"A man fell into a pit..."
February 21, 1999
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Romans 5:12-19
An old spiritual, once a favorite at camp, was "Dem bones." Perhaps you sang it once upon a time. With a back and forth dialogue, the story of Adam and Eveís fall from grace and the narrative of Ezekielís dream of dead bones coming to life are juxtaposed in this ballad. On one hand, the songleader tells a tale of woe, how those first human beings slipped on the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, and fell into the pit of life as we know it - an out-of-the-garden existence where sin and death reign. On the other hand, however, the chorus constantly pipes into those words of woe these words of hope: "Dem bones gonna rise again."
That beginning story in the Bible which seeks to explain how things got so crazy in this old world, is like a verse in search of a refrain. It tells the story of how a man fell into a pit, so to speak. More precisely, it is about a family coming apart at the seams. It all happened so innocently, just a simple transgression. There was only one rule for life together at that point. The problem with creating beings with the ability to reason and choose is that sooner or later any limitation placed upon them, no matter how big or small, how complicated or simple - sooner or later that rule will be transgressed. Call it human nature.
You can see the wheels turning in a young child as he or she encounters the word "no." That limitation, no matter what it is, becomes the very bar which much effort is expended to jump over. Of course, some children are more agressive than others in trying to surmount such limits. We fool ourselves as parents, however, if we believe that our child isnít like that at least on some level. Itís built into the fabric of our being - this desire to "go" when the sign says "stop." In one sense it is what makes us aspire to greatness, itís an ally. Then again, as one elder reminded me after my sermon last week, it is also our greatest enemy.
In that beginning story of the Bible, who is the enemy? Is it God as the parent figure who gave but one rule? Is it the snake who hissingly triggered the thought processes that led to biting into the fruit of that tree, thus stepping over the one line God drew in the sand? Or was the biggest enemy of Adam and Eve ... Adam and Eve themselves?
Of course, over the centuries many have pointed the finger at Eve for what happened, just like Adam blamed Eve when God inquired, and then Eve blamed the snake, and God then opened the door and let them all eat their own choices... Back when we used to sing "Dem bones" at camp, the guys always took special glee in the final verse of the song, "To this tale there is no more ... Eve got the apple, Adam got the core." Maybe thatís why we donít sing it any more. I also remember the women adding a new ending: "To this tale there is an omen ... never underestimate the power of a woman."
Those who try to put the blame for original sin on women need to deal with the apostle Paul, who very clearly says that sin and death came into the world through the actions of "one man." ... Well, this bit about sin has not been a popular topic for the present generation. No matter where you stand in relation to the impeachment proceedings we just suffered through, perhaps we can agree upon one positive outcome. "Sin" is definitely back on the radar screen of our society as something we have to deal with instead of pretending it doesnít exist. I think we could also agree that we would have preferred not to have that "one man" (the President) being the one who did it. Those are the cards weíve been dealt, however.
That, in a sense, is what "sin" is - a condition which has been handed on to us. We can no more deny sin than pretend that we are not our fatherís son or our motherís daughter. We began worship this morning with that wonderful hymn by Robert Robinson, who put into song that part of our struggle in which we all are "prone to wander ... prone to leave the God" we love. Itís in our very bones. Donít you feel it?
In the story of Adam and Eve, there is that moment when they become aware of their nakedness, and they wander from God... I was reading a chapter from Rudyard Kiplingís Jungle Book to the boys in Mitchellís cub scout den last Thursday. By the way, did you know that the founder of scouting, sir Baden Powell, modelled cub scouting after Kiplingís book? Anyway, in reading to the boys about Mowgli, the man-cub adopted by wolves, mentored by Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther, I tried not to focus upon the pictures in the edition I had. You see, this boy had no conception of clothes, raised in that environment, and the pictures were honest to the text. You can guess what those 2nd graders focused upon when they saw them. "Heís naked," they giggled with glee, destroying the mood I tried to create.
"Weíre naked," Adam and Eve realized, only their reaction was no joking matter. From their perspective their world was pulling apart at the seams. In response, what did they reach for? A needle and thread to sew together some leaves to cover their nakedness. At issue wasnít sexuality. This present generation is so fixated on sex, however, that we have a hard time seeing beyond the skin when we hear this story. In eating that fruit, they came to see the complicated web of choices in life, how itís not simply a matter of only one rule, but a complex of many which hold life together.
As we now have a teenager in our home, Iím having my own eyes opened to life from a different perspective. We have this mistaken notion that adolescence is a time for breaking rules, when young people are trying to be free of their contraints. The truth is: teenagers have more self-imposed rules than anyone else. We think that the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are a confusing mix of doís and doníts. Well, let me tell you, adolescents have Moses beat when it comes to commandments. "Thou shalt not wear this," "Thou shalt not do that"... Real nakedness to a teenager has less to do with private body parts and more to do with the absence of rules to live by. "Apart from this group of friends who have their own code of "cool," who am I?" What a pit to fall into!
When Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness, thatís the moment sin became a part of human existence, so the Bible says. It didnít happen when God tossed them out of Eden. In fact, had not God taken that step, the garden might have become like hell to them. "What do you mean, Lord, thereís only one rule here? What are you hiding from me?" What relationship can survive such suspicion? It could be argued that it was out of grace that God sent Adam and Eve packing, call it "a severe mercy."
Since then, the Bible says, sin and death (the ultimate boundary) have been a part of human existence. In the song of life, thatís the verse in search of a refrain. "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it." And we stumble and fall, even on the things intended to keep us connected, to protect us from harm. How easily we fall into a pit of our own making. Itís like itís in our very bones. Where, then, is the echo of hope that "Dem bones gonna rise again," that there is a way out of this pit?
"I love to tell the story of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love." The refrain we call the New Testament reveals how God in Christ Jesus made himself vulnerable - he took on human form, he submitted to human limitations. He entered the pit... Imagine Jesus walking the halls of Cockeysville Middle School with all the adolescent "rules of cool" permeating every inch of space... Imagine Jesus sitting in your office, or on your production line, with all the workplace guidelines - formal or informal, spoken or unspoken... Imagine Jesus in any and every sphere of your life, with the complicated web of choices you face, the complex of sometimes conflicting rules that are a part of every day... You know, I wish our President had imagined Jesus sitting in the Oval Office... What if every high official did the same?
Jesus faced temptation. We heard that story earlier, but that wasnít the only occasion. Perhaps his greatest temptation was to choose a different path when push came to shove, when all sides were closing in as he prayed in Gethsemane just before his arrest. He didnít try to sew things together. A couple fig leaves just wouldnít do. Instead, Jesus submitted himself to the process. He fully entered the pit of human existence, which resulted in his death on the cross. It was his sticking to this path, the Bible says, that changed everything. In doing so, he provided a way out of the pit.
Let me share just a little bit of Kenneth Filkins poem "The Pit" with you. Think of your own pit as I read, perhaps one youíve dug yourself, or one you canít quite figure out how you fell into it to start with. Regardless, itís one youíve become stuck in. The poem begins: "A man fell into a pit and he couldn't get out.
BUDDHA said: "Your pit is only a state of mind."
A HINDU said: "This pit is for purging you and making you more perfect."
CONFUCIUS said: "If you would have listened to me, you would never have fallen into that pit."
A NEW AGER said: "Maybe you should network with some other pit dwellers."
A SELF-PITYING PERSON said: "You haven't seen anything until you've seen my pit."
A NEWS REPORTER said: "Could I have the exclusive story on your pit?"
A FEDERAL BUREAUCRAT said: "Have you paid your taxes on that pit?"
A COUNTY INSPECTOR said: "Do you have a permit for that pit?"
A REALIST said: "That's a pit."
An IDEALIST said: "The world shouldn't have pits."
An OPTIMIST said: "Things could be worse."
A PESSIMIST said: "Things will get worse."
But Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit."
A man fell into a pit - you and me, brother - you and me, sister. I think I hear the refrain, do you? "Dem bones gonna rise again." "I love to tell the story." Reach out and grab the hand.
©1999Peter L. Haynes
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