Persistence in God’s Kingdom

October 22nd, 2013

Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

Genesis 3:13b-24

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”  14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to the man he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

20 The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Who do you think of when you hear the word – persistent?  I’m sure someone pops into your mind: a child, spouse, family member, or friend.  What is it about that person that is persistent?  Have they overcome adversity to achieve something?  Did that person have to work extra hard to attain a goal?

How about a time in which you had to be persistent? What was it that you accomplished?  Was it worth it?  What sacrifices did you have to make along the way?  How did your persistence affect others?

Persistence is defined as “continuing firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.”  I can immediately think of examples from my own family, like my husband, Joel’s persistence, in his journey to become a Seattle firefighter or my almost 3-year-old daughter’s persistence in becoming an independent and self-sufficient person.

Persistence is also a common theme in the Bible.  At least 27 times, persistence is mentioned or depicted as a positive virtue in scripture; from Proverbs and Hosea in the Old Testament, to a handful of examples in the gospels, and numerous times in the epistles to early Christian communities.

In the gospel according to Luke, just after Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, he admonishes them to show perseverance in prayer.  He tells a parable of course, and then goes on to say, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).

A little later in the gospel, we come to today’s reading about the persistent widow who was determined not to back down until she was granted justice.  This parable of the widow “emphasizes the importance of tenacious, hopeful faith in the midst of present ordeal.  To grasp the way in which the widow is a model of prayer, it is important to realize how this parable expands the idea of prayer to include the whole life of believers in their crying out in the mist of and their protesting against injustice” (The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 1887).

In what ways are you a model of prayer?  Are you persistent in your prayer life, day in and day out?  Or, is it an after-thought, another item on your lengthy to-do list?  Downloading The Hour by Hour prayer book on my smart phone has assisted me in being more persistent in my prayer life lately.  It removed the excuses.  It’s right there, a convenient and easy way to engage prayer several times a day.  I could even set alarms on my phone to remind me to pray, like another priest I know has done.

But today, I want to talk about another woman’s persistence.  The portion of the story we heard from Genesis this morning doesn’t begin well. God says to Eve, “What is this that you have done?”  And the woman replies, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

Immediately, our minds go to historical interpretations of this story and we silently judge Eve.  Why would you do that?  How could you be so dumb?  You really let a snake trick you into sacrificing everything?  Thanks a lot.

I mean if anyone has a right to complain, it’s me.  I’m nine months pregnant and will be enduring childbirth sometime in the next few weeks.  And in verse 16, God says very clearly, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.”  Thanks, Eve.

So, what exactly happened in that Garden to bring about such drastic changes?

As Dr. Susan Niditch of Amherst College summarizes, “The world after Eden is clearly one of birth and death, whereas the garden had been an in-between world, in which no human had eaten from the tree of life but in which no one had yet given birth.  In a wonderful tale about a trickster snake, a woman who believes it, and a rather passive, even comical man, biblical writers comment on the inevitability of reality as they perceived it, wistfully presenting an image of an easier, smoother life.  Woman, the one who will house life within her, helps to generate this new, active, challenging life beyond Eden” (Niditch, 16).

While the serpent may play the role of trickster, he doesn’t tell a lie.  As we heard in the first half of this story last Sunday, Eve and the serpent discuss what it was exactly that God said.  Then, the serpent assures Eve, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Of course Eve ate from the tree!  Wouldn’t you?  Wouldn’t you want to be wise and able to discern good from evil, just like God?  I’m also troubled by the common misconception and reputation Eve has for being a seductress or tempter.

As Rabbi Lori Forman writes on this subject, “There are no pleas, no tantrums, none of the feminine wiles that the verbs “seduce” and “tempt” suggest….Eve is neither a seductress nor a temptress.  These are male fears projected onto this story.  Rather, Eve acts out of her own sense of adventure and curiosity.  Though tradition has frequently seen her act as one of disobedience, without Eve’s boldness, human history as we know it would never have come to pass.  Adam and Eve might well have grown old in the Garden of Eden, but birth, life, and death would never have entered the world” (Forman, 51).

I don’t see Eve as impulsive or particularly persistent in this instance, but I can imagine her being a very persistent woman.  Hard work and the pain of life follow this incident in the Garden and I envision Eve as someone who rose to the challenge.

In Hebrew, Eve is chavah, a derivative of the Hebrew word chayim meaning “life.”  Eve is known as “the mother of all the living.”  Rabbi Forman says, “Eve knows that for life to continue, she must listen to her own conscience, expand her limitations, and reach out for what she knew intuitively would bring moral consciousness and human generativeness into the world – in other words, the fullness of life” (Forman, 52).

The author of Genesis does reveal that “man and woman share responsibility for the alteration of their status.” The man’s self-defense, like his passive act of disobedience, portrays him in a childlike manner.  Adam passes the buck and blames Eve who in turn blames the serpent.  For their insolence and to prevent them from eating fruit of the tree of life and becoming immortal, God casts them from the garden and life is forever changed.

It may feel like punishment, but in this new reality, “the woman herself comes to have the most earthy and the most divine of roles, conceiving, containing, and nurturing new life.  She is an especially appropriate link between life in God’s garden and life in the thornier world to which all of us are consigned” (Forman, 18).

In the Kingdom of God, our curiosity, our desire to read, learn, and grow – all of that is good as long as we pursue it in the context of relationship.  Because relationship is primary and all else is derivative.

At Epiphany, we often talk of the spiritual disciplines: daily prayer, tithing, fasting, and pilgrimage, to name a few.  I challenge you as we head into our culture’s holiday season this year- I challenge you to be persistent.

Be persistent in prayer.  Be persistent in faith.  Be persistent in your journey to know God.  And be persistent in your relationships and in the things that really matter.

Goldstein, Elyse. The Women’s Torah Commentary: New Insights from Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2000. Print.

Newsom, Carol A., and Sharon H. Ringe. The Women’s Bible Commentary. London: SPCK, 1992. Print.