Who Told You You Were Naked?
NOTE: Sermons are aural events; they are meant to be heard, not read. The text below -- which was not delivered exactly as written -- may include errors not limited to spelling, grammar and punctuation of which the listener might be unaware and with which the preacher is unconcerned.
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?”
He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”
Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
My children have become hooked on a genealogy service called, “23 and Me.” People
submit saliva samples swabbed from the inside of a male family member’s cheek and send them in to 23 and Me. The company then matches the DNA from that one sample with people all over the world who share similar DNA. Last year, Rachel swabbed David’s cheek, sent the sample to “23 and Me”, and the kids have heard from literally dozens of people with whom – according to David’s DNA -- we share distant relatives on both my and my husband’s side of the family. This genealogical study is really sort of fascinating. We’ve learned that I have ancient ancestors who lived in Spain and France and even Italy. I always thought of myself as pretty boring white bread Scots Irish kind of girl, so it’s sort of fun to imagine there’s something at least a tiny bit exotic in my family tree. (https://www.23andme.com)
I am not at all certain DNA is destiny, but as I’ve grown older, I am increasingly aware of the power of family history to shape and influence how we see ourselves. Families are where we first learn about ourselves. Every family has hopes, dreams, successes, loves, losses, unfinished business, hidden violence, secrets, mysteries; all these things and more filter down through the history of our families, playing themselves out in the present and beyond. Sometimes we search the past for clues about the present, maybe hoping that we are a little more interesting than we think we are.
Some of what we inherit from our families is good – a strong work ethic, a kind heart, a flair for telling jokes, or stubborn persistence in the face of adversity. Some genetic tendencies are more worrisome, like alcoholism, mental illness or a genetic marker for cancer.
But more damaging than cancer, I think, is that moment in which someone, usually in our family, tells us a lie about ourselves that sticks and burns into to our psyche like a hot penny on a sheet of ice. Someone tells us we’re just not very bright. Or ugly. Weird. Worthless. Not manly enough. Not pretty enough. Too sensitive. Someone tells us a lie and we believe the lie with all our heart. It’s amazing the damage families can do with just a few thoughtless words. Someone tells us a false story that makes us feel ashamed – ashamed of being who we are, ashamed of being the person God created us to be in all of our beauty and all of our brokenness. All it takes are just a few cutting words – especially to a child -- and we buy into the lie that we are somehow less than a worthy and beloved child of God.
I think that is some of what is happening today in this story about Adam and Eve and the fallout after their encounter with temptation. The couple believe the lie the serpent tells them – that they are less than they should be, that being creatures made by God is not enough. That being human beings created by God is nice and all that but don’t Adam and Eve really want to be divine instead of merely human? And like the young and impressionable human beings they are, Adam and Eve believe the serpent’s lies.
The book of Genesis isn’t written as literal history or even as a precise explanation of how good and evil entered into the world. Nowhere in the entire Bible, in fact, are the words “fall” or “original sin” ever used to refer to this story. Those labels were applied much, much later. At its heart, this text from Genesis is written simply as a story about our early ancestors in the faith. It is a story that invites us to reflect on our own encounters with God and our relationships with the rest of God’s creation. And despite all the baggage with which this story comes to us, it is not a story to shame us. Instead, it is a story that can open our eyes to God’s persistent longing for us to return to the freedom and security of God’s story for us.
Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened when they crossed the line that God laid down. God laid down the line not to test them or tempt them or as a trick them, but to ensure their well being. Perhaps the pair also saw, for the first time, their ingratitude for what they received from God in the first place. So they did what most people would do. They tried to hide from God. Just as we so often try to hide when we are engulfed in sorrow and shame over the terrible decisions we make and the terrible things we do.
Yet God does not allow that to be the end of this story. Our ancient mother and father eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, yet they do not die on the spot. In their moment of paralyzing shame, God comes looking for them. The man and woman have given up, thinking their story is over, but God hasn’t given up on them.
I think it is the most beautiful image in all of Scripture -- God walking in the garden, enjoying a cool evening breeze, desiring nothing more than conversation and communion with the people God loves. God calls out and cannot find the humans because they have hidden themselves away back in the trees. God calls out to them with one of the saddest but most hopeful lines in all of Scripture – “Where are you?” “Where are you?”
And the man calls back to God. “I heard your call, God, but I was afraid.”
I don’t know about you, but for me that exchange sort of sums up the entire relationship between God and humanity. God calls out to us and we often reply, “I heard your call, God, but I was afraid.” I was afraid of who I am and who I am not. I am naked and ashamed and I do not believe I am deserving of your love or forgiveness.
The rest of the story plays out in a form that is entirely predictable. The man blames the woman and even goes so far as to point out that it was God’s idea to create her, as if nothing bad would have happened if God had just left Adam alone. Eve – well -- she says it was all the serpent’s idea. Fingers are pointing hither and yon, and the man and the woman are both willing to sell the other out. Nothing is sacred anymore, apparently. These two are willing to sacrifice their integrity and their relationship in a frantic effort to cover up their nakedness, all of which gets them nowhere.
It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for these two. After all, they are so much like us. We live with similar lapses of judgment every day, and make mistakes both big and small. We all want something – that one thing, whatever it is -- that is just beyond our grasp, and hardly any of us take the time to see how much God has already done and appreciate how much we have.
Nothing much has changed in all the generations since the very first generation of humanity. We are a culture that is built on desire for more, more, more – greed fuels our economy, fills our airwaves, and informs nearly everything we do. We are an anxious people, thinking we can secure our own well-being apart from God. Desire for something that doesn’t belong to us has been the human story since the very beginning of time. It is our story, reflected in the law of Moses, the preaching of the prophets, the life of Jesus Christ and, even now, in our alienation from our Creator and our alienation from one another which is played out in war poverty, greed and misery all over our earth.
Yet, God searches us out. God is with us. God loves us. God keeps telling the true story of who we are, and sees clearly who we are. This story from Genesis is not so much a story of what happened to our earliest ancestors but of what happens to each one of us as we walk on this earth.
A few weeks ago in our adult Sunday school class on spiritual renewal, we watched a video featuring author Erwin McManus (http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/naked-and-unashamed. ) McManus talked about a childhood memory that came back to him as he was driving to an event in which he’d be doing a talk in front of some high-powered executives. As he got closer to the event, he became more and more nervous. And in his nervousness, he suddenly recalled a time when he was ten years old. As a child, McManus had a habit of taking a shower and forgetting to take a towel into the bathroom with him. He would yell out from the shower to other family members, asking them to bring him a towel so he could dry off and cover up when he came out of the bathroom.
One day, his family decided they were tired of bringing him towels, so when McManus called out from the shower, two of his older siblings broke into the bathroom, dragged him out of the shower, down the stairs and pushed him, naked and dripping, out of the front door of the house and locked the door behind him. As McManus told the story, he recalled a feeling of incredible embarrassment and shame as cars and bicycles passed by him, this little, crying naked boy on the front stoop of his home. He pounded and pounded at the front door, to no avail. In fact, he could hear his family laughing at him from inside the house. At some point, he tried to hide behind a rather scrawny bush, which did little to hide his nakedness.
McManus admits it’s a funny story in retrospect. But it wasn’t funny at the time to a 10 year old boy. That feeling of shame stayed with McManus for a long, long time.
But in the video, as McManus reflects on the event, he recalls this text from Genesis that we read today. He thinks about Adam’s shame and nakedness and how God calls out to him, “Who told you that you were naked?” And McManus realized that it wasn’t God who told Adam he was naked. He realizes that that the source of Adam’s shame was the fact he turned away from God’s story and listened to a very different story, the wrong story about who humanity is and can be in obedience to God’s loving claim on creation. Adam turned from the story of God and God’s love and God’s abundance. Instead, Adam and Eve bought into the story of the serprent who tells Adam and Eve that God can’t be trusted, and that God’s story isn’t enough for them.
McManus concludes the story by saying that he wishes he “could go back to the moment when I was ten and they threw me out of the house, but realize it wasn’t my shame, it was theirs. It was theirs. And I wish I had heard those words from God, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ I wish I had met the God who had seen through my nakedness and takes away my shame.”
We cannot go back to the place of pure innocence anymore than Adam and Eve could. Once we’ve heard the lie, we cannot unhear it. But we can repent, turn away from the lies about ourselves, turn away from the lies about other people, and live into God’s story that was true from the beginning. As human beings, we are capable of great love because each one of us has been created in the image of infinite love and goodness.
Let us step into the certainty of God’s love as we gather at this table for the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Let us embrace the mystery and grace that shapes our history as God’s family. There is room at this table for everyone and there is enough for all of us: saints and sinners, losers and winners, souls who are lost and souls aching to be found. This is the table in which we can be exactly who we are, content in who we are, naked and unashamed. Let us come to this table, all of us long-lost cousins, hidden and discovered, whole and hollow, restless and redeemed, connected by body and blood and spirit of the Living Christ.
Thanks be to God. Amen.