Third Week after Pentecost

Sermon by Rev. Sarah Goettsch on June 9, 2018

It seems to me, when I think about the entire Bible and all its stories, which include tales of murder and
intrigue, warfare and deception, violence and revenge, the most terrifying verse is found in our first reading today from the book of Genesis…”they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden.”
You may at first find this funny…I mean, what about Egyptian King’s command to kill all Hebrew baby boys, which gave rise to the leader Moses, or what about the ten plagues on the people of Egypt, or what about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or what about the death of the innocent baby boys after the birth of Jesus?

These are but a few of the scary stories contained in the
Bible.
I’ll offer an illustration that may help explain why I find
this single verse the most terrifying. When I was a child,
me and my brothers were often left home alone. One
summer afternoon, harmless horseplay between siblings
took a menacing turn. I had made my older brother so
angry that he chased me down the hallway, where I
ducked into the bathroom and quickly locked the door
behind me, thinking I was safe. That is, until his fist came
crashing through the surprisingly flimsy door. I unlocked
the door and we stood there, blinking and panting. One
unspoken truth hung in the air, “Wait till dad gets home.”
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A bit later, we heard the sound of the garage door
opening, and we knew we were done for.
Adam and Eve have just directly broken the only law
God gave them in the Garden of Eden–don’t eat fruit from
that one tree over there. They then immediately eat from
that one tree over there, and, at once they realize what
they’ve done. They realize they are both in for it. They are
overcome by shame and humiliation; they cover their
nudity with leaves. And then they hide. And wait.
We can imagine their terror, as they hunker down in
fear, palms sweating, breath shallow and rapid, hearts
ready to explode out of their chests. What will God do
when he finds us? Surely, in our guilt, God will destroy us,
because that is what we deserve, after all.
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And then off in the distance, as the evening breeze
blows gently throughout the garden, they hear footsteps.
And the footsteps grow closer and closer to the spot
where they are hiding, and they are petrified. And finally,
as God nears the very place where they are hiding, God
calls out, “Where are you?”
“I am hiding,” whispers Adam from the shadows, “I am
hiding, because I am ashamed.”
And Adam waits for the death blow to come. And Eve
crouches in fear, also waiting for certain destruction. And
they wait, but death does not happen. Slowly, they emerge
from their shadowy hiding place and stand face to face
with God.
“What have you done?” God asks.
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And then, like two children, they point at each other
in the first recorded game of human blame-laying. God
punishes both but destroys neither. And then comes the
verse in the Bible that, to me, shows the most grace…it is
the verse, “And then God sewed garments for the man
and the woman, and clothed them.” Behold God Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, sewing clothing for these two
wayward children. “Here, put this on. You will need it,
because you will get cold. Now, go, you can’t stay here
anymore.”
Does God destroy Adam and Eve, even though they
deserve it? No.
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Does God take pleasure in watching them suffer from
exposure, cold and shame, even though they have it
coming to them? No.
Does God cut them off, even though they are exiled
from the garden after their disobedience? No.
Thus begins the love story between God and
humanity, that endures throughout the ages of the
prophets, judges and kings, that endures through his own
coming to earth and the death of his only son, that
endures through the sending of the Holy Spirit and the
birth of the church. And this love story exists even today.
God chooses to be in relationship with humanity, even
though it would have been easier and within God’s divine
right, to sever all ties with people. For Adam and Eve, it
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would have been a bigger nightmare to have hidden and
not to have been found, to have been left forever to shiver
in the dark, enduring their unforgiven guilt and shame,
hearing the footsteps of God stop right in front of them, but
hearing no voice call out for them. If you remember
playing hide and seek as a child, you know this fear of
what if the game ends and I alone am left hiding alone in
the dark…But this is not God. God calls to Adam and Eve
in the garden, God calls to Moses from the burning bush,
God calls to Job from the whirlwind. God’s existence is
marked by relationship to and with creation, including
people. God is constantly calling to us, drawing us out of
the shadows, into relationship.
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God reveals something radically profound through this
story with Adam and Eve, and that is God is all about
radical hospitality; that is to say, in this story, God says to
humanity, here, my creation is for you, even though you
have messed it up, even though you are not obedient,
even though you do not listen to me. Here, I will take care
of you and clothe you and feed you, even though you will
not take care of one another and will not feed or clothe
one another. Here, I will show you mercy even though you
deserve destruction, even though you will not show mercy
and will instead destroy. Here, says God, let us walk
together.
This is more than love, this is the kind of love that
gets you called crazy, this is the kind of love that gets you
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killed, as Jesus knows all too well. This is the kind of love
that includes touching and healing people whom society
has cast out. This is the kind of love that calls followers
who are sinners, cheaters and traitors (from Matthew the
tax collector to Judas who betrayed him). This is the kind
of love that offends authoritative powers by helping the
vulnerable and the weak and the marginalized in ways and
at times that they deem inappropriate. This is the kind of
love that pushes back against racism and prejudice and
misogyny. This is the kind of love that says no to
immigration raids and deportation and state terrorism by
taking children from their parents. This is the kind of love
that boldly preaches truth to power when the people say
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they’d rather leave politics out of church, thank you very
much.
But this is exactly the kind of love that Jesus
embodies….in fact, this is exactly the Jesus whom we
encounter in Mark, an angry and passionate Jesus, who
flips over tables in the Temple, engages religious
authorities in heated debate and denounces anyone who
criticizes the work of the Holy Spirit, whose work it is to
make us all different, to diversify us in language, race,
gender and orientation…and Jesus comes out swinging
and says, “How dare you vilify the Holy Spirit for calling,
gathering and making holy anyone and everyone? Who
are you to decide who’s in and who’s out?” Jesus is all
about radical inclusivity and radical hospitality.
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The crowds call Jesus evil for his radical acts of love,
and even his own family thinks he’s nuts. And he replies
that he is not Satan, that his love triumphs over evil, that
he proved that when he spent forty days in the desert with
Satan and triumphed, when the demons recognize Jesus
an run from him, and when finally he descends into hell
and crushes it so that no one needs to wait forever hiding
in the shadows waiting for God to come and find them,
because now all are found. Evil is strong, but goodness is
stronger.
It is significant that God finds the hiding couple at the
time of the evening breeze. In the book of Genesis, each
new day begins at evening. There is evening and there is
morning, the first day, the second day and so on. Here we
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encounter a new day, the 8th day if you will, the day of
confession and forgiveness, the day of grace. Here we
encounter God who decides to intentionally be in
relationship with creation forever, a God who covenants to
walk with humanity throughout all of our messy story. God
walks with us every bit as much as God walked with Adam
and Eve. Elizabeth Barret Browning writes that, Earth is
crammed with heaven,
And every bush afire with God…
As God walked with Adam and Eve and the prophets,
judges and kings, so, too does God walk with us, in this
new day, as we are called to model radical love and
hospitality to all people, even as Jesus did. It is our sacred
calling to say to all people, “There is room for you at this
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table–and it doesn’t matter a bit what you look like or how
you speak or whom you love.” It is our sacred calling to
include and invite and welcome and gather all people, as
the Holy Spirit empowers us to. In this way, the strong
man of this world is bound; that is to say, by persistently
embodying the radical hospitality of God, Satan’s hands
are tied, and with him his minions. Satan is strong, but
Jesus is stronger. In this way, with the strong man’s hands
bound, the things of God can be returned to the people of
God, things like purity of sexuality, innocence of childhood,
a first right to life that trumps a second right to kill, hope for
a future and a life of health, safety and dignity for all
people, not just for some, but for all, because if it isn’t
Gospel for all people, then it isn’t Gospel.
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