Sunnyside Reformed Church
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed
For the Love of God, Gen 3:1-10, John 13:30-36, 8/5/18, NM
For the Love of God
We tend to read and hear The Bible in bits and pieces. A text or two before the Sunday Service...a snippet of text in our daily prayer book...stories from scripture that we heard growing up...The Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, Moses Parting the Red Sea, Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, Samson and Delilah, David and Goliath, and so on. What we don’t often get is the full sweep of the Biblical narrative. In fact, many of us might wonder - is there a single, binding narrative to scripture? Is it really One Story, or is it a random collection of stories and instructions?
Despite appearances and history, there is indeed a single narrative thread that runs through and binds together all the disparate parts of The Bible as we know it. The Bible is a love story. And there is one character who lives at the center of every Bible story and verse. That character is God. All of the people who appear and compete for the position of Main Character, are actually bit players in a drama that spans millennia. God is at the center of the story and it is God’s Life that we bear witness to.
The Bible is the story of the relationship between God and Humanity. It is a love story because God is ever reaching out to us. Trying in every way possible to break through the barriers that separate the natural and the supernatural worlds - striving to tell Humanity of God’s Infinite Love. At the same time, The Bible bears witness to Humanity’s struggle to satisfy a nameless longing that invests everything we do and say. Biblical humans - like us - often felt that they were incomplete. That something was missing. They did not know what it was, and they struggled to find out.
In their struggles they often failed to see God’s outstretched hand, and thus failed to make the very connection that would have given them peace and fulfillment. In The Bible what we witness is God trying to connect with human beings and getting rejected at almost every turn. Sometimes people would figure it out, and there’d be good times. But then, as time went by, they would forget God again. Or they would start to think they didn’t really need God, or that God didn’t really exist - that they could just go their own way. Inevitably disaster would soon follow. Our reading from Genesis this morning tells the story of the first of those encounters. It’s the Story of Adam and Eve in The Garden of Eden.
Before we talk about Adam and Eve, we need to talk about Free Will. Many theologians have written about that phrase in Genesis where it says that humanity was created in God’s own image. What does that really mean? Many took it to mean that God looks something like a human being. And that was often used as a way of setting human beings above all other creatures on Earth. But I would argue that it has nothing to do with what humans look like and everything to do with our inner life and Free Will.
What happened when humans first used the Divine Gift of Free Will? It’s all written up in Genesis. God - having created human beings - set them free in The Garden of Eden. Only one thing was asked of them. That they would not eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This they promised to do. All was well until The Serpent arrived on the scene and began to whisper in the ear of The Woman. Why are you afraid to eat that fruit? Just because God told you not to? God just wants to hold you back. You and The Man can do whatever you want. God can’t stop you. The only reason God is trying to keep you away from that fruit is that after you eat it you’ll have the same knowledge that God has.
And naturally The Woman took the hint and ate the fruit - which she then proceeded to offer to The Man who naturally - applying his own God-given Free Will - also ate. But it’s not the fact of their disobedience that I want to draw our attention to right now. It’s the end of the reading - the part where God has gone for a walk in The Garden in the cool of the evening - expecting to see and chat with The Woman and The Man. Except on this particular evening they were no place to be found. And so God called out - Adam, where are you?
I am haunted by that phrase for in it - I believe - is all the broken-hearted sorrow of God - who has ever been looking for the reciprocal love of humanity - yet rarely finding it. Adam and Eve were hiding from God. Hiding because, having eaten the fruit, they realized that they were naked...exposed. In the story, after God calls to them, they come out from their hiding places and God saw that they were wearing simple clothing. And when God asked them why, they said, Because we know that we are naked. Now I’ve been thinking about this and I think it’s really about two kinds of nakedness - physical and spiritual. Adam and Eve suddenly understood that God knew them inside and out. Understood that everything they thought or said or felt, had been exposed to God the whole time, and all of a sudden they didn’t like it.
Really consider that for a minute. God knows everything. Every unworthy, sinful, negative, ungenerous thought we have. Knows how truly unworthy we are of the gifts that have been showered on us from above. Starting with the Gift of Life. We’re used to the idea, but Adam and Eve were not. And realizing just how naked they were - they hid. They were still hiding when they came to God’s call - hiding their minds. For one of the things they had learned was how to hide! Of course God was angry. He had had a perfect relationship with them. They had intertwined and interpenetrated one another. All of a sudden that perfect relationship was defiled. Polluted by fear, doubt, pride and self-centeredness.
And so God - according to scripture - cast them out of the Garden. No longer would they find what they needed close at hand. Now they would have to work for their daily bread! There’s actually some anthropological data that suggests this wasn’t so far off the mark. Recently anthropologists have found that hunter-gatherers - people living in the simplest kind of societies - spent relatively little time earning a living. We tend to think of life in those societies as hard and stressful, but that isn’t really true. We now know they spent far more time than we do on recreation - talking, sleeping, storytelling, eating, socializing. Those are the kinds of activities which set the rhythm of life for them.
In any event, Adam and Eve had exercised their Free Will - that which made them like God - but the experiment was not a success. And make no mistake. It was an experiment - both on humanity’s side and on God’s side. God had created companions, had imbued them with the same special attributes that defined God, and at the very moment when they should have been most grateful - they had run away.
God’s new challenge was winning them back. Pulling aside the mental and emotional fig leaves that hid them from God, and once again entering into the perfect communion that had existed at the start.
God’s strategy in that endeavor was to cease trying to encompass all human beings at the same time. Instead, God chose one group of humans on which to try it. That’s pretty much a summary of The OT after The Fall and the events immediately following The Fall. In Genesis 12 God spoke to Abram. And what God told him was that he must leave hearth and home and set out on a journey with no specific destination. Abram listened and did as God asked. That was his great genius. He listened to God. Abram did not try to hide, instead he heard and obeyed. His descendants would be God’s special people. From them God would learn how to connect with the rest.
It didn’t take long for God to realize that not all of Abram’s descendants were like Abram - renamed Abraham. A lot of them were more like Adam and Eve. They hid from God, did not listen and did not obey. Again and again God tried to make contact. Again and again God was turned away empty-handed.
God punished them, God rewarded them, God pampered them, God tested them - God tried everything. Maybe they needed humility? God made them slaves. Maybe they needed to be in a separate country? God gave them Exodus and Canaan. Did they need a King? God didn’t like it, but God gave them kings. Each time something new was tried, it would seem to be working - but then it would fail. What was God to do? God’s love for humanity is infinite - but even so - even so, God was getting discouraged.
The People even came up with a new way to hide. They wrote down all the stories about their relationship with God, and they wrote down God’s instructions to them. Then they endeavored to live by them. All except for one important thing. They began to forget The Heart. The Love of God. They lived by the instructions - on the surface - but they left out the inner meaning. Not all of them. There are always exceptions. Yet even so, most of God’s People were not in communion with God. Some became the kind of people Jesus was constantly complaining about. Scribes and Pharisees. People who appeared to obey. Prayed and preached and followed all the rules. But most had no idea how to hear God’s Voice. God realized that something drastic was called for. And that was when God decided to get some real skin in the game. God decided to become incarnate.
The Bible deals with this in several ways. It talks about the birth of what one writer called The Incognito King. It talks about the fears of the King who ruled in Israel, about the child who argued theology with the rabbis. It speaks of The Son of God. In all of that what we’re seeing is The Incarnation. The Being Who Lives Beyond Time and Space comes to Planet Earth. That’s what happened. God became a human being named Jesus of Nazareth. He was not afraid, did not hide from God, was at all times open and willing to listen. And what was it he spoke about? First, the Love of God. Second, Love for one another. Because being open - being willing to un-hide - to remove those fig leaves from mind and spirit - what he heard and saw and felt was God’s overwhelming love...and God’s great sorrow.
When God created humanity in the Image of God, God gave human beings Free Will and the ability and desire to create. It was a great and terrible risk. But there was no other way. Love that is compelled is not Love at all.
In truth we do not know what will happen - or what the end of the story will be. It is for us to live out. The die has been cast. Humans are now being tested in ways that have never come up before. Now the life of the whole world is on the line. Whatever happens, for The Faithful the Great Comfort will always be the knowledge that we have known The Love of God.
Adam, where are you?
Sunnyside Reformed Church
48-03 Skillman Avenue
Sunnyside, N.Y. 11104
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed