Date: July 4, 2010
Scripture Lessons: Genesis 2:25-3:7
Sermon: Apple to Apple Pie
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
Long ago, when times were hard, a man was caught stealing food from the market place.
The king was told of this misdemeanor, and he ordered that the man should be hanged for the theft. Preparations were made to carry out the execution, while the man was held in a dark dungeon.
On the day he was due to be hanged, the guards brought the man to the gallows, and he was asked if there was anything he wanted to say before he was put to death.
“Yes,” said the prisoner. “I have a message for the king. I have a special gift that was passed on to me by my father, who received it from his father. I have a special apple seed that when planted in the ground will grow into a flourishing tree overnight, and bear fruit right away. I just feel that it would be a pity if this secret gift were to die with me, before I have passed it on.”
The king was impressed, and he asked the prisoner to tell him the secret and to plant the apple seed before he died.
“I would gladly do so,” said the prisoner, “but I must warn you that the seed can only be planted by a person who has never been dishonest – never stolen anything, or told a lie, or deceived anyone in any way. So, of course, I cannot plant the seed myself, because I am a convicted thief.”
The king called for his prime minister to plant the seed, but the prime minister looked sheepish, and admitted that he had once kept something that did not belong to him, therefore he could not plant the seed.
So the king called for his chief treasurer, whose face at once flushed deep red as he confessed that there had been times when he had not been completely honest in his
dealings with the treasury of the country. “I think, Your Majesty,” the treasurer said, “that you will have to plant the seed yourself.”
The king hesitated and became very uneasy, recalling how he had deceived an ambassador from another kingdom in a dispute about territory. He hung his head and admitted that he, too, would be unable to plant the seed.
The thief looked around at all three of them. “You are the mightiest people in the land,” he said, “yet none of you is free of guilt. None of you is capable of planting the apple seed. Yet I, who stole a piece of bread because I was starving, am condemned to death.”
And the king pardoned the wise thief. [“The Apple Seed,” in One Hundred Wisdom Stories from Around the World, by Margaret Silf, pp. 63-64, adapted ]
So, I am wondering, who here this morning, who among us, would be able to plant the apple seed? Maybe one of our youngest children? Really, who can get to adulthood, even adolescence, having never stolen anything, never told a lie, never deceived anyone in any way? Truly, how many can get through a day without some kind of dishonesty?
Does this mean we are bad people? Does this mean we are all moral reprobates? No. What this means is that we are human and we have free will. We have the freedom to make choices. But being free, having free will means that we will make mistakes and do things that are wrong or immoral. With freedom, it always goes both ways. Freedom implies right and wrong. Good and bad. You can’t be free and always be good or right. Given that we have free will, what is amazing is that when you look at the sum total of our lives, for the most part, we make good choices and exercise our freedom in moral ways.
The story of Adam and Eve eating the apple is often used to account for what Augustine of the 4th/5th centuries called original sin. We are sinful and there is nothing we can do about it. Eve ate the apple. Our being bad and giving in to temptation, is a foregone conclusion. And it will take Jesus to set this all straight and get us into heaven.
The new Adam. Jesus making the right choices. Being obedient. Resisting temptation. To redeem us.
And of course, the problem was perpetrated by Eve. The seductress. And she has been used to account for the presence of evil and sin in the world. Eve is used to account for why men must be wary and women cannot be trusted. Eve is seen as being responsible for the fall of humanity. This makes a great underpinning for patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny.
But really, this story is not so much about disobedience or temptation or original sin, as about freedom. Freedom of choice. Freedom of behavior. Freedom of will. We need a story that speaks to us about why human beings who are capable of such amazing goodness and love are also capable of great harm and evil. It is because we have free will. Freedom of choice. Without that freedom, which makes us mature and morally autonomous, we are not much different than animals who function purely from instinct. To have a moral conscience, to have the capacity to be good and do good, one must also have the capacity to choose evil and harm.
The story of Adam and Eve eating the apple is a story accounting for our human free will, for our freedom of choice. It speaks of our uniqueness in all of creation, as the creatures with the potential for good and bad. This story tells us that we are free, and in that freedom, we can choose the good. It also tells us that we will screw things up and then be responsible for those actions as well.
In the early decades of Christianity, this freedom was seen as the remarkable identifying characteristic of those who were part of the Christian community. These people freely chose to hold their possessions in common. They shared freely with each other, even the very rich. Not only that, they freely chose to share and give to those who were hungry and poor even if they were not part of the community. These early Christians freely chose not to comply with the demands of the Roman Empire that they worship Roman gods. And they were killed for it. These Christians exercised their freedom from social obligations that they thought were unjust. They exercised their freedom from sex roles that were entrenched in society and instead gave women authority
and power in the community. These early Christians were known for exercising their freedom in ways that were in direct conflict with the majority culture in which they lived.
The story of Adam and Eve eating the apple tells us of that kind of freedom woven into the fabric of creation and the design of the human species from its inception.
This weekend in this country we celebrate our freedom. July 4th, Independence Day, celebrates the Declaration of Independence, a manifesto against an imperial power which sparked a revolution intending to ensconce freedom in this new society. And, because of the very nature of freedom, this freedom has created the enormous potential for good as well as bad.
Yes, there is the heinous legacy of the treatment of the native peoples of this land, and slavery. There is our heritage of militarism and carrying a big stick as a mighty empire forcing smaller countries to adhere to our will and serve our interests. Our incidence of poverty, homelessness, and other social problems are a testament to our freedom to abandon our moral responsibilities. There are countless things we can point to that we as a country have done wrong.
But there is also all the good that has come as a result of our freedom. Having traveled to numerous countries, including Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, Kenya, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Canada, while the people all have complaints against the US, they will also tell you with enthusiasm that any time there is a crisis, a problem, an earthquake, a tsunami, a mudslide, a famine, etc. the first people there with help are the Americans. We are known for being generous and helpful and we can do this because of our freedom.
This week the Network of Spiritual Progressives, a multi-faith organization trying to refocus the agenda of the United States to promote justice, equality, generosity, education, etc. sent out an email celebrating the many ways that we have put our freedom to good use in this country. Here are a few examples:
– Immigrants from around the world who have come here have struggled to accept each other – Coalitions of people worked to end slavery
-African Americans and allies went to prison, lost their livelihoods, and were beaten in the struggle for civil rights – People championed workers’ rights and the eight hour work day, minimum wage, worker’s compensation, and the right to form unions -Women risked job and family, to raise awareness of the negative effects of patriarchy on men and women and children – People risk scorn and violence and family to struggle for equal rights and acceptance for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersexual, and queer people – People work for equal access for those with disabilities – People advocate for the earth and all forms of life -Artists bring beauty and insight into our lives – People have developed innovations in science, technology, the arts, business, medicine, and in so doing have enriched our lives – People work for justice and peace and provide a moral conscience for our society These are just a few of the ways that our freedom has been put to good use in our society. And I know that you could add many, many more. Each and every day, countless people in this country exercise their freedom through generous giving of money and time, helping others, coaching sports teams, leading scout troops, helping in classrooms, volunteering in countless settings, assisting neighbors, and contributing millions upon millions of dollars to ease the suffering of others and make this world a better place. In our freedom we are doing immeasurable good. But not always good. Not only good. That is the nature of freedom. That is why we have the story of the apple. It is a way of accounting for the fact that we have the capacity for extraordinary good but we do not always make the best choices.
Self interest, greed, weakness, lack of perspective and understanding, will cloud our choices at times. And we will do the wrong. If we did not choose the wrong at times, we would not be free, we would not be human. This is something the US would do well to remember because we often associate being free with being right, which denies the very nature of true freedom.
It is important for us to be aware of our freedom and its potential, so that we remain ever conscious and vigilant about the choices we are making. Freedom bears a great moral responsibility. We must be ever attentive to those things which would lure us away from the good, the right, the true. Especially when they look innocuous or even worse, come in the guise of good.
There was an article in the paper recently about resisting temptation. The setting
was the marketplace:
Be on the alert in the grocery store. The store uses smells to entice you to buy
more food. The smell of frying chicken. Or baking bread. And then there are the
candy, soda and magazines at the cashier.
In stores that sell electronics, the newest, priciest gadgets will be positioned at eye
level, and often bathed in warm mood lighting to entice you.
Watch out for the toy department. Always in the back of the store so that you have
to pass everything else on the way there, and drop more into your cart on the way
to and from the toys.
And then there’s the cart. So big, calling out to be filled. Resist by taking a hand
And to be really aware and on the alert, just take cash. Leave credit cards and
debit cards at home or with a friend or loved one or in a safe place. Good advice
all of it. [“Learn to fight temptation,” St. Petersburg Times, 6/17/10]
We would do well to bring such attention and awareness to other aspects and dimensions of our lives that lure and seduce us into bad choices and morally suspect decisions and behaviors.
This is not cynicism, it is acknowledgement of the true nature and power of freedom. The story of the apple tells us about our potential for good as well as bad. This is the responsibility of freedom. Freedom means we have the power to make choices. To intentionally make decisions.
In our freedom, we can choose to use the story of Adam and Eve eating the apple, not as a way to incriminate and degrade women and sexuality, or as way to explain our need for a savior, but as a way to celebrate our freedom to make good and not so good choices. We can use this story as a way to be accountable for our choices instead of blaming others or our human condition. We can use this story to foster responsibility and empower positive change.
So – because we have free will and live in this land of the free, we can choose justice. We can choose equal rights. We can choose to abandon patriarchy with its ill effects. We can choose the common good over individual self interest. We can choose long term good over instant gratification. We can choose peace, anti violence, and diplomacy over militarism. We can choose ecological living over environmental destruction. We can choose generosity over greed. Because we have freedom as human beings and we celebrate freedom in this country, we can choose the good.
July 4 is a day to celebrate our American heritage. All things Americana – baseball, motherhood, hot dogs, and, of course, apple pie. When soldiers were asked why they were going off to World War II, they said, “For mom and apple pie.” Apple pie is thought of as symbolizing all things quintessentially American. Well, isn’t freedom at the top of that list? Freedom to make good choices and freedom to make mistakes. Freedom to be accountable and to make right what we wrong. Freedom to forgive and engage in reconciliation. Freedom to create a different path for ourselves as individuals, as the church, as a society, and as a world. We have this potential because we are free. So, come to fellowship after church as we celebrate our freedom by eating apple pie and ice cream! Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.