The God Who Seeks Us

September 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm Leave a comment

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS

Pentecost 15 – Narrative Lectionary

Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8

2:4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,* and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’

3:1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that theLord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ 2The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ 4But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,* knowing good and evil.’6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

8 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.

 

Today marks the beginning of our nine-month chronological journey through the Bible.

As with any journey, we begin at the beginning.

And yet, Christians are those who live from the end of the story.

God’s ending of the story is this:

we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ,

‘who died for our sins and was raised for our justification,’

we are being made holy by his Holy Spirit,

we will be perfectly holy when his kingdom is fully revealed at the end of all things.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his lectures on Genesis:

‘The church of Holy Scripture lives from the end.

Therefore it reads the whole of Holy Scripture as the book of the end,

of the new, of Christ…’

‘In the church, therefore, the story of creation must be read in a way that begins with Christ

and moves on toward him as its goal;

indeed one can read it as a book that moves toward Christ

only when one knows that Christ is the beginning, the new, the end of our own world.’1

 

The first human beings were created for the purpose of relationship with God.

God created human beings to be in communion with him.

We are part of God’s creation – adam is taken from the dust, adamah.

We are dust, but dust into which has been breathed spirit –

we may address God and be addressed by God.

We are in relationship with the rest of God’s creation.

St Francis of Assisi speaks of ‘brother sun, sister moon and our sister mother earth,’

addressing with reverence the whole creation as that marked with the stamp of God.2

 

The Bible talks about ‘creation.’

But according to a purely philosophical theory of evolution, there is no ‘creation.’

Creation implies intent and purpose,

but for the person totally committed to a theory of philosophical evolution,

our ancestors had no original purpose.

Instead, we create ourselves, based on what is best for our species’ survival and advancement.

There is no qualitative difference between us and any other species;

we simply happen to have evolved to a certain point.

The relationship between human beings and other animals,

or indeed between human beings and other human beings,

must of necessity be a competition for scarce resources.

According to this theory, we are simply another animal –

with only ourselves to thank or curse

for our ability to accomplish and destroy.

And we must create our own purpose and our own destiny.

 

But Genesis speaks a different reality,

not a reality that we create but a given reality.

The uniqueness of Genesis

is not that things happened in a certain order or time-frame,

but that humankind was put on earth for a certain purpose and with a certain destiny –

to be in relationship with God and with the creation.

God gives the human being a task,

and God speaks with the human being,

addressing him with his Word.

 

The Word speaks of the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Simply as information, the prohibition of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

has no effect on the human being.

The prohibition is not the cause of the fall of the human being

until desire for that which is denied can be awakened.

That is the story of the serpent,

who engages the woman in the first theological conversation.

Before this, human beings had only spoken with God –

now, the serpent and the woman speak about God,

as if he is not present, as if God is not the subjective reality of all existence

but simply another object in the creation,

on a par with the serpent and the woman and the man.

 

The serpent casts doubt upon God’s Word,

sows mistrust between the human beings and God,

and awakens desire in the human beings –

desire to be like the serpent, who takes and does not merely receive,

desire to be like God, who apparently has more knowledge than they,

desire to be like each other in asserting their own will.

If to live by faith is to believe and to trust in the Word that God has spoken,

then to live without faith is to put the trust in the word of another or in one’s own imagination.

‘We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things;’

that is how Martin Luther explains the first commandment –

‘You shall have no other gods.’

And yet here are the man and the woman,

casting aside fear of God’s warning,

trading love of God as subjects for the desire to be like God as an equal,

and losing their trust in the promises that God has given.

 

The result?

They no longer live in ‘filial fear,’ the confident awe and respect for God

that a child has for a parent,

but live in ‘servile fear,’ the fear of a servant who has trangressed

and must now face the master’s just judgment.

‘You shall not die,’ the serpent promised,

and indeed they live, but they live knowing that they shall die,

knowing themselves under a death sentence –

and trying to wrest life from death they hide themselves from each other

and they hide from God.

 

Now it is important for us to realize that this story is not given us

as a primer on what to avoid, so that we might make a better choice than Adam and Eve.

These stories in Genesis, and the rest of the stories of the Bible,

tell us who we are, and whose we are.

‘We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves;’

these are not merely pious words, but the truth of our situation.

Sin, having entered the world, has ensnared all in its net.

The choice of Adam and Eve is not a choice for us,

but without God’s grace, it is now the destiny of every human being,

to live life under the death sentence,

to live in servile fear of just judgment of transgression,

to desire what we cannot have and seek to wrest life from the jaws of death,

to hide who we truly are from ourselves, from others, and from God.

This state of being, this constantly needing to hide, is our state of being as well.

 

This is true in a particularly nefarious way for the young generation,

blessed and cursed at the same time with the technological capability

to extend our words and images worldwide.

In our world, drenched with social media,

we always want to put our best face forward to the world –

on Facebook, on Twitter, on our blogs.

We have to hold the right opinions, the right attitudes,

we have to be noticed, to be ‘liked.’

And yet the same technology that allows us to put our best face forward

is technology that allows us to control what image we present to the world.

‘Virtual reality’ is just that; virtually real: we are constantly hiding our true selves

and creating a public persona which is designed to win us the coveted ‘thumbs-up.’

In this world, to go unnoticed is simply not to exist.

So people become what they are not in order to be.

Is this not ‘living toward death?’

 

Of course, this is nothing new.

One thinks of the fictional character Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman,

hiding his true lonely, angry, bitter, lost self

behind self-righteous bluster, platitudes, wishful thinking, and outright lies.

One thinks of the real-life tragedy of Jerry Sandusky,

who created himself as a hero and a savior

while preying upon those he was supposed to be helping,

hiding his needy, desiring self behind the self-sufficient, serving self.

One thinks of countless ways ordinary people hide big and little truth,

even from themselves.

An evolutionary scientist might say we hide the truth because it helps us to survive,

to live with ourselves.

On that score that Bible and the evolutionary scientist are not so far apart;

we hide because to be found and and to be found out is to die.

 

And yet God seeks us.

The last verse we are given today seems to be anticlimactic,

but it speaks to our greatest fear

and our greatest hope.

God seeks us out and we are moved to hide,

but after the human beings hide, God calls out to them,

because God created us for relationship and God is satisfied with nothing but.

God seeks us out and we cannot hide from him,

no subterfuge or camouflage can keep us from his gaze.

Our only hope is that he seeks us out not as enemies to be annihilated

but as lost children to be rescued.

 

‘The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost,’

Jesus says after finding Zacchaeus hiding in the tree,

and calling him into the light (Luke 19:1-10).

This same Jesus tells us to ask his Father with confidence to ‘forgive us our debts,

as we forgive those who are indebted to us.’

As Adam and Eve were called out of hiding, they were called back to trust –

trust that though everything had changed, nothing had changed,

that God was still for them,

that he would still work with them,

that they were still made for relationship,

for community with God, with the creation, and with each other.

 

1Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Creation and Fall. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996, 23.

2Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Sun, http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/wosf/wosf22.htm

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