June 9, 2024 Sermon

The Rev. Joseph Farnes

All Saints, Boise

Proper 5B

I have always found it fascinating that, throughout the Bible, there is not a call to return to the primordial innocence of the Garden of Eden. There is no “un-eating” the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We don’t hear of a “Golden Age” that lasted for generations, one that would live on only in story, never to be relived again. Ancient mythologies talked about a Golden Age, but the book of Genesis does not. Creation, the intimacy of the Garden of Eden … and a fateful decision. The rest of the Bible is not trying to convince us to re-create the Garden of Eden. We do not get recommendations that we should be intentionally foolish, become vegan like Adam and Eve who only ate plants, and run around nekkid … in fact, in Genesis, God makes clothes for Adam and Eve. Just as Adam and Eve could not return to the Garden, so too they could not return to the innocence of nakedness. Though, I guess we could try eating more fruits and vegetables like Adam and Eve.

And, similarly, the creation story in Genesis does not portray some cataclysmic fight between gods – that was another feature in many ancient societies. In many ancient mythologies, human beings were caught in the middle of a war between the gods and demigods who cared not one bit about humanity. No wonder everything was terrible! Just get what you can while you live.

And Genesis does not go that direction, either. No big battle scenes – no, God creates humanity, God walks in the Garden with humans, and humans make a really bad decision. Even as later Christian tradition sees the serpent in the Garden of Eden tempting Adam and Eve as Satan, still, no real battle. A bad decision, and no more Garden. And our life goal still isn’t to get back to the Garden.

Why is that? It’s almost as if our paradise is not the Garden of Eden itself. Our paradise is not a place. Our paradise is God.

Notice what I didn’t say – I didn’t say paradise is heaven. Heaven is not the ultimate vacation resort for all eternity for people on God’s good side. Have you noticed that so many visions of heaven focus on all the amenities we might have? I hope that I’m not the unlucky guy stuck in the room next to the noisy ice machine for all eternity.[1]

Paradise is God. What makes heaven heaven is God. God is our paradise, God is our heaven.

So there’s no need to try to re-create or return to the Garden of Eden. We don’t need to play the blame game for who is responsible for our situation. (Side note: isn’t it funny that Adam tries to pass the blame onto Eve and God? “God, the woman YOU gave me is the one who did it!”).

And we sure can’t just ignore the here-and-now for a future heavenly paradise, either. St Paul’s letter isn’t telling us to give up and ignore the present because there’s eternity ahead. “So we do not lose heart,” St Paul. We do not lose heart. Our bodies may fail, but we do not lose heart. The situation may seem bleak, but we do not lose heart. Even when it seems impossible to follow the way of Jesus, even when it seems like doing what is good and right is absurd in the eyes of the world, even when it seems like even our friends and family think we are foolish for proclaiming the freeing and life-giving grace of God, in all of this, we do not lose heart.

Hope is a precious commodity – it’s something we need in the here and now. Hope may seem like it’s about the future, but hope is in the here and now. It gives us courage to keep going when even our bodies and our best efforts fail. It gives us meaning. Hope is not “I can give up now because it will turn out good in the end.” Hope is, “Because it will turn out good in the end, I can bring some of that goodness right now.”

Maybe this metaphor will land: hope is like a little time travel device to bring the goodness and completion of our future in God into the present. Hope reaches into eternity, hope reaches into God’s eternity and brings goodness to the here-and-now.

Our hope isn’t based in the Garden of Eden – we messed that up once, we could do it again. Our hope isn’t far off into a heavenly future paradise; that future is far off where we are right here, right now. Hope is now. Our hope is founded in God, and God is not far off in the past, and God is not far off in the future. God is right here, right now with us, sustaining us and strengthening us every day.

Hope teaches us that we are not fighting a losing battle. If it were a losing battle, we’d give up. If it were all up to us, we might give into fear and despair. But hope tells us that the future rests in God, and so too does the present moment, even if it is so imperfect and broken and painful now. Genesis tells us that our ancestors turned from God, but that was not the end of the story. It wasn’t the climax of our story and everything is doomed to be downhill. Every moment with God is the fullness of joy, a taste of eternity in the here-and-now, and a living hope that gives hope to all the world.

If the best isn’t behind us, what might we do here-and-now? If the best isn’t behind us, our hope will give us strength to do wonderful things, and to celebrate the goodness of God in every moment of life. Amen.

[1] Apologies to Weird Al Yankovic