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.