September 2, 2018: "Where Are You?"
Where are You?
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-9
Rev. Rhonda Blevins
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
I have a four-year-old who loves to play hide and seek, so we play quite a bit of hide and seek at our house. I’m proud to tell you that I’m better at hide and seek than my four-year-old. He has gotten better—when he was a little younger I’d walk around pretending not to know where he was and say, “Where is Rhys?” and he would inevitably yell “Here I am!” followed by giggles and then a hug and some tickles. At least now he legitimately hides, but his hiding spots are still predictable.
The other day it was my turn to hide. I found the perfect spot in my closet, in the corner behind clothes and a bunch of long scarves. He looked for a long time—he even came into the closet and couldn’t find me. Then he walked back out and presumably went to the other side of the house. I waited and waited. It wasn’t comfortable there in the closet, smashed into a corner with little air to breathe. Occasionally I would pull back some clothes to let some oxygen and cool air in. I waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually I realized that stinker wasn’t looking anymore. I came out of my spot and found him happily playing another game. He gave up on finding me.
God, on the other hand, never gives up.
Like Adam and Eve hiding in the garden, we hide in more ways than we can name. At some point, like little children, we quit saying happily, “Here I am!” when we hear God say, “Where are you?” We get better at hiding—our hiding spots more creative—our masks more sophisticated. But no matter what, God never stops searching.
It’s this idea that inspired the famous poem by English poet Francis Thompson entitled, “The Hound of Heaven.” God is portrayed as a hunting dog, relentless in its pursuit, with unhurried and unflappable pace. So too the grace of God pursues, following the fleeing soul hidden in the many pleasures of this world. Until, at last, the wearied soul yields, allowing grace to triumph.
The story of Adam and Eve is all about grace. Wait, what? Isn’t this the story where “original sin” enters the human race? Isn’t this the story where the first humans were disobedient, disrupting a perfect utopia? Isn’t this the story where that woman tricked Adam into disobedience? When God asked Adam, “Did you eat from the forbidden tree,” Adam’s response is comical—“It was that woman you gave me!”
Renowned biblical scholar Walter Bruggemann tells us, “No text in Genesis (or likely the entire Bible) has been more used, interpreted, and misunderstood than this text.” Brueggemann goes on to state that this text isn’t about “the fall” and it doesn’t offer itself as the reason why evil entered into the world. In fact, this idea of “original sin” didn’t enter Christian thought until some 400 years after Jesus. St. Augustine coined the term. Father Richard Rohr laments Augustine’s idea of original sin hitting mainstream theology, suggesting, “We got by for three centuries without it!” Rohr suggests that Augustine (for all the positive things he did) messed up when he chose Genesis chapter 3 as the starting point. Think about it:
· Chapter 1 tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and “let us make humankind in our own image,” and “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
· Then in chapter 2 we read about God breathing the breath of life into man, then planting a garden.
Lovely stuff. Before original sin, there was original blessing.
Augustine starts with the problem. He starts with the curse rather than the blessing. He called it “original sin.” It wasn’t anything you did personally. It was done to you by Adam and Eve (especially Eve). Sorry about your luck. With “original sin” as the starting point, everything built upon it is negative. Think about that:
· God: God is depicted as a vindictive jerk for planting that temptation in the garden in the first place.
· Jesus: In this ideology, the only thing that matters about Jesus is his death and resurrection.
· Humanity: Humanity is thought to be depraved (thank you, John Calvin).
· Clergy: “Original sin” requires someone to wash it away. Enter: clergy. (I personally like the job security of this last point!)
I wonder if this negative spirituality is the reason why we don’t have too many young adults here today? I think there are more consequences to this negative theology based on original sin. Let me illustrate with a story:
The Sunday school teacher finished a lesson on Christian behavior and asked,
“Now Billy, tell me what we must do before we can expect to be forgiven for our sins?” Without hesitation, Billy replied, “First we gotta sin.”
Billy’s logic is sound, don’t you think?
“Original sin” has become so entrenched in Christian thought that it’s hard to shake. It pops up in so many of our hymns, for instance. You want to know why I left out verse 3 in the hymn we sang together earlier, (#105) “Grace Greater Than Our Sin?” Not only does it reference the Crimson Tide, which is anathema to a Tennessee fan, not only does it have racist undertones, but the theology is negative and shame-evoking:
Dark is the stain that we cannot hide,
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide—
Whiter than snow you may be today.
When Augustine offered up “original sin” as the starting point upon which all other ideas would be built, Christianity became a shame-based religion. I just don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind. “Original sin” manifests as “original shame.” Dark is the stain that we cannot hide. Who wants to go to church, kids?
Let’s talk about shame for a minute. Different than guilt, which says, “I made a mistake,” shame says, “I am a mistake.” Dark is the stain. Brene Brown, a professor in Texas who has become quite famous for her research on shame, defines shame as, “the intensely powerful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” Shame says two primary things to us:
1. “You’re not good enough,” and
2. “Who do you think you are?”
Shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, bullying, violence, suicide, eating disorders, and the list goes on. Brown says, “Shame is an epidemic in our culture.” Thank you, St. Augustine. No wonder we hide from God when we’re all walking around feeling like we’re deeply flawed. Dark is the stain.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Remember back to the beginning of my message when I told you that “the story of Adam and Eve is all about grace?” Brueggemann points out that the miracle in this story is not that Adam and Eve were punished, but that God allowed them to live. That’s grace.
Not only does God allow them to live, but, well listen to what God does in verse 21:
And the Lord God made garments of skins for the
man and for his wife, and clothed them.
God becomes the nurturing seamstress, loving the children after they messed up, tending their shame.
The invitation today is to come out of hiding. With loving compassion, God will tend your shame too. Original blessing is our birthright as God’s children. Never forget Genesis chapter one: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, [you were] very good.”
“Where are you?” The question God asked of Adam and Eve can be interpreted in two primary ways: an angry god looking for the children in order to punish, or the loving God, eager to be in relationship. How you read this one verse makes all the difference in your theology, your faith, your worldview. God’s wrath, or God’s love?
I choose love. Won’t you?
 Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Genesis. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1973, 41.
 Genesis 1:1, 26, 31.
 Matthew Fox coined the term, “Original Blessing.”