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Where Are You?

Dr. Bruce Lancaster

February 14, 2016
Genesis 3:1-13, 20-24

A reading from Genesis:

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. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’

The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all who live. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.

Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever’— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.


LANCASTER, BRUCE; (Staff)49This year’s Lenten sermon series is called “Questions on the Mind of God.” Leading up to Palm Sunday, we will reflect on five questions that God asks in a variety of stories in the Old Testament.

Let’s be clear, God did not ask these questions to expose our ignorance. These questions are asked in order to help us grow in the faith as we make our journey to the cross and beyond.

Today, let’s start at the end of the story: On the day of resurrection, they come to the garden wondering where Jesus is, and he asks, “Whom are you looking for?”

Three days before, on the night of his betrayal, Jesus went to the garden and his betrayers came looking for him.

Jesus asked: Whom are you looking for?

On the day of his betrayal, God went looking in the garden for those who betrayed him.

God asked: Where are you?

So we begin our journey of questions at the beginning – in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve; and they’re on the run!

One of the truths of this story is that God has designed us as ‘choice-makers’. And these choices we make are significant – they can lead to life or death – that’s the commandment and consequence God gives: “Don’t eat of this fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for on the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.”

Now the story says that Adam and Eve lived; they had children. Of course, they do die, physically, some time later.

Yet, they do die that day! Death in the scriptures is a physical death, but more than that, it has to do with a sense of being broken off from the source of life.

That is, broken off from God. This death is separation from God and separation from ourselves.

As that separation from the source of life – God – and all that is good about life – ourselves, others, the world – as that separation comes to its full expression, then death as this story describes it, is nothing less than hell itself.

Is it fair to say that they were hiding because of the choice they had made? And it was hell.

This is the first part of the story – this is our reality – our story – This is where so many of us are today.

There have been choices made by us, by others…

Leaving a gun where a four-year old can find it and she shoots her brother; Drinking and driving and crashing and killing; changing the source of water for a city and children suffer from lead-poisoning; words spoken in anger that destroy a relationship…

Life is not what it’s supposed to be – we suffer the consequences of our actions, or we suffer because of the actions of others.

Shamed, running from the consequences, hiding, hurting, in a place of turmoil, anger, depression, fear, hard times, separated from all that used to be so good.

The other truth of this story is that God comes looking for Adam and Eve.

Close your eyes and listen for the “sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.”

The Lord God comes walking through the garden, calling out, “Where are you?”

Adam and Eve heard the sound. “I was afraid,” Adam said, “when I heard you walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, we hid.”

Afraid – of course they were. They don’t know what to do, and they hide in the only way they know how, for they really don’t know what God will do now.

A reality of this story is that they suffer the consequences of their choice – sent away from the Garden of Eden.

But is this all the story is about – That God was asking, “Where are you?” just so God could make them suffer?

As my theology professor, Shirley Guthrie once wrote, “The story of God’s dealings with his often rebellious people of Israel teaches us that even when God judges and punishes, it is not to seek revenge, pay back, and destroy. It is to help, renew, restore, and save people who have made themselves the enemies of God and of other people.”

Take a good look at what God does. Adam and Eve had fashioned some clothes out of fig leaves. I’m not up on fashions, but I believe that fig leaves are not the most comfortable of clothing – probably more like ‘medium grade sandpaper.’

But note that after they were banished from the garden, God clothed Adam and Eve with clothes made of the skins of animals.

From fig leaves to fur coats – do you see what’s happening? Do you get the picture?

Another picture: Jürgen Moltmann, the great theologian, was captured in World War II and sent to a POW camp in England. He was not reared as a Christian, but an American chaplain gave him an Army-issue New Testament and Psalms.

He read from the 139th Psalm: “If I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there.” He wondered, “Could God be present in that dark place?”

As he read on, Moltmann found words that perfectly captured his feelings of desolation. He became convinced, as he says, that God “was present even behind the barbed wire—no, most of all behind the barbed wire.”

Walking the perimeter of the barbed wire at night for exercise, he would circle a small hill in the center of the camp on which stood a hut that served as a chapel. That hut became for him a symbol of God’s presence in the midst of suffering.

God comes looking…Where are you?

Let me put it this way: when God wishes to access your current location, what type of GPS do you believe God uses: A Guilt Positioning System or a Grace Positioning System?

So many do hear an angry God and keep running – a lifelong hide and seek with God, very afraid to be found.

Or so many have run so far that they no longer think God cares to look for them anymore; and with all the suffering on this planet, that God is neither all-good nor all-powerful.

But I believe God asks us these questions because God is not satisfied with this world either, and our willingness to answer, honestly and faithfully, recognizes the powerful presence and work of God’s love and care in our own lives and in the world around us when there is disappointment, suffering, and death as well as in health, happiness, and success.

I hope you can hear that healing note as the evening breeze carries God’s searching question, “Where are you?”

I know how I’ve answered: Well, I’m here and I’m with these kind of people and I’m not here because I’ve got everything together. I come because I don’t have it together.

And what I need is help because I haven’t always made good choices, and I’m looking for something, and I need help listening for God who is looking for me.

I heard the story at a Montreat Youth Conference – a Youth Leader told of one Sunday morning as she was walking into the Educational Building and one of the Elders was coming down the hall with one of her high school boys.

“Look what I found when I got here,” the Elder said. “He said he had a little bit too much to drink at the prom last night and was afraid to go home, and he knew the church would be open about 6, so he came here to sleep it off. We can’t have that here, so I’m putting him in his car to go home – his parents would be ashamed for anybody else to see him like this…what kind of kids do we have in our youth group anyway?”

She looked at the boy, hung over, shame faced, and then turned to the Elder, “If not here, then where?”

If not here, then where are you?