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Today in the Mission Yearbook

A wily serpent and God in three persons lay out the Genesis story of sin and banishment during Synod School


The attendees are also serenaded by the music many grew up to

September 28, 2023

Synod School musicians rehearse Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On.” (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

“Hey,” a middle school improv class member playing the serpent in the Genesis 3 account told the Garden of Eden’s first female inhabitant during Synod School worship, “I see you’re interested in that tree over there.”

The serpent soon struck up a conversation with the woman who would soon be called Eve, and eventually a trio of players portraying the members of the trinity banished the woman and man from the Garden.

“That was painful,” the trinity declared together.

Evening worship at the 69th Annual Synod School, held each summer at Buena Vista University by the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, took a more creative turn each day. One day, the excellent Synod School band delivered a pair of stellar renditions of Baby Boomer favorites: The Beatles’ “Let It Be” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On.”

“It starts here, at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” said Synod School preacher the Rev. DeEtte Decker, communications director for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, her hand on the tree on stage at Schaller Memorial Chapel. The two are clearly told: “This tree is off limits, and if you eat from this tree, you will surely die.”

Although “nothing else is explained, the interesting thing is that humanity is given three things: vocation, permission and prohibition,” according to Decker.

From the very beginning, “we’ve been given a job. Humans were expected to care and tend the garden. They are given permission to freely eat from any tree except this one,” which is the prohibition. It’s the primary task of the first humans “to find a way to hold these three facets of divine purpose together.”

But we make “much ado” over the prohibition because “we humans don’t like to be told no,” she said.

The serpent twists God’s words slightly, and in response Eve also misrepresents God’s warning, telling the serpent God instructed them not to even touch the tree or they’ll die.

The Rev. DeEtte Decker

Decker said the woman decides, “I could do with a little wisdom,” and so she takes the fruit and eats. She gives some to the man, he takes a bite, and “they take their lives into their own hands.” Instantly, the prohibition has been violated, the permission has been perverted and the vocation has been vacated.

God asks the man the same question Marvin Gaye asks: What’s going on? Adam’s replies “are all I’s,” Decker noted. “I heard. I was afraid. I was naked. I hid. I ate. Now the preoccupation is I, and therein lies the primary offense. Gone is the interconnectedness; instead, it’s now about self-interest, control and perceived freedom.”

But God surprises the reader with God’s final action. “Everyone knows what follows the guilt of eating from the tree: death,” Decker said. “This is a capital offense, and they were clearly told, ‘Surely you will die.’ That sentence is heavy, but it’s not what they got. They were simply exiled from the Garden. … The miracle is not that they were punished, but that they lived.”

Even when the facts warrant death, “God insists on life for God’s beloved,” Decker said. “We take into our own hands choices and perceived freedoms and make it about me instead of we.”

“We are created for connection with God and one another, but we often find ourselves in the midst of crisis,” she said. “Still, God chases after us, calling out, ‘Where are you? Where have you gone?’”

“What about we instead of me?” she asked. “Thanks be to God.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Rev. DeEtte Decker preaching on the Genesis story during Synod School

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
John McFayden, Executive Vice President, Board of Pensions
Jim McGill, Mission co-worker serving in Niger/South Sudan,  Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

God of us all, help us to work for peace in every area on Earth. Amen.