Grace in Genesis: Cain and Abel

cain and abel

Genesis 4:1-16 NRSV

I believe the story of the world’s first brothers has much to teach us about the unfairness of life. Cain and Abel were both hardworking men. At the time, they were holding down two of the most important jobs in the entire world, providing the sustenance needed for the propagation of humanity. Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain was a tiller of the ground. And although these important farmers did not yet have a First Christian Church in their town where they could gather each week for worship, both worshipped their creator as faithfully as they knew how.

Both Cain worshipped God, put God first in their lives, gave thanks to their creator for the gift of life by offering the best of who they were: the best of their talents, abilities, and gifts. Abel offered the firstborn from one of the sheep he tended, and Cain offered the produce of his field that he grew and harvested with his own hands.

Then Cain learns something that all of us who have lived in this fragmented world know all too well. Life is not fair. We are not told exactly what happened to cause Cain to believe that God loved Abel more than him, why Cain believed that his offerings to God were for all for naught, but we can certainly make what I believe are some very fair assumptions.

Maybe Abel enjoyed better health than Cain. Maybe he had less aches and pains, fewer allergies than Cain. Perhaps Abel was better looking, more athletic, faster, had nicer teeth and hair. Maybe he was a lot smarter than Cain. Maybe these other people who miraculously seemed to be around at the time, preferred Abel’s leg of lamb, rack of lamb, lamb stew or lamb chops over Cain’s broccoli, cauliflower, rutabaga, and carrots. Perhaps Abel had a nicer house, a bigger farm, finer clothes, or just a more comfortable life in general.

Whatever it was, Cain believed that Abel was more blessed, more favored, more accepted, and more loved by God. Thus, it became very obvious to all and especially to God that Cain was angry. And who could blame him? Life is not fair. For no reason, without any explanation, bad things happen to some very good people all the time. And likewise, without any rhyme or reason, some very good things happen to some very average or below average people all the time. And our natural inclination is to be angry at it all. Why, it is just second-nature.The Psalmist clearly understood this as we can feel the anger behind the words of the 73rd Pslam.

1 Truly God is good to the upright,*    to those who are pure in heart.  2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;  my steps had nearly slipped.  3 For I was envious of the arrogant;  I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  4 For they have no pain;  their bodies are sound and sleek.  5 They are not in trouble as others are;  they are not plagued like other people.  10 Therefore the people turn and praise them,*  and find no fault in them.*  12 Such are the wicked;  always at ease, they increase in riches. 13 All in vain I have kept my heart clean  and washed my hands in innocence.  14 For all day long I have been plagued,  and am punished every morning.

Cain, like all of us living in this world filled with inequity and injustice, became angry. His countenance fell. Like second nature, Cain’s anger swelled inside of him, and everyone knew it, even God.

And God responds: “Cain, I can understand why you are angry. I really can’t blame you. For it is a natural, human response to the unfairness of this world. Therefore, it is not you being angry that I am worried about. I am worried about what you might be tempted to do with your anger, for sin is like a wild beast lurking at your door, and it craves to have you, to destroy you. So, Cain you need to master your anger, tame it, control it, transform the energy of your anger into a dynamism to do something good, something beautiful and wonderful to counter the injustice and inequity in our world, something constructive, something honorable, something amazingly gracious and loving.”

I believe that Christians have a tendency to believe that being angry is a sin; therefore, we go to great lengths to avoid anger. But in avoiding anger, I believe we can easily become disengaged, complacent, devoid of the passion and fire that I believe Jesus wants us to have. I believe the world needs more Christians to let our countenances fall and become consumed with passion to live with an amazing grace that counters the unfairness in of the world.

However, as the story of the world’s first two brothers teaches us, anytime we are angry, we need to be cautious, for as the Lord says, sin is always lurking at the door. Unfortunately, Cain allowed his anger to get the best of him, and he killed his brother Abel.

Then, this one who believed in fairness, this one who believed in justice, this one who believed that people should reap what they sow, clearly understood the dire consequences for his evil actions. There was no doubt he should be exiled, forced to live outside of his community. There was no doubt he deserved to be forever separated from God. And there, wandering alone without the God he worshipped, others would want to bring him to justice and repay him an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Cain can almost hear the drumbeats of justice and the shouts from the mob: “Cain, you took a life, and it is only fair that we take yours!”

Cain cries out: “O God, the punishment that I deserve is too much to bear!”

Now what happens next in this story should not surprise any of us who call ourselves Christian.

I hear many people say that the Bible paints two very different portraits of God. They say that the God of the Old Testament was a God of wrath, judgment and vengeance, a God of Hell, fire and brimstone; whereas, the God of the New Testament is a God of love, grace and mercy. I suspect this may be part of the reason that while some say they believe in love and grace, they make it very clear with their words and deeds, that they also believe in judgment and condemnation.

However, I believe God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and I believe God is love. I believe God will always be love, and I believe God has always been love. Many point to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and talk about God punishing the first two humans by kicking them out of the garden; however, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago in a sermon, the story is about the human consequences of knowing good and evil, and consequently, our shame. And it is a story about a God who deals with our shame by clothing us with grace, as God made garments of skin to cover Adam and Eve’s shame.

Furthermore, in the next chapter, when Cain, who deserves to die for killing Abel, fears that his life is over, God emphatically says, “Not so!” God then reaches down and puts a mark of grace on Cain. Moreover, God’s grace followed Cain, even in that place east of Eden called Nod, even in that place Cain believed to be outside of God’s presence.

Thus, proving in the very beginning of all that is, that there is not, has never been, and will never be, anything in all of creation that can ever separate us from the love of God.

And there, East of Eden in the land of Nod, you know I believe Cain still became angry at the unfairness of the world; however, I do not believe Cain ever again allowed that anger to get the best of him. I like to believe than having been marked by unearned grace, having received unconditional love and having been given undeserved mercy, it became almost second-nature for Cain to use the energy from his anger to counter the inequities and injustices of the world, no longer with hateful and murderous thoughts, but with the same grace, love and mercy that was given to him.

For Cain in the Old Testament had discovered the same good news the Apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament had discovered, that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. When he was once known as Saul of Tarsus and led in the persecution of Christians, Paul was also guilty of murdering the innocent. If anyone in the Bible deserved to die it was Paul. Killing Paul would be fair and just. Yet, through Christ Jesus, Paul was marked forever with an undeserved forgiveness, an amazing grace, and his mark is still being used to today to share this grace with people everywhere living East of Eden.

The story of the world’s first two brothers has much teach us about unfairness.  No, life is not fair. But the good news is, neither is grace. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray.

O God, thank you for your amazing grace that has been evident in this world since time began. Help us to share this good news with all people, in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

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God Is Love: Yesterday, Today and Forever

same yesterday today and forever

I hear many people say that the Bible paints two very different portraits of God. They say that the God of the Old Testament was a God of wrath, judgment and vengeance, a God of Hell, fire and brimstone; whereas, the God of the New Testament was a God of love, grace and mercy. I suspect this may be part of the reason that while some say they believe in love and grace, they make it very clear with their words and deeds, that they also believe in judgment and condemnation.

However, I believe God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and I believe God is love. Therefore, God will always be love, and God has always been love. Many point to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and talk about God punishing the first two humans by kicking them out of the garden; however, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago in a sermon, the story is about the human consequences of knowing good and evil, and consequently, our shame. And it is a story about a God who deals with our shame by clothing us with grace, as God made garments of skin to cover Adam and Eve’s shame.

Furthermore, in the next chapter, when Cain, who deserves to die for killing his brother Abel, fears that his life is over, God emphatically says, “Not so!” God then reaches down and puts a mark of grace on Cain. Moreover, God’s grace followed Cain, even in that place east of Eden called Nod, even in that place that Cain believed was outside of God’s presence.

Thus, proving in the very beginning of all that is, that there is not, has never been, and will never be, anything in all of creation that can separate us from the love of God.

Happy 47th Birthday Bobby Hodge, Jr.

In many of my sermons and writings, I am quick to point out what is wrong with the church today. I have even defended some who are not a part of a church by saying: “They have not given up on Jesus. They love Jesus. They want to follow Jesus. They simply do not see Jesus in the church. All they see in the church are hypocritical and judgmental people who think they are more righteous than those who do not think, act and look like them.” And sadly, a part of me realizes that I can preach love and grace every Sunday, and I can write about it every day, and I will never be able to change the minds of many who have given up on the church.

This is why I wished everyone could come to First Christian Church of Farmville, NC, for at least one Sunday, and worship with Bobby Hodge, Jr. who suffers with cerebral palsy.

I wished they could come into the front door on the corner of Church and Main at 10:55 am on Sunday, walk through the narthex, make an immediate right, and be greeted by Bobby who they will find sitting faithfully in his wheelchair, ready to worship and to give thanks to his God. I wished they could see his smile, experience his joy, shake his hand, and hear him call their name, as he does mine, “Good morning Jarrett Banks. It’s good to see you today.”

I wished they could hear Bobby, who has never been able to walk, who has always had trouble which his speech, who has always been in constant pain, ask me to pray during the service for his caregiver or for a neighbor who has not been feeling well. I wished they could hear Bobby remind me before the service to make an announcement about the CROP walk to raise money for those who are hungry.

I wished they could hear little Bobby sing the great hymns of faith and pray the Lord’s Prayer in unison with the congregation. I wished they could share the Lord’s Supper alongside of Bobby, listen to Christ tell Bobby and tell them, “This is my body which is broken for you. This is my blood shed for you.”

I wished they could watch Bobby as he listens intently to the sermon. I wished they could be there on a Sunday when I say something about God’s love that strikes a special chord within Bobby and hear him shout out loud: “You got that right!”

I wished they could speak to him after a sermon I may preach about spiritual gifts, about God giving all people, regardless of who they are, gifts to serve others through the church, and hear Bobby say: “I have served as a deacon. I have served on committees. I have raised more money for CROP walk and the hungry than anyone. I can do anything for God I want to do, and I do it all from a wheelchair.”

I wished they could hear Bobby speak to someone who has just joined the church as he says: “We are so glad to have you in our church. Please call me day or night and let me know if I can ever do anything for you.”

Yes, I wished every person, who thinks Jesus is not in the church, could come to First Christian Church of Farmville at least one Sunday morning and worship with Bobby Hodge, Jr.

Thank you Bobby for the way you reveal and share Jesus with so many. Thank you for being what is right with the church today. And Happy 47th Birthday!

The Church Is in the Clothing Business

clothing businessThis article for the Farmville Enterprise is an excerpt from the sermon Clothing One Another with Grace.

In the beginning, God walks through the garden and meets Adam and Eve where they are. They are naked, exposed, and what’s worse, they know it. All has been laid bare. All of their mess is out there, and they could not be more frightened and ashamed.

Then God does for Adam and Eve something that they cannot do for themselves. They cannot deal with their shame. They cannot deal with their sin. The reality of who they were, what they had become and where they were going was too much for them to bear. As revealed in every act of Jesus of Nazareth, God responds to their shame by amazingly bending to the ground, using God’s own hands, and creating garments of skin, and lovingly and very graciously clothes Adam and Eve. The good news is that God responds to their nakedness, to all of their fear and shame, by amazingly clothing them with grace.

I believe with all of my heart that this is one of our primary purposes as a community of faith. We are to always be a community of grace. If people cannot come through the doors of the church and take off their masks, stop the charade, and honestly lay bare all of their sin and all of their grief, knowing that they will never be judged, looked down upon or condemned, then I do not believe we are a church. I am not sure what type of business we’re running, but we are not a church, we are not a community of grace. As a church we are to always be in the business of yearning to meet people where they are, so we can be with them, so we can walk alongside of them, so we can listen to them, learn from them, forgive them and love them.

As the church, I believe we are in the clothing business. We are to always be in the business of bending ourselves to the ground, using our own hands, our resources and our talents, to clothe one another, to clothe all people, with the grace of God in the name of Jesus the Christ.

Why This Christian Pastor Is Pro-Choice: It’s Personal

abortion-debate

Introduction

As a married, father-of-two, Christian pastor who was raised in the rural South as an evangelical Southern Baptist, many are quick to make many assumptions about me.

The most prevalent assumption is that I am on the Pro-Life side of the abortion debate, as many assume that one simply cannot be both a Christian and Pro-Choice. Many believe it is a black and white issue, a simple decision between good and evil, life and murder.

As a married, father-of-two, Christian pastor, I strongly support the 1973 decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Roe v. Wade. And, of course, I do not believe I am making a decision to choose evil. My convictions about abortion are strong, because my convictions are personal.

My Personal Story

It was the summer 1993. My wife Lori and I had been married five years and were expecting our first child. I had graduated from seminary the previous year and was serving with my first church as a Southern Baptist pastor in rural, Northeast Georgia. At our first OB/GYN appointment in Athens, we were told that our baby was due to be born on November 25.

During the last week of July, we drove to Athens for a highly anticipated appointment with our OB/GYN. We were scheduled to have an ultrasound that would hopefully determine the sex of our child. I remember being more excited than anxious about this appointment. The baby was already moving and kicking quite a bit. Lori would often call to me from another room in the house asking me to rush over to her. She would grab my hand and place it on the exact spot the baby was kicking so I could share her excitement. Lori was clearly showing at this time as strangers were beginning to approach us in public to offer their congratulations and to inquire when our baby was due.

As the doctor moved the ultrasound wand around on Lori’s abdomen and the black, white, and gray images of our baby appeared on a computer screen, I remember feeling like a wide-eyed child at Christmas getting a glimpse of the best present I could ever receive. We immediately heard a very strong and fast heartbeat. We then saw the outline of a head and a face. We saw arms, hands, legs, feet, even toes. After a minute or so, I impatiently asked: “Can you tell if it is a boy or a girl?”

Following my question, my anticipation heightened as there was a brief period of silence in the room, with the exception of the loud echo of a rapid heartbeat. Finally, the silence was broken as the doctor said, “It is really difficult to tell sometimes with our outdated equipment.” He moved the wand around for another minute and said, “The equipment that they have in Atlanta is far more advanced than mine. We probably need to make an appointment for you.” But before I could express any disappointment, he added: “There’s also something else going on that needs a better look.” He then handed the wand to the nurse and asked for us to come to his office where he would make an appointment for us to go to Atlanta. It was at that moment that my excitement was completely replaced by anxiety. Suddenly I no longer cared if it was a boy or a girl.

In his office, our doctor tried to break the news to us as compassionately as he could break it. It was obvious that he was struggling to communicate. At first, he seemed to blame the bulk of his concern on what he called his “antiquated ultrasound equipment.” I remember being irritated as I had no sympathy for the envy he possessed towards the doctors in Atlanta. As he seemed to be avoiding telling us anything specific, frustrated, I remember asking him directly, “But you suspect that there could be something wrong with our baby. Don’t you?”

He responded, “Yes.” A wave of anxiety came over me intensifying my stress. But then he added, “Again, you need another ultrasound before we can really determine how bad it is.”

It was a long and difficult two weeks before we could see the doctor in Atlanta.  Every time our baby moved or kicked, it produced a wide-range of emotions in both of us. We did not know whether to cry, giving into grief; or smile, opening ourselves to the prospects of hope. Of course, hope is what we wanted. It is much easier to hope than it is to accept anything that brings grief. We asked one another: “How can there be something wrong with a baby whose heart is strong?” We conjectured: “Perhaps the more advanced ultrasound equipment in Atlanta will tell us that everything is ok.” The second week in August, we nervously drove to Atlanta holding on to hope, even if was just a sliver.

I will never forget the way we were greeted by the medical team we met in Atlanta. They could not have been more hospitable and caring. After they greeted us like family, we proceeded to an examination room for the ultrasound. Again, as soon as the gel on the wand touched Lori’s abdomen, we heard the heartbeat, a beat that was so strong that it could not help but to grow that little sliver of hope. As he moved the wand, we could see the same beautiful images, perhaps a little clearer, that we saw in Athens. We easily recognized a beautiful head, but this time, we saw more pronounced facial features, a nose, lips, even eyes. Again, limbs, hands, feet, fingers and toes came into focus. Nevertheless, I still did not possess enough hope to allow one thought to cross my mind about trying to determine the sex of our unborn child.

The doctor, who had been attentive yet quiet during the entire exam, spoke for the first time by pointing out a curvature in the spine. He called it a “neural tube defect.” This was the first time I had ever heard of a “neural tube.” However, upon hearing the term, one does not need to be familiar with the importance of the neural tube to be alarmed, as the word “defect” that was attached to it is more than enough to cause one’s heart to sink, especially when it is said to describe your unborn child’s spine.

Immediately following the ultrasound, we met with the team of doctors, nurses and a genetic counselor in a large consultation room. In a compassionate, yet straightforward way, we were told that our baby’s spine “twisted,” probably during the early weeks of the pregnancy, and prevented the formation of an abdominal cavity. We were told that although our baby seemed to have healthy organs, there was nothing to contain those organs. Surgery was not an option. Our baby will certainly die during the birthing process. A counselor put her hand on Lori’s shoulders and handed her a tissue to wipe tears from her face.

The team graciously addressed all of our questions. They told us that many severe neural tube defects end in miscarriage in the first trimester, but in some unfortunate cases such as ours, they do not. They assured us that we could soon try again to have a child, as they believed the defect was more of an anomaly than it was genetic. They then presented us with our options.

One option was to do nothing but wait until the pregnancy reaches full term and the baby is able to be born naturally or by C-section. However, because of the severity of the defect, we would be unable to hold our dead child, and may not want to see him or her. Our baby’s remains would be immediately prepared for a funeral service.

abortoin-is-murderThe second option was to terminate the pregnancy immediately. However, if we chose this option, it would be considered an abortion, and due to the political climate of the day, there was only one hospital in the state of Georgia which would perform an abortion this late in the pregnancy. He said that we could go to several clinics, but we may have to endure picket signs and possibly hecklers from religious groups opposed to abortion. The thought of my wife, who was still wiping tears from her eyes, being called a “murderer” or a “baby killer” by people claiming to follow Jesus, people who had no idea who we were, or what we were going through, made me furious. We were also told that although our child had a strong heartbeat, because of politics, for the record they would state that our child had “no viable heartbeat.”

Although the second option sounded dishonest, even illegal, it was obvious to us that it was the best, most compassionate option. I could not imagine Lori waiting three more months, feeling the baby move and kick, feeling another life inside of her, all the while knowing that this life will never have a chance. We scheduled an appointment for a procedure to end the pregnancy two days later.

That night, we checked into an Atlanta hotel to await our next appointment. The grief we experienced was immense. All of our dreams for the future were suddenly taken away from us. Furthermore, although the doctors and genetic counselors assured us we could one day have a child, we knew that in life there were never any guarantees.

That evening, we decided to go see a movie to try to get our mind off our grief. Although I never second guessed our decision to terminate the pregnancy, our decision was affirmed by a stranger as we stood in line to purchase our movie tickets. A woman who was also obviously expecting to have a baby approached us. She smiled and said, “Aww. When is your baby due?”

My chest tightened as I looked at Lori and saw tears begin to well up in her eyes once more. I was amazed when Lori smiled at the stranger and said, “November 25.” She then somehow found the courage to graciously reciprocate the question. Politely, she asked the woman who was glowing with anticipation, “When is your baby due?” So much for us trying to escape our grief.

During the movie, Lori put her hands on her abdomen and told me that the baby was moving. I thought to myself that these next two days were going to be a living hell. I could not imagine asking Lori to wait three more months, not only feeling the baby’s movement, but to endure more oohing and awing and questions from well-meaning strangers, for me, was as unconscionable as it was inhumane. As I watched the movie that I really never watched, I remember thanking God for the gift of medical science and compassionate physicians that could help bring healing and wholeness to our broken lives.

As planned, two days later, the pregnancy was terminated in the hospital without complications. However, as the next several weeks and even months proved, terminating the pregnancy did nothing to immediately heal our enormous grief. When we came home from the hospital, Lori went to bed and stayed there for nearly a week. She did not feel like talking to anyone. During that mournful week Lori would not even talk to her mother, who called several times a day, every day.

Now, over twenty years later, our grief has long subsided as Lori and I are the proud parents of a 19-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter. However, because of our experience, I continue to possess a very personal interest in the abortion debate which continues in our country.

Conclusion

The abortion debate centers around the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973. If many evangelical Christians had their way, and the Roe v. Wade decision was overturned in 1993, Lori would have been forced by the government to endure three more months of her pregnancy. Although her physical health was not in danger, as mentioned above, I cannot imagine the psychological trauma that continuing the doomed pregnancy would incur upon Lori. Today, we continue to be grateful to God for the healing gift of medical science, a compassionate team of doctors and nurses, and for the opportunity and freedom to make a safe and humane choice, a choice that we and our doctors believed would bring us the most wholeness and healing.

The issue of abortion is a complicated one. Like every person I have ever talked to about the subject, I do not believe abortion should be used as birth control. As a follower of Jesus who gave his life standing up for the rights of the poor and the marginalized (he also stood up for the rights of women who were treated unjustly by a patriarchal system), I believe very strongly in the sanctity of life. This is the reason I do not support capital punishment. However, the decision to terminate a pregnancy is a personal and oftentimes complicated matter. Thus, I believe the only ones who should be a part of that decision are the parents of the unborn child, especially the mother, the doctors and God. The government should not be involved.

I fully understand the strong, moral desire of Christians to limit abortions in America. However, I do not think a government can legislate morality. This is why I believe the church should always be strong proponents of sex education and of the use of contraceptives. Unfortunately, the church has been either silent when it comes to sex education and contraceptives or has flat-out discouraged both. It is strange to me that many Christians who are against the Roe v. Wade decision are supportive of the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision to deny women healthcare coverage for contraceptives. It is also interesting to me that many Christians who claim to support a limited government are also the same ones who believe the government should be involved in matters as personal as pregnancies.

Life is not easy. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made. Sometimes the solutions are not black and white. Sometimes those decisions are not between a clear good and a clear evil. Sometimes we are forced to choose the lesser of two evils. I want to live in a country where I am free to prayerfully make such difficult choices, especially choices that are so personal in nature, without any interference from the government.

2007 Disicples of Christ Resolution Regarding Abortion

Grace in Genesis: Adam and Eve

adam and eve

Genesis 3 NRSV

How often have you watched a pet dog sprawled all out in the middle of the day, taking a nap, and thought to yourself: “Must be nice!?” Would you just look at Max or Buddy or Bella or Lucy? Not a single care in the world! They’re in paradise! No job. No bills to pay. No groceries to buy. No dishes to wash. Never has to stand in line at Wal-Mart. No knowledge whatsoever of good and evil. No knowledge of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. No knowledge of the plight of undocumented immigrants in this country. They know of no friends who forsook them or disappointed them. Unaware of any sick family members.  Absolutely ambivalent to the certainty that they will one day die. Unmindful that they are even a dog. And utterly oblivious to the reality that they are sprawled all out on the living room floor completely naked. No shame whatsoever.

Sounds to me like two of the first Bible characters we ever learned, the two who represent all of humanity, that still, even today, represent you and me: Adam and Eve. That is, before they ate that apple…or orange or peach or fig. Whatever it was, before they ate that fruit from the tree of knowledge, they were just happy-go-lucky animals sprawled all out in a paradise with no knowledge of good and evil whatsoever: no knowledge of death and disease; no awareness of pain and grief; not even a clue that they would ever have to work hard to make a living; unaware that they were broken, fragmented, and sinful creatures; unmindful that they were even human, humans who in their self-centeredness will continually disobey the Creator’s commands and abuse the creation which that had been graciously given.

And they were also unmindful of the danger that lurked in their own paradise, that crafty serpent: that symbol of everything chaotic and evil, that enigmatic, yet personal force of temptation that somehow, we have no explanation of why, was already present, preexisting and existing in the garden alongside of humanity. And because of this unholy force or presence or energy, the sordid self-centeredness of Adam and Eve, along with the knowledge of good and evil was suddenly made known. The shame of who they knew they were, the shame of what they had become and the shame of where they were going became almost too much for them to bear.

For who has not said: “I wished I never knew!” “I wished you hadn’t told me that!” “I would be so much better off if I just didn’t know!”  Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Sometimes ignorance is paradise.

However, Adam and Eve, humanity, each one of us, we live in a world where we all know way too much, where we’re too smart for our own good.  We live in a world with a full knowledge that all is broken, with a full knowledge of pain and suffering, stress and strife, sadness and grief. Furthermore, we live in a world where we know we are going to one day die.

We also live in a world where we make countless mistakes, and we know it. We are selfish, and we know it. We live to save our lives, protect our lives, look after number one at the expense of everyone else, and we know it. We know we have done some terrible things, and we know we have not done some good things, which is equally, if not more terrible. With our cursed knowledge, we can easily relate to the Apostle Paul’s words to the Romans:  “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:18-19).

And because we know, we live with a lot of shame. And we spend much of our energy, time and resources trying to cover it, hide it, masquerade it.

I have always been a terrible golfer, and because of that, I really have not played much in the last few years. However, when I used to play more, I would make sure I always wore the latest styles in golf apparel and footwear. I always had a new golf glove to wear and a nice golf bag with my shiny and very organized clubs. My thinking was: “If couldn’t play good, dadgummit, I was going to look good.”

Thus, I can easily relate to Adam and Eve on that cool evening when they ran, on that cool evening when they hid themselves from the presence of God whom they heard walking through the garden. Surely Adam and Eve know by now that you can run, but you cannot hide.

God then asks a question that is as liberating as it is frightening. It is a fascinatingly miraculous question when one considers the one who is doing the asking: “Where are you? Where are you? God, the creator of all that is, loves us so much that God yearns not only to be with us personally and intimately, but desires to be with us… where we are. Where we truly and honestly are, behind the masks and apparel, behind the allusions we have created, behind acts we portray.

As we sang today before communion: God wants to know of all the sins and griefs we bear. God wants to know our pain, our trials, our temptations, our trouble, our sorrows, and our every weakness. God wants to know if we are in a place where we are heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care, in a place where our friends despise or forsake us.

God calls out to Adam and Eve, to all of humanity, to each one of us: ‘Where are you? Because wherever you are, that is the place I want to be. So, please do not hide from me. Do not run away from me. Please, do not be afraid and do not be ashamed. I want more than anything else to know you, to know you for who you really are. You don’t have to come to me. Let me come to you, find you, be with you, walk alongside of you. Let me love you.”

Adam comes out behind the trees and responds, “But God I am naked!” All of me is uncovered, out in the open. My true colors are laid bare for the entire world to see. All of my failures, all of my fears, all of my brokenness, all of my self-centeredness, all of my mess is out there, completely exposed. You, O God, have created us to lose ourselves, and all I want to do is to find myself, to save myself, protect myself. God, I am a sinner, and what’s worse, now I know it. And I am so ashamed.

Then God does for Adam and Eve something that they cannot do for themselves. They cannot deal with their shame. They cannot deal with their sin. The reality of who they were, what they had become and where they were going was too much for them to bear.

As revealed in every act of Jesus of Nazareth, God responds to their shame by doing something amazing. God bends God’s self to the ground, uses God’s own hands, and creates garments of skin, and lovingly and very graciously clothes Adam and Eve.

I am reminded of the story of Jesus when the religious leaders bring a woman to him who was caught in the very act of adultery. The story seems to suggest that she was brought before Jesus naked, completely exposed, if not literally, most certainly figuratively. What horrifying shame this woman must have experienced. Jesus responds to her shame by bending himself to the ground, and writing something in the sand with his hands. We are not told what he wrote or why he wrote. Maybe he really did not write anything. Maybe it was just a gracious gesture to turn the eyes of the crowd, if just for a moment, off of the woman, so she could cover herself, pull herself back together. Then, after he revealed to the woman that he knew all about her, how he knew all her sin and shame, Jesus turns to the religious leaders and says: “Let those without sin and shame cast the first stone.” And in saying this Jesus clothes this poor woman, not with garments, but with grace.

God meets Adam and Eve where they truly are. They are naked, exposed. And what’s worse, unlike little Max or Buddy, Bella or Lucy sprawled out naked on your living room floor, Adam and Eve are naked and exposed, and they know it. All has been laid bare, and they could not be more frightened and ashamed.

And God responds to their nakedness, God responds to all of their fear and shame, by amazingly clothing them with grace.

And here is the good news. The good news is that the only thing that may be more frightening than being fully known, completely naked, exposed for who we really are, all our sins and griefs laid bare, is perhaps the prospect of never ever being fully known, the prospects of going through this life without anyone ever truly knowing us, and then accepting us, loving us, clothing us with grace. Thanks be to God that God wants to know us, every part of us, and then God still wants to love us and forgive us.

I believe with all of my heart that this is one of our primary purposes as a community of faith. First and foremost, we are to always be a community of grace. If people cannot come through our doors, take off their masks, stop the charade, and honestly lay bare all of their sin and all of their griefs, knowing that they will never be judged, looked down upon or condemned, then I do not believe we are a church. I am not sure what type of business we are, but we are not a church, we are not a community of grace. As a church we are to always be in the business of yearning to meet people where they are, so we can be with them, so we can walk alongside of them, so we can listen to them, learn from them, forgive them and love them.

As the church, we are to always be in the clothing business. We are to always be in the business of bending ourselves to the ground, using our own hands, our resources and our talents, to clothe one another, to clothe all people, with the grace of God in the name of Jesus the Christ.