Sunday, June 09, 2024

Where are you? A sermon for the Cathedral Eucharist, Southwark, Trinity 2 (Proper 5)B 2024

Disclaimer: Before we dive into this morning's thoughts, let me reassure you. I believe that Scripture can be many things, and can be read in many different ways. Sometimes it points to deep truth through the language of story or myth - but it is nonetheless true for all that.

I suspect that I am not alone in finding that there are lines in Scripture that have the power to stop me in my tracks whenever I hear them.

Sometimes it is because they shine a spotlight on a deep truth that I need to hear.

Sometimes it is because they force me to recognise something about myself and the way I am living my life

But sometimes, it is because they take me to a place of such utter beauty that I would long to be there, more than anywhere else in the world.

The first sentence of our Genesis reading today is firmly in that category. “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze”.                                                                                                       Oh, - I so want to be there...To hear God’s footsteps walking across thhe grass….God’s presence making perfect an already perfect place, for this is Eden, God’s company hallowing an already sacred time.

I imagine myself running to meet him...slipping my hand in his and strolling on enjoying the evening breeze together.,Everything is just as it should be. Just as God has always intended.

And it was good.

Til I look down and realise I’m naked, unfit to be seen. That I must hide. And I run off into the trees because my shame and my fear are greater even than my longing to be close to God…I slope off , as Adam and Eve did before me,

And God calls out to me “Where are you?”

If this is hide and seek its’s a game with the highest stakes, the greatest prize.

Where are you?

God’s first question in Scripture...addressed to Adam and Eve, yes – but beyond them to everyone...who has lived since, who will ever live.

Where are you?

I wonder how you hear that question.

I suspect that quite often our knowledge that this is the story of the Fall, - the day when it all went wrong – constrains us to hear the voice of an angry parent.       "Where ARE you, you disobedient child? You’ve failed me, let yourself down and now you are in BIG TROUBLE."

If that’s the tone that you hear, well, it might well make sense to stay hidden, hidden from God, - and maybe even hidden from yourself,After all, humankind cannot bear too much reality.

There’s a measure of that in the Genesis story, where nobody is keen to look at the world in the light of God’s truth, nobody is willing to take responsibility for their actions...Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent, and the serpent slithers away, content at the chaos caused. In this version of events “Where are you?” seems inevitably to lead to “Come hear so that you can be punished...”

But what if we reframe it, hear that question in a different tone? Still a parent, but one who is anxious, afraid that their child is in danger, unable to rest until they are sure they are safe and sound.                                                                 Where are you? Come here love...I’m waiting. It’ll be alright”.

I wonder if that voice sounds more familiar...the voice of the God who so loves the world…Can you quite believe the generosity of that invitation? Is it enough to draw you from your hiding place? Dare you, dare I,  accept that depth of love?

Or maybe, just maybe, this is a wistful call from a God who loves those evening walks in the garden, who is missing those precious companions made in God’s image...Can we hear the voice of the lover entreating the beloved               “Where are you? My arms are empty, until you come to fill them once again”

However you hear the question it is surely one worth attending to. God only asks, you see, because we are none of us quite where we should be. We have become so caught up in ourselves that we cannot stand the thought of God seeing us naked , undefended, all the bare truth of our flawed humanity...and so we prefer to slip away into the trees.

In his commentary on the Book of Genesis, Walter Brueggemann suggests that the serpent in the Garden of Eden is the world’s first theologian because it is the serpent who convinces humankind to exchange obedience to God for theology about God. That’s a little unnerving, specially for those of us for whom doing theology is a substantial part of how we live out the vocation that we believe is one of God’s gifts to us...but then, misreading what God is ACTUALLY calling us to is a problem as old as humanity.It’s the same problem the scribes were dealing with, - they had become so trapped by their own understandings of how God would be that they simply couldn’t recognise God walking beside them in the person of Jesus Christ. Their presumed knowledge had become a means of self preservation and protection in its own right, rather than a means of transmitting and communicating faith in the living God.

Small wonder, then, that Jesus draws a clear line to point up the contrast. Relationship with God depends not on knowledge nor on obedience to any elaborate system of codified laws...nor even on family background. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”

Time to ask ourselves afresh that key question “where are you?” Are you hiding from God? Or have you created an elaborate system designed to fend God off while purporting to bring you closer? 

We often speak of searching for God, as if in this ultimate game of hide and seek it might be God who is playing hard to get. I hope by now you are beginning to realise that this is not the case. Rather, the whole sweep of salvation history is the story of our relentless pursuit by the one whom Francis Thompson described as the Hound of Heaven….

I fled him down the nights and down the days

I fled him down the arches of the years

I fled him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind...”

Again, it takes a long time (171 lines of poetry in fact) for Thompson to understand that this is not a hostile pursuit…to recognise that though God has eternity in which to find us, God does so only to bring us safely back to that walk in the garden at the time of the evening breeze

Rise, clasp my hand and come” says the final stanza, a gracious invitation to all.

When I first read today’s lections, my heart sank as I homed in upon emnity, a house divided, a mother and siblings rebuffed. I’m glad that the Spirit drew me to focus on that picture of the Lord God walking quietly, inviting us to come close again. When I logged on last night for one last polish, one more attempt to offer what it seemed that God wanted me to bring today, I found that a friend had posted what was presented as a summary of the whole of Scripture.

Perhaps I should simply have shared that and left you to ponder, for hear I read that the God who asks “where are you” has a 4 line manifesto.

It runs like this. Listen!

I love you.

I am with you.

Do not be afraid.

You can come home.


Thanks be to God



Anonymous said...

Thank you Kathryn. Food for thought. I can see one word there which might have upset FB!
Although my next sermon will be quite different it might glean a little from yours!

Billster said...

Thank you for this way of reading that passage and for the line about fleeing God through the labyrinth of my mind, that spoke to me!