Here in the Chicago area where I live, we had a glorious spring season — for about three days. Sunshine, temps approaching (even surpassing) 70 degrees, all kinds of people outside working and walking, grilling and chilling. We have to get it in when we can. Then there’s all the garden talk: What are you planting? Is it time to fertilize? Do we need new mulch this year? People love their gardens! And why not? Gardens are beautiful and bountiful — and maybe even provide a way to supplement the grocery shopping.
Well, all that works out if you choose the right seeds to plant. And the ratio of sunlight and rain are just right. And the animals, wild and domestic, don’t eat them first. And if you don’t mind running into a snake every so often. Wait, why are gardens so popular again??
In the texts provided by The Rev. Dr. Wilda Gafney’s, A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W, our Lenten trek through the Garden of Eden continues this week in Genesis 3. We get more shenanigans from the serpent, more excuse-making from the humans, and, it seems, a curse for anybody and everybody from God. Add to that a severely dire warning out of the mouth of Jesus in the gospel of Mark and the dizzying pivot to the promise from Romans 8 that we somehow also are completely victorious. It is all way more than enough to make us stop in our tracks and cry out, “What’s going on here?!”
At least that’s what I try to do in this sermon I called, “Curses Here, Curses There, Curses Everywhere!” However — spoiler alert! — I don’t really think that Genesis text is full of curses. Rather, it seems like ancient people’s attempts at explaining and understanding the world around them. Examples, in other words, of what we would come to call etiologies. Not unlike the Rabbit story that begins this sermon. (H/T to Chris Hoklotubbe on The Bible for Normal People podcast.)
I imagine our ancient ancestors being deeply curious — and likely not a little frustrated — about why the very necessary survival acts of birthing new humans and feeding ourselves are so damn hard on us. I can imagine them eventually responding, “Well, let me tell you a story about a time when we didn’t have to struggle to live and to eat but then we lost our way. See, there was this garden and this serpent…”
You might hear this Garden of Eden story today and be reminded (like me!) how much snakes wig you out!
You might hear this Garden of Eden story today and think of all the famous art it has inspired. Though we also need to acknowledge how Western artists have white-washed this scene.
You might hear this Garden of Eden story today and be reminded of preachers past who have used it to insist there are roles in life that are fixed according to gender.
You might hear this story and think of all the ways in our days God has been described as cursing us with tornados or floods or collapsed bridges for the “sin” of our country not hating gay people enough.
That’s so gross. That kind of crap theology is preacher malpractice.
Then, with permission, I tell the story of our daughter’s birth: the most terrifying moments of my life.
Here’s where I am today: Nobody is cursed by God. We find plenty of ways to curse ourselves, but God doesn’t curse us because God isn’t in the cursing business. Rather, God promises presence.
God promises that God is with us, that nothing can separate us from Her. Not dementia, not mental illness, not cancer, not addiction, not an ugly contested divorce, not war in Ukraine, not hateful legislation trying to harm transgender children and their parents, not hateful legislation that pretends racism doesn’t exist and hasn’t existed…all those are real, all those are a form of evil, and if they are curses then they are self-imposed. But none of those, nor anything else that afflicts us, comes from God. That’s not who God is.
Give it a listen or a watch and let me know what you think. Anything resonate with you? What did I miss?
If you prefer some visuals with your sermon, it starts at 46:00 of the video:
All of the people and situations and actions and inactions that leave you repressed, oppressed, and depressed: None of those are curses from God because God isn’t in the cursing business, that’s not who God is. God is about presence. With-ness, if you will.