Separation for Growth, but Reconciliation is the Kingdom (Genesis 3:8-15, Matthew 3:20-35)
There are times in our lives when separation is needed. Separation though sometimes painful is often a time of great growth. Cast your minds back to when you first left home, if indeed you have left home yet. Or if you haven’t think of a time when you were away from your parents for an extended period of time for the first time.
Did it fill you with exhilaration or dread? Was it a wonderful occasion or a time of
immense sadness for you?
I’ll never forget when I left home for the first time. My Dad turned up and we packed the car up with all the things I’d need. The journey from the small Norfolk village I grew up in, to Sheffield was a long one. Initially I was excited, I couldn’t wait to start my independent life, and I enthusiastically loaded the car up, almost bouncing along, like Super Mario.
Until, the moment of separation, the moment when it was time to leave, and suddenly the emotions welled up inside me. This was the end of one way of living, the end of my childhood, the end of this stage of my life, and I found myself thinking about all that had happened up to this point, and the tears, they began to fall.
Warm tears dripped down my face as I thought of leaving my Mum, and suddenly I was five years old again, in shorts at the school gate, not wanting to let go of my Mum’s hand.
Then I saw as the tears began to stream down Mum’s face too. Parts of me were screaming not to leave, to just stay and let things stay the same, I’m sure that Mum felt the same way, but for the good of both of us I did leave.
Without leaving, without that separation, there would’ve been no growth, if Mum had attempted to shelter me from everything in life there would’ve been no growth.
I did leave, and for the next three years enjoyed a time of development and growth like no other. I developed, re discovered my faith and lived independently.
We all begin life as completely dependent on our parents for everything. As we get older we separate more and more from them, we leave them, it’s good for us, but it has consequences.
Separation for growth, and growth sometimes means suffering.
The account from Genesis is all about separation for growth, and the suffering that happens because of this.
It’s an allegorical story about the nature of humanity.
It’s from this story that Christians get the doctrine of Original Sin. The sin of disobedience by Adam and Eve that brought sin into our world. This is true, but it also needs to be framed. The word Sin is never mentioned in this entire story.
When we’re naughty as Children, there are consequences, and the same happens to Adam and Eve, but It’s only through testing the boundaries that we come to understand what is right and wrong, who we are, and how to be a human being. Even Jesus matured and grew up, separated from his Mum and suffered for growth. I’m pretty sure he didn’t change his own nappies.
This story is explaining that the maturing of humans into civilised life involved damage to our connection to God, BUT NOT the complete severing of our deep connectedness to Her. Because God doesn’t do that, God doesn’t abandon us, and we’re never totally independent of our need for Him.
Before the fall, before eating the apple, Adam and Eve are like children. I’m sure most of you have seen children running around naked either on the beach, or in a paddling pool. I think I spent probably the first 3 or 4 years of my life mostly naked. Thank goodness that’s not the case now!
Young children do this innocently, without any thought or care about it, because they haven’t grown enough to realise. The same with animals, they don’t know why they should wear clothes, they’re not aware of their impact on others, they’re not self aware in the way we are. This is what the pre- fall Adam and Eve represent.
God of Her goodness creates a paradise for them to live in, to shield and protect them, but God doesn’t get rid of humanity’s independence. Our reason and self-awareness. God gives us the ability to experiment, to think, and to choose which direction we want to go in.
To constrain us, to stop us growing, to prevent the suffering that growth causes would be cruelty. Imagine if my Mum had decided that she would not give me the right to choose, cocoon me, and lock me in the house for my own safety. It would’ve been abuse of the highest nature, and the same would be true if God had done that.
If we’d stayed like Adam and Eve before the fall, we wouldn’t know what joy is, because there’d be no sadness. We wouldn’t know who we were, and fundamentally we wouldn’t be human. God has built us this way.
In this story there are deep truths about who we are. My favourite bit is where God says have you eaten from the tree? Adam replies, It’s all the woman’s fault! Trying to weasel out of it, it’s so typical.
Adam blames the woman for what’s going wrong, but he’s also implicitly blaming God too, saying well It’s your fault everything is wrong.
Often this is a reaction to this story I’ve had, especially the bit later on about condemning us to toil on the earth, and increasing the pain of childbirth. The first reaction might be, nice one, cheers God! You’re really great, thanks for doing that.
But then on deeper reflection, pain is necessary for growth. It’s hard and often disgusting, and there is so much suffering, but without it we would go nowhere, stuck and doomed to a life that isn’t real.
God also doesn’t abandon Adam and Eve either, which shows the loving caring nature of God that the writers believed in. The writers were trying to explain something so deep and complicated that perhaps our stories are not adequate.
God doesn’t abandon us. Separation brings growth and suffering, but reconciliation is the kingdom.
The new Adam, Jesus Christ reconciles us to God through the cross, and reminds us of God’s overflowing love and generosity.
In our reading from Mark today, Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry and is really starting to stir things up in the political establishment of his day. He was putting himself in extreme danger, no wonder his family thought he’d gone a bit bonkers. They couldn’t understand why he was suddenly risking his life by saying such outlandish and sensational things.
You can only imagine his mother worrying desperately for him. The scribes come to Jesus and basically call him a witch. Fake news! They cry! They accuse him of casting out Demons because he’s in cahoots with the devil.
But Jesus shows the kingdom has come, that God has triumphed over the powers of evil and darkness. How ludicrous their suggestion is, they’re really clutching at straws. Why would evil, get rid of evil? Jesus’ power has roots from God.
Whether you believe in a manifestation of evil or not, It’s clear that Jesus has triumphed and God’s power is sovereign. That’s what the story about the strong man is all about. God has tied up evil, and has robbed evil of its kingdom, God has plundered evil’s house, evil has never had power like God’s.
The scribes have become so separated, so far removed from God’s purposes that they see evil in goodness. They have gone beyond what Adam and Eve did, from childish and naivety, to deliberately not seeing the goodness that Jesus does because it doesn’t suit them. It doesn’t play into their agenda.
The price of our ability to think freely, to be fully human, to be free is independence from God. Choice.
But the good news is that Jesus reconciles, brings us in, shows us the way, ties up the strong forces of evil, and brings us home.
We are his Brothers and Sisters when we do the will of God.
What is that will?
To love each other, to try to reconcile ourselves and other people to God. To bring people into a loving relationship with our amazing, life giving God.
Having a message, a message of extreme gratuitous abundance. The message that when the love of God breaks in, the world is transformed. That God is full of grace.
A message that there is a point to suffering, that it’s horrible, and disgusting and unfair, but God’s love holds and binds all that pain. God knows it deeply, recognises it, and does not dismiss it.
As Bishop Michael Curry said at the Royal Wedding, there’s power in love, and if we harness it, the world will be transformed into God’s kingdom here and now.
Saying yes to God, yes to His promises, accepting Him into our lives.
Because we’ve not been abandoned in our pain, that’s not God’s character.
Suffering leads to growth, but reconciling to God, brings the Kingdom.