Rivals

Genesis 3:1-13

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 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.”

Mark 9:38-50

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
“If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

 

 

“Two households, both alike in dignity
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.”

 

So begins the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet.

Two rival households. The Montagues and the Capulets.

They hate each other. They cannot stand each other.
They will kill each other.

Rivalry. It has been a part of human existence from the very beginning.

I don’t know if you ever had a rival? However, I might be surprised if you didn’t.

My brothers and I were rivals. We chased the same girls, and we tried to outdo each other in sports and games.
It was more serious and more intense when we were teenagers, but even into adulthood I can remember push up competitions and golf matches and board games where a
friendly rivalry was very evident.

I also remember violent rivalries, and boys who wanted to test their mettle by trying to beat me up, and in so doing somehow raise their masculine status in small town New Brunswick.
I mostly avoided those encounters, partly because I wasn’t that brave and partly because getting into a fight with someone who had seven older brothers was a lose-lose proposition. If you won, it would just mean that more fights with the elder brothers were coming.

But rivalries also go way beyond particular individuals. There are team rivalries and city rivalries and family rivalries.
In the United States there was the famous Hatfield-McCoy rivalry.
There are religious rivalries and national rivalries and political rivalries
Protestant vs. Catholic Wars
Christian vs. Muslim crusade,
Serbs vs. Croats
Tutsi vs. Hutu
Socialism vs. Capitalism
Eastern Communism vs Western Democracy
Liberals vs Conservatives
Republicans vs Democrats

And I have barely scratched the surface.

I have heard people say things like. If Edmonton doesn’t win the Stanley cup, then I don’t mind if any other team wins as long as it isn’t Calgary.

Rivalries begin with desire, and end up in competition and striving against another and frequently end up in violence.

One could very well argue that World War One was not the result of some evil monster or dictator or nation, and the world fought against that monster, but it was very much a question of the rich and elite of Europe in rivalry, and 16 million dead humans later…

Rivalry can be deadly

In fact one of the earliest stories of rivalry comes in the bible in Genesis chapter four, and it too was deadly. According to the story Adam and Eve have two children, at least to begin with. Cain and Abel, and there is rivalry and Cain kills Abel.

But actually this is not the first rivalry in the scripture. We have to go back a chapter to the chapter where Adam and Eve eat of fruit of the forbidden tree.
The snake tells them that God is lying to them. That they will not die. Instead they will be like God. They will be all wise.

And so they eat and they are changed. And when they are changed they recognize embarrassment and shame and clothe themselves.

And when God comes along instead of seeing God as trusted friend with whom you can be yourselves and share anything and find acceptance…
They see a rival. For they wanted to be a great or great than God.
They see a potential enemy. They see someone who will judge them, condemn them, hurt them, reject them.
And they bring about the thing that they are afraid of…

And while the story says that God threw them out of the garden and punished them,
It is their own choices that have taken them east of Eden.

For whenever humans look at others as enemies and threats, and see others as those who will condemn and judge, it inevitably makes those others become what you are afraid of in the first place, because they do the same thing and look at you as a rival or as an enemy or as a threat or as a judge.

The two sons repeat the pattern of Adam and Eve. They too desire to be better than each other. Cain’s resentment spills over into violence and murder.

 

God created us to be lie-givers, to be healers, to live in harmony and communion, to help each other, share with each other…
But these stories help us understand what is wrong with the world.
We desire what others have and what others do and it brings us into rivalry and violence.
We desire to be better than other. We desire to judge others to make ourselves feel better.
And so with Adam and Eve we become graspers, hiders, blamers and shamers. And with Cain and Abel we become rivals, resenters, destroyers and use violence.

Our desires are not God’s desires or not wholly God’s desires to love, to give, share, to build up.
But to acquire, to judge opthers, to compete and win, and hurt those who stand in our way.

 

Just think about it in your own life.
Someone criticizes you and what do you want to do?
You think about criticizing them or you criticize them, or may you think about how God might get them or fantasize about hurting them.
Some of my best dreams, in Technicolor with Dolby sound have been revenge dreams.

Somebody gets a new car, a new hottub, a new computer, a new 3d tv…
Don’t you feel the desire to get something even bigger and better.

Someone gets a beautiful girlfriend or wife, or handsome boyfriend or husband and you want what someone else has.
I used to get jealous of other boys with beautiful or nice girlfriends.
Rick Springfield sang a song called Jesse’s girl about falling for his best friend’s girlfriend.
You know
I wish that I had Jessie’s girl
I wish that I had Jessie’s girl

Do you fantasize about wealth and power and fame and money?
Or getting even.
Or hurting those who hurt you.
Or of being the big winner.
Of being adulated.

Maybe I am laying it on a bit thick. Maybe you are just all more grown up.
But I am guessing at times you are tempted to judge, to think of yourself as better, or you are tempted to desire.

And our temptation when we desire something is to take what is not ours, it is to lie, or steal or cheat, or hurt, or manipulate.

Even the disciples are not immune from it.
They see someone casting out demons and instead of seeing someone who is on their side, who is doing good, they think of him as a rival.
They are thinking about how good they are, how great they are because they are followers of Jesus.

That is a real sin of Christians, and I am sure of other religious groups.
“Look at us. We are the ones with the real truth. We are the great ones. We are better than you Muslims or Buddhists or Atheist or Jews or Bahia’s, or Hindus.
Hey we have Jesus. He is the greatest and by extension we too are great.

This eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is so ingrained in us that even the disciples are not immune.
They see the exorcist as a poacher and a threat. What does he mean coming on our territory… Our Turf?

Who does he think he is? We are the ones with the power and with the control and so the disciples judge him, even though he is doing good.

And then Jesus tries to tell them how big the kingdom really is. Even a little one who gives a cup of cold water to someone is in the kingdom.
The kingdom isn’t about the true disciples of Jesus. The kingdom is not about the powerful and the great. The kingdom is universal and happens when people imitate God’s desires and they love and they share, and they help and they care and they heal and give.

And despising anyone who helps another because of their religion, or their orientation, or their beliefs, or their age, or their gender is just wrong.

And when you despise someone it is like putting a millstone round your neck and it drags you down and takes you farther away than the glorious human you were made to be.
It drowns you in ego and selfishness and your false self and it what the scripture sometimes call Satan.

And that is why Jesus uses the radical imagery found in the gospel.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell…

The drive to be egocentric, to save one’s own life, to compete with others and be better than them, to judge others or Lord it over others, and even to hurt others to get what you want, is so ingrained in us, that it requires radical surgery.

It isn’t just a matter of some little thing that you have done wrong. Say sorry and don’t do it again.
It is a way of thinking, a way of being.
It is like you have to die to your self and ego and be born again.
It is like you have to die to self and ego and be resurrected.

And the way we do that is simply to be in relationship with the one who has power over death.
And his name is Jesus.

For thousands of years Christians have often focused on power over death as getting to heaven after we die…

But when the writer of Genesis quoted God: “ you must not eat of the fruit of that tree; if you do you will die the same day.”
God was not talking about physical death right there and then for Adam and Eve…
God was talking about a way of being in the world that would be deathly.

And humans have learned in their competitions, in their winning, in their fighting, in their striving to hurt their rivals.

Supposedly in the twentieth century alone we humans were responsible for the deaths of about 200 million other humans, primarily by war and violence and causing famine.

According to the book Atrocitology: Humanity’s deadliest achievements by Matthew White if you take the 100 deadliest achievements from as far back as Alexander the great who managed to kill half a million people in the fourth century BCE as he conquered the world; to present day. You will find in these hundred events humans killed a half a billion people.
And that doesn’t even count the little wars and conflicts, nor murders etc. These are only events that kill at least 300,000 people

Do you understand now when God said: “In that day you eat of it you will die.”

But Jesus has the power over death. He is not caught up in competition, or greatness, or lording it over other, or judging others or hurting others or beating others…
He instead humbles himself and becomes a servant and only gives back love even to those who don’t deserve love. …even to those who torture and kill him.

Jesus is not our rival. Jesus is our friend and our brother in the best sense of friend and the best sense of brother.

Do you see why Jesus said that he had come to give us abundant life?
If we follow the way of Jesus and abide in him it’s a whole new world.

Everyone of us has a kind of hole inside of us. You may call it the garden of Eden space, where we long to be naked and unafraid, to be ourselves and have no shame, to live in absolute love and harmony.

And that ache or longing to be completely and absolutely love is hole that we try and fill up with be cool and be great and looking good and being better, and being on top.
But maybe only Jesus can fill that whole. Because Jesus is the only one who loves you unconditionally, without reservation.

Some years ago there was a movie with Robin Williams called Mrs. Doubtfire.
In it Robin Williams is the Dad who never grows up and acts like a big kid because he wants his kids to love him so much.
In so doing he become irresponsible and is in rivalry with his wife about who loves their kids more, and his over serious wife played by Sally Fields kicks him out of the house and gets a court order and makes it hard for Robin Williams to see his kids.
So Robin disguises himself as Mrs. Doubtfire, a Scottish grandmother type, who is hired by his wife to look after his own kids.

Strangely enough, in order to get his kids back and while he is Mrs. Doubtfire, a new person emerges. One who loves, but who has boundaries. One who is patient, and firm but gentle; who in short almost becomes the perfect parent. Robin Williams’ by imitating a grown-up, grows up.

The character of Robin Williams in the movie before Mrs. Doubtfire, is a metaphor of our ever-changing world and the people in it, who are ever increasingly being a world that doesn’t grow up, a world and its people that live in constant sibling rivalry.
Witness presidents and premiers and politicians who, when you look at them, act more like children than mature adults.

And it is a very scary world when the leaders of this world want to play “I am the king of the castle, and you’re the dirty rascal.”
…instead of working together for a better world.

It’s time to grow up, world. And I know we cannot change the whole world, all we can do is work on ourselves.

In the fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk Jack climbs the beanstalk into a world of giants. And the giant, or giants up there are known for eating children
Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.

When Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil the giant was released.
That giant isn’t a fairy tale creature, it is the systems of this world that favour the rich and powerful and keep the rich and powerful in place by means of violence.
It is the system of hierarchies which pronounce some people to be of more value than others…
It is the systems of the world that have devoured well over a half a billion of God’s children..
And billions more are treated as people with no value and have no education, or wealth or medical care.

And Jack eventual climbs down the beanstalk and chops down the vine and the giant falls and dies,
That vine is the vine of greed and power and being better than others. At the top of that vine is the goose that lays the golden egg and it is in the hands of the big and powerful.

But there is another vine. Jesus says. I am the vine and you are the branches. Live in me. Live in my love. Live in forgiveness. Live in understanding. Live with grace. Grow up into me.
Live not by judging or condemning but by accepting and healing.
For I am not your rival but your friend and brother…
And you too…you do not have to be rivals; but can be friends and brothers and sisters and mature adults; and offer abundant life to one another. Amen.