In the Beginning…Buck Passing and Power Plays

I’m in the process of converting the audio to digital as we speak (or as I type). Might only be half of the audio, though. While you wait, feel free to read the manuscript…

In the Beginning…
Buck Passing & Power Plays
Genesis 3:8-20
October 11, 2009

While visiting the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma, US Marshall for the Western District of Missouri, Fred Canfil, saw a sign that he thought his friend, Harry, would appreciate. Harry was a plain-speaking, no-nonsense kind of guy and the sign echoed his philosophy. So, he asked the Warden if a duplicate sign could be made and shipped to his friend.

Approximately 2 ½ inches by 13 inches in size, the sign was painted glass and mounted on a handmade walnut base. On one side of the sign was the phrase, “I’m from Missouri,” which is shortened form of the well-known Missouri saying, “I’m from Missouri. Show me.”

Harry received the sign on October 2, 1945. And he placed it on his desk from time to time because what was painted on the other side reminded him of the responsibilities placed upon him and his position. It read, “The buck stops here.”

In his farewell address to the American people given in January 1953, President Harry S Truman referred to the slogan that was prominently positioned on his desk throughout much of his presidency, asserting that, “The President – whoever he is – has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.”

We all know that the saying “the buck stops here” is a reference to the slang expression “to pass the buck,” which means to pass responsibility on to someone else. According to the Truman Library’s website, “passing the buck” is said to have originated with card playing in the frontier days, where a marker or counter – generally a buck knife – was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If the player did not wish to deal, he could pass on that responsibility by passing the buck on to the next player.[1]

Passing the buck is certainly practiced today, isn’t it? At least the past three Presidential administrations, including the current one, have blamed their predecessors for the nation’s economic woes. When we hear all the rhetoric espoused by political pundits, it kind of makes you wish that everyone would remember the sign that sat on President Truman’s desk, right?

It’s easy to blame politicians, but they’re not the only one who practice buck-passing. Just this last week, the L.A. Dodgers came from behind and beat my beloved St. Louis Cardinals because of an error committed by one of their star players. Although Matt Holliday never said this, his teammates came out and shifted the blame away from him. You see, the game took place in Los Angeles and everyone in the crowd had these white towels they were waving, similar to the Homer Hankies made famous by the Minnesota Twins or the Terrible Towels used by the Pittsburgh Steelers, showing their support for the rallying Dodgers. All Matt Holliday had to do was catch the ball and the game would be over. Cardinals win. “Instead, the ball smacked him in the gut and fell in the grass.”[2] The Dodgers continued their two-out rally and won the game. According to Holliday’s teammates, the baseball blended in with the towels the crowds were waving and that’s why he missed the ball.

Come on.

Really?

That’s the best you can come up with?

But this is nothing new. None of us wants to be known as a failure. When we screw up and other people find out about it, it’s natural to try to somehow shift the blame, passing it along to someone else. And that’s how it’s been since the very first mistake…the very first trip-up…the very first sin.

If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to Genesis 3. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. The passage we’re looking at in Genesis 3 is found on page 3 of those red Bibles.

We are continuing our journey through the opening pages of the story of Genesis, which is also the beginning of the unfolding of God’s story – the story He continues to tell today. Last week, we began looking at the chapter that changed everything. Without it, everything would continue to be in perfect harmony. Without it, there would be no wars, no deception, no illness, and not even death. Without it, there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to give up his own life for us on the cross. Genesis 3 changed everything.

God told them not to eat of the fruit from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent deceived Eve, convincing her that the consequences wouldn’t be what God told her they’d be. And so she took a bite. Adam, of course, was not innocent of the whole situation. He was right there with her when she took the bite and did nothing to stop her. He stood there and watched as hell was literally unleashed on God’s perfect creation. And then he joined Eve in her sin by taking a bite of the fruit as well.

They realized what they’d done. They knew that things would never be the same. They understood that they were going to die. So they hid. And when God came looking for them, we see the first example of buck passing in human history.

Read 3:8-13

Do you see what Adam did here? As soon as he heard God’s footsteps, he should have run out and confessed what he’d done. In His amazing grace, God even gave him a second opportunity to confess. And what happened? He passed the buck.

“It’s not my fault,” he’s telling God. “It’s hers!” He even tries to pass the buck to God, doesn’t he? “If you hadn’t created her, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” That’s a pretty bold statement, don’t you think? But that’s what we do when we get caught in our sin – when the spotlight shines on the parts we’d rather keep hidden. We want to deflect the blame on anyone and everyone…except ourselves.

How do you think Eve felt when she heard Adam place the blame squarely on her shoulders? I’m sure she wasn’t very happy about that. Of course, she tried to pass the buck along as well. This simple act of disobedience not only created division between Adam and God, it also caused a rift between Adam and Eve.

The old saying that no man is an island unto himself is absolutely true. Our sin impacts the people around us. Especially the ones closest to us. That secret sin that you think no one knows about and isn’t hurting anyone? It is. It’s spilling out and affecting other areas of your life. No matter how much you’re trying to bury it deep or shift the blame, it’s still there. And the way you’re handling it changes the way you’re relating with other people. It leads you to see the faults in everyone else and not yourself. It leads you to question the motive of every word that’s said and every move that’s made. Sin leads to mistrust. And when trust goes out of a relationship, power moves in.

You see that in the curse that God pronounced on Adam and Eve, which is the curse you and I continue to live under today.

Read vv 14-20

Even with epidurals and other advances in medical understanding, I’m not sure if any mother would say that her labor or even their pregnancy was without pain. It’s a result of the curse.

And I doubt anyone who has tried their hand at farming or even keeping a small garden can say that it’s an easy task without sweat and effort. It’s a result of the curse.

But the part of the curse with the most lingering effects is found in verse 16 – “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” The NIV translates this word as “desire.”  Actually, all translations I’ve looked into translate this word as “desire.” But the literal meaning of the word goes much deeper than mere desire. It implies a deep craving to control or master someone. It’s a struggle to have power over other people.

This lust for power and control isn’t limited to Eve and her daughters, however. God told Eve that Adam will rule over her as a result of their sin. This is not a pleasant ruling. The literal meaning of this word means “to lord over” or “to dominate.” And it’s not a kind word. It implies an intentional effort to put a subordinate, in this case, Eve, in her place. It means to physically and emotionally smash down the other person.

That’s not a very pleasant relationship, is it? One side is scratching and clawing, trying to gain dominion while the other side is pressing down, trying to mash the other into the ground. This beautiful dance that began in Genesis has turned into nothing but conflict. Not only is there conflict between us and God, but we’re also in conflict with each other – entrenched in a power play as we try to one-up each other for power and control.

You’re familiar with the story of Jacob and Esau, right? They were brothers and fought each other constantly. One day, Esau returned home from hunting and smelled the soup his brother was cooking. He desperately wanted a taste, but Jacob wouldn’t share. “Give me your birthright as the firstborn son,” Jacob demanded. He eventually agreed and traded in his inheritance for a measly bowl of soup. Adam and Eve did the same thing. They sacrificed their birthright of trust with the porridge of power. And just like Esau, they got a raw deal.

When you commit what you think is a secret sin that only impacts you, it increases the tension with everyone else. You spend your days trying to manipulate things and keep your secret under control. You seek power over your loved ones, trying to steer them away from the sin you’re trying so desperately to keep hidden. And in your efforts to keep things under your own control, you wind up running around like the guy at the circus who spins all of these plates on sticks. The faster things go, the more he has to work to manipulate the situation. And one trip, one misstep and it all comes crashing down. You cannot trust anyone because if you trust them, they’ll get too close and discover the sin you’ve been trying to bury in the darkest corner of your heart. Sin leads to power plays and it allows us to walk all over each other.

As we have all learned in US history, slavery was abolished in this country after a bloody Civil War that almost ripped this country apart. Although slavery is now illegal in the United States, that hasn’t stopped the practice around the world. Some estimates suggest that there are as many as 27 million enslaved people worldwide. There is no more heinous crime that we could commit on our fellow human being than by forcing them into slavery. But sinfulness leads us to do heinous and atrocious things. And although none of us has engaged in the practice of slavery, our sinfulness can lead us to try to manipulate and control other people in a very similar manner.

The presence of sin has turned the community God intended upside down. Instead of peace, there’s fighting. Instead of trust, there’s manipulation and deceit. Instead of accomplishment, there’s friction.

But God doesn’t leave the situation here. In His amazing grace, He doesn’t leave the curse as something that’s completely bleak. There is a glimmer of hope in the beginning of the curse. Although He’s addressing the serpent himself, it’s also a message to Satan himself. When Jesus Christ spread out his arms and died, Satan surely rejoiced. He had struck the heel of the Son of God. And now he was dead. But when Jesus burst forth from the tomb three days later, He smashed Satan’s head, dealing him a death-blow. Although he continues to slither about, attempting to bring about as much chaos, death, and destruction on God’s creation, Satan’s days are numbered. Death no longer has its sting. Death will no longer remain victorious.

Because of the sacrifice of God’s Son for you and for me, we are not doomed to a life of animosity with each other. We can have real friendships with each other. And, more importantly, we can be called friends of God. And that begins by doing exactly what Adam should have done in the beginning. Stop trying to blame others for your disobedience and sin. Don’t sacrifice your birthright as a child of God for the temporary porridge of power. Stop trying to pass the buck. Confess it before the Lord and allow Him to wash it clean. Trying to keep control of your sin by manipulating and dominating your neighbor can be exhausting. And in the end, the sin will be known anyway. Stop trying to push everyone else down and allow God to change your life as you follow Jesus down the narrow road.


[1] http://www.trumanlibrary.org/buckstop.htm

[2] http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/recap?gameId=291008119

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