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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Genesis 3:8-13
March 23, 2014 - Third Sunday in Lent

         “Who started it?” That’s the questions historians still debate as we approach the hundredth anniversary of the first shots of World War I on July 28th of this year. Every high school student (who was not too busy texting his friends that week in world history class) knows the cause of that war was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by a Serbian nationalist earlier that June. Austria-Hungary then invaded Serbia in retaliation, with Germany’s support and encouragement.

         So you could either fix the blame on expansionist fervor in Serbia or on overreaction in Austria-Hungary. Or you could pin it on Germany and Kaiser Wilhelm for being too ready to encourage a war they already wanted. On another hand, especially looking at what Russia is up to right now, you might want to blame Russia’s long ties with Serbia. The Russians didn’t want to let the Austrians and Germans damage their stake in the Balkans.

         Which all gives us another suspect: France. The French were cultivating an alliance with Russia, loaning them huge amounts of money, hoping to help them mobilize against Germany. Both France and Russia told Serbia not to cooperate with an Austrian investigation into the assassination of Ferdinand, thus exacerbating that crisis and helping provoke the war.

         In Germany today, however, only 19 percent of Germans now believe their nation was to blame for the first world war. From their point of view, Great Britain is at least one of the guilty parties. The British were too fearful of Germany and were looking for an excuse to go to war.

         So it goes. We spend so much time trying to figure out whom to blame when evil happens, just like the first two human beings. Last week we heard how the first human experience of shame followed Adam and Eve’s sin of disbelief and disobedience. And we saw that shame at the beginning of our text today, with them hiding from God, afraid and embarrassed because they were naked. But then in verses 12 and 13 we see the beginnings of a sport which is older than any on earth, the “blame game.”

         We sin, we do wrong, and then rather than accepting responsibility, we find someone else to blame. We always want someone to blame. Hasn’t that become the major question of the investigation into Malaysian Airlines flight 370? They have checked the background of every crewmember and passenger. Were the pilots tied to some plot? Was it faulty or deliberately misleading directions from ground control? Was it poorly packaged batteries that caught fire in the cargo section? Let’s find who’s to blame.

         Adam, of course, did what males often do. He blamed a woman for his failure. Notice that in verse 11, God’s question to them was, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” Adam only got around to answering that second question after he had shifted the blame. He says, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” That “I ate,” comes after he’s found a way to put the responsibility on someone else.

         Adam blamed Eve. That’s the simplest way to see what he says. Men have been doing it ever since. Women are the “weaker sex,” illogical, swayed by emotion, leading men into all sorts of traps and problems. An abuser says, “I wouldn’t have hit you if you hadn’t made me so angry.” A rapist claims a woman tempted him beyond control by the clothes she was wearing. A man caught stealing from his employer explains he had to do it to keep up with his wife’s demands for clothes and jewelry.

         Adam blamed Eve and so many of us men still do that. Maybe we’re not abusers or rapists or thieves, but how many of us have at least thought that we might be happier, or more successful, or drink less, or eat less, or at least be a little nicer if it were not for a woman in our life?

         But Adam is not just blaming the woman. What does he say to God about Eve before he even mentions that she gave him the forbidden fruit? He calls her “the woman whom you gave to be with me.” That’s right. It’s not even subtle. Adam is blaming God for giving him this woman in the first place. It’s ultimately God’s fault, either for not making the woman better or for putting her there in the garden in the first place.

         Eve might have turned around and pointed at Adam, figuring out some way to fix the blame on him. Maybe if he hadn’t been off fishing or watching college basketball or whatever he was doing when the serpent came around, she wouldn’t have been so bored and lonely that she listened to the snake. But Eve turned her finger of blame in another direction, aiming it at the serpent, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

         Long before Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine Jones made it a catch-phrase in the early 1970s, Eve came up with “The devil made me do it!” She was not to blame. She was deceived, bamboozled, tricked by a force she could not resist. She couldn’t help herself. This serpent showed up and sweet-talked her and before she knew what was what, she had done it.

         The stereotype is that women are more subtle than men and it shows up here. Adam said it more or less straight out, but Eve just left the implication hanging in the air. Why was that deceptive creature the serpent there in the first place? Whose fault is that? Do you see it? Once again, more subtly this time, a human being is blaming God for her own sin.

         It’s the blame game. It started at the very beginning and we just keep doing it. Much of the time we keep doing it in two different, male and female ways. I can’t remember where I first heard or read the observation that men and women place blame for their academic failures in different ways. When men fail, they tend to place the blame outside themselves. “The test was not fair,” “The teacher didn’t like me,” “It’s a stupid subject anyway.” Women, though, tend to internalize the blame, “I just can’t do math,” “I was always fooling myself to think I could do this,” “I never really belonged in college anyway.”

         Now that difference between external and internal blame is just a generalization and men and women do both, but I think we can see it going on a little in Adam and Eve. Adam clearly blames God and Eve for his failure. Eve blames the serpent and by implication God, but notice that she admits she was tricked. She’s telling God she just didn’t have what it takes to see through the serpent’s deception. There was something wrong with her.

         It’s fairly obvious that male, Adam-type blaming is wrong. We do it, but we know it’s wrong to blame someone else, especially to blame God, for what we did. It’s less clear for the female, Eve-type blaming. But for a person to think she (or he!) failed because of some natural incapacity or handicap—“I just can’t do math” or “I just couldn’t see through the trick”—is as much of a blame shift as Adam’s “she made me do it.” It’s also a way of denying you did anything wrong. You claim you just couldn’t have done any better.

         O.K., I’m sure some of that is wrong or mixed-up or horrible gender stereo-typing, but all I’m trying to do is help us see that we are still Adam and Eve. We still sin and still want to put the blame somewhere else than on our own selves, our own actions, our own hearts and minds and wills. We blame others. We blame evil forces like the devil. We blame God and the way He made us or where He put us or the parents He gave us. We sin and then start blaming and it doesn’t help us at all.

         Of course sometimes there is genuine fault. Regardless of who is to blame for the war that followed, Gavrilo Princip pulled a trigger twice to shoot Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. He was guilty of murder. Regardless of what words might be exchanged, an abuser is guilty and to be blamed when he lashes out in physical violence. Regardless of his upbringing or handicaps or circumstances it’s wrong for a man to enter a convenience store with a weapon and threaten violence. He’s to be blamed.

         There is real blame. Adam and Eve were to be blamed for their disbelief in God’s love and care for them, and for their failure then to obey what God had commanded them for their own good. The problem is that from the beginning we have changed the simple acceptance of our own fault and blame into a game to pin it on someone else.

         Men blame women. You can see it happening in our Gospel lesson this morning. In John 8, the scribes and Pharisees bring Jesus a woman caught in adultery, asking Him what the penalty should be, given that Moses commanded death by stoning for adultery. And it’s there in the Old Testament in a couple places: Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22. But look up those verses and you will learn that both the adulterer and the adulteress were supposed to die. But here were these religious men hauling only the woman before Jesus. For whatever reasons, the man’s guilt was ignored. Only the woman was being blamed.

         These days, women have learned to play the game a bit more. Men now are often blamed for many things, like poor career opportunities for women, for most of the violence in our societies, for failure to cooperate and work together to make a better world.

         Yet in the end the blame game does no one much good. Even if we find out who is to blame for the Malaysian jet disaster, it will not restore 239 lives that were lost. And even more obviously, even if some brilliant historian conclusively proves that a particular nation or individual is to blame for a war, it will not save all the people who died in the conflict. The only good that blame can do is when you or I honestly accept it for ourselves, and then seek the help we need.

         In the end, as we will see in the next couple weeks as we continue to read Genesis 3, God’s answer to sin is not blame. It’s mercy. Yes, He let them see their guilt and even punished them, but in the end, He showed them a great and wonderful love and mercy. Which is exactly what Jesus showed that poor woman collapsed in the dust there before Him on the Mount of Olives: mercy, not blame.

         The scribes and Pharisees were all set for the blame game. They were playing it with the woman and they were playing it with Jesus. Yes, as they said, the Mosaic law commanded death for adultery, just like Muslim law does in a few countries today. But there in first century Palestine, no one was following that law. In fact, Roman law trumped that Jewish law. Only the Romans had the authority to put anyone to death. You can see how that played out in Jesus’ own crucifixion.

         So the question to Jesus about what was to be done with this woman was all a game. If Jesus told them not to stone her, then He would be shown up as soft on the Bible, soft on God’s law. On the other hand, if He said to give her the traditional punishment, they could get Him in trouble with the Roman authorities, advocating for an action Jews no longer had the right to perform.

         Jesus knew it was a game, that at root it was the game of blame. They were blaming the woman for adultery and wanted to blame Jesus for heresy or treason. They thought they held all the cards. But then Jesus raised the stakes with that simple, beautiful direction in John 8:7, “Let  the one among you without sin cast the first stone.” Then He put on His poker face and knelt down to write in the dirt.

         A few Bible students have speculated on what Jesus was writing, maybe a list of the sins of all the angry men who stood around that woman. But in any case, He stopped the game. Thinking about their own sins, their own blame, they all folded, laid down their cards and walked away, one by one, as we read in verse 9.

         Then we behold that incredible scene, just Jesus and the woman left there. He asked her in verse 10 where they are, all those who accused her. “Has no one condemned you?” Imagine her surprise, relief, amazement when she looks up at Him and says, “No one, Lord.” Then Jesus spoke as God always speaks when He confronts our sin, when He considers the fact of our blame, “Neither do I condemn you.”

         The blame was real. Jesus didn’t just let that woman go. He told her to go and not to sin again. God’s mercy is not just to ignore sin and blame. It’s to take it away, to make us by grace into people who no longer deserve blame.

         We heard it last week from John 3:17, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” We read it this morning from Romans 5:8, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

         We try to place blame. God wants to place mercy, to place love. Yes, there is blame, plenty to go around, enough for everyone as Adam and Eve knew, and as Jesus reminded those scribes and Pharisees. But for all the blame, there is a wonderful, deep and boundless mercy coming to us from God through Jesus His Son. The blame we’ve got. But He wants to give us the mercy.

         So I invite you today, if you are feeling the blame, if you are feeling guilty, if you have said and done things which you know and are willing to admit are clearly your fault, there is mercy for that. Trust in the love and grace of God poured out for you when Jesus died and rose again, and your blame can be forgiven. You can receive mercy instead. Trust Jesus and accept that gift of mercy.

         But if you accept mercy, then accept it not just for yourself, but for those around you. If you want the blame game to end for you, then let it end for your family, your friends, your co-workers, everyone with whom you live and interact day by day. Just like those scribes and Pharisees, you can’t expect God to show you mercy if you don’t have mercy for others. You can’t expect not to be blamed if you keep on blaming those around you.

         A couple times in talking to married couples with problems I’ve had the joy of seeing the light come on as they think about blame and mercy. They’ve been playing the blame game. It’s his fault, it’s her fault. But when together they set the blame aside, like God sets it aside for anyone who trusts in Jesus, something changes. Instead of trying to pin the blame, they start showing mercy. And in that mercy for each other they find a space for healing and redemption and a new start.

         Blame is real, but playing the blame game will only kill us; we’ll only kill each other. Showing mercy is a far better game, a far better reality in which to live. It’s God’s game. It’s God’s gift. May you receive that mercy in Jesus today.


         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated March 23, 2014