Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Changes Everything

They say that in order to understand Christmas, you need to have children. Well, one thing is for sure: children know how to anticipate Christmas. When I was growing up, one of my four brothers celebrated his birthday one month before Christmas, but the day after those celebrations were over, we were given "permission" to think about Christmas, and think we did. Can you imagine the buzz five boys could create when given the opportunity?

But two thousand years ago, there was a different kind of buzz… Back then, they didn’t have internet; they didn’t have television; they didn’t even have radio. Back then, if you sent someone a letter, it might not even make it to its destination. But there was still buzz. You see, they had been told that something amazing was going to happen, and they had been given some clues as to when and where it would happen. And some of the experts of that time were saying that this could happen any-time-now.

The buzz was all about the coming of the Messiah. There were these amazing prophecies. Last week we revisited a few of them. Five hundred years before that, the King of Babylon had this dream of a statue made of gold, and silver, and bronze, and iron, and how the prophet Daniel explained to the King that four these different metals represented four different Kingdoms. One would conquer the other, until at last a rock would come that destroyed that idol and changed the landscape of the earth forever. The rock, the prophet said, represents a Kingdom the God of Heaven would establish that would last for all eternity.

So around two thousand years ago, the first Kingdom, the Kingdom of Babylon, had come and gone. The Second Kingdom, the Persian Empire was also now history. The third Kingdom, the Macedonian/Greek Empire of Alexander the Great had fallen to the fourth Kingdom, the Roman Empire. So here they were in the time of the fourth great empire, and they were all whispering about the coming Rock, the Kingdom from God.

We were also reminded of another prophecy by Daniel. In it, roughly five hundred years were projected between the decree to permit the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the arrival of the Messiah, the one who changes everything. And once again, those five hundred years became due around two thousand years ago. More expectation; more buzz. Today, when the most devout church folk get together and what do they talk about? World news? The economy? Fashion? Politics? What’s on television? What’s happening in the hockey league? Sad, but too true. Back then, farmers, fishermen and shepherds would get together and talk about the one who was coming to change everything. Do you remember the story of the woman that Jesus met at the well? That woman was not exactly the most respectable of individuals, but she told Jesus that she was expecting the Messiah to come.

Of course, there are plenty of other prophecies in the Old Testament. My favorite is from Isaiah:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

So with the air full of these and so many and more prophecies, this was the setting in which a very old and Godly man named Simeon one morning woke up one morning feeling that he should go find a baby in the temple. And so he got up, and he prepared himself and off he went. When he arrived at the temple, he came upon a couple carrying an eight-day-old baby boy. When our kids were born, we were so proud of them, we were just delighted to show them off to anyone willing to admire them, especially if they were very young or very old. And these two young people with the baby permitted Simeon to take the child in his arms. When he did, he couldn’t help himself: he prayed. And he said:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

Simeon, this dear old man, was so close to God that he knew that this little boy, a child that they had named Jesus, was the beginning of a new beginning.

And so it is: God reveals His Son, His Messiah, His salvation. Does He just reveal these precious truths to those who are old, and religious, and pious, and good? Well, Simeon was neither the first nor the last person to hear this good news. God also reveals himself to the young, and the not-so-religious, and the not-so-pious, and even the not-so-good.

In fact, eight days before Simeon had the privilege of holding God’s Messiah, there were some shepherds out in the fields… and shepherds in those days were not exactly known for their cleverness, their virtue, or their piety. But you all know the story: an angel came and frightened these guys out of their wits. I don’t know if you have ever seen an angel, but I’m willing to guess that they are pretty awesome, to say the least. And if you’ve been at all naughty when an angel shows up, your first thought isn’t that there is good news – kind of like hearing sirens on the highway when you’re going 130. But here are the words of the angel: “Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy that will be for everyone. Today in Bethlehem a Savior Christ the Lord has been born for you.” And here we get to the heart of the first change that Jesus brings to the world. The angel said that the good news of great joy is for everyone. Christ is born for you.

In every other kingdom the world has every known, there is great advantage to being born into the right family, or there is great advantage to being born beautiful, or smart, or rich. That’s not how it is in the Kingdom of God: the coming of the Kingdom of God is wonderful news for ev-e-ry-one, no exceptions. And God showed it from the very first moment, when he sent his first messengers not to kings or scholars or celebrities. He sent them to a bunch of riff-raff on the night shift … shepherds.

But the Kingdom of God is not just for the downtrodden. It is not just for the old and frail. The next set of visitors for the newborn baby were a group of guys that the Bible refers to as “magicians”. It’s true! The word “magi”, which is translated “wise men” is exactly the same word used to refer to magicians. And we all know how cool magicians are… But honestly, the modern equivalent would be scientists! Seriously. These were the most educated people in the world at the time. The Persian wise men were known the world over for their great learning. And it is almost certain that they would have been aware of the expectation of a Messiah in the land of Israel. In fact, this expectation of the Messiah was so well known, that we have evidence of it in surviving ancient Roman writings. Suetonius wrote: “There had spread all over the East an old and established belief that it was fated for men coming from Judea at that time to rule the world.”

So one of the fields of study for these scientists was the stars, and, in their study, they noticed something amazing in the sky and concluded that it was the sign of the Jewish Messiah! So what is this “star” that they saw? First, the word translated as “star” can mean any astrological occurrence. But, and this is very cool, we can use our modern knowledge of the paths of the planets and reconstruct the night sky in and around the time of Jesus birth. The astronomer Susan Carroll writes, “There were some incredibly spectacular astronomical events that occurred during this period.” For example, we can track the three planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars to a rare convergence around that time, and there was another four-planet conjunction, too. Even a comet (number 52 on Williams list of comets) appeared in the sky around that time. But another perhaps even more interesting event was a triple-retrograde path of the planet Jupiter that also involved a conjunction with the planet Venus. In fact, the retrogrades of the king-planet Jupiter had it circle around the king-star Regulus, and would have had it appear in the constellation Leo (remember the Lion of Judah) and Virgo, the virgin. These wise men were treated to a feast of celestial action just before Jesus was born.

But perhaps the most significant thing about the wise men was not the fact that they were rich, or that they were smart, or that they had studied. The most significant thing about the wise men was that they weren’t Jewish! Traditionally, the Jewish people have kept to themselves. Of course, it is hard to blame them: everyone else throughout history seems out to get them. But the prophecies about the Messiah said that He would come to save His people, but that he would also be a light to the Nations. And so the story of the first Christmas has the message making it to the Jews and to the Gentiles, to the religious and to the not-so-much, to the educated and to the ignorant… Oh, and I forgot one, didn’t I?

Remember Simeon? Old man in the temple holding the eight-day old baby Jesus. Well, as he was praying, a woman named Anna approached, and the Bible says that she gave thanks to God and told everyone she knew about the baby. So let me spell this out: for the first time in history, there is a story cuts across age, and cuts across gender, and cuts across religion, and cuts across race, and cuts across education. All the old structures have been defeated, and will eventually be blown away on the wind. That ground-breaking story? The story of the first Christmas. The man-made idols of wealth, and economics, and power and strength are pulverized by the coming of the Kingdom of God. Christmas changes everything.

The very first words that we have written concerning the message of Jesus are these (from Mark 1:15): “The countdown is over. The Kingdom of God has arrived.” That rock had arrived at the foot of the idol, turning it into so much dust. Those almost-five hundred years were now past. Simeon correctly identifies Jesus as the Most Holy Anointed One. And over the last two thousand years, that rock, the Kingdom of God has grown to cover the whole earth. We have the privilege to be part of that Kingdom this morning. What’s more, contrary to the partially true if trendy idea that religion is an agent of discord and violence in the world, the legacy of Christ and His church is one of human rights, of higher education, of health care, of artistic expression and of fairness and justice. All of this is history, all of it is good news. But there is, unfortunately, bad news in history as well. In particular, we note that the majority of the Jewish people rejected Jesus as their Messiah. As we read in John’s gospel, “He came unto his own, but his own did not receive him.” How come?

Well, the answer to this question is crucial. It isn’t just important religiously. It isn’t just important historically. It is important today. It is important for you. It is critical for you. Because this Christmas season the birth of Jesus is the opportunity once again to align yourself with the Kingdom of God. Sure, the kingdoms of this world have wormed their way into our thinking over the last year. Sure, we’ve been seduced by the kingdom of power, or the kingdom of wealth. But those won’t go the distance. Betting on those horses means losing your shirt. The key to alignment with the only Kingdom that will last is found in the rest of Jesus’ message. Remember what He said from a few seconds ago? “The countdown is over. The Kingdom of God has arrived.” Now listen carefully to what comes next: “change your way of thinking, and receive the good news.” Change your way of thinking. Here is the reason that folks resist their Savior. Here is the reason that folks reject their only Hope. They just don’t want to give up on their way of thinking. They are simply too close-minded.

When I was in University, one night my folks told me that we were having a guest speaker at church the next Sunday, and that he was going to stay at our place and have dinner on Saturday night. So Saturday night came around, and this really, really old Scottish guy shows up, and he’s nice and polite and all, but after dinner I excused myself to go do some homework. Engineering students always have lots of homework. I didn’t give this guy another thought until the next morning he was invited up to the pulpit. Ho hum. …and then he started to speak! This guy was amazing! He had traveled all over the world evangelizing, and he had written books about his travels. The books were so compelling that he had received multiple honorary degrees in Geography from Universities all over the globe. This guy was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the American Geographical Society, the Royal Historical Society, and the Royal Society of Literature. He was one of the original board members of Campus Crusade for Christ. He also has at least one of the hymns in our hymnal. And he had every single person on the edge of their seats. Nobody noticed the time fly by; nobody wanted him to stop speaking. …And I had had the opportunity the previous night to listen to this guy in my own home, but was too stupid…trying to be smart! I wish someone had told me “you might not have thought that it could happen, but there is a genius here; change your mind – change your way of thinking – and believe the good news.”

Now I’m going to ask you to use your imaginations. First, I want you to imagine that you are single. That doesn’t take too much imagination for some. But then, I want you to imagine that there was someone in the world who God made to be your soul mate. Somewhere in the world, there is someone who is made just perfectly for you: he or she would laugh at your jokes; would understand your ideas; would cover for you in your weakness and would cheer you in your strengths. He or she is perfectly wired to share true love with you. And now imagine that you meet him or her tomorrow. That would be a miracle, wouldn’t it: out of more than six billion people in the world, God brings you together with someone who was made especially for you. How perfectly amazing that would be, wouldn’t it? What good news!

But now suppose that you’ve been through a lot. You’ve known hurt; you’ve been let down a few times. And suppose that those hurts have made you just cynical enough… that you don’t believe in true love any more. Someone I know says that true love exists in Neverland with fairies and leprechauns. Perhaps she’s right. Someone said that being a pessimist is always the best policy: you are always either right or pleasantly surprised. J But if you were a bit too pessimistic, you might not even notice… you might not even realize that you were introduced to someone who could synchronize with your heart in ways that most people can only dream about. Talk about tragic! Talk about heart-breaking! A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity appeared to you, and you weren’t clever enough to notice. Someone needed to be there beside you, telling you “you might not have thought it could ever happen, but your soul-mate is here; change your mind – change your way of thinking – and believe the good news!”

But that is exactly what happened to God’s people around two thousand years ago. They were expecting the Messiah to come. They just weren’t expecting him to come like he did. That’s why Jesus message was always “change your way of thinking.” (that is, after all what the word “repent” means, isn’t it?) If you don’t change your way of thinking, you’ll never get it. You’ll never know the incredible joy and peace that God is offering to you this morning.

So that’s my Christmas message for you: “you might not ever have thought that it could happen. You might not have ever imagined that you could know the Creator of the universe personally, but you can! Change your mind, and receive the good news! You might not ever have guessed that He wants to talk to you and use you in the world for your joy and His Kingdom, but he does! Change your mind, and receive the good news!” You might think that the birth of a baby boy two thousand years ago couldn’t possibly be relevant to you. If you think that way, you are just like those who, when they heard where Jesus was from, said ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’. Their prejudice clouded their thinking, and kept them from receiving the truest source of fulfillment. Don’t let your prejudices cloud your thinking; don’t let your habits of mind keep you from being open to the good news of great joy, which are for all people, including you. “I tell you,” the Bible says, “Now is the time of God’s favor; now is the day of salvation.” Change your way of thinking and receive the good news. You might not have thought that it could happen, but God came and revealed Himself to people, and He wants to reveal Himself to you; change your mind and believe the good news.

Don’t waste your time on any of those other structures and Kingdoms in the world. This season, I’ve had the fun of singing in Handel’s Messiah, and if you can, I’d like you to imagine the Hallelujah Chorus with me. It starts majestically (Hallelujah, Hallelujah), but in the middle, there is this sudden hush, and the words of Revelation come through: “the Kingdom of this world is become…the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever.” King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Hallelujah. Amen and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Abraham

Abraham

“Is anyone here seeking to Lord? Is anyone here pursuing righteousness? Then listen to me!” – these are the words of the prophet. In a minute, I’m going to tell you who that prophet was, and what it was that he said we should listen to. Now some of you might already know who the prophet is. For everyone else, I have a quiz.

The category is “men’s names” and the first question is this: Which man’s name occurs the most in the Bible? (Israel) Which is second? (David)

[Full Bible: God: 4787; Israel: 2601; David: 1064; Jesus: 985; Moses: 847; Joseph: 250]

OK, now that you’re in the mood, I have a second round of questions: Which man’s name occurs the most in the New Testament? (Jesus) Which is second? (Peter/Paul)

[NT: God: 1370; Jesus: 977; Peter: 164; Paul: 163; Moses: 80; Abraham: 74]

Now those questions were really just for fun: kind of trivial pursuit. Now comes the interesting part. As you know the New Testament can be divided into two parts. The first is the historical books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts – mostly the stories of Jesus and his disciples. The second are the letters: written by Paul, and Peter, and John, for example. These letters are a record of what the earliest Christians thought about God, and themselves, and the world. There aren’t any stories in the second part of the New Testament. There is just explanation of the stories that came earlier. So here’s the final round of questions: In the *second part of the New Testament* which man’s name occurs the most? (Jesus) Which is second? (Abraham)

[Romans and after: God: 880; Jesus: 290; Abraham: 32; Paul: 30; Moses: 23]

Now I’m going to ask you to note two things before we go back to what the prophet said: first, Abraham is considered really, really, important by the writers of the New Testament; second, that fact was a surprise to most of you. ;-)

So let’s get back to the words of the prophet Isaiah: chapter 51: “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father.” Isaiah says that if we want to pursue righteousness, if we want to seek God, we do really well to pay attention to the life of Abraham. Clearly, the apostle Paul felt the same way: as we just discovered, Abraham was the single-most common object lesson in all of his writings.

Now if that isn’t enough to make you want to learn a little bit more about the life of Abraham, the Bible says that God blessed Abraham “in every way”. Could you use a little of God’s blessing this morning? Then Abraham can provide a model for you.

The life of Abraham covers twelve chapters in the Old Testament, starting with Genesis chapter twelve. In the pew Bibles, this amounts to thirteen pages. With the time we have left, we certainly cannot cover all of Abraham’s life, but I would like to give you the “Reader’s Digest” or “Cole’s Notes” version. If you want to follow along, the story of Abraham’s life starts in the twelfth chapter of the book of Genesis. I’m going to skip over some parts, and if you think that I’ve missed something important, please come and tell me afterwards. Now in order to get the point of Abraham’s life, I’ve put most of his experience into four categories, and I’ve given those categories labels. Some will be obvious, and some not so obvious. But I’ll explain them all when we are done.

  • B - was blessed; (command and blessing – 12:2)
  • O - did what he was told (went away from home “as the Lord told him” – 12:4);
  • T - “called on the name of the Lord” – 12:8, 13:4;
  • E - thoughtful to others (deal with Lot) – 13:8;
  • B - was blessed (you get both pieces) – 13:14;
  • E - thoughtful to others (rescued Lot) – 14:14;
  • B - was blessed – 14:19;
  • E - thoughtful to others (gave money to a priest) – 14:20;
  • B - was blessed (your shield and great reward) – 15:1;
  • T - asked God about his childless status; believed God’s answer – 15:2…;
  • B - had a son (Ishmael) – 16:15;
  • B - confirmation of covenant – 17:2;
  • O - did what he was told (had a small operation) – 17:11;
  • E - thoughtful to others (entertained angels) – 18;
  • T - talked to God – 18;
  • E - thoughtful to others (begged God to be merciful to Lot) – 18:16;
  • B - had a son (Isaac) – 21:1;
  • T - “called on the name of the Lord” – 21:33;
  • O - did what he was told (sacrifice of Isaac) -- 22;
  • B - was blessed – 22:17;
  • E - thoughtful to others (bought a field) -- 23;
  • -- buried his wife;
  • -- sent his servant to find a wife for his son; re-married; had more sons; died.

B blessing; x8; E ethics; x6; O obedience; x3; T talk; x4

So what did we learn from the life of Abraham? Well, how about a quick check to see is you were paying attention. Which of these three letters did I hold up the most? That’s right: B – and B is for blessing: God blessed Abraham right out of his socks. Now (this is a little trickier) which of the letters did I hold up second most? That’s right: E. I’ll explain what E stands for in a second. Which letter comes next? T – T stands for talk: Abraham talked to God. And, finally, what was the last letter? O – O stands for obedience, doesn’t it: Abraham did what God told him to do.

Back to the letter “E”. This one was a bit tricky – it is difficult to choose an appropriate letter. For the philosophers in the room, the letter “E” could stand for “Ethics” – that is, being kind and thoughtful to others. Remember the events of Abraham’s life that I talked about when the “E” was up? He was honest, and generous, and unselfish. That’s sometimes what we mean when we talk about ethics. But I wanted a label that meant a little more than that. You see, when Abraham is kind and thoughtful, the Bible suggests that his doing so is a way that God blessed those around him. So Abraham’s kindness comes directly from God. I picture it as being an extension of the blessing. So you can say that “E” is for “Ethics” or that “E” is for an “Extension” of God’s blessing.

In fact, God makes this explicit in some of the blessings that he gives Abraham. Here’s the first one (chapter 12):

“…I will bless you…and you will be a blessing…. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

And here is the last one (chapter 22):

“…I will surely bless you…and through you…all nations on earth will be blessed.”

It is almost as if the purpose of God’s blessing to Abraham is to bless the world. And I bet the world would be a better place if we had the same attitude: we are called to extend the blessings that we have received to others.

So as we seek the Lord and pursue righteousness, we need to pay attention to the life of Abraham. And having just heard the summary of that life, I think that we need to ask ourselves a very basic question: “Be to or not be to – that is the question!” You see, there are two different ways of looking at life. There are two different ways to approach God. And they can be illustrated by the order in which you put these four letters. Most of the world thinks that they need to come to God like this: “OTEB.” That is, they think that God couldn’t possibly bless you unless first you obey him, then you talk to him, and then you are the best person you can be.

But the life of Abraham demonstrates that this is exactly the wrong way to approach God. In the life of Abraham, the blessing came first. It’s true! God didn’t wait for Abraham to obey; God didn’t wait for Abraham to pray; God didn’t wait for Abraham to be kind to others. No! God blessed Abraham right up front. Remember the order in Abraham’s life? First the blessing; then the extension of that blessing, then prayer, and then obedience. God blessed Abraham right up front. And God blesses us right up front, too.

Remember what it says in Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his love to us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And verse 10: “when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.” Or how about in Ephesians: (2:4,5) “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in sin – it is by grace you have been saved.”

God blesses us up front: before, not after we are his friends. When we realize this, then we can become the true children of Abraham. “What difference?” you may ask. Well let me tell you.

If we think that we deserve the blessing we receive from God, then we can make the mistake of thinking that if folks fall upon hard times then they deserve it, too – that it is God’s judgment. If it is us who suffer, we can be paralyzed by guilt, and if we see others suffer, we can look down on them. This just isn’t right. Remember the disciples asking Jesus about the man born blind…? and the folks killed when the tower collapsed…?

If we think that the blessing we have received is due to our goodness, we can also make the mistake of insisting that the rest of the world must approach God exactly as we have. We become gate-keepers of the Kingdom, ensuring that those who come must use our words, jump through our hoops, and align themselves with us before they can approach God. Jesus condemns this kind of attitude in the Pharisees when he says “Woe to you, you hypocrites, you shut the kingdom of God in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” Let me tell you, there is a world out there in desperate need of God, and the last thing that they need is a bunch of smug gatekeepers to block their way.

Instead, when we realize that the blessing that we have received is through no fault of our own, then we can be truly generous with it. We didn’t deserve it any more than the people that we’ve been called to share it with. We are all the same before the judge and ruler of the world.

God’s blessing comes before prayer. Without the grace of God, there is not a soul who would be able to pray. God’s blessing comes before obedience. Without the grace of God, we would be unable to do anything right at all. And God’s blessing absolutely comes before any kindness we could ever show to others. In fact, our small kindnesses are simply extensions of God’s blessing. As John says in his first letter, “We love because he first loved us.” Without God’s love, we are incapable of love. Without God’s blessing, we are incapable of blessing others.

But what if you’re feeling blessing-deprived this morning? Well, this might not help a lot, but I’ve got to tell you. God can come in and fill any gap you might be feeling in your life. God says that he is Abraham’s reward, and he can be our reward, too. If life has handed you a short stick, remember Abraham: he let Lot choose the big piece of the pie, only to have God remind him that the future was his. The Bible says God is father to the fatherless and a defender of widows. Remember how Jesus called his disciples attention to the widow at the temple? After guys came with trumpets and front-end-loaded money into the offering, a poor window came and put in two pennies. Jesus said that that widow put in more that the rich man. God will judge us on what we’ve received; not for what we lack.

On the other hand, Jesus says that from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. God requires us to take our blessings seriously.

Do you want to seek God? Do you want to pursue righteousness? Then pay attention to Abraham. Let us, too, be willing to accept God’s blessings and freely extend it to those we meet this week.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Noah

As many of you know, I often start sermons with questions. Sometimes those questions have many answers, and sometimes the answers can be surprising. I was on the internet a few weeks ago, and I ran into a long list of question. These are questions that don't really have any answers at all. They just make you go "hmm". So before we get serious, I'd like to share some of the better ones with you (I’m sure many of you have heard most of them):

1. How do "Do not walk on the grass" signs get where they are?

2. How do you throw away a garbage can?

3. If a train station is where the train stops, what is a workstation?

4. Why do we park in driveways and drive on parkways?

5. Why didn't Noah swat those two mosquitoes?


What is it about the story of Noah and jokes? Really quick: God tells Noah to build a large boat, and then God helps Noah fill that b
oat with a pair of every kind of animal just in time for a flood to come and cover the world. It does sound a bit funny, doesn’t it? In fact, one of the most popular comedy monologues of the twentieth century was Bill Cosby's "Noah" -- do you remember it? "How long can you tread water?" In fact, even my Dad contributed to my collection of Noah jokes -- he sent me this picture…at least the monkey is laughing:


Here are a few more Noah jokes…

  • Why didn't Noah do much fishing?
  • He only had two worms

  • Which animal brought the most onto the ark?
  • The elephant brought his trunk

  • Where did Noah keep the bees?
  • In the ark-hives

  • Which animal could Noah never trust?
  • The cheetah

Now as much as I like those jokes, I have to ask: why do we make jokes? Because it is fun, sure – but sometimes we joke about things to make it easier to deal with things that make us uncomfortable, don’t we? People who make movies know this. The easiest way to make people laugh is to create a situation that makes people really uncomfortable. When folks are uncomfortable, they want an escape, and even a bad joke at the right time can be a lot funnier than a great joke at the wrong time.

And so it is with the story of Noah. The reason that we joke about it; the reason that we hide the story in Sunday School and represent it with multi-colored toys is that this story could easily make us feel uncomfortable. Yes – sorry about that: if you came to church this morning wanting to feel better about yourself, it is going to have to wait. The sermon this morning might be a little bit disturbing. But it has to be if we want to be honest with what the Bible is actually saying.

When three thousand people die in a terrorist attack, the whole world rightly and naturally says, “how terrible,” and the history of the world changes abruptly. When two hundred thousand people die due to a tsunami, the world rightly and naturally says, “how terrible,” and a huge effort begins to clean up the mess. But as serious as they are to the people involved, these disasters represent tragedies that will be forgotten in time – almost certainly.

Did you know that there have been natural disasters in which more than two hundred thousand people have died? The most deadly natural disaster on record happened in China – an earthquake caused the deaths of an estimated eight hundred thousand people. But I’m betting that most of you didn’t know about the great Shaanxi earthquake. You see, even the biggest of catastrophes fade out of history over the centuries. Indeed, we could even measure the extent of a natural disaster by how long it remains in the collective consciousness. Small ones get forgotten quickly; big ones not so quickly. And by this measure, the flood at the time of Noah must be the largest disaster of all time. We don’t know when it happened exactly, but it might have been as much as five thousand years ago, but we do know that it comes down to us in at least six different written accounts all numerous oral traditions from many different cultures. It is true: you’ve heard of Noah; you might have heard of Gilgamesh; you might not have heard of Atrahasis, Ziusudra, or Berossus. Each of these represents a tradition going back to the earliest recorded history. And each of them describes God telling a man to build a boat to save himself and his family while disaster fell on the world. People who have studied all these stories have found remarkable similarities between them.

So at the heart of the story of Noah is a really enormous tragedy. The Bible says in Genesis chapter 6 verse 5: “The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” And so God decided to destroy them all. Well, not quite all – God saved Noah.

The Bible says: “Noah found favor in the eyes of God.” Now it is only natural to identify with Noah in the story – after all he is the hero, and it is traditional to identify with the hero in all stories. So let’s pay some attention to what makes Noah the hero of the story this morning; let’s pay attention to what gives Noah God’s favor. Genesis chapter six, verse fourteen: God says to Noah: “Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out…. The ark is to be longer than a football field, as wide as this building is long, and a little bit higher than this ceiling. It will have three decks and a roof. Oh, and you can use my Reno Depot account – be sure to put it all on credit.”

You know, sometimes people think that God only asks us to do things that we are good at; that we’re prepared to do; that we’ve practiced. But Noah had almost certainly never built an ark before. As Bill Cosby tells the story, when asked to build an ark, Noah says “right…. What’s an ark?” So God sometimes asks us to do work for which we have little or no experience. No matter. Sometimes God asks us to do things that we don’t think we are capable of doing. No matter. When God’s work is involved, God always fills in the gaps; God always covers for our weaknesses and provides protection along the way. God was asking Noah to build a huge ark; nearly all by himself; without a pickup truck to haul the wood; without Reno Depot to buy the wood; without power tools to cut the wood; without nails or glue or clamps or practically anything. It took him a long time. The Bible doesn’t say how long it took, but some people have estimated that it might have taken as long as one hundred years to finish. This means that Noah’s work probably took longer than you are going to live.

But building the ark wasn’t the most difficult thing that God asked Noah to do. Seriously! In verse nineteen, God tells Noah “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.” Can you imagine that? Even with rope, tranquilizer darts and jeeps it would take a really long time to fill up two football fields with hundreds of different kinds of animals. Did Noah have a jeep? No! Did Noah have a gun with tranquilizer gun? No!

Now I’d like five volunteers to come and help me with a game. It is a game with animals, and it illustrates Noah’s job of finding the animals for the ark. I have twelve cards with six pairs of animals. I’ll need you to stand here in a line, and your job is to find two animal cards that match. If you do, you get to have a little prize. All you have to do in order to make it work is to remember the instructions. And those instructions are quite simple: “Bring them two by two”. It also helps to be able to spell. Sometimes, if we want to get instructions right, it helps to have them spelled out for us. Now you will notice that the instructions have five words “bring them two by two”, and there are five of you. Each of you will find one pair of animals, and the last pair will be left over for me. Ready? I’m going to put six cards over here, and six over here.

Now I’d like A to start. First, I’d like you to choose either of the two piles. Do you remember the instructions? Your word is “bring”. Do you know how to spell it? For each of the letters in your word, I’m going to take one of the cards from the top of your pile and put it on the bottom. But in between, you’re allowed to tell me to switch piles, ok? B-R-I-N-G. That’s it. We have a match! Good job! Now B. Please choose either one of these piles. Do you remember the instructions? Your word is “them”. Do you know how to spell it? We’re going to do exactly what we did with A, ok? And you tell me when to switch so that we make another pair. Ready? T-H-E-M. Next is C. Do you remember the instructions? “bring them two by two”. Your word is “two”. Do you know how to spell it? T-W-O. Next is D. Do you remember the instructions? Your word is “by” – it is spelled with just two letters, isn’t it. B-Y. Last but not least, E, please tell me which pile you choose. Do you remember the instructions? “bring them two by two” – that’s right. And your word is “two”. T-W-O. There we have five winners. And five prizes. Please let’s give my volunteers a hand.

Now just like the animals sorted themselves out in spite of our best attempts to mix them up, God also helped Noah do his job. In chapter seven, verse nine says that pairs of animals came to Noah. Noah didn’t have to go capture lions and tigers. The animals cooperated. God fills in the gaps. And we do well to remember that, and do what he tells us without arguing - even if the task seems large. But you can still be sure that Noah had to do a lot of work. One hundred years of building, and he needed to gather enough food for the animals, and all kinds of other things. Work. It is a good thing. Believe it or not. Solomon, the wise king wrote this: “There is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, and even this is a gift of God. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

At this point some of you might be thinking “Hold on.” The Christian life is not about work – the Christian life is about faith. And you’d be right – at least partly. Remember Paul wrote that we need to “work out or salvation.” And what did Jesus say? “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” Now when I was young, I thought that Jesus was just being clever when he said this – that he was trying to tell us that God wants belief and not work. But the older I get, the more profoundly I realize that believing in Jesus is indeed hard work. It is not the work of a moment either – it is the work of a lifetime. Work and faith are not disconnected. Work is spiritual and belief is work. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the…spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Not only can believing in Jesus be the struggle of a lifetime, but sometimes we don’t even get to see the results of our work in the present life.

Let me tell you a missionary story – a true story. We can never hear enough true missionary stories…

Back in 1921, a missionary couple named David and Svea Flood (that’s right – with a name like that, these folk belong in a sermon about Noah) – David and Svea Flood went to what was then called the Belgian Congo. They felt called to a remote area but the chief there would not let them enter his town. The Floods chose to go half a mile up the slope and build their own mud huts.

The only contact with the villagers was a young boy, who was allowed to sell them chickens and eggs twice a week. Svea Flood decided that if this was the only African she could talk to, she would try to lead the boy to Jesus. And in fact, she succeeded. But there were no other encouragements. Then Svea found herself pregnant in the middle of the primitive wilderness. A little girl was born, but the Mom, who was already weak with malaria, died. In that moment, something snapped inside David Flood. Giving his newborn daughter to another missionary couple, he snarled, "I'm going home. I've lost my wife, and I obviously can't take care of this baby. God has ruined my life." And he left.

Many years later, this little girl had grown up and become known as Aggie Hurst. Her adoptive parents had been open with her about her heritage, and so one day she saw a picture in a magazine that jumped out at her:

There in a primitive setting was a grave with a white cross-and on the cross were the words SVEA FLOOD. The article in the magazine was about missionaries who had come to Africa long ago ... the birth of a white baby ... the death of the young mother ... the one little African boy who had been led to Christ ... and how, after the missionaries had all left, the boy had grown up and finally persuaded the chief to let him build a school in the village. The article said that gradually he won all his students to Christ... the children led their parents to Christ... even the chief had become a Christian. Today there were six hundred Christian believers in that one village... all because of the sacrifice of David and Svea Flood.

A few years later, the Hursts were attending a conference in London, England, when a report was given from the nation of Zaire (the former Belgian Congo). The superintendent of the national church, representing some 110,000 baptized believers, spoke at length of the spread of the gospel through his nation. Aggie could not help approaching him afterward and asking if he had ever heard of David and Svea Flood. "Yes, madam," the man replied, "It was Svea Flood who led me to Jesus Christ. I was the boy who brought food to your parents before you were born. In fact, to this day your mother's grave and her memory are honored by all of us."

And if that wasn’t enough, Aggie went to Sweden and brought her father back to the Lord before he died. This was the person closest to Aggie’s Mom, and he had concluded that the work was in vain, and that God had abandoned him. But God looks at things slightly different than we do. Don’t give up on God. Let him work in the world through us, and let him work without having to keep us informed of his progress.

Just like Svea Flood, Noah devoted his entire life to the work that God had called him to. So how are we doing identifying with the hero in our story this morning? I know that some people in this church work really hard. But maybe others struggle with hard work. Not to worry – there must be other things besides hard work that made Noah find God’s favor. What were they? Genesis chapter six, verse nine: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” Oof. Blameless. Do we have any blameless people here this morning? You should be preaching. But Noah was not just blameless. He walked with God. There is only one other person in the Bible who is said to have walked with God, and that was Noah’s grandfather, Enoch. Enoch was so special, that the Bible suggests that he never died – God just took him away! Are you blameless? I’m not. Sure, I’d like to be, but I’m not. Are you walking with God? I’m not. Sure, I’d like to be, but I’m not. Are you willing to work for a hundred years on a project that makes you the biggest joke in history? Not sure about that one either.

So if what if…I know it isn’t a very comfortable idea…but what if we might be a little bit more like some of Noah’s neighbors than we are like Noah. Seriously. What does the Bible say?

  • In Jeremiah: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure”
  • In the Psalms: “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
  • In Ecclesiastes: “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.”
  • In Romans: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Sorry about that, but in the story of Noah, the character that you represent – the character that I represent – the character that we represent, is not Noah. Instead, we first need to identify with all those who were left behind. What did Jesus say? “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be when I return….they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be when I come back.”

But hold on, you might say, Jesus also told us to be watching for his return…and Christians should be doing that. Well, that may be true, but also remember what Jesus asked his closest followers to “keep watch” in his moment of greatest sorrow, but when he returned from prayer, he found them sleeping. He woke them up and told them to “watch and pray” a second time, but when he came back from prayer a second time, they were asleep again. This is the story that the phrase comes from: “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” And while our spirits might be willing, God knows our bodies are weak – yes, every one of us.

And so we should be going into the story of Noah not as the hero, but as someone who makes jokes about the hero. Not as the savior of the world, but as someone who needs saving. But there is good news! Not only are we in need of saving, but God wants to save us, too. At the end of the story of Noah, God put a rainbow in the clouds. And the rainbow was a sign of his promise never again to judge the world in this way. Here’s the way the prophet Isaiah describes it (54:7-10)

“For a moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In anger, I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your redeemer – “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

If we want to be saved, we need to get to know the carpenter. Only he can save us. The Bible says that the flood that Noah went through is really just a picture of baptism, where, trusting in the carpenter from Galilee, we can be saved by his work from the biggest danger of them all – the danger to our very soul. Don’t miss that boat! Jesus has prepared the way to be saved, and we need to listen carefully to his instructions. Do you know that the Bible even says that Jesus went and preached to all the spirits of the people who died in the flood. God loved them even though their hearts are inclined to evil. And God loves you, too.

One last quick true story to finish up. The boxing day tsunami in 2004 was certainly the greatest natural disaster of modern times. It overwhelmed the beaches in Indonesia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka. Dayalan Sanders looks after an orphanage in Sri Lanka. The grounds of the orphanage were on a little piece of land jutting out into the Indian Ocean, exactly the part of the country that was hit the worst by the Tsunami of 2004. That day, he was working on a sermon and his wife rushed in to tell him about the giant wave. Very calmly, he got up and started down toward the water. But when he finally looked up and saw the tsunami, he turned and shouted, “everyone to the boat!” Afterward he wrote this: “usually, to get all the children and staff to one point it takes a good ten minutes. That day we were all down at the boathouse in ten seconds…. We never leave the outboard motor on the launch. This was the first time we had done this. And it was also the first time that Stefan, the boat man was able to get the motor going on the first try. I called upon the Lord. I prayed and my God answered my prayer.” The God who directed Noah to a boat before a flood, the God of Jesus, whose commands the wind and the waves obeyed. That was the God who saved Dayalan Sanders and every one of his staff and orphans.

God is still in the business of saving people. Pay attention to his plan for you, listen carefully to his instructions and don’t give him a hard time if he asks you to do a bit of work.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Truth about Adam and Eve

You know, it is quite remarkable that Adam and Eve still feature prominently in sermons at all [it is – the “intro” demonstrated this]. Adam and Eve are treated with very little respect outside the church. People seem to like to make fun of the story of the Garden of Eden as much as they possibly can, and treat it like there is no truth in it at all. This morning, I’m going to tell you about the truth in the story of Adam and Eve.

But before we talk specifically about Adam and Eve, I’d like to address the reason why folks make fun of the story we are about to discuss. If you meet someone on the street who says they don’t believe in God, and you ask them “why not?” The most common reply that they will give you is something like “science makes God unnecessary.” What they are really claiming is that the story of evolution is true, and that the story of Adam and Eve is not. Typically, however, the people who say this don’t know very much about either the Bible or about science. I am going to stick my neck out this morning and claim that I know something about both. If you’d like to challenge that claim, I’d be delighted to discuss it with you over dinner tonight. Especially if you pick up the tab. Vinnie Gambini’s is nice. ;-)

But before I get to the facts, however, I’d like to ask my Christian friends at Bethel to go easy on those in the world who believe in evolution. I’m serious. Belief in evolution should be no grounds for choosing friendships or sharing a meal. When we arrive in heaven, there will be plenty of surprises for all of us. And God will forgive those who have a poor understanding of origins just as he forgives me for my many faults.

Having said that, let me remind you of Genesis chapter one. In this chapter, the Bible describes how God created everything. But there are actually two different actions in the original Hebrew, and they are translated as two different words in English, as well. In English, the words used are “create” and “make”. In Hebrew, the word for “create” is rarely, if every used anywhere else. It is a word that means “poof” – something out of nothing – almost something magical. The word “make” on the other hand, means to “rearrange”, like you “make” dinner: the raw ingredients are rearranged to make something else. Please understand that God’s rearranging biological material could very well be related to what scientists call evolution. So let’s not worry too much about the times that the Bible says “God made” – let’s concentrate on the times that the Bible says “God created”. There are only three times when this word it used: verse one, verse twenty-one, and verse twenty-seven. And interestingly enough, these times just happen to coincide with the three events in history that science has the very most difficulty explaining. In fact, each of them is represented precisely in the list of twenty-five “big unanswered questions of science” that was published a few years ago in the journal Science. Let me repeat that – a millennia-old story that people make fun of just happens to call out three of the biggest mysteries of modern science – pretty cool, huh?

The first time that the Bible uses the word “create”, obviously, is the creation of the universe: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. Some folks talk about a “Big Bang”, but even if there were such a thing, the creation of the universe involves what led to the Big Bang. Science has no tools to measure what might have happened that far back.

The second time the Bible uses the word “create” it refers to the creation of life. Did you know that the scientific community is completely befuddled by the origin of life? In Science the “big question” is “How did life on Earth arise?” Sure, the textbooks say that some interesting compounds can be synthesized in the lab. But there is a huge, enormous, gigantic chasm between those compounds and a living organism. In fact, there is a standing one million dollar prize for anyone who can come up with a scientifically coherent theory for the origin of life (it even has a website that you can visit www.lifeorigin.org). That’s right – a scientifically coherent theory is worth a cool one million dollars – but nobody has come close to that prize yet. This simply means that all existing theories of the origin of life are scientifically incoherent! Sure, there are guesses. But just because the person who is guessing calls themselves a scientist doesn’t change the fact that it is just a guess. Science simply cannot explain how life began. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

Those are the first two times the Bible uses the word “create”, and anybody who is at all familiar with science is willing to concede that both of them represent events for which there is no scientific explanation at all. Something quite remarkable happened at the very beginning, and something amazing happened to start life going. People agree on those. The tricky one – the big flashpoint – is the third time the book of Genesis uses the word “create”.

Verse twenty-seven “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” And here, we run directly into Adam and Eve. You see, the third big scientific question is: “What is it that makes us uniquely human?” We call this a question about “human nature”. And yet scientists will never be able to bottle human nature; they will never be able to see it under a microscope. Human nature, in its essence, is nothing more and nothing less than the image of God. You see, the greatest evidence for God in the universe isn’t the snowflake, or the daffodil, or the sunset, or a puppy, or even lemonade. The strongest evidence for God is the image of God that he has created in you.

And folks who want nothing to do with God or His claims on their life are always in serious denial about the image of God in people. That’s why they like it when people behave like animals: “see!” they say, “no image of God there.” That’s why they like it when people behave like computers: “no image of God there either!” But people aren’t animals and people aren’t computers. We’ve been created in the image of God, and it is our calling to live up to our true nature. Incidentally, here’s a book [The Blank Slate by Stephen Pinker] written by a scientist trying to explain human nature. And near the end, he says something very interesting – let me read it to you: “paradoxically,” he writes, “poets and novelists have [greater power] to speak the truth about human nature [than any scientist].” Please understand his point. He is saying that there can be much more truth about human nature in stories than there is in numbers or in molecules. If we really want to understand the essence of what it is to be human, we need to listen to stories – specifically, we need to listen to the story of Adam and Eve.

So let’s understand that we’ve been created in the image of God. What’s more, we’ve been created in the image of God for a purpose. In the story of Adam and Eve, God and Adam talked together – just like you talk to your best friend. This purpose: this ability to share friendship and communication is something that the story of Adam and Eve allows. And, strangely enough, science can’t touch that. According to the “scientific” stories, friendship is an illusion – it isn’t real. According to “scientific” stories, communication is just an accident – it isn’t a gift from God to enable friendships. If friendship and communication are important to you, and you think that they are “true” aspects of human nature then you must believe that in at least this one respect, the story of Adam and Eve is more true than the stories of “science”.
To learn about the important aspects of human nature, it won’t help us to study the genome. If won’t help us to study the behavior of monkeys or fish. It won’t help us to scan the brain. For thousands of years, one of the best ways to understand human nature is to read the story of Adam and Eve. We don’t have time to examine it all, but let me give you a Reader’s Digest of one essential part.

Adam and Eve were placed in a beautiful garden. The Bible says that it was Adam’s job to be the gardener even before sin entered the picture. We sometimes forget that. Work can really and truly be a blessing rather than a curse. I pray that my children might learn the value and the blessing of work done well. In the Old Testament, the Bible says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” In the New Testament, we read, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” Following this advice might not be enough to make you happy, but ignoring this advice might just be a guarantee that you won’t be happy!

Anyway, back to our story…in the Garden there were a number of trees, and God said to Adam that he could eat the fruit from any of the trees – any of the trees except for one. That tree was very special. But God didn’t want Adam and Eve to touch it. Was that because the fruit of the tree was bad? Not at all. The fruit of this tree was good! This is important to remember. Just because something is good doesn’t mean that we can have it or should have it. That’s right: there are plenty of good things in life that it is not our business even wanting. In any case, this special tree had its own name. And it was a funny name, too! That tree was called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

And Adam and Eve stayed away from that tree; just as they had been told. At least they stayed away until the serpent came along. You remember that there was a serpent in the story, don’t you: a talking serpent to go with a tree with a funny name. This is the other reason that people make fun of the story of Adam and Eve. We don’t typically name our trees, and we very, very rarely encounter talking animals… But in the story we find both! Now some people, as soon as they hear about talking animals, they don’t pay any more attention. It seems to them like a cartoon. And trees with special powers? That doesn’t sound real to them either. And it is a real shame that they stop paying attention, because if they would pay attention, they’d notice that the most important thing in the story is very real indeed … but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

So the serpent said to Eve, “Did God say you mustn’t eat from any tree in the garden?”
And Eve said, “Of course not, there is just one tree that we aren’t to eat from.
God said that if we eat the fruit from this tree, we will die.”
Now notice what the serpent says:
“You won’t die.”
Stop right there! Red flag! Warning! If anyone makes fun of what God says, you better be really careful about what they say next.
“You won’t die,” said the serpent.
“If you eat the fruit of this tree your eyes will be opened. You will be like God, knowing Good and Evil.”

So that’s what the fruit of this tree with the funny name represents – it represents a temptation.
It represents a very important primal temptation. In fact this temptation is a picture of exactly what is wrong with people today. In a nutshell, that temptation is this: “By choosing Good and Evil we get to play God.” This temptation is real.
You see, we’ve all fallen into this temptation, and we’ve all failed miserably. We’ve all wanted to play God by judging the good and evil in our neighbor and we’ve all wanted to play God judging the good and evil in ourselves. And guess what? We almost always evaluate our neighbor worse than they deserve, and we almost always evaluate ourselves better than we deserve. That’s wrong – but that’s what we do all the time. There is not a single person on the planet; not a single person in this building who is not guilty. When my children were little, I was shocked to observe that even my otherwise perfect daughter was really, really unfair when she was in a conflict or competition with others.

This is the problem at the root of human nature: human beings are really, really bad at knowing Good and Evil. We are even bad at being able to tell which things are best for ourselves! Things that we think are most terribly evil can result in great blessing; things that we think are most wonderfully good can lead to great suffering. In Man’s Search for Meaning, the author mentions “prisoners of…the Vietnam war [whose] captivity was…filled with torture, disease [isolation, and] malnutrition…nevertheless benefited from the experience, seeing it as a growth opportunity.” Sometimes terrible things can lead to great blessing. 

On the other hand, nobody gets married thinking that they are going to get divorced. Sometimes wonderful things can lead to great pain. The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Basically, we make choices about Good and Evil based upon limited knowledge and how we feel at the time. And we aren’t very good at it.

Do you know that they actually did a study comparing the happiness of people that won the lottery with people that lost the use of their legs in an accident? It is true. And (surprise!) a year after the event, by every known measure these two groups of people were identically happy. I’m serious. A year after winning the lottery, those winners were no happier than they would have been if they had been in a terrible accident instead. (*Dan Gilbert has since walked back this presentation of the results of his experiment)

We are really, really, bad at knowing Good and Evil. And that’s why God didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of that tree: he knew what we are like (after all, he made us), and he knew that we couldn’t handle it – at least we couldn’t handle it correctly. God knew that while it would be a great gift to humanity to know about Good and Evil, it could also be a great curse. What’s more, this is precisely the part of human nature that causes so many problems. It is not so much the knowing Good and Evil that hurts us, it is thinking that we know Good and Evil when we really don’t – when we don’t really know enough to judge or aren’t really smart enough to judge. In fact, only God knows enough and is smart enough. And we’re not God.

Adam and Eve ate that fruit, and they were immediately troubled and confused – they didn’t suddenly become like God, but they did suddenly start to set their own standards of behavior. And we, too, have been so tempted; and we, too, are guilty. We want to play God, setting our own standards, and all of our relationships suffer for it. Because (guess what) when two people both want to play God, they are going to clash, big time. Only God should ever be allowed to play God.

But how can we fix this problem? There is something broken inside each one of us. And it is too broken to fix. Every single one of us likes the business of deciding what’s good and what’s bad, what’s right and what’s wrong. And it is that very business that represents our brokenness. Well, suppose you had a very special toy. It was your favorite toy. But it was broken. There are two things that you can do. You can either try to fix it, or – that’s right – you can get a new one. And that’s the option that God provides for our brokenness this morning.

Do you remember right at the beginning of this sermon, I told you about a word that means something almost magical – can anyone tell me what that word was? That’s right: the word was “create”. And that’s exactly the same word that is used in Psalm 51:10, where David writes “create in me a pure heart, O God.” That’s right. David is smart enough not to ask God to fix his heart. He knows better. He doesn’t ask just to be tidied up, or duct-taped together. He knows that he needs God to poof something new into his life: “Create in me a pure heart, O God.” And that is exactly what we need this morning, too. We read the same sort of thing in the New Testament, too. Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” The heart of Adam is replaced with the heart of Jesus. Instead of wanting to be like God and taking the forbidden fruit, Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Instead of wanting to be the standard for everything, Jesus became the servant of all, accepting the judgment of God in our place.

Folks want to avoid the story of Adam and Eve, and they will try to make fun of it. But they don’t make fun of it because it isn’t true; they make fun of it because is too true – its truth hits them where it hurts – it challenges their desire to be their own God, by choosing Good and Evil. It tells them of their brokenness. But the good news this morning is that there is a remedy for that brokenness. God is in the business of supplying his children with new hearts. Ask God to create a new heart in you this morning.