Proper 5, 2015

Creator God,

In true communion, let us gather.

May all divisions cease,

and in their place be Christ the Lord,

our risen Prince of Peace.





I would guess that most of us are pretty familiar with the first three chapters of Genesis. We have heard the story over and over again. Even if we haven’t actually read the story word-for-word very many times, it would not be difficult to retell the story from memory.

If my assumption here is correct, part of me wants to say that it is a good thing that we can recount a story from memory. But there’s another part of me that wants to recognize that this is a dangerous thing as well. We are blessed with “memory, reason, and skill,” as the Eucharistic Prayer says, but each of these things –memorization of a story, in this case – cannot be taken without recognition of fundamental assumptions we make even as we remember a story. That is, what do we think this story – this story we allegedly know so well – actually means?

Maybe I am overstating this potential problem, but I have found these first few chapters of Genesis to be the foundation and launch pad for a whole list of terrible arguments.

So what is being communicated in this story? In the verses we have read for today, we see the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. They have transgressed their limit that God had given them. God has formed them from the earth, breathed life into their dust-borne bodies, given them to creation for its care and preservation, sustained them with the abundance of the Garden, given them one another for companionship and help, and this creative, gift-giving God is present with them.

How does it come to these verses we read this morning?

It begins in the verses just before our text this morning: it begins when speech to and with God becomes speech about God. The serpent is, as some have said, the first “theologian” – the first one to speak about God. “Did God really say…?” This is the question the serpent poses to Eve, and it is the question in which God becomes the object of discussion rather than the creating, gift-giving God in relationship with us as God’s creatures.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer comments perceptively on this story in his book Creation and Fall, saying, “Where human beings use a principle, an idea of God, as a weapon to fight against the concrete word of God…at that point they have become God’s master, they have left the path of obedience, they have withdrawn from being addressed by God” (108).

This last phrase is the one that is most troubling. It is not that Adam and Eve are asking questions. We ought never to mistake asking questions with disobedience. Rather, the problem is that God is not the one being asked such questions. These creatures, Adam and Eve,

have the Creator God in intimate proximity, before whom they can ask and wonder. But they do not avail themselves of this gift, and they – along with the serpent – question God without asking God the question. This makes God into the object of discussion – one we talk about rather that one to whom we talk.

This is an incredibly important shift in the way the creatures relate to their Creator. In fact, I think we can follow this shift in the relationship through the rest of the story. The relationship of the creature with the Creator – the creature who has not objectified God, turned God into an object of discussion – can no longer see the other creatures as companions and gifts given for the fullness of life. After all, “It is not good for the human creature to be alone.”

So with this shift in the relationship, I think we have to take the story in these terms: the intimate relationship of love, trust, and gift-giving

has been violated. So we should first hear God’s words to Adam and Eve with the desperation conveyed in the story: “Where are you?” “Who told you that you were naked?” and finally, “What is it that you have done?”

This is not the reprimanding judge seeking a confession, but the desperate searching of a mother whose child has run away from home, a father whose son will not give him the time of day, or a friend who has been deeply wounded by betrayal. God came expecting an evening walk with God’s children in the beauty of the garden God had created.

“Where are you?”

“Where are you?”

And the conversation with God ends. When God shows up to continue the conversation, we creatures do not know how to continue. So we hide. We hide behind our reason, our carefully-crafted arguments and excuses – sewn together with weak threads through brittle fig leaves. “Who told you that you were naked?!” Why are we afraid of nakedness and vulnerability before God, the one who knit us together in the womb and formed our inmost being?

Still, we cover just enough so that we will not be vulnerable, and we hope to avoid the danger that might follow from radical obedience to, and communion with, God. Rather than seeing the gift and liberation that is radical dependence on the creator, we learn to see the Creator as one we must conquer or overcome in order to reach our full potential. We are taught to be self-made, self-sufficient, and independent. Dependence is named weakness and neediness is shameful. And in these ways, especially in the story of our particular culture, we are taught to deny the very dependence on God and one another that God had first given to us as a gift.

Yes. You heard me correctly. God gave us dependence on one another as a gift.

“It is not good for the human creature to be alone.”

Yet, in the scene we read today, this is precisely the damage that is done.

We need to recognize that, in the so-called “curse” by God that follows the disobedience – taking the fruit from the Tree of which they were not supposed to eat – God is doing little more than describing the damage that has already been done. Once God has been made into an object for discussion rather than a friend and loving Creator with whom Adam and Eve walk and talk, their relationship with one another quickly disintegrates.

From Adam’s lips we hear, “That woman you gave me…” Now, this phrase has often been used as a kind of comedic relief to the story in many sermons I have heard, but I am convinced that these are some of the more tragic words in this story.

Adam, who upon receiving Eve as a gift from God described her in the poetic, grateful words, “This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” now can only say about her, “That woman…” She is an object, an obstacle to his self-satisfaction and self-righteousness. He no longer sees her as the gift of God on whom he depends to be fully human and the full image of God.

And we cannot forget that this is also the narrative of our alienation from all creatures with whom we were once in communion. Just as Adam points to eve as the obstacle to his self-righteousness, likewise Eve points to the serpent. “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” Once God becomes an obstacle to being “like God,” all of God’s creatures become obstacles we must overcome.

After they have had their conversation about God with the serpent, Adam and Eve believe they must disobey the word of God in order to be like God. God is seen as an obstacle, and so God’s creatures are also an obstacle, an impediment.

“Did God really say…?”

“That woman you gave me…”

“The serpent tricked me…”

Yet there is hope in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus’ stark and shocking words about family re-establishes the basis of our relationship with one another. Family, nation, tribe, race, class, and any other synthetic barrier we create between one another is obliterated. Jesus breaks down each of these dividing walls that separate us, and he declares that obedience to the will of God is the single criterion for communion. And we cannot find the will of God anywhere but in discipleship to Jesus, the one in whom God has been revealed in the flesh.

In the life of discipleship, Jesus offends our sensibilities about who belongs and who does not. Jesus brings us alongside those to whom we would otherwise never say a single word and Jesus says, “This – this is your brother. This is your sister. And I have created you to need one another.”

It is not good for us to be alone, so the life of discipleship is a life in community. In this community, we are our brothers’ keeper. In this community of discipleship, we recognize and try to remember that our common life depends on one another’s work and faithfulness.

When one of us grieves, we all grieve together.

When one of us rejoices, we all rejoice together.

When one of us sins, we all confess and repent together.

We are being drawn into the life of God, a life of relationship and mutual dependence that shatters the boundaries of family, nation, clan, tribe, or whatever else might serve as an alienating barrier between the children of God.

It is a life that receives once again the gift of communion that has been restored to us in the body of Jesus Christ. This community of disciples, the Body of Christ, is where we are brought back to the place where we come together to speak to God in prayer, and it is where we share together in obedience to God the holy food and drink of new and unending life in Christ – the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation.

This table – the Eucharist – is where we gather with one another, and as we approach Jesus in this meal, as we draw nearer to Christ in the Eucharist, we draw nearer to one another gathered around the table.

We gather in dependence on God. Each of us approaches the table with our hands cupped, empty and waiting to be filled by God’s grace. Our vulnerability is laid bare, so that the burden of living by our own strength might be lifted by the grace of God and the community of disciples.

In that community, and by the grace given to us at the table, we are meant to see the world as the gift of God. We are meant to see our neighbors in Radium Springs as a gift from God, and as those on whom our common life depends.

The way we live in community at St. John and St. Mark’s, and the way we live as part of the Albany community, can bear witness to the gift of dependence on God and one another.

So we are, once again, brought to one another in the presence of God, in dependence on God, to see one another as a gift of God, as a companion on the Way. Amen.


Comments are closed.