“I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid… and I hid myself.”
A reading like the one we have this morning from Genesis seems like a no-brainer. There are half a dozen or more sermons begging to be plucked out of this short reading, and that is what makes it so challenging. Not that we should choose the correct one, but that we should open ourselves up to something new in a book that is at once as comfortable as an old tee-shirt and yet always new. If it’s not always new, then we’re not doing it right.
This morning, then, I’ll skip over what kind of tree The Tree was, and we’ll nix the rather complex gematria, and we’ll leave it to others to give their enlightened approach to the so-called “fall of man.” There are three little words that seemed new to me this week: I hid myself.
From the text, we may deduce that previously in the story, Adam and Eve had walked freely — freely and nakedly — in the Garden of Eden and that they had a rather chummy relationship with The Almighty. Perhaps God stopped by in the evenings to chat about the day. We don’t know. We know it was a fairly common thing for God to stop by because Adam said that he knew it was God just by the sound he made. “I heard the sound of you in the garden,” said Adam. He didn’t say, “I saw you,” which is how you’d identify someone who does not come often. But, a frequent guest can be identified by the unique way they walk, or the way they move in the world. It’s their presence which announces them. Adam knew God’s presence.
On other days, Adam and Eve must have gone to greet God. (One wonders what the only two people had to say to the only known deity, but that’s off topic.) But, this day was different. It was a day of transgression, and I don’t mean sin. I am speaking of transgression more in the Latin sense, from the root transgresso, a stepping over, or boundary crossing.
Lots of boundaries are crossed in this short reading: Eve goes from blind obedience to thoughtful initiative; or disobedience, as some people like to call it. Both Adam and Eve go from innocent to informed. The snake goes from being in the know to being an eater of dirt… quite a step down for the snake. Rivalry, blame, and violence entered the world. Everything, in fact, was pretty-well turned on its head. We can’t conceive of it, but there is a legend that for Adam it was such a profound reordering of the world that he wept over his mistake for 70 years and an additional 60 years over the loss of Paradise.
Into this changed world the Lord God came looking for his created beings. God also seems to go from innocent to informed as he has to ask, “Where are you?” And, then, as reality sets in, “… Did you eat from the tree?”
The transgression, the crossing over, has been done. For better or for worse, it will never be the same again. Adam and Eve’s brilliant response to this was to hide, to try to become part of the landscape by putting leaves on their private parts, of which they had just become aware. (Imagine what they must have thought about that!)
Of course, it didn’t work. In this first-ever round of hide-and-go-seek, God found them right away, as God does. What is interesting to me is not that they hid, that is all too common. We do that all the time. Humans are big avoiders. I am also not too interested in the fact that God found them. God finds us. Wherever we’ve managed to get ourselves, God is there with us. Always. What is interesting to me is that they hid right there in The Garden and with the materials easily at hand. It’s almost as if they didn’t even try! I mean, honestly, leaves? That’s not a very good solution, even as a first effort.
We haven’t gotten much better than Adam and Eve, though. In our sophistication, we still hide “in The Garden,” as it were. And we still use the silliest things to hide behind: Titles, status, image. The sandstone facade of a lifetime is not any better than a handful of leaves. God can see right through it, and most people can too.
Our questions this week have to do with where we make our garden, our home. Is it in the comfort of the church, the academy, the boardroom, the gym, family, Facebook?… Adam and Eve didn’t go somewhere else. They hid right where they were. They stood there in The Garden and put on their leaves. Where do you “put-on?” Because putting-on is just another name for hiding.
We can choose from lots of leaves. Some people remake themselves on a regular basis, and none of them is real. It could be a position, a title, a reputation for holiness, or justice-seeking, or theological excellence, or fashion, or athletics, or anything… none of those are bad things, but they can become hiding places for the realities we’d rather avoid.
It’s all so dicey, and bleak. How can we become authentic, joyful people with all this hiding and covering up? Well, here’s the good news: You don’t have to hide. God already knows where you are hiding anyway, and God knows what kinds of leaves you are using to cover up your naked vulnerability, or shame, or whatever you’ve got going on. So, just come on out. The hiding isn’t fooling anybody.
After they had come out, God made some proper clothes for Adam and Eve. That’s because no amount of leaves can really deliver us from our shame. No amount of goodness, or holiness, or praying, or preaching, or studying, or protesting, or do-gooding… none of it will suffice for the clothes, or the new identity, that God has made for us.
Adam and Eve felt vulnerability and fear in the presence of God. That’s because they didn’t know about forgiveness. They’d had no need for grace. Surely, they were scared. But, we know better. We have a new identity, hidden in Christ, so we can experience vulnerability and peace. (Oh, right… I forgot to say… We’re all still as vulnerable as ever.) We can learn to walk in vulnerability knowing that God walks with us, in all kinds of Gardens. We don’t have to hide behind leaves because the sins we do, the lines we cross, the mistakes, the screw-ups, and just plain bad stuff that we are a part of is forgiven. We are not innocent like Adam who couldn’t know about mercy because he’d never sinned. We know. The Tree of Knowledge has put us in the know so that we know sin and redemption too.
So, let’s all take a look around the Garden this morning, and start peeling off the leaves that leave us hidden but still fearful. Transgress your fear. Put on the life of Christ and fear not.
Linda McMillan is on an extended holiday in Jordan.