Genesis 3:8-15 NRSV
3:8 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 3:9 But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?"
10 He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."
11 He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?"
12 The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate."
3:13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate."
3:14 The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel."
When I was little, I was the good girl. Not because I was so well behaved, but because I was really pretty good at getting my sister to do the thing. For example, when I wanted a cookie I would talk my little sister into climbing up on the counter to get to the cabinet where Mother hid the cookies. We invariably got caught - we weren’t exactly cat burglars - and my mother would be quite sure that I was involved, but it was always Patty who literally had her hand in the cookie jar. Sometimes we would just try to look innocent when Mother discovered some mischief or other - like the time she walked into the kitchen and we were both covered in flour - but that pretty much never worked, because she knew us. She knew that bag of flour didn’t just fall off the counter while she was on the phone. Sometimes we hid, because we knew we were going to be in trouble, but she always found us. And if one of us tattled on the other, that one got punished for tattling while the other got punished for the thing, so it didn’t really do a whole lot of good to try to blame each other for whatever.
In today’s passage, God says, “Why did you do this?” Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake. “It wasn’t me - I didn’t do it! It was their fault.” Well, Adam, yes. You did do it. And Eve, you did it, too. The snake talked you into it, but you still did it. God had been hoping that these two would be obedient, and satisfied with everything they already had. I mean, they were in Eden! Food fell off trees into their hands. Nothing threatened them. There were no dangers. Only beauty surrounded them. All they had to do was avoid the fruit of one tree. But they decided that listening to the snake was a good idea, and so they ate. They did the one thing they were’t supposed to do. And then, they didn’t want to take responsibility for their behavior. They wanted to shift the blame onto someone else. So Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the snake. And God punished them all - because they were all responsible.
A lot of bad theology has come out of this passage. When I was growing up I was taught that women are inherently sinful - more sinful than men - because Eve was the first sinner and she tempted her husband to sin along with her. He would have been fine if she hadn’t tempted him, so Adam’s sin is all Eve’s fault. There’s a problem with this way of thinking. For one thing, it takes all the responsibility away from Adam. For another, this way of thinking allows people to blame the victim in crimes such as rape. “She must have tempted him somehow. It’s the woman’s fault. It’s always the woman’s fault.” The man’s unacceptable behavior is overlooked, while the woman has to defend herself. We are still dealing with this in our justice system and in the way we talk about victims of abuse and sexual assault. It is changing, slowly, but we are still dealing with it. That is not what happens in this passage, mind you. But it is a mind set that has arisen out of it.
This passage is all about personal responsibility. The snake said, “Hey, do this thing you aren’t allowed to do.” and they said, “Oh, ok.” They could have said no. They should have said no. But they said yes, and then tried to put the blame for that first sin they committed somewhere else. And I suspect that their punishment in part resulted from their second sin - the hiding and the blaming others.
And because they did this thing, because they ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we know the difference between those two things. We know what is right and what is wrong. We might not be born knowing these things, but we are taught the difference. We learn from our families, from our teachers in school, and from church folks, what is the right way to live. “Don’t bite your sister.” (Yes, yes, I did. While we were in the bathtub. And I got spanked. Never did it again.) “Don’t take things that aren’t yours.” “Be nice to other people.” “Help others.”
Zoe Thompson, you are about to be baptized. As of today this knowledge of Good and Evil will become even more important to you. In a few minutes I am going to ask you if you repent, really repent, of all the things you have done so far that you are not supposed to do. I am going to ask you if you will renounce evil - if you will say no when someone wants you to do something that you know is wrong. From this day forward, you are responsible for keeping those promises. From this day forward, you will be responsible for your own behavior - not blaming anyone else, but taking full responsibility for every thing that you do.
Baptism doesn’t change us into different people. It doesn’t make us perfect. It doesn’t take away What it is, is a commitment to do the right, be like Jesus as best we can, and take responsibility for actions. We’re not going to be perfect, because we are human and we are prone to error. We are going to do things that are wrong, even things that we know are wrong. And we will be forgiven - as long as we are honest with God, confessing whatever we have done wrong and making amends for our mistakes.
Today, Zoe, you are making a commitment to God, to yourself, and to this congregation, to be a Christian in every way - to dedicate yourself to Jesus and to the love of all of your brothers and sisters. Today you become an adult in God’s eyes, and in the eyes of the church, for you are taking the biggest, most important step that we, Disciples of Christ, ever take - you are stepping into that baptistry a child and coming back out of the water a Christian, dedicated to living your life in Christ from today forward. Come with me now, to prepare for your baptism, while the congregation sings “Standing in the Need of Prayer” from their hymnals page 579.
(Disciples of Christ baptize by immersion. A video of Zoe's baptism may be available on selmadisciples.com. later today.)