How did we all get here? Well, we know that we were born. Most of us have birth certificates that spell it all out for us. In this world, though there are countless people who have no idea where or when they were born, who their parents were, and any of the particulars. They are simply here. Agencies try to fill in some of the details; they are often counselled and given hope that somehow they will discover their roots. But for most of them, they will lack the hoped for news of their birth and their parents and simply live their lives. That isn’t easy. Understanding our heritage gives us some clues about who we are and what we are doing here. Without knowing any of this, we are often left to just get on with our lives without any inkling of how we got here.
The lessons in the first week of Epiphany try to offer some help for all of us to understand our parentage and our beginnings, who we are and why we are here. Genesis begins with the magnificent words: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form or void; and darkness covered the face of the deep. Here, we are given the basics of how this world was formed. We are wedded to this world, which was created by God to provide a place where his will could be worked out. After creating the world, God created humankind in his own image. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden to be the earthly supervisors of God’s kingdom. God’s plan was to have a place where heaven was replicated with its goodness intact.
To create all things, God placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden and told both Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of this tree. Also in the garden was the serpent; the snake that worked on Eve and told her that it would be perfectly all right for her to eat that fruit and to offer it to Adam. The result of this was that these two first beings immediately knew that they were naked and that naked was bad and then did everything that they could to hide themselves from God’s sight.
The knowledge of good and evil has been the basis for our legal system, our political system and all of the ways that we interact with each other. I think that even if God wishes that we didn’t know about it, we would not exist without having a knowledge of good and evil. I think that Jonathan Edwards great sermon in Northampton, Massachusetts called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God sets the tone for God’s interaction with a world full of argument about who is right and who is wrong. Edwards thundered to his congregation about how we are being held over the burning fires of hell by a thin, fragile strand held in God’s hand. That strand Edwards called Grace, that wonderful characteristic of God that expresses the divine love for all of humankind. When the people in that congregation heard that sermon, many of them got up and ran out of the church in terror. Edwards was one of the heralds of what we call the Great Awakening, a largely Puritan evangelical movement in the eighteenth century that re-established protestant theology in this country that included other great preachers such as George White, a largely Methodist theologian from Georgia.
The notion of God’s grace spelling out his incredible Love has helped many people come to an understanding of the authority of God in this world. We are a country founded on Puritan values from the time of their landing in Massachusetts and William Bradford’s governance. These Puritans has escaped religious persecution in England only to re-establish it in their new homeland. Roger Williams was chased out of the Massachusetts Bay colony to establish his own theological area in Rhode Island. We are continually eating of the fruit of the tree of good and evil. What is important in this world is that God’s love continues to keep us safe and bring us back into the reality of goodness. May God continue to bless us in this Epiphany season.