Sermon from September 6: “Where are you?”

“Where are you?”
Pentecost XIV (O. T. 23); September 6, 2020
Genesis 3:8-11 and John 17:20-26

Sometimes it’s interesting to read a story from a different point of view. When you read a story, you have to stand somewhere. Sometimes the author tells you where to stand: if it’s in first person, then you’re standing inside the head of the narrator. And often there’s a main character, and you pay attention to the story from that person’s point of view. When we read, for example, A Christmas Carol, we pretty much always follow the story from the point of view of Ebenezer Scrooge. I wonder how the story would be different if you stood instead with his nephew Fred, or with Mrs. Cratchit.

I wonder what it would be like to read the Bible from God’s point of view. Although the Bible is a remarkable collection of a lot of different kinds of work, I think of it as telling one overarching story. The history, poetry, fables, essays, and so forth all tell a story about human beings in relationship with one another and in relationship with God. I normally read it from the standpoint of a follower of Jesus; what would it be like to read it from God’s point of view?

I think it would feel like the Lord God’s walk in the Garden at the time of the evening breeze. God has planted a Garden; God has created a man and a woman to tend the Garden and to look after each other, and to look after all the animals; there’s one tree in the Garden that has lovely fruit but God knows what the consequences will be if they eat that fruit, so God warns them they would be better off to leave it alone. On a pleasant evening – similar to many we’ve had here lately in Omaha – the Lord God slips out of Heaven for a while to take a walk in the Garden. Usually Adam and Eve walk along and the three enjoy each other’s company. But today they are nowhere to be found. The Lord God walks along the path, looking to left and right, and then calls out, “Where are you?”

“Where are you?” I think the whole Bible is the story of God calling out that question, “Where are you?” You’re hiding from me; why? What are you afraid of? And Adam answers, “Well, it’s not so much that I’m afraid, but that I don’t want you to see me because I’m naked and I don’t want you to see me like this.” Imagine what it feels like to be the Lord God and to hear that. Why shouldn’t I see you naked? I made you that way! I made both of you, I shaped your very being from my own creative energy, I know every curve, every wrinkle, every bone and muscle and tendon. Why shouldn’t I see you naked? “Well, I’m ashamed.” Ashamed! Ashamed? You are ashamed of your being, ashamed of the way I made you? Just because you’re naked? Who told you that you are naked? I warned you about that tree; you ate from it, didn’t you?

I suspect you know where the story goes from there: the man blames the woman, the woman blames the snake, and when the snake looks around for someone to blame there’s no one left. So instead of walking together in the Garden and enjoying the evening breeze, the man and the woman – and the snake, no doubt – are expelled from the Garden and have to make their way in the world.

So God walks through sixty-six books of the Bible, walks through thousands of years of human history, walks through your life and mine and cries out, “Where are you?” Why are you hiding? Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of that tree that I warned you about?

God walks through the Garden of your life and mine and cries out, “Where are you?” I hide from God, ashamed for God to see me like this. “Who told you that you were naked?” Now, in this part of the sermon, when I say “I” and “me” I’m not talking only about myself, but I’m talking about you, as well. You know who you are. I’m using myself as an example of each of us, hiding among the trees, crouching behind the bushes beside the path, ashamed for God to see me like this.

I hide from God, because I’m ashamed of what I have done and I’m ashamed of what I have failed to do. I hide from God, because I know that somehow that gaze, the piercing look of those eyes, will look straight through my pretensions to the reality inside. God will know that I’m a fraud, that I’m not as good as I pretend to be, that I don’t love as well as I talk about, that I’m hiding a host of things from God and from other people and probably from myself, too. I’d rather hide from God than come clean, come out from behind the trees and admit that yes, I’m naked, and rather ashamed of it.

It’s easy to hide from God. I don’t feel like reading the Bible today; I’m going to play video games instead. I don’t want to write in my journal; let’s find something fun on YouTube. I’ll go for a walk, but I don’t want to listen to the trees or laugh at the squirrels or pray or think; let me put in my earbuds and be sure that my mind is distracted. If I hide from God then I can pretend that I am the person I claim to be, that there is nothing false about me, that I am not naked and ashamed.

I hide from God and I hide from you, my family and friends. What will you do to me if you find out the truth about me? You may hurt me, you may laugh at me. And so we all hide from each other too, because we would rather go through life lonely than admitting we are ashamed of our nakedness. The Men’s Book Club selection for this month is a quite remarkable book[1] and it is shaking me up something fierce. Two best friends are doing the Camino de Santiago together. When a young woman joins them and, at their invitation, opens up about her own life, they begin to contemplate the community they are finding on the road. People talk about their lives with each other, they enjoy one another, and they share a beer together and laugh. And one of them wonders why the Church isn’t like that. He reads the Bible and sees clearly that such a community of people who do not hide from each other is what Jesus tried to form, but that’s not who we are. He has a great line: he says that to be part of the Church you have to lie on your application for admission. He’s right. We hide from each other. When I convene a Church meeting and ask a question designed to get people sharing with each other, usually I’m met by stares and blank silence. No one wants to open up. They want to do business and get on with it, rather than actually know each other a little better. Where are you? I’m hiding here in the bushes; I don’t want anybody to see me as I am.

Adam and Eve are not only stand-ins for each of us, but they represent all of us, as well. The story of the Bible is not only God’s ongoing search for you and me, but also God’s ongoing search for us, for the human race. God calls Abram to be the source of blessing for all the families of the earth; God frees a people from slavery and exile to form a community to be the vehicle of that blessing; God sends Jesus Christ to seek and save the lost, yet we keep hiding in the bushes, afraid of what may happen if God should see us as we are. Perhaps we would have to see ourselves as we are.

How many bushes have we hidden behind over all the years of human history? While God calls out, “Where are you?” we’re busy off at war, conquering one another. We know the right way to live, and we’re going to conquer you and make you live the way we do. And we want your land and your minerals and your petroleum. God calls, “Where are you?” and we’re busy preening in the mirror, admiring our own greatness, our own accomplishments, our own wealth and power. God calls, “Where are you?” and we don’t think we’re hiding at all, we just figure we should get to choose which God we want to answer to.

Last Sunday I said that I don’t know how to pray for our nation and world right now. The massive lies and disinformation that people easily accept make me want to despair. The emotional reactions to buzz-words that substitute for actual thought and the quick recourse to slogans and scarewords drive me to distraction. The way our leaders quickly overlook the difference between the large numbers of people who are protesting social injustice and the small number of people who are taking advantage of social unrest to engage in violence makes me angry. Well, there’s more, and you know it well, but that’s enough of that. I said I didn’t know how to pray for our nation and our world.

I’m going to try this: I’m going to pray that God will find us. I’m going to try to pull myself out of the trees, and meet God in the path, and say, “Here I am. I know I’m naked, and I’m ashamed, but if you can take me as I am then I’ll walk with you.” And, as a preacher, I will continue to urge you to stop hiding from God and to stop hiding from each other. Maybe I can’t get the message to Washington and Moscow and Beijing and Jerusalem, but I can say to you: God loves you, God loves us, God has come in the One who said in his own prayer, “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). Come out of hiding; when God walks through your life in the time of the evening breeze and you hear God’s voice crying out, “Where are you?” don’t be ashamed; answer, “Here I am. Would you like to hear my story?”

Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska

[1] Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck, I’ll Push You: A Journey of 500 Miles, Two Best Friends, and One Wheelchair (Tyndale, 2017)