Our first reading today is part of the 2nd creation story (there are 2 by the way – one in Chapter 1 and this one in chapter 2) So this is part of the one that starts in Genesis chapter 2. God creates Adam from the earth, and, realizing that it’s not good for him to be alone, eventually, God creates Eve from Adam’s rib. God places them in the garden with very few restrictions, and they live together in relationship with one another and with God who, apparently, has the practice of coming in the cool of the evening to spend time with them in fellowship. So when God shows up one evening, and Adam and Eve are hiding, God knows something’s gone terribly wrong.
What is it that causes Adam and Eve to hide from God, I wonder? Maybe it’s embarrassment, or shame, or maybe fear. Whatever it is, in the end, the relationship is broken. And I’ve got to tell you, I think this is one of the saddest passages in Scripture, as God comes to the Garden, calling out: “Adam, where are you?” And Adam replies: “I heard you coming, and I hid, because I was afraid, because I was naked.” It’s profoundly sad, because all God has ever wanted, the thing that has always been at the very center of the heart of God, is relationship. It’s summed up in a thought that runs throughout the entire Scriptural record from start to finish. God says, over and over again, at various times and in various ways: “I will be your God and you will be my people.”
That’s it. That’s the heart of God. From the beginning, when God comes in the cool of the evening to hang out with Adam and Eve, to the very end of the story and the coming of the new heaven and new earth, God wants one thing above all else – to be in relationship with us. This is why this scene in Genesis 3 is so profoundly sad, because the thing God wants more than anything has just been broken.
But there’s something powerful to notice here. God still shows up.
Adam and Eve have broken the relationship, and by their actions, they’ve set in motion this series of consequences that will eventually lead to the death and resurrection of Jesus. And God knows this already, even before he questions them. But God still shows up, calling out to them: “Where are you?” because there is nothing more important – there is nothing more central – than the relational connection between God and God’s people, and, by extension, the relational connections within the community of God’s people…
Over the past 3 days, our sisters and brothers from around New Jersey lived out an expression of this relationship at the NJ Synod Assembly.
Hundreds of us, including Barb Denegar, Craig Munson and myself, met to
- Celebrate the ordination of 2 new pastors in the Synod
- To hear reports from various partners in mission, and from the Churchwide offices, including the office of Elizabeth Eaton, our Presiding Bishop
- To elect voting members to the Churchwide Assembly happening next summer
- To approve a spending plan for the Synod for next year
- And to discuss and vote on 4 resolutions:
- One concerning full participation of immigrants in the life of the Church, regardless of citizenship or immigration status
- One concerning the heroin crisis in NJ
- One concerning the use of solitary confinement – one of many issues raised in our ELCA Social Statement on Criminal Justice, which you probably remember from our study of that document if you’re one of those who joined us for that study group over the last couple of years
- And one concerning our ongoing support for Malaria prevention through the ELCA World Hunger Appeal
In addition to these things, we
- Worshipped together
- Ate and drank together
- And we learned together at various forums on topics that span the breadth of our work together in mission and ministry as the Church here in NJ and beyond.
The whole gathering was centered on the theme and prayer from the hymn: “Build Us Up, Lord!”, realizing that, apart from God’s work in, through and around us – apart from God’s activity in building us up – we crumble and fall and come to naught. It’s like we read a few weeks back in John’s Gospel about the vine and branches. Apart from Jesus the Vine, we, the branches, can do nothing. And, notice, the language is plural, and that’s no mistake, because we are the Church together. Our coming together as a Synod is an important symbol.
The word “synod” actually comes from two Greek words: “syn” and “hodos.” A literal translation of the word synod would be something like: “a way together” or to “journey together” or “to walk together.” As God’s people in the world we do just that. We walk the way of the Gospel, the way of Christ’s death and resurrection, the way of justice and mercy and forgiveness, together, for the sake of mission and ministry here in NJ and around the world. But no single congregation, and no single Synod, for that matter, is the Church. The Church, in the fullest sense, consists of all those who have walked this way together, believers from every time and in every place,
- Working together
- Praying together
- Singing together
- Serving together
- Proclaiming together the heart of God’s saving love for humanity and all that God has made
A love that’s been about reconciliation since the first break in the relationship occurred all the way back in the beginning…
I said before that the heart of God is about relationships, and I believe that’s true, but because of the fall, because of our age-old rebellion against the ways of God, relationships on every level have been broken.
And we see it in the Genesis story
- In the break between God and God’s people
- Between the people and the creation as the ground is cursed a little later on in the story
- Within the relationship of Adam and Eve as they try to pass the blame one from the other
And we can’t help but see it played out in all sorts of twisted ways in our everyday experience of living in this world.
- Greed and envy
- Apathy toward the suffering of others
- Broken homes
- Broken families
- Abusive behaviors directed toward others – toward the weak and vulnerable in particular
- And self-abusive behaviors
Look, we can see it in the 3rd Chapter of the Gospel of Mark. “Jesus went home.” That’s how the story starts. This should be a safe place, a place of comfort and welcome, but the relationships are all messed up.
- His neighbors think he’s out of his mind
- His family seems to agree, as they come to restrain him
- The religious leaders think he’s possessed by Beelzebul, the ruler of demons
This is not a happy homecoming marked by welcome, and healthy relationships. Not by a long shot! But in the midst of all this family dysfunction, and community dysfunction, and all these difficult interactions, Jesus reframes what it means to be part of the family of God: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Or we might say it this way:
- Those who in the face of violence, strive for peace
- Those who in the face of injustice, work to bring equity
- Those who in the face of thievery, greed and envy, seek equality
- Those who in the face of apathy, live lives of love and service
- Those who in the face of broken homes and broken families, work to bring reconciliation
- Those who in the face of abuse of the weak, use their power to speak up and speak out for, and to effect change
- Those who in the face of self-abuse, exalt the worth of the other as beloved of God
These are brother and sister and mother to Jesus.
Those who journey together, walk the way together, are synod together, living as God’s baptized people in the world together, for the sake of the Gospel, bringing reconciliation and peace to bear wherever and whenever we find broken relationships, these are brother and sister and mother to Jesus…
Now, of course, we’ll never do it perfectly. Like our very first ancestors, we’ll mess up, and we’ll try to pass the blame, and we’ll find ourselves naked and ashamed and afraid. But, also, like our first ancestors, we’ll find that God keeps showing up, calling our names, seeking us out, building us up, and bringing reconciliation and peace to bear, in our lives and in all the earth, in the name of Jesus, as we walk his way… together. Amen.