Sermon for September 6, 2015

Genesis 2:4b-25 and Mark 1:16-20

Verlee A. Copeland, Preaching

Where the Story Begins


Every story has a beginning.

         There were 3 local pastor’s over at Joe’s Coffee shop recently discussing the time when life begins. They each gave their opinion about this.


One preacher said, "Life begins when the child takes his/her first breath."


Another said, "NO, at our church we believe that life begins when the child is conceived."


But the last pastor said, "You both have the wrong answer! Life begins when the last child leaves home and the dog dies!"

This would be a lot funnier if not for the fact that our youngest and most recent college graduate moved home for the summer, and we just got a dog.

A good story has both a beginning and a chance to do things over again when we mess up.

The mother of three notoriously unruly youngsters was asked whether or not she'd have children if she had to do over again.

"Sure," she replied, "but not the same ones."  `


        Our stories today from both the Old and New Testament are just this. We have a story of the beginning of humankind in Genesis, and we have the story of God’s do-over through Jesus. We all know jokes about both.

What did God say after creating Adam?

I must be able to do better than that!


What did God say after creating Eve?

"Practice make perfect."

Guys, maybe you’ll like this one better.


When Adam stayed out very late for a few nights, Eve became upset. "You´re running around with other women," she told her mate.


"Eve, honey, you´re being unreasonable," Adam responded. "You know you´re the only woman on earth." The quarrel continued until Adam fell asleep, only to be awakened by a strange pain in his side. It was Eve poking him about the torso.

"What do you think you´re doing?" Adam demanded.

"Counting your ribs," said Eve.      

Our scripture lessons today invite us into a new life, and we do well to make light of that. We’d rather watch the story like some stand up comedy routine than live it. In today’s story of humankind’s beginning as told through what we know as the book of Genesis, we read a version of God’s creation of human creatures out of mud, the word “adam”, or Adam, in Hebrew. When these early mud creatures were given companionship, surely trouble began.

         In short order we move away from this beautiful picture of God’s gift of life and companionship to human creatures, “naked and not ashamed” to our human tendency to soil God’s gifts. Soon Adam and Eve engage in acts that violate the created order, eating from the forbidden tree. They raise children that when grown plot against one another out of jealousy, with one of their sons killing the other.   

No wonder the story of Adam and Eve in the garden is the stuff of countless jokes. We laugh about Adam’s rib. We laugh at them, make light of them, to deflect from the real challenge present for humans from the beginning, to remain faithful to the God who breathed us into being and asks only that we cherish and care for one another and the earth as God cares for us.

As we tell jokes about Adam and Eve, we also make a caricature out of the calling of the disciples in the gospel lesson from this morning. The scene looks like one of many you would find in any art gallery along the coast: fisherman out messing with their nets and gear on a perfect sunlit morning. We imagine them idle as Jesus walks along inviting first Simon and Andrew, then James and John, to leave their nets, walk away from their father, and follow him.

In short order somebody would have been shouting to Simon to get his boat away from the dock so they could pull in with their catch. And Zebedee would be running after his sons to get back to work, the day’s labor had only just begun.

God calls human creatures to commitment, with skin in the game. In Genesis, God’s gift of new life in relationship cost one of the mud creatures a rib. In Mark, Jesus’ gift of new life cost his followers their vocation, their livelihood, leaving everything behind to follow him. Eventually Jesus asked his followers to be willing to sacrifice everything for God’s sake.

We’d much rather talk about God’s gifts than the cost of living in relationship with the One who gave it to us. Most of us know by heart John 3:16. For God so loved the __________ that he gave his only ____________ that whosoever ___________in him will not perish but will have ________.”  See, you don’t need me: you’ve got this.  But say Luke 9:23 and most of us look baffled. This one’s a little tougher. Luke 9:23 shifts from God’s gift to us in Christ, to a call to commitment in response. “If anyone would come after me, let that person deny self, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Both stories today, of creation in the Old Testament, and of the call to discipleship in the New Testament, invite human creatures into a costly relationship with the Holy. This new life isn’t a spectator sport. It isn’t fantasy football. You’ve been drafted to play. This seems ridiculous. We’re not equipped. We haven’t trained. We’re too old. We don’t have the knees for touch football anymore, let alone the big league.

But here’s the thing. Jesus invites everyone to play. Jesus knows none of us are equipped. We’ve all screwed up something in our life. We sit on the sidelines because we don’t think we have what it takes to play the game. But here’s the deal. It’s not up to us to decide who gets to play. That’s the coach’s call, and at the start of this new season, the coach may look you in the eye and say: “You’re in. Come on. Let’s go.”

In the book, “Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus”, Kyle Idleman makes the case that most of us remain spectators to life, believing in God but not following Christ, because we think this joyful life is meant for someone else but not for us. We know all our flaws and foibles. We may believe we can’t do what is required to follow Jesus. Loving people who are different from us is too hard. We don’t really want to forgive people who have hurt us. Trusting others after we’ve been betrayed? We’re not really interested. We’d rather love someone we don’t know by sending money to some cause from a distance than roll up our sleeves and love the cranky, mean-spirited person close at hand. But what really keeps us out of the game is that we don’t believe we have what it takes to leave our nets and follow Jesus.

Idleman tells the story of moving into a house with his wife and three daughters that had white carpet in the living room. Everyone who has ever had children or dogs knows that this is a bad idea. Instead of changing the carpet, they made the highly illogical decision to buy a white couch instead, because it was half price and good stewardship, and simply to keep the kids out of the “white room”. Good plan. Until one day when one of them was cleaning, they happened to flip one of the couch cushions only to discover that the back was deeply stained with bright pink nail polish. The girls were called down out of their bedrooms, the cushion was flipped, and the guilty party ran from the room in tears. She knew the stain was hers. Her secret had been exposed and she felt guilty and ashamed.

After scrubbing and scrubbing with various cleaning solutions, the stain remained. The daughter finally tearfully asked her parents the most important question, “Do you still love me.”

I suspect each of the disciples in turn asked Jesus the same question. Matthew the tax collector had the stain of cheating poor people to support a Roman Empire that oppressed them all. Peter denied Jesus. Judas betrayed Jesus. They all had something.

We do too. We all have a cushion we don’t want anybody to flip, a few secrets we hope never get aired. But we know they are there, and we suspect our secret disqualifies us from prime time. God thinks otherwise.

The grace of God covers every stain. The mercy of God heals every wound. The peace of God releases our anxiety that there is something inherently wrong with us that can never be fixed and that someday, somehow, everybody is going to know about it. The love of God invites us to come into God’s kingdom anyway.

The One who calls us will equip us to follow. The one who invites us will show us how to live in the white room regardless of the stain.

So who is invited to follow Christ?

Anyone. Sexual past? Anyone.

Ex-con? Anyone. Current con? Anyone.

Republican? Democrat? Anyone.

Mainer and those from away? Anyone.

Addict? Anyone.

Hypocrite? Anyone.

Underneath the recurring theme of scripture that God promises a continual do-over, is the invitation to come, be a part of a new life, a new creation, a different way of being in the world as God’s holy and beloved. Luke says “If anyone would come after me, let that person take up their cross and follow me.” Anyone. Even those who know where that cushion is stained. Anyone, even me. Anyone, even you.

Thanks be to God.