June 10, 2012
Gospel: Mark 3:20-35
1st Reading: Genesis 3:8-15
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
The favorite game at our house these days is, of course, peek-a-boo. We play “This little piggy,” and I just pulled “Wiggle fingers, wiggles toes” out of my dusty memory bank. We’re trying to think of all the little toddler games we can, to save the adults from boredom. But even if we never played another game, Sterling would be perfectly happy with peek-a-boo. We have a lot of variations of it. We play it behind our hands, behind appliances and doors, and from beneath the high chair tray. We play it with blankets and clothes. Even the puppets play it with the baby.
Peek-a-boo can be found in cultures around the world, a game of hiding and reappearing to show that something isn’t gone forever just because it is out of sight. I would even say that we have a game of peek-a-boo in the Bible here, maybe the first game of peek-a-boo.
The human is hiding in the garden behind some trees. This isn’t a game for amusement. I suppose that Adam thinks if he is out of sight, maybe God won’t remember that he exists. Maybe God won’t ask him what he’s been up to. Maybe God won’t see what he’s done or how vulnerable and naked he is. Adam hopes that out of sight is out of mind for God.
But God, like many parents, knows that it is too quiet in the garden. When the humans get too quiet something is going on. So God goes walking in the garden, looking for them, calling for them, and asking, “Where are you?”
Adam can’t resist answering. He doesn’t really say where he is. He’s not very sophisticated at giving excuses. “I was hiding because I was afraid of you, God,” He says. “I just realized I don’t have any clothes on and that was embarrassing.”
God knows exactly what has happened, that Adam has done exactly what God told him not to. It creates a rift between Adam and God. Adam is hiding from his loving creator and is afraid of God. Adam is not approaching God as someone trustworthy, like a loving father. Adam and Eve have a rift between them. Adam has blamed his wife. She’s not going to trust him, again. He’s thrown her under the bus. Humankind and the animals have a rift between them. Eve blames the serpent. “The snake made me do it!” What was once in harmony and balance is now broken and one break makes another and another until it all is unraveling. Now not only are Adam and Eve out of balance with God and creation, but their children will be, too!
What a mess! Here is the fall of human kind in a few short paragraphs, the explanation of when it all started to go wrong and why it can never be right again. Here we are, about 6000 years later, broken from each other, families divided, unfaithful to God, destroying nature.
This is supposed to be the story that backs up the church’s teaching on original sin. This is the teaching that we as human beings are inherently sinful from birth. It isn’t that we sin as babies, but that we are by nature sinful and that as part of the human family we are broken or imperfect. I see it more as that we are born into a sinful society. We will be taught to sin as part of our training as human beings and none of us escapes it.
Betsy has told me many times as she gazes at my little baby, and even before he was born or was ever thought of, that she doesn’t believe in original sin, but she prefers to believe in original grace.
That we are all born in a state of grace seems pretty obvious to me. When God created us, God called us “very good.” All of creation is good. We are made in God’s image and likeness. We are God’s precious children. We are amazing miracles—how our parents’ DNA came together to form us, how our cells divided, that we survived the womb, that we were born and live at this time in a particular place, how we developed completely unique from any other, all that we accomplished and all that we are, that we love, that we give, that we bear children and that they bear grandchildren, that they love, that they create, that they help others. It is extending grace, straight from God, to family, to friends, then to neighbors, and enemies. It is original grace and it is expanding.
But original grace doesn’t mean that it is always easy or happy. We have to admit doing things we regret. We have to admit the general broken nature of our society and world. We have to admit hiding from God. Or maybe we don’t have to admit anything and like Adam or Eve, we just blame someone else for everything that we did to bring shame on ourselves, for all our unjust acts, for all our hiding, for all our misunderstandings and hurts. Whether we accept it or deny it, we have deep wounds and separations from God, one another, and nature. This is what I call sin. Not sins or individual acts of wrong, but sin, a state of separation and division.
Even Jesus felt this separation. He felt it with his family who misunderstood him and thought he was crazy. They didn’t get him. It must have really hurt to have them come to get him and try to whisk him away, to try to undo all his hard work. In their minds they were being helpful. They were trying to protect him.
Jesus felt this separation from those who accused him of having a demon. He tried to explain it logically. Yet people continued to demonize him. They discredited everything he said by attributing it to a demon. It was an easy way to get him dismissed so no one would believe him.
It seems that humans have a fascination with eternal sins. The Roman Catholic Church has named the seven deadly sins. Like the dwarves, I can almost never name them all. Stuff like murder and gluttony gets put in a special category, even though it isn’t Biblical. Maybe we’re like teenagers who want to know if there is one thing we could do to get our parents to stop loving us. Maybe we want to know where that line is so we can push it to find out just how much our parents love us, or how much God loves us.
So here we have it, according to the Gospel, there is only one deadly sin and this is the only Gospel to mention it, which makes it suspect in my mind whether Jesus really said it or not. But it is here nonetheless—the one thing Jesus ever said we could do that would be unforgivable, and that is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. Do we even know what it is that he’s talking about so that we would be sure not to do it? It seems that calling something of God something of the devil since that is what these scribes seem to have done. What Jesus is doing is good and of God. They say it is of the devil or Satan.
Jesus makes it clear that all our sins are deadly. That even our thoughts will be counted against us. But we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the entire world might be saved through him. I am imagining that Mark’s community was experiencing some people being pretty judgmental and dictating what was of God and what was of Satan in an unhelpful way. He wants us to take special care when we judge and maybe not judge at all. What is of the Spirit might not be obvious. It might not be what we expect it to be. We should reserve judgment and not rush to label something good or evil. Instead we can stop and try to see the good in someone else.
So can we all agree that we are created good? And can we all agree that we have sin, or brokenness in our lives? And we, like Adam, hide and blame, and try to wriggle out of it. We are ashamed. We are hurting. We hurt others trying to hide and avoid responsibility for our actions.
And God comes walking in the garden. I love the detail about the time of the evening breeze. And God calls out to us and asks us, “Where are you?” God is still seeking us, wanting to be in relationship with us. God wants us to approach him even though we’ve done wrong. God wants to welcome us into God’s family even with all our flaws.
Jesus meant what he said when he called us all family, mother, and brothers, and sisters. He loved us so much that he gave his life, that instead of hiding behind a tree, he hung there naked upon one, and suffered the consequences of all our sin and brokenness, put it out there for us all to see. But he wasn’t ashamed of us. He didn’t put us out of sight and abandon us as would have been his right based on how we treated him and each other and God’s creation. We thought he was gone forever in the grave, but God raised him up to give us new life and to show us that family is forever, that though we hide, God will search for us and find us, that God’s love will find us, wherever we are.