In the Garden: A Good Friday Responsive Reading

Beavercreek Nazarene Lent 2013 Sermon Series - Venom

The following is a responsive reading written to be used in the Good Friday gathering that concludes our Venom sermon series. The Pastor(s) read the plain text, and the congregation responds with the bold text.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.

And God saw that it was very good.

God created you, humankind, in God’s image. God’s way for you was simple:

Be fruitful and multiply. Till and keep the garden.

And do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Do not try to make your own Way.

But one day, you were walking together in the garden. You were near that forbidden Tree, and a serpent got your attention.

[Pastor1:]  “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘If you do, you will die.

[Pastor1]:  You won’t die! God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.

You craved the wisdom the fruit would give you. You wanted to be like God, to take God’s place. You wanted to recreate the world in your own image. So you ate the fruit.

Immediately, you knew what you’d done. So you hid.

You were still hiding when God came looking for you.

[Pastor2]:  Where are you? Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?

Men:  It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.

Women:  The serpent deceived me. That’s why I ate it.

[Pastor2]: You were told to be fruitful and multiply. Now childbirth will cause you terrible pain. You were told to till the garden and keep it. Now the ground will produce thorns and thistles for you. You were created in my image, but now you are bent away from me, and your sin spreads into the whole world.

Now the whole world is trapped in Sin. Our pain doesn’t come from God’s Way.

The problem is us, for we are all too human, slaves to sin.

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.

I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 

I have discovered this principle of life– that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.

I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. 

This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.

What miserable people we are! Who will free us from this life that is dominated by sin and death?

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was there in the beginning with God, creating that perfect world we lost.

The Word became human and moved into our neighborhood.

The Word was a new Adam. The Word succeeded where we failed. The Word never listened to the words of the serpent.

God made the Word, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God.

Jesus, the Word of God, told us that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Behold your savior, lifted up on a cross. He has become your Sin, your pride, your rebellion. He has taken your place.

What miserable people we are! Who will free us from this life that is dominated by sin and death?

Thanks be to God, that Jesus, the Word of God has died to free you from sin and death.

All of us have sinned. We’ve all fallen short of God’s glory.

Behold the one who has never sinned, who has become your sin.

The wages of Sin is Death.

Behold the one who has died in your place, who receives the consequences of your choices.

Have mercy on us, God, according to your unfailing love.

Turn away from your Sin. Repent and follow God!

Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

21-25: Some Things Matter More than You Think

21. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

See the difference? The guy in the front has been using it.  The other guy CLEARLY lost it.In number 20, I suggested that practice makes perfect.  I’ve also learned that even after you’ve gotten pretty good at something, you have to keep practicing it, or it’s gone.  By the time I went to college, I was nearly fluent in German (5 years of secondary schooling and a 3-week trip to Germany ensured that).  Today? I could get by in Germany (meaning, I don’t think I’d die or starve to death), but I’ve forgotten most everything I knew.

Most things in life, unfortunately, are not ‘just like riding a bike’.  If I work hard to be come a loving, kind person, if I cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in my life, I will never reach a point where I’ve ‘made it’, and I can just stop practicing those virtues.  I will be slowly dragged back towards my base, default tendencies.  So use it!  Practice kindness, joy, peacemaking.  Practice giving honor and respect to everyone around you.  Practice seeking the good in other people.  Not only will you get better and better at it, but you’ll be formed as a person for whom these attitudes and behaviors become second nature.

22. Tattoos are really awesome.

TattooI got my first tattoo almost exactly 10 years ago today.  As of last Friday, I now have nine separate pieces that cover a lot of my upper body.  Given that I worked first for a Southern Baptist church and now for a Nazarene church, I’ve encountered plenty of people who think tattoos are evil.  For a long time I couldn’t articulate clearly why I like tattoos, and why I kept covering more and more of my body with them.

But a few years ago, I realized the explanation was much simpler than I was trying to make it.  My tattoos are simply an expression of my faith.  The pieces I get are shaped by foundational convictions I have about the nature of Christianity and a life lived following Jesus and participating in his gospel.

I’m not an evangelist for tattoos – I don’t recommend other people get tattoos unless they want to, and unless they’re confident in what they want.  But that said, tattoos really are awesome.

23. Unity is as important as Truth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor most of my life, I’ve been a Truth Crusader.  Take a look at that picture: that was me.  Ready to slay the infidel if you didn’t agree with my point of view.  My arsenal was fierce – I had marshaled an army of words so that I could cut you down with the sword that came out of my mouth, and I was very good at it.  Few foes could stand against me (and clearly I hadn’t learned lesson 16 yet: God is not on my side).

But I realized that  – while God certainly cares about Truth, God also commands unity among us followers of Jesus.  In fact, according to Jesus, the singular mark of his disciples is not our commitment to Truth.  It’s how we love each other – how unified we are.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
– John 13:35

As I pointed out in #17, Love isn’t always mushy, but it is our highest virtue, the most foundational aspect of who God is.  We ought to pursue the one who is the Truth, confessing that none of us has a perfect picture of Jesus.  That’s why we need each other.

I dare you to include some people who rub you the wrong way in your inner circle.  Learn to love them and watch what happens to your soul.

24. The words “liberal” and “conservative” have become pretty much worthless.

When I graduated from high school, I considered myself very conservative politically, theologically – really in most any way I thought mattered.  I attended a private Christian school that would also be considered very conservative on nearly any scale you choose to use to measure such things.  And yet as I studied there, I developed a reputation as a ‘liberal’.

I wasn’t sure why – I held the same foundational beliefs as my schoolmates, but because I pushed the envelope, questioned (and yes, wrote a few intentionally controversial papers), I was tarred with the most feared of all epitaphs.

Then I went to grad school at the University of Missouri, to study Religious Studies.  My schoolmates and professors at Mizzou seemed to be a little bit shocked by my beliefs at first – I believed the Bible was inspired by God and that Jesus literally came back from the dead.  In the four month gap between undergrad and grad school, I went from being known as the crazy liberal to a crazy conservative.

What this taught me was that these words are empty.  They’ve become weapons that we hurl at our opponents to label them, to mark their ideas as dangerous (or stupid or unworthy of our attention).  We use these words to block other people and their ideas out of our lives.  To protect ourselves from Others who are not like us.  If you tell me someone’s a ‘liberal’, all that tells me (given the larger context of your statement), is whether that person agrees with you or not.  As words that help move a discussion forward, they’ve lost all utility.  I move that we abandon them starting yesterday!

25. The Earth really is important.

I was always taught that we don’t have to care about the physical world because eventually God is going to come back and destroy it.  For me, this translated into an apathy towards the Earth.  I didn’t recycle, littered freely and didn’t try to conserve anything.  I didn’t take care of my body – after all, it’s just a prison of flesh that we’ll eventually escape from!

But as I learned more and more of who God is, I learned that the physical world is not a pile of resources we can consume at our leisure.  Everything physical, all matter, is a gift from God to us, and we are called to be good stewards of it.  Our bodies matter to God, and how we treat our bodies (and the Earth!) says something about the state of our souls.

So what about you?  Got any tattoos?  Are you liberal or conservative?  And do you take care of your body or the Earth?