A front page newspaper headline this week announced that more people in the UK don’t have any form of religious faith than do have ... and in an editorial comment the next day the paper asked if we should care?
... A record low of 47 per cent of Britons said they had a religious faith.
...The proportion of Britons declaring that they have no religion has risen from 48 per cent in 2015 to 53 per cent last year, the British Social Attitudes Survey has found.
...The fall has been driven by young people. In 2015, 62 per cent of those aged between 18 and 24 said they had no religion. This increased to 71 per cent last year. The decline has been seen across all ages, but those with no religion remain in the minority among older groups, representing 40 per cent of 65 to 74-year-olds and 27 per cent of over-75s. The split is 50-50 among those aged 55 to 64.
...More than 40 per cent of those brought up by Christian parents have no faith by adulthood.
I am not arguing that charity, community and fellow feeling are impossible without religion; only that we are living through a time of great change and should appreciate that we are. And that this change represents a very serious challenge. Britain was a Christian country. And now it isn’t. That’s not something we can just overlook.
Do you remember the old hymn ... Tell me the old, old story?
The old, old story (hold up Bible) is more and more seen as being irrelevant, particularly among the younger generation. And I want in particular to do two things this morning: the first is to commend our young people for being here; the second is to encourage you all to embrace our efforts to reach out to those who find the church irrelevant ... our Gospel in Disney series is a great opportunity to do just this; and of course next week’s Bring-A-Friend speaks for itself. Meadow Way Chapel, like many other churches in the UK, will die unless we, you and I, do something. We have a wonderful “story” made up of many “stories” to tell and to share.
During our series on Partnership we spent some time in Genesis 1, where God creates over 6 days, saying each day that what has been created “is good” until He creates human beings in His image, “male and female He created them” and says at the end of that day “It is very good.”
Today we begin a series entitled “The Old, Old Stories”, looking at ... you guessed it ... the old, old stories. Adam and Eve today, then Rise and Fall of Cain, then Noah and finally the Tower of Babel.
So we turn to Genesis 2 and 3, where something goes wrong and, in the words of John Milton, Paradise is lost. It is in Genesis 2 that we first find God’s garden called “Eden”…. Which, in the later prophets, is sometimes called Paradise.
Genesis 1 and 2 tell the creation story in slightly different ways ... Genesis 2 goes into a lot more detail, in a sense slowing down the process described quickly in Genesis 1. Listen to Genesis 2:4-7: “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up…the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:4b-7).
God takes the dust of the earth, and God forms the man from the dirt. This coming from the dust of the earth is also why some burial liturgies say at the graveside service, “From dust we’ve come and to dust we return.” Or, “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” The body returns to the ground from whence it came, but the spirit that God breathed into us returns to Him …. This means that our lives—our humanity, our capacity to love, to celebrate, to reason, to think—to be, all are a gift from God. These things cannot come from soil ... they are God breathed. We are called to live God breathed lives ... there might be many reasons for our nation to be turning its back on God, but at the forefront must be our failure to live God breathed lives. Before we look anywhere else for blame, let us look to ourselves and then to our God in humble, heartbroken repentance.
The fact that we are made by God from the dust of the earth is also meant to lead us to humility—from dust we come and to dust we will return.
Let’s shift to the second thing we learn about ourselves in the Eden story. God has created the first human, breathed into him the breath of life, and placed him in the garden. God gave the man the most wonderful things to eat and drink, and walked with him in the cool of the afternoon. Yet Genesis 2:18 notes, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’”
Throughout Genesis 1 everything was good. For the first time in the Bible God says something is not good—it wasn’t good for the man to be by himself. Now, may I remind you of what we looked at a while ago when we looked at sexuality, we don’t all need to be married. Paul notes that the highest calling is to be single and to devote yourself to the work of God’s kingdom. But we all need companionship. Paul was single, but he needed companionship. Jesus was single, but needed companionship. Companionship does not necessarily imply sexuality, but it does imply friendship, relationships, and people to help you along this journey…. It is not good for us to be alone.
The Bible says that God sought to make a helper (older translations say help meet) for Adam. In Hebrew the word for helper is "ezer" and it doesn’t mean servant or little helper; In fact, "ezer” is used most often in Scripture to describe God, who is our helper: Jehovah ezer ... God our helper. The created woman is given one of the names of God ... helper! In the old, old story ... women are like God to us ... and that is a beautiful picture that sin has spoilt in so many ways. Which leads us to what Genesis 3 is really all about.
It is about temptation and how the man and the woman turn away from God’s good instruction. In a similar way, the headline story this week speaks of how our nation continues to turn away from God’s good instruction. Back to Adam and Eve, when they do, the good and beautiful world God had made becomes twisted and broken. The talking snake or serpent, the tempter, is of course, the devil himself. Notice what he does. He raises questions: “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?” He begins by misquoting God. God hadn’t said they couldn’t eat from any tree—only one tree….
Listen to what happened next: “The snake said to the woman, ‘You won't die! God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’". How often the tempter tempts us by telling us that we’ll be complete and happy and like god, if only we eat the forbidden fruit …. We might ask why God plants this tree in the garden anyway? This tree is really a test, isn’t? Doesn’t it point to an important part of our humanity—that being human means having a choice to do the right and faithful and good thing, or to doing the wrong, unfaithful or bad thing? And which of us hasn’t heard the serpent whisper in our ear, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t do this or that?” Or coaxing us to consider doing something we know we should not do?... What we read in Genesis 3 has happened in your life and mine this week, hasn’t it?
The serpent promised the woman that if she ate the forbidden fruit, she and Adam would be like God. Pride has always been considered the deadliest of the sins. This pride is not satisfaction for an accomplishment. The kind of pride I’m talking about is making yourself to be god, the most important thing, to treat others and even God as though they exist to serve you, to have no one you are subject to, no one you are accountable to, to sit on the throne of your own life. This continues to be a source of temptation for human beings.
Here’s one thing to know about temptation: you never have to take the bait, particularly once you are born again of the Spirit and then let Him be your helper, your ezer. Scripture says we can resist the devil.
Here’s a second thing to remember: the forbidden fruit never delivers on its promises. Turning away from God, eating the forbidden fruit, ruins what is good and beautiful.
This is our story. Each day, in every person, across societies and nations, when we listen to the serpent and turn away from God’s will, when we refuse to take correction, we find brokenness, pain and alienation. Paradise is lost and in the headlines this week, this is the choice our nation is taking. Genesis 3 should break our hearts and throw us to our knees in repentance.
But this week’s headlines should lift us from our knees and spur us to action ... let us live God breathed lives, let us remember that every time we seek God’s kingdom first, every time we seek to do His will and love selflessly and sacrificially, we move back in the direction of paradise and forward into His kingdom coming on earth.
I go back to part of the editorial from earlier this week:
As God is our helper, our ezer, let us commit to being our nation’s helper, our nation’s ezer, and draw her closer to the One who has drawn us closer to Him.
It’s your work, it’s my work ... let’s do it!