. Maybe you can give one out of every ten apples. Maybe this is a really new thing for you and you need to start small and over time, grow in your giving. The point is to pray about it and talk about it and to give what God is calling you to give. Now, I’m not asking for your W-2, but I am asking you to pray about it. Talk to God about it. As a community of faith, what can we give so that the world might freely eat from God’s goodness? In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.