By Rev. Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Genesis 3: 1-13
Have you ever had one of those dreams in which you suddenly realize you are standing in front of people naked? Perhaps at that moment you woke up sweaty and panicked! Psychologists have long discussed what our dreams reveal. Public nakedness in a dream often has something to do with emotional exposure or vulnerability. Perhaps we have a presentation to make a work and we’re worried we may be asked questions for which we have no response. Or, perhaps we’re experiencing ambivalence about a relationship that is deepening in intimacy. Or, it may even be our subconscious’ way of exploring whether or not it is wise to disclose our true feelings about something deeply personal. Most of us don’t like the feeling of being emotionally exposed. We are often more comfortable hiding behind ideas than exposing what lies within our hearts. In an increasingly polarized culture, it is tempting to hide from others. But we also sometimes try to hide from God. Perhaps your upbringing communicated that something about you was shameful or didn’t meet with God’s approval. So, the idea of exploring whatever that is in the presence of God feels humiliating or frightening. Finally, sometimes we even try to hide from ourselves when there is something within us that we don’t want to confront.
Now, certainly, there are times when it is wise not to disclose too much of ourselves to others. And yet, emotional exposure and vulnerability is the only way to be deeply and intimately connected to God and others and to live into our true, authentic self.
Many bible scholars consider the second account of creation, in Genesis chapter 2, to be the older of our Bible’s two creation stories. In this account, God is quite intimate with his creation. He stoops down and uses the dirt like clay, shaping it to form that first man. When he breathes into him, it is more than oxygen, for in Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament) one word, the same word, means breath, spirit and wind. And so, God breathes his Spirit into man and life begins. It is clear from the story that God desires relationship with his creation. So concerned is God with fellowship that he is intent on providing the man with an appropriate partner who will be both companion and helper. She is called in Hebrew ‘ezer, a word used also in the Old Testament to describe God as helper to humanity. So desiring is God of fellowship with his creation that, at the time of the evening breeze, he comes into the garden to walk and talk with the man and the woman. This ancient, holy story makes clear that we are made in God’s image and that being so is not so much about what we might consider “higher functions,” like the ability to reason or problem-solve, as it is about our most basic longing for fellowship and intimacy.
And yet, relationship is always a choice. While God chooses vulnerability and openness with these human creatures, God allows them the freedom to decide if they will or will not trust God. God allows them the opportunity to choose their level of exposure.
You know; we have some pretty lousy English translations of the woman’s evaluation of the forbidden tree after her dialogue with the serpent. This tree became something the woman lusted after not in a quest for wisdom. Wisdom is something God wants us to seek as Psalms and Proverbs repeatedly emphasize. The woman is not tempted by wisdom, but rather, success and prosperity. To “be like God,” as the serpent claims, is a temptation the two humans cannot resist.
In the ancient Mediterranean world, one’s face wasn’t just a physical feature. It was thought that one’s face revealed one’s inward character. To turn one’s face toward someone, was to reveal one’s self to the other and to turn one’s face away from another could indicate a rejection of the other. In this morning’s story, we read that the man and woman didn’t simply hide from God. They hid from God’s face. This is no playful game of hide and go seek. This is a purposeful turning away, a severing of intimacy. It’s enormously important to remember that, as our biblical story progresses, we read repeatedly that one cannot look on the face of God and live. Yet apparently, that is not the way things began. Apparently, at the dawn of creation, God revealed his face, God’s full self, to the man and woman. They were the ones to turn away. Trust is a two-way street and, having broken trust with God, their vulnerability and exposure seem like a bad idea; a source of shame and fear. Can you imagine how sad that must have made God?
Friends: we are creatures designed for fellowship and intimacy; but there can be no intimacy without trust. Too often, we are plagued with anxiety and fear and close ourselves off from God and one another. We hide the parts of ourselves we don’t want others to see. We succumb to fear and shame. We pursue prosperity and success in hopes they will bring us a sense of security. But security can’t ever be found in money and achievements. Security is only found in our realization that we are God’s beloved children made for intimate, loving fellowship with God and others. And so, the story of Genesis is the story of each of us.
Still, despite all we have done and continue to do, God seeks us. You know, we can never successfully hide from God and no matter how badly we screw things up, God will never stop seeking us – like a lost sheep or a prodigal son. God made us. God knows us. God loves us.
When I was around 7 or 8, my family lived in a parsonage with an enormous front yard. Between the lawn and the gravel driveway was a long line of very old and large pine trees. They were a favorite hiding place for me. I could wiggle myself in under and around the boughs, nearly to the trunk, and no one could see me. I remember one winter afternoon I became angry with my mom. My sister, seven years my elder, had been given some privilege I was denied; in my childish mind, an injustice that filled me with indignation. I would show her, I thought. I would run away from home… But, not too far, because I wasn’t allowed to cross the busy highway at the end of the driveway by myself. So I grabbed a paper grocery sack. I had a plan. I would collect icicles and put them in that paper sack. Then, I would sell them. When our family went camping, my parents always purchased ice for the cooler. So, it seemed like a perfectly logical and lucrative plan to me. (Now you know why I’m not an entrepreneur!) I filled my bag with icicles and then went to sit under one of those giant pine trees to plan my next move. But, as I sat there – it seemed like an eternity in my seven-year-old mind – I began to grow upset and angry. I was getting cold and my mom hadn’t even so much as opened the door and called my name. It was as if she didn’t even know I was missing! (She probably didn’t because my calculation of “eternity” likely probably amounted to more than 20 minutes.) Here I was hiding from her and she hadn’t even called me or come looking for me.
Friends: take a look around this sanctuary. Do you know the names of the folks sitting in this space with you? Have you introduced yourself, shared a bit about yourself? I hope there are at least a couple folks here with whom you practice vulnerability and openness without fear or shame. We can’t emotionally expose ourselves to everyone. That wouldn’t be smart. But we also can’t deny that God built us for intimate relationship with one another and with God.
So, please don’t spend your life trying to hide – from God, others or yourself. The face of God is seeking you and God is calling your name.
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