Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hide and Seek: A Sermon on Creation and the "Fall"

A sermon preached at Presbury United Methodist Church.

Scripture: Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8 (NRSV)
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when 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; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then 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

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but 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.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but 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.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So 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. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. 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.

Sermon: Hide and Seek
Let us pray:
Patient teacher, we give you thanks for the breath that you have breathed into us this day and every day, and for the beauty of your creation. But we confess that we forget your goodness and beauty and try to hide away from you, afraid. Breathe into us anew this morning, that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts might reveal again to us your glory. Amen.

Picture from @loubielouwho on Instagram
I love playing hide and seek or peek-a-boo with small children. I love how they think that if they can't see you, that you also cannot see them. Like they disappear. I love their delighted laughter when their eyes are opened and they are found again, or when they find you. I read a news article about a scientific study of peek-a-boo. Apparently, scientists and researchers were trying to figure out what makes this game such a fundamental part of human existence--- it crosses cultural boundaries, historical eras, everything. As part of their study, “most of the time the peekaboo game proceeded normally, however on occasion the adult hid and reappeared as a different adult, or hid and reappeared in a different location.” Trick peek-a-boo. Older kids loved this, loved the surprise, but it turns out that the younger a child is, the less funny they think trick peek-a-boo is. Developmental psychologists believe that the reason why younger babies don't like trick peek-a-boo is that the game “isn't just a joke, but helps babies test and re-test a fundamental principle of existence: [object permanence, to use science-y language, or] that things stick around even when you can't see them.”1 Even when we disappear, or we think we disappear, we are not lost forever. 
But, as much as we laugh about these kids playing hide-and-seek behind poles and sticking out from beneath pillows, they are not so different from those of us who are older. And they are not so different from the man and woman in the Garden of Eden, who heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time and the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees in the Garden
Now some of you might chuckle with me at the image of the first humans hiding from God like the kids from these pictures.2 But even if you are, you may be wondering how the metaphor of hide-and-seek works with our scripture today. After all, the children playing hide and seek that we laugh at are not hiding in fear. We are talking about funny Buzzfeed lists, not crime shows where we find children hiding under the bed as their parents are dragged away. When we read this scripture, we tend to read it as the first humans making a huge mistake and hiding from God in fear, worried they have displeased and disappointed their creator and really their companion. We read it and label it with words like Fall. 
I do not deny that this story can be seen as a story of disobedience and punishment. If you just read through the next few verse after where we stopped today, the punishment motif is pretty darn strong. But I want us to read the story differently today. I want us to read it with new eyes and to notice the grace in this story that we usually do not notice. And I think that grace is hinted at in verse eight, when God is walking in the Garden at the time of the evening breeze.

Notice in this scripture, God is described as breathing, walking, and talking more like a superhero than the Spirit we usually imagine when we imagine God. The presence of God is physical in this story. God is physically breathing into the nostrils of the creature God made from the dust of the ground. God is physically laying that creature down as he sleeps deeply and removing a rib to fashion into another creature. God is not perceived physically as the serpent speaks, not passing the fruit around as the woman and man eat, not sewing fig leaf loincloths alongside the man and the woman when they realize they were naked. God is not perceived to be there physically when they hide. 
But does that mean God was not there? Just because we do not see or feel God, does that mean that God is not there? When our hands cover our own eyes, does that mean God has disappeared? When we hide, does that mean we have disappeared before God? Does the principle of object permanence--- that things stick around even when you can't see them--- apply to God?

Today in worship, we are celebrating baptisms, and, in our tradition, baptism is an affirmation of God's object permanence. Well, it's more than that, more than just that God sticks around even when you can't see God. Baptism is also an affirmation that God continues to work on us, continues to transform us by grace, even when we think we are hiding from God. 
The language we use for baptism is the language of new life, that we have died to sin and are now given new life. We ask those candidates for baptism or their sponsors if we are baptizing babies, “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?” When I met with Leah and Gracie and Ben, I asked if when they answer, I do, to that question, and get baptized if that meant they would never get caught up in the spiritual forces of wickedness, or experience evil, or sin every again. To which they answered that yeah, they probably would sin again. So does that mean if they sin that their baptism is invalidated? If that were the case, we'd need Ms. Janice back here with her supersoaker shooting us with baptismal water every week!
When we are baptized, we are acknowledging that God's grace is always at work in us. We have the knowledge of Good and Evil, our eyes are opened, but unlike what the serpent said, we are not like God. We still need God. So it is good that God sticks around even when we think we have it all figured out, or we get so stressed or sad or mad we ignore God, or even when we are ashamed and we don't know what to do. Baptism acknowledges our constant need of God's grace and affirms God's presence constantly with us. 
The first humans, dressed in fig leaves, hid among the trees of the Garden. But I wonder sometimes if it was less because they were afraid and more because they were testing a fundamental principle of existence: will God still seek us out, even when we do the things God tells us not to do? They did not realize God was already with them as they ate of the fruit and as their eyes were open. They did not realize God was with them even as they hid. But God called out to them anyway.

We stopped our scripture reading this morning at verse eight, but I want to continue onto the next verse:
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?”

Even when we hide, even when we think God cannot see us, God still calls out to us. So the question we are left with is, how will we respond to that call?

1See Tom Stafford, “Why All Babies Love Peek-a-boo,” 18 April 2014, BBC Future, accessed 27 August 2016,


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