Sunday, September 25, 2011

Encountering God: In the Call

(A sermon based on Genesis 3:8-9 for Sunday, September 25, 2011)

The moving narratives of Genesis are meant, among other things, to help us understand what our experience as humans in this world and before God is all about. God had told Adam that he could eat from any tree in the garden except for the one called the tree of knowledge. But Eve and he ate from it anyway maybe out of rebellion or maybe at least partly because they had been told not to eat of it and, as we all know, what is prohibited just sounds good to us for some reason.

When they ate the fruit, something happened. Perhaps the most important thing to note is that, where before they had been in free and open communion with one another and with God, after they violated God’s commandment they sensed that they were somehow separated from one another and from God; they made leafy loincloths for themselves in an attempt to hide from each other and they then took themselves and their leafy camouflage to the trees in an attempt to hide from God.

Now, in a way, all of the Bible from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is the good news of God but it is accurate to say that we now encounter the first indication of what we might call the best news of all, namely, that God did not—that God does not—give up on his wayward human creation. God does not give up on us when we choose, despite all the grace he has shown us, to go our own way.

God does not give up on me. God does not give up on you.

And so it came to pass that Adam and Eve, huddled in their new (and no doubt irritating) garb behind some trees, had their first encounter with God after they had done what they had been told not to do and after they had placed themselves in a position where they had learned more than they were meant to know and had given up the freedom and peace they were meant to have. It was an encounter, please be sure to note, that God initiated.

All of us, as represented by Adam and Eve, misapprehend God’s grace as seen in God’s way for us; we take God’s limitless love and grace that leads to real life as something that limits our lives and ambitions and so we try to go another way. As amazing as it is, all human beings try to go their own way and unfortunately even disciples of Jesus are not exempt from that problem; even after we start following Jesus on his Way we will sometimes attempt to blaze our own trail.

The next thing we know we’re shivering in the woods trying to make ourselves very small so maybe nobody, including God, will see us.

Then comes the voice; then comes the call: “Where are you?”

It is amazing, really—despite the wonderful way of communion, fellowship, grace, and peace offered to us by God, we go our own way on purpose and we choose another way intentionally, but God comes looking for us, God comes calling for us. It is as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “(Adam) has not recognized the grace of the Creator which proves itself true by the fact that he calls Adam, by the fact that he does not let him flee” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Interpretation of Genesis 1-3 (London, SCM, 1959), p. 84]. When we fall and fail, God will not let us go. God comes looking for us. God calls us. We need to recognize that grace for what it is: amazing!

“Where are you?” God called to the man. Have you ever wondered in what tone of voice Adam heard these words and in what tone of voice we are to hear them when they are directed toward us? (And make no mistake about it—they are directed toward us too because we all place ourselves in the same predicament in which Adam and Eve placed themselves—and most of us do so over and over. We all try to be our own god; we all think going our own way is a better way.) We might imagine God saying these words in anger or in harshness. I don’t hear them that way, though. It’s easier for me to imagine God saying them in sadness. But when I think about it, I am convinced that God said them—and that God says them—with gentleness and with compassion. That is how God speaks to us as we try to hide from God’s presence.

Here is the first act in the long drama of God wooing us back [cf. Ralph H. Elliott, The Message of Genesis: A Theological Interpretation (Nashville: Broadman, 1961), p. 47]. ; here is the first indication we get of “the furious longing of God” [the title of a book by Brennan Manning (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2009)]; here is the first inkling we get of the “love that will not let us go.” We will see it throughout the Bible; we will see it throughout history; we will see it throughout our lives. Even when we don’t want God, God wants us! Even when we go hiding from God, God comes looking for us!

When Adam heard God’s question, his first reaction was to react out of guilt and fear: “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” When God questioned him further and then questioned Eve, the deflections and the blame began to fly; Adam said of Eve, “She made me do it!” and Eve said of the serpent, “He made me do it!” Their reactions consisted of self-explanation and self-protection. And then they had to face the music.

I wonder how things might have been different for them had they simply said, “Here we are. We have sinned. We are so sorry. May we please come back to you? May we please be with you again? Is there anything we can do to undo the damage we’ve done?”

I wonder.

Let us compare Adam and Eve to Zacchaeus.

Adam and Eve were sinners who tried to hide among the trees from God. Zacchaeus was a sinner who climbed a tree to try to see Jesus. Adam and Eve, upon hearing the call of God, made excuses. Zacchaeus, upon hearing the call of Jesus (rather than “Where are you?” it was more like “There you are”; literally it was “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today”), got down that tree as fast as he could and gladly came into the presence of Jesus. Adam and Eve, upon being confronted with their sin, passed the blame. Zacchaeus did not wait to be confronted with his sin; as soon as he got into Jesus’ presence, he was so flooded with the grace of Jesus that he began to make pledges as to how he would change his life and try to make things as right as he could with those he had wronged.

Adam and Eve said with their words and with their actions, “I will hide; I will make excuses; I will keep trying to run.”

Zacchaeus said with his words and with his actions, “Here I am, Lord.”

God’s call is always, “Where are you?”

Our response makes all the difference.

Now we come to the Table of the Lord which is the Church’s way of remembering the Lord’s death until he comes. The Cross of Christ is God’s greatest “Where are you?”; it is God’s greatest effort to bring us back to him. The Cross and the Table are invitations to come out of hiding and to receive the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What will your response be?

No comments: