The Effects of the Fall (Genesis 6:11-22)

The Flood of Noah by Majd Ramadan, 2014

In God’s sight, the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. God saw that the earth was corrupt because all creatures behaved corruptly on the earth.

God said to Noah, “The end has come for all creatures, since they have filled the earth with violence. I am now about to destroy them along with the earth, so make a wooden ark. Make the ark with nesting places and cover it inside and out with tar. This is how you should make it: four hundred fifty feet long, seventy-five feet wide, and forty-five feet high. Make a roof for the ark and complete it one foot from the top. Put a door in its side. In the hold below, make the second and third decks.

“I am now bringing the floodwaters over the earth to destroy everything under the sky that breathes. Everything on earth is about to take its last breath. But I will set up my covenant with you. You will go into the ark together with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives. From all living things—from all creatures—you are to bring a pair, male and female, into the ark with you to keep them alive. From each kind of bird, from each kind of livestock, and from each kind of everything that crawls on the ground—a pair from each will go in with you to stay alive. Take some from every kind of food and stow it as food for you and for the animals.”

Noah did everything exactly as God commanded him. (Common English Bible)

The entire world is profoundly broken. 

Everywhere, people are messed-up. In one breath they can tell you they’re sorry for another’s abuse or violence against you, then turn right around and say some irrational nonsense and terribly insensitive things to you.

It doesn’t matter where you go – whether school, work, home and even church, there is institutional brokenness. Individual persons, and the human structures and systems they put in place, all contain elements of bondage instead of freedom. It doesn’t take a religious person to observe that there’s such a thing as sin.

Holy Scripture’s description of this sad reality goes all the way back to a story about the fall of humanity into sin and rebellion. Satan, the devil, led the original persons, Adam and Eve, into disobedience of God. Satan tempted Eve to doubt whether God really had her best interests at mind; to question the truthfulness of God’s Word; and, to wonder about the wisdom of listening to God (Genesis 3:1-5). Adam just flat out chose to disobey God, and, so, the entire world changed (Genesis 3:16-17). 

Immediately, everything was different in the world and with people. The choice to disobey God brought feelings of fear and shame; a loss of fellowship with God; hiding from God; a bent to pervert the truth; the propensity for the genders to try and dominate each other; expulsion from the garden; and physical death (Genesis 3:7-24). 

And the unholy tools people used against one another were violent and corrupt. People thought nothing of oppressing each other, abusing one another, attacking others – both verbally and physically. Rape, assault, theft, and murder became daily experiences. That’s some downright icky stuff. 

No wonder the world is messed up.

God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart. God said, “I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes and bugs, birds—the works. I’m sorry I made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7, MSG)

Noah was the only guy on the face of the earth for whom the Lord saw any good. And it was enough good worth saving. Yet, people are still in the nasty habit of turning on each other, like a bunch of sharks with blood in the water.

Unfortunately, the fall of humanity still affects us all. It has brought not only physical death, but spiritual death. That means we are alienated from God, in rebellion, and enslaved to our own passions and desires (Isaiah 1:2-6; Romans 2:14-15; Ephesians 2:1-3). 

We are also alienated from one another by having continual bents toward discord, suspicion, and jealousy instead of love and trust (Romans 1:29-31; James 3:14-16). 

We are even alienated and totally out of touch with ourselves by either loving ourselves as gods or hating ourselves with an inordinate emotional masochism (Philippians 2:21; 2 Timothy 3:2-4). In short, we are selfish people who experience separation from God, others, and self.

If this is the true reality of humanity, then it is awfully depressing, discouraging, and damaging. And we know it’s true because we’ve all been both victims and victimizers. So, who then, will rescue us from this horrific death? 

Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 7:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:57). 

The good news is that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the curse has been reversed. Christ has restored us to our original place of fellowship with God. He is the way, the truth, and the life. In Christ, there is hope for humanity (John 14:6). 

To live in freedom, therefore, involves knowledge, honesty, and sincere decisions of faith and love whereby truth is applied to life.

Just as the world needed a thorough purging of evil through a cleansing worldwide flood, so we need a bath of grace, to be completely awash with the love of God in Christ, to have all the crud of evil scrubbed from our soul. And this is precisely what Christian baptism symbolizes.

Jesus offered himself for us so that we might live without violence and no longer be separated from God, others, and self. He has brought us reconciliation. In him we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (2 Corinthians 5:16-19; Ephesians 1:3; 2 Peter 1:3).

In Christianity, the purpose of ministry is to come alongside people trapped in their awful cycles of brokenness and communicate good news of grace and forgiveness with both words and actions.

Although the world is terribly askew, God has demonstrated his love for us in that, while we were still violent and corrupt sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). 

We needed a Savior. God provided One. 

Are you in touch with the ways you are separated from God, others, and self? 

Are you aware of the ways in which your church or faith community has an unhealthy separation from the world? 

In what ways can you apply the love of God to broken people and systems in your community? What will it take to reach them?

Sin, guilt, shame, rebellion, disobedience, and violence need not define us. We can do better.

Almighty God, we have sinned against you, through our own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, and in what we have left undone. For the sake of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us all our offenses; and grant that we may serve you in newness of life, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Luke 13:10-17 – Healing on the Sabbath

Jesus Healing the Bent-Over Woman by Glenda Skinner-Noble

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing. (New International Version)

The way in which we interpret events says a lot about who we are and what we need. The story sounds different, depending upon which person(s) are viewing it….

The Crippled Woman

She had gotten used to looking at people out of the corner of her eye, by looking up and sideways.

After eighteen years, she could hardly remember any other way of seeing the world. On this particular Sabbath, there was a special excitement at the synagogue, where she regularly went to worship. A Galilean preacher and prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, had arrived in town and would be teaching there.

She and the others in town had heard reports about Jesus–how he talked about God’s reign arriving soon and how he healed sick people. She was not sure how many of the rumors to believe, but she was trying not to get her hopes up. Her life already had too many disappointments to count.

When she entered the synagogue, the place was abuzz. As Jesus began to teach, however, the room was hushed. Moments later, his words turned from teaching to invitation. He had caught her eye–no mean feat, given that he had to lean over and incline his head to do so. “Come here,” he said to her. She slowly made her way to the front of the assembly.

Jesus and the Bent-Over Woman by Marg Mowczko

What happened next amazed the whole congregation. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When this man, Jesus, spoke those words and put his hands on her broken, bent body, she felt power surge through her. Without hesitation, she straightened her once crooked back. She stood tall and praised her God . . .

The Synagogue Leader

He has come to the synagogue every Saturday. Each Sabbath day the synagogue leader stands and faithfully reads the Torah. On this particular Sabbath, a Galilean preacher is coming. Some say his is a prophet, even Messiah. The leader has seen his share of would-be messiahs come and go, claiming to speak for God. He doubts anything will come of this. Just another man.

But what is this? A synagogue full of people! And just as the leader thought this may just be good for the people, getting them to pay attention to the law and the prophets, this preacher calls a woman forward, and of all things, heals her!? This is not good. This is not how things are to be done!

In the Torah, the seventh day was set aside by God for Israel’s rest. Work is prohibited. Non-life-threatening illnesses and conditions can be treated on the other six days. The synagogue leader is not opposed to healing. In fact, he welcomes it. But at an appropriate time, on the right day. He says to himself, “This all must be done decently and in order. Who does Jesus think he is? We cannot have such insubordination amongst the people, and in the synagogue, of all places!”

And so, the synagogue leader is beside himself with both anger and fear that the Law will not be properly upheld, and that God will be displeased and take away their place of worship.

Coptic Church depiction of Jesus healing the crippled woman, 12th century

Jesus

Jesus comes, looking forward to being with the people in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He understands that since the Sabbath law commemorates and celebrates Israel’s liberation, it ought to be a day for enacting — not inhibiting — the present-day liberation of Israelites. Yes, it is a good day for a healing. Every day is a good day for healing.

As Jesus enters the synagogue, it is full of people, charged with the atmosphere of anticipation. During the service, Jesus sees a woman. Although he rightly discerns that the synagogue leader and some of the congregants will not be happy about this, he calls her forward, intent on freeing her from her satanic bondage. And also knowing that placing his hands upon this woman will appear scandalous, he does it anyway.

Sure enough, the synagogue leader is livid. The leader feels the need to correct Jesus. Yet, Jesus unmoved by this, calmly retorts, without budging an inch, that given the custom of providing water for thirsty livestock on the Sabbath, it is surely appropriate to heal a long-suffering Israelite on the Sabbath.

In none of this does Jesus abolish the Sabbath commandment. Rather he follows it faithfully. Jesus enters an ongoing Jewish debate about how to interpret the Sabbath law, locating himself at the less stringent end of the opinion spectrum.

Jesus is determined to uphold the spirit of the Law, to practice compassion, to do what leads to human betterment. He is doing God’s will. He is allowing the Sabbath to serve this old woman, rather than letting the woman serve the Sabbath as a bent over crippled person.

The People

They come, as they do each Sabbath, to gather and listen to Torah read, to pray to God, and to strengthen one another in their common faith. Yes, the synagogue leader can be a bit tedious. The synagogue service can be a bit boring. But he is a good man doing good work.

Today, however, is different. Jesus, the one they have heard so much about, is there. And what a synagogue service it is! Jesus teaches us, and with authority! But, to our astonishment, he calls one of our women forward. And he touches her! Then heals her! This is the woman who has been tortured with such crippling pain and bent over all the time!

Oh, my, the synagogue leader is upset! We are so full of joy for our healed sister, yet also confused. This is a good thing that Jesus did – God’s kingdom breaking into this world. Yet, here is the synagogue leader and Jesus debating Torah. Does freedom from Satan only come on six days, not seven? Surely, God is especially honored on such a holy day as the Sabbath to do such important work. But work, it is. And Jesus did it. Is this really a good thing, or not?

Syrian Church depiction of Jesus and the crippled woman, 6th century

Conclusion

This is a story about the role and function of our religious traditions, our claims about what could and should be practiced, when and where it ought to take place, and who is allowed within the walls of our faith communities. Special religious practices may become hindrances to including folks. We must be diligent to recognize what theological ideas we hold dear that disallow full participation from others.

Jesus was no Sabbath breaker. He operated well within Jewish tradition of the day. At the same time Christ is also not one to allow the tradition to exclude people from access to the community and the potential for their healing. Even though the synagogue leader and some others disagreed, many in the crowd agreed.

Today’s story is about the community and addresses questions such as, “What kind of community do we want to be?” “Do our religious traditions help us to become that kind of community or do they hinder it?” “If we want to be a healing community, how can we make that happen?”

O God the Father, whose will for us and for all your people is health and salvation, O God the Son, who came that we might have life and have it in abundance, O God the Holy Spirit, whose indwelling makes our bodies the temples of your presence, have mercy on us.

O Triune God, we pray you to hear us, and that you will grant your grace to all who stand in need of healing of both of body and spirit, and lead them to look with confidence in you;

That you will grant patience and perseverance to all who are disabled by injury or illness, and increase their courage;

That you will grant peace to all who are troubled by confusion or pain, and set their minds at rest;

That you will grant relief from suffering to all sick children, and give them a sure sense of your tender love and care;

That you will grant rest to all whose increasing years bring weariness, distress, or loneliness, and give them the abiding comfort of your presence;

That you will grant confidence to all about to undergo surgery or difficult procedures, and keep them free from fear;

That you will grant purpose to the church as it seeks to carry on Christ’s ministry of healing to suffering humanity, and keep it always true to the gospel of Christ;

That you will grant skill and compassion to doctors, nurses, technicians, aides, and all who are called to  practice medical arts, and make strong their dedication to help others;

That you will grant to all people the peace of quiet sleep and the joy of resting in your everlasting arms, that we may rejoice in your care while we are on earth, and in the world to come, have eternal life.

O God, who in Jesus Christ called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; enable us always to declare your wonderful deeds, thank you for your steadfast love, and praise your with heart, soul, mind, and strength, now and forever. Amen.

Revelation 2:8-11 – Spiritual Endurance

The remains of ancient Smyrna in Izmir, Turkey

This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Smyrna:

I am the first and the last. I died, but now I am alive! Listen to what I say.

I know how much you suffer and how poor you are, but you are rich. I also know the cruel things being said about you by people who claim to be Jews. But they are not really Jews. They are a group that belongs to Satan.

Don’t worry about what you will suffer. The devil will throw some of you into jail, and you will be tested and made to suffer for ten days. But if you are faithful until you die, I will reward you with a glorious life.

If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. Whoever wins the victory will not be hurt by the second death. (Contemporary English Version)

Jesus not only speaks in the four Gospels of the New Testament; Christ also speaks in the final biblical book of Revelation to seven different churches.

In today’s New Testament lesson, Jesus addresses the church at Smyrna – a large and beautiful port city in the ancient world, on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea (present day Turkey). 

Jesus was letting the believers in Smyrna know they were about to experience severe persecution. However, they need not be fearful and can remain faithful because their Lord knows all about suffering. 

The church’s perseverance under such trouble would result in the crown of life, given to them by Jesus himself. Words coming directly from their Lord and Savior must surely have been an encouragement to the believers as they underwent extreme difficulty.

The congregation at Smyrna was facing imprisonment and, for some, even death for their faith. The heart of the message by Jesus is to remain faithful. 

The seven churches of Revelation which Jesus addressed

There will always be those who are faint of heart with weak faith, giving up when the going gets tough. Yet, persecution and hardship have a way of purging the soul, as well as the church, of its dross. Suffering is inevitable; how we handle adversity when it comes is completely under our own control.

Few of us will likely never face a hardship that could result in martyrdom. Knowing there are brothers and sisters in the faith throughout the world who do face daily hardship for devotion and beliefs puts our own troubles in a different light.

The daily irritations and trials that God puts in our way to refine us and shape our faith certainly seem small compared to imprisonment and martyrdom. Yet, no matter who we are and where we are located on this earth – whether facing uncommon hardship or banal difficulty – the afflictions of both body and soul come to us as opportunities to lean into faith and love Jesus to the end.

Jesus is not looking for perfect people – just faithful followers willing to endure suffering with the truth that our Lord stands with us. 

Whatever our current circumstances may be, Jesus offers us his perspective on it. He knows precisely what is going on and understands the spiritual resources you and I possess for each adverse situation we encounter.

In fact, few of us really discern the largess of internal resources within us because of Christ’s redemptive work and the Spirit’s abiding presence – not to mention the very personhood God graciously gave us in the womb before we were even born.

Even though it seems, at times, we lack the strength, wisdom, and courage for what is ahead – Jesus has supreme confidence in us to maintain faith and endure through our afflictions.

Life is not a sprint; life is a marathon. And to finish the race we need to be in good spiritual health. The perseverance of the saints will happen as we run – step by step, stride by stride – with boldness, despite fear of the unknown future around the bend.

Spiritual endurance requires becoming comfortable with risk, vulnerability, accountability, and the steadfast love which is both received and given.

Perhaps, most of all, it requires keeping our heads up and running toward the promise of reward at the finish. The crown of life is an image of both congratulation and celebration of a race well-run and the enjoyment of unending fellowship with our Lord for whom we have endured so much.

After all is said and done, and the end of the age has occurred, we will be able to look back in hindsight and see that it was really Jesus who all along was fortifying us to keep standing and keep going. Christ is so vested in us that he continually ensures our ultimate victory through a constant presence of help and encouragement. The heritage of both the Reformation and Holy Scripture testify to this truth:

“All our progress and perseverance are from God.”

John Calvin (1509-1564)

“I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, CEB)

May the grace of Jesus sustain you; the love of God surround you; and the encouragement of the Spirit surprise you, today and every day. Amen.

Grant, O God, That we may never lose the way through our self-will, and so end up in the far countries of the soul; that we may never abandon the struggle, but that we may endure to the end, and so be saved; that we may never drop out of the race, but that we may ever press forward to the goal of our high calling; that we may never choose the cheap and passing things, and let go the precious things that last forever; that we may never take the easy way, and so leave the right way; that we may never forget that sweat is the price of all things, and that without the cross, there cannot be the crown.

So keep us and strengthen us by your grace that no disobedience and no weakness and no failure may stop us from entering into the blessedness which awaits those who are faithful in all the changes and chances of life down even to the gates of death; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

William Barclay, Prayers for the Christian Year

Job 1:1-22 – A Better Way Through Impossible Suffering

Satan Going Forth from the Presence of the Lord by William Blake, 1825

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.

His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would arrange for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.

One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them, and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
    may the name of the Lord be praised.”

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (New International Version)

Much of life is a mystery. We simply do not know why some things happen. And it’s likely we won’t have answers to many of our vexing questions, this side of heaven. From our limited human perspective, **** happens, and that’s about all we can say about it. 

There are times in Holy Scripture, however, when the veil between heaven and earth is peeled back long enough for us to catch a glimpse of mystery. Today’s Old Testament lesson is such a story. 

Job was a wealthy man and had everything this earthly life could offer. What’s more, he was a pious godly person of faith. It was commonly understood that those two things always went together. So, when we see behind the curtain and are privy to a conversation between God and Satan, the devil himself points this out – that Job only praises God because of how good he has it.  Even with this understanding of what was behind Job’s misery, we still see the mysterious God allowing Satan to operate with only God-knows reasons why.

Whenever calamity strikes, or bad news causes us to slump in our chairs, or adversity hits unexpectedly, or trouble smacks us upside our life like a sledgehammer, it’s only human to begin wondering what we did wrong or what we did to bring on such a terrible set of circumstances. 

But the truth is this: We just don’t always know. 

Yes, I fully understand that statement is hard to swallow; it even sucks. For example, no amount of understanding why my grandson has a rare form of epilepsy will make the pain go away. All my wonderings about his future isn’t going to help my daughter. It’s an impossible emotional place to be. It’s sad and it’s frustrating.

Yet, there is a better way.

Although there is so much we don’t know, we do know Job’s inconceivable response to the mystery of God. He made an incredible confession of faith, despite the most awful of circumstances. Job made the affirmation:

“When I was born into this world,
    I was naked and had nothing.
When I die and leave this world,
    I will be naked and have nothing.
The Lord gives,
    and the Lord takes away.
Praise the name of the Lord!”

Job 1:21, ERV

Rather than spending all of our emotional energy trying to figure out an answer to our “why” questions, perhaps the more sage response is to confess our faith in a radical trust of God. 

Using these actual words from Job can be a necessary start to navigating the troubled waters of evil which swirl around us, even if we have to say them over and over again to believe them.

I know I do.

Almighty God, every good thing I have in my life comes from you. It is your prerogative whether I continue to have those things, or not. Whatever happens, whether it causes heartbreak or happiness, is completely known to you. I trust that you know what you are doing, and I completely throw myself upon your mercy through Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.