Grace in Genesis: Tower of Babel

Tower_of_Babel

Genesis 11:1-9 NRSV

The pastor stands up behind the pulpit, clears his throat, and announces: “This morning we are going to talk about race and racism.”

All over the sanctuary the congregation winces, and beg under their breaths: “Preacher, please don’t do it, for you’re about to open up a giant can of worms!”

But the old preacher, who has opened up more cans of worms than anyone could possibly count, ignores the grimaces and metaphorically gets out the can opener.

I hear many people in the church say that we should not talk about race or make race an issue. However, I believe we make it an issue when we pretend that it is a non-issue. I believe we do great harm to the cause of Christ when we ignore racism or deny that it exists. Furthermore, if we are to accept and do the will of God that I believe is revealed in the story of the Tower of Babel, the church must be willing to openly talk about race and the inherent racism that is prevalent in our families, our town, our region, our world, even in our own hearts.

In the eleventh chapter of Genesis we read:

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

The whole earth was one. One language. One people. One tribe. One race. And they all came together to live in one place. They all came together to build something special, something big, something wonderful that would be a symbol of their unity, pride and patriotism.

Now, what is not to like about that?

Unity, oneness, togetherness, harmony, people of the same minds living in one accord.  Isn’t that the aspiration of all? Isn’t true that great minds think alike? Isn’t this the will of our God, God’s great purpose for humanity?

So what’s not to like in this seemingly perfect picture of unity in Genesis chapter 11? As it turns out, according to God, the creator of all that is, not very much.

Let’s look at God’s reaction to this oneness in verse 7 of our story: “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”  So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth…”

What? Are you serious? What is wrong with this great portrait of human unity, of one race of people, one nation, under God indivisible, all of one mind, coming together to make a name for themselves, to build great things, to be on top of the world, to celebrate their purity and pride as one master race?

The truth is that the builders of the great tower in Shinar had accomplished not what God wants for humanity, but what many throughout history, including the likes of Adolf Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan, have wanted for humanity: One master race of people coming together to form one supreme social order, one culture, sharing the same ideals, values and moral principles. Diversity is a threat. Diversity is something to fear. Diversity is something to segregate and discriminate. Diversity is something to send to the gas chambers or lynch in a tree.

I am not sure if anyone in my lifetime has articulated the thinking of the people of Shinar better than Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker back in 1999. Some of you may remember his response when he was asked by Sports Illustrated if he would ever play for the New York Mets or New York Yankees.

Rocker said:

I’d retire first. It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the number 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing… The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there.[i]

The story of the Tower of Babel teaches us that what John Rocker said racked his nerves in the world is what God wills for the world. In verse 4 we read that the purpose of building the tower was to avoid what depressed John Rocker on the No. 7 train leaving Manhattan for Queens, and to avoid what John Rocker heard in Times Square. The purpose of settling in Shinar and building that tower was to live in a world with no foreigners, no confusing babbling in the streets, no queers or kids with purple hair to encounter on the way to work, no eating in the marketplace with people on strange diets, no rubbing elbows with people wearing weird clothes, head coverings or dots on their foreheads. So they came together and said, let’s build a tower of unity “to not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” And God’s reaction to this racial purity and pride was to “scatter them over the face of the whole earth,” to create a world of diverse languages and cultures, to create a world of foreigners.

God was only accomplishing what God had always willed for the creation: diversity. In chapter one of Genesis, we read that the original plan for creation was for humankind to “multiply and fill the earth.” And after the flood in chapter ten we read where God sanctions and wills all nations to be “spread out over the earth.” (Gen 10:32). Simply put, from the very beginning of time, in spite of our will, in spite of our fear and our racial pride, God wills diversity.

Therefore, if we ever act or speak in any manner that denigrates or dehumanizes another because of their race, language, nationality or ethnicity, we are actually disparaging the God who willed such diversity. According to Genesis, diversity is not to be feared, avoided, prevented or lynched. If we want to do the will of God our creator and redeemer, diversity is to be embraced. In other words, if we love God, we will also love our neighbor. And this is what God wants us to be united by. It is why Jesus called it the greatest commandment—love God and our neighbors as ourselves. Love is what should unite us; not racial pride or patriotism.

The story of the Tower of Babel belongs to the same genre of the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and Noah and the Flood. They are considered to be “pre-history stories.”[ii] That is, they are describing God’s relationship to the world before the call of Abraham and the history of the Jewish people. It amazes me how God in each of these stories is so often misinterpreted by Christians who believe that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath; not a God of grace. They say that they believe Jesus Christ is God; however, they fail to see Christ in these stories.

Consequently, God is often seen as one who curses Adam and Eve by kicking them out of the garden instead of as one who bends to the ground and clothes them with grace. God is seen as someone who curses Cain by sending him to the land of Nod, instead of as one who protects his life with a mark of grace. God is seen as one who curses all of humanity with a great flood with the exception of one family, instead of one who makes a decision to graciously suffer alongside all of humanity. And here in this story, God is seen as one who curses the builders of the tower by scattering them over the face of the earth, instead of being seen as one who reacts to racial pride and unity by fulfilling the purpose of creation from the very beginning, filling the earth, by graciously creating diverse languages, races and cultures.

The tragic irony is that throughout history many have used the story of the Tower of Babel to support slavery, apartheid, segregation and other forms of racism. Bob Jones University once used this story to ban interracial dating on campus. However, this story teaches something very different. The story of the Tower of Babel is God’s gracious stamp of approval, of blessing, on every race, every tribe, and every language in every land. It is the fulfillment of God’s original purpose for creation. The song we learned as little children cannot be more true: “Red, yellow, black and white, they are all precious in God’s sight.” God is not color-blind, as I hear some say, for God creates, wills, blesses and loves color. And it is this love that unites us all, as we have all been created to harmoniously see humanity as God sees it: as a beautiful, diverse, colorful rainbow created by, sanctioned by, and graced by God.

As a Bible-believing Christian, it confounds me when I hear that another, supposedly, Bible-believing Christian, has decided to put their house on the market and move because a person or a family of another race has moved into their neighborhood. I often think about this story in the first book of our Bible that describes a beautiful and diverse creation willed by God. But I also think about a passage in the last book of our Bible that describes an eternity willed by God. And I wonder what in the world these people, who claim to be Christian, are going to do if they do get to that place they think they are going after they die to live forever and ever.

Because guess what? According to Revelation, heaven looks more like Times Square and that No. 7 train on the way from Manhattan to Queens than some affluent suburb outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

In Revelation 7, we read these words:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’  And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures [each representing the diversity of all creation], and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’

[i] Read more: John Rocker – At Full Blast – York, Braves, City, and League – JRank Articles http://sports.jrank.org/pages/4014/Rocker-John-At-Full-Blast.html#ixzz39oVUCEtA

[ii] See Walter Brueggemann Genesis

 

Other Sermons in this Series:

Grace in Genesis: Adam and Eve

Grace in Genesis: Cain and Abel

Grace in Genesis: Noah

 

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Grace in Genesis: Noah

Rainbow-flood-ark

Genesis 6-9 NRSV

The Ebola virus is spreading throughout the world, recently killing a renowned doctor. Financial turmoil has seized Argentina. A Malaysian plane was shot down over Ukraine, and fierce fighting has broken out around the wreckage. The death toll rises in Gaza as deadly violence occurs every day. Israel has attacked a UN school killing 20 evacuees. Mobs of Islamic militants have killed dozens in China. Christians in Iraq are being murdered for their faith. An unprecedented crisis at our own border continues. Immigrant families are being torn apart. Kidnapped Nigerian girls for whom churches all over the world prayed, including ours, are still missing. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright summed up the state of the world last week in one simple sentence: “To put it mildly, the world is a mess.”

I am sure I am not the only preacher to point out that the state of the world today is reminiscent of a story found in the early chapters of Genesis. It begins just one chapter after of the story of Cain and Abel, the world’s first two brothers. In Genesis 6 we read:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

In other words, the state of the world, the state of the human heart, caused God great suffering. Other translations read that the state of the world “broke God’s heart.”

We know the rest of the story. The Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created” and in Genesis 7, we read that for forty days and nights the rains fell as God intended to start the whole thing over with Noah and his family.

It is an absolutely dreadful chapter. Whoever that first person was who decided to sentimentalize the holocaust of Genesis 7 into some sweet, adorable bedtime story for children needed to have their head and quite possibly their soul examined.

And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth.

We even teach our children silly songs to dull the horror:

The ark started moving, it drifted with the tide The unicorns looked up from the rocks and they cried And the waters came down and sort of floated them away That’s why you never see unicorns to this very day.

“Sort of floated them away.” That’s certainly a nice way to put it.

The scene is horrific; however, it makes perfect sense to many of us. And some of us, deep down, may even like it. For this is how we would rule if we were God; thus, this is how we like to picture our God. Our God is an awesome God. There is “thunder in his footsteps and lightening in his fists.” If you are wicked and evil, if you are mean and hateful, if you are not a Christian, you better look out, for our God will come down and blot you out! Our God controls the sea, creates and steers the hurricanes, breathes tornadoes and spits wildfires, speaks earthquakes and sends or withholds the rain. Our God is an immovable force with which to be reckoned. Our God is a volcanic eruption, an avalanche, a tsunami, a hail storm, and a great flood. After all, we don’t call those things acts of God for nothing. So you better be believing, be shaping up, be straightening out, and be getting yourself right. This is the portrait of the God made in our own image.

However, in spite of what we may have learned in Sunday School, and in spite of what we may want to believe, this is NOT the portrait of the God that is painted in the story of Noah. The God of Noah is not an immovable force that stands safely behind, lords comfortably over, or reigns painlessly above the brokenness and suffering of humankind. The God of Noah is very much moved by it, broken by it. The God of Noah grieves and suffers with, alongside it, in it, and through it.

Just one chapter after the flood scene, the futility of the intentions of the God made in our own image to rid the world of evil became painfully obvious, as the state of the world had not changed. It is the concept, the understanding of God that changes. After the flood “…the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.’”

In the following chapter, we read where the rainbow is forever a beautiful reminder of this great promise.

Sadly, I believe we tend to forget what this promise truly means. Perhaps it is due to the selfish inclination that we have had since our youth. But for whatever reason, we tend to only remember that the rainbow means that God will never again try to “blot us out.” Selfishly, we think the rainbow is about us.

However, this promise means so much more. And it is not about us at all. It is about who our God truly is and how our God acts and relates to this world. The rainbow means that our God has freely and deliberately chosen a path of suffering. God has intentionally chosen to grieve. The rainbow is a reminder to each of us that the state of our world, the state of our hearts, continually breaks the very heart of our God.

And again, those of us who call ourselves “Christians” or “Disciples of Christ” should not be surprised.

There is a reason that when we read the words of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah about “a man of suffering acquainted with infirmity who is wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities,” there is no doubt in our minds to whom the prophet is referring.  And I do not think it is a coincidence that we find following words in the very next chapter:

“With everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer, “This is like the days of Noah to me: Just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

Our God is an awesome God. But not because God is an immovable force to be reckoned with. Our God is an awesome God because our God is a suffering and grieving, merciful and gracious, compassionate and deeply-moved Spirit who beckons us to join with this Spirit in a loving relationship.

There is a reason Jesus said to his disciples that the “Son of Man must suffer many things.” It is the very nature of who our God is. There is a reason whenever Jesus encounters human suffering, sickness and death, the gospel writers tell us that he was moved at the very core of his being with compassion.  There is a reason at the death of Lazarus we read, “Jesus wept.” There is a reason Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For unimaginable suffering and inconceivable pain was his lot. Furthermore, there is a reason the soldier standing at the foot of the cross, standing under a bruised, bloody and crucified body exclaimed: “Surely this man was the Son of God” (Matt 27).

There is a reason that each Sunday we break bread, symbolizing the broken body of Christ and drink from a cup symbolizing the shed blood of Christ. And there is a reason those symbols of suffering give us hope and lead us to follow this way. There is a reason we sing: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all”

There is a reason we are called to be with, and minister to, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, the sick, the grieving, the least of these our brothers and sisters. And there is a reason that when we do, we encounter God.

Before I went to seminary and thoroughly studied the scriptures, I used to think that the job as a minister was to have all of the answers for the suffering of this world. Stand above the suffering, over the pain. Thus, when I would visit the hospital or a nursing home or go the home of someone who had just lost a loved one, I thought I was supposed to say something that would bring healing and hope. I thought I was supposed to say something that would bring some type of cure. I was supposed to come with power and might, come with thunder in my footsteps and lightning in my fists, come with a vengeance and a cure, wipe out, blot out the source of their ill. However, I quickly learned that all I really needed to do was just show up, be present and care. Care; not cure. Be present with compassion, which means to suffer with, grieve alongside and hurt together with another. And when I truly care, when I truly have compassion, someway, somehow, I believe God also shows up. And it is through God, through God’s presence and God’s compassion, through God’s suffering and grief, through God sharing the pain with and alongside us, through God’s heart breaking with ours, through God’s care, that a cure comes. Healing and hope and salvation come.

This is the great promise of the rainbow in this world that, to put it mildly, is a mess. And this is the good news of the gospel. This is grace, and this is hope, yesterday, today and forever.  Amen.

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.

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.