Sunday, September 30, 2012

Is God Among Us or Not? [The Bible's Greatest Questions]

Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is a mild mannered news-beat reporter facing a midlife meltdown. In one afternoon, the anchor desk position he deserved goes to his arrogant rival, Evan.  Then Bruce makes a fool of himself during a live on-the-air news report, and is fired. His car is vandalized, and when he attempts to save a vagrant from harassment, the gang turns on him and beats him up.  Finally, Bruce returns to his apartment and recounts the events of the day to his girlfriend, Grace. He is angry with his boss, his life, the injustice of the world, and most of all Bruce is angry with God!
    GRACE (gently): “Well, thank God you’re all right.”
    BRUCE (snorting): “God…yeah, let’s thank God, shall we? From whom blessings are raining down upon me!”
    GRACE: Later… “Stop being a martyr Bruce…” 
    BRUC: “I am not being a martyr. I am a victim. God is a mean kid sitting on an anthill with a magnifying glass, and I am the ant. God could have fixed my life in 5 minutes if he wanted to, but he’d rather burn off my feelers and watch me squirm.”
    GRACE (empathically): “Sweetheart, I know you’re mad. It’s understandable. What Evan did is slimy and wrong, but this day could’ve been so much worse. I’m just glad you’re okay.
    BRUCE (interrupting): “Okay? News flash! I’m not okay. I’m not okay with a mediocre job! I’m not okay with a mediocre apartment! I’m not okay with a mediocre life!”
    GRACE (hurt): “So is that what you think we have? A mediocre life?”
    BRUCE: “Perfect. Perfect…I’ll have the worst day of my life with a side order of guilt, please!” 

When bad things happen, we may be tempted to question God’s existence, or God’s goodness.  As Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt he not only had to face his own reservations about such a monumental undertaking, he had to face the skepticism of his fellow Israelites.  As they faced hunger and thirst, they questioned the goodness of God’s plan, asking Moses, “Is God among us or not?”  In Exodus 17:1-14, the response of the LORD to this situation reveals how we can overcome our own doubts, and the disbelief of those around us…

(i) Ask God for help.  So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” – Exodus 17: 4.  In the pages of Scripture, we find that God is very honest with us…that God expresses his love for us, his will for our lives, his disappointment and sadness when we disregard him, his joy when even one runaway son or daughter returns to him. 
Not only that, but God seems to appreciate our honesty as well. Moses has some of the most honest exchanges with God in the Bible.  When the LORD sends him to Pharoah, his first response is, “Why me Lord?  Please pick someone else!”  Elijah asks God to take away his life in the face of his adversaries (1 Kings 19: 4); and the Psalmist cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Psalm 22:1).  We can come to God with our deepest questions and complaints.  

Yet when Moses says to God, “What shall I do with this people?” he seems more burdened by the doubts of others than his own.  We live in a culture that does not always affirm our deepest convictions.  I know that there were times as a student in which I felt surrounded by skepticism and doubt. The point is that whether the doubts and questions come from within, or whether we feel surrounded and even attacked by the skepticism of others, we can go to God and ask as Moses did: “What should I do?”  I have found that when I’ve asked God for help in the face of doubts, he has always helped me…and what that help looks like is what we’re talking about today.

(ii) Stay on course.  We read in v. 1 that the Israelites are encamped at Rephedim, which is the last stop before their destination:  Mount Sinai (also known Horeb where the Torah is given, see also Num.33:15).  In other words, they were almost there, but doubts and disbelief once again threatened to delay them or derail them. In response to Moses’ question, “What should I do?” God says, “Go on ahead of the people….I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb…” – Exodus 17: 5, 6.  “Go on ahead of the people….”  Go where?  Toward the “Rock at Horeb” which is synonymous with the Sinai area.  The point is that the LORD was telling Moses to advance toward Sinai, not retreat; to continue according to plan (see Ex. 3: 12) with one variation…they would see the LORD standing on a Rock.

Here is a principle to live by: When you are filled with doubts or questions, unsure of which way to go, continue doing the last thing that God told you to do.  Moses knew that he was to advance toward Sinai, which is what he continued to do by faith.  In the same way, don’t rush ahead, wait on him, stay in relationship to Him, and know that as always he goes before you, that he is your Solid Rock when it feels like you’re on shifting sand. There are 20 references to God as our Rock in the Hebrew Scriptures alone.  In Psalm 18:2 we read, The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.  And Paul writes that this Rock at Horeb was a foreshadowing of Christ himself who would feed us with the Bread of Life and the Living Water.  For They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” – 1 Cor. 10:1-4. When you’re not sure what to do…stay on course, continue walking according to his word, remain faithful to him, and know that he goes before you just as Jesus said to Mary, “Go tell my disciples that I am going before them to Galilee, there they will see me.” 

(iii) Consult the wise and experiencedNotice that Moses is not to go alone as he battles the skepticism of his people and perhaps some of his own reservations. “…Take some of the elders of Israel with you” says the LORD  - Exodus 17: 5 Who do you take with you when you’re in trouble?  When you’re going to the hospital?  When you need help studying for an exam? When you’re going to the altar on your wedding day?   When you’re doubting or afraid?  When you’re grieving or lonely or need a friend who will listen? Moses took some of the elders…and Jesus took three of his disciples on the night of his arrest to pray. 

Do you have a short list…of trusted friends with whom you can confide…do you have someone you can take with you, to encourage you, to listen to you, to pray for you?  That’s one of the reasons God has placed us together in his Body, the Church…so that we don’t have to go it alone! My Lifegroup is a small group of pastors that I have known for more than 30 years now.  We meet twice a year.  We all became pastors around the same time.  When we need advice or prayer, we know we can call one another and ask for that.  Just this last week I had the opportunity to help one of my dearest friends and a brother in Christ…and it was an honor, and honor to be asked to journey with him, just as he has helped me on so many occasions as well.  Prov. 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another!”  Believe it.

(iv) Fourth, Put yourself in the place where faith is possibleWhen we’re struggling with doubt we sometimes pray, “Lord give me more faith, and I will serve you.”  “Lord, take away my doubts, and then I will be able to obey you.”  But in order for God to answer this prayer we must put ourselves in "the situation where faith is possible" (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, New York: MacMillan, 1963, p. 72) the place where faith is expressed in action, and only the power of God’s command is enough to sustain us!  God told Moses, “Take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go…Strike the rock and water will come out of it!” – Exodus 17: 5, 6 God was telling Moses to put himself in the place where faith is possible…the place where he had to trust in what only God could do!   

You see, we want to “trust God more,” but we don’t want to have to “risk anything more” either.  There’s a powerful story where the disciples are in a fishing boat in the middle of a storm.  That’s when they see Jesus walking toward them on the water.  Peter, always the first to open his mouth says, “Lord if it is you, bid me to come out on the water with you.”  Jesus says, “Come!” We can imagine Peter’s next thought, “Now you’ve done it, Peter.  Why did you have to open your big mouth again.”  Peter did not know what would happen when he placed his foot on the water…but he could guess based on past experience as a fisherman.  That was the place for Peter where faith was really necessary.  It was not faith in his own faith, but faith in Jesus’ empowering command…he stepped out and walked toward his Lord through the waves. Do we really want a deeper assurance that God is among us, and near us?  Then we must put ourselves in the place where faith is possible.  Trust God as he gives us an assignment that only he can accomplish.   

Just the other day I was dealing with a situation that was truly testing my faith… I was losing hope.  It was a God-sized problem that only the Lord could solve.  But I saw a miracle where I wasn’t expecting one, I saw healing where I didn’t think healing was possible, and I saw the Peace of Christ rest upon a situation which was full of contention and strife and conflict.  Praise the Lord…for his miracles which daily increase my faith.

(v) Tell your story to the next generation.  “[Moses] called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” – Exodus 17: 7. We might be tempted to skip over this last verse…as a kind of minor epilogue to the story.  Moses names the place where water came from the rock.  No big deal.  The real story was the miracle itself, right?  Well yes…and no.  The naming of that place was a way of impressing it forever upon Israel’s consciousness, a reminder that this was where Israel’s doubts and questions were answered, “Is God among us or not?”  Answer: “Yes!”  It’s so easy to plead with God for some situation, and then when it is fixed to our satisfaction…to move on as if it never happened.  When the crisis is over, and we don’t need God anymore, we go on our merry way. Who would treat a friend like that?  A friend that we only call upon in a crisis and then ignore the moment the crisis is over.  Friends, when God speaks or acts, we need to write it down and share it with others…whether God has worked a mighty miracle, or given us his unshakeable word to guide us.

Several times in Israel’s history, men and women set up memorial stones to remind them and all who passed by of God’s great provision.  In Gen. 35:14, Jacob set up a pillar where God had spoken and revealed himself to him and called the place Bethel (House of God).  In 1 Samuel 7:12, Samuel sets up a stone and called it, Ebenezer, or “Stone of Help” because it was there that the Lord helped his people again.  In Psalm 77: 11 we read,I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  

How many of you have asked God for help, when you were surrounded by doubt and disbelief?  Who are those among us who knew that they had to stay on course…that they had to keep trusting in God though they couldn’t see what the future held, for He alone has the words of Eternal life?  Who here has taken some elders along for the journey, brothers and sisters wiser than you who could help you through a time of testing?   How many of you have been given a God-sized assignment that could only be accomplished with the Lord’s help…and found him faithful?  And how many of you have set up a Stone of Remembrance…have told your story of faith to the next generation and those around you.  If you trust in the LORD our Rock and our Savior today stand up today wherever you are reading this…stand on your feet today…give a testimony today to the next generation, and say together with me, “God is among us.  The Lord is among us indeed!”  Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen!  

Mighty Savior, we confess today our doubts and fears and our anemic faith. Thank you for your patience with us in times of questioning and disbelief. For hearing us when we cry to you “Why Lord?” and “Where are you?” For giving us the Rock of your word to stand on and to direct our path when the way seems unclear. For sending us those who are wiser and more experienced than we are, who can help us to see you when things seem unclear. For giving us God-sized assignments in which we discover your presence and power again. Lord Jesus, our faith is not in our faith, our reason, or our goodness, but in You: the Alpha and the Omega, the Rock, the Wellspring of eternal life!  Amen.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Am I my brother's keeper? [The Bible's Greatest Questions]

Why should we care about our brothers or sisters, let alone neighbors, co-workers or classmates?  Why not simply focus on our own needs and concerns and let others take care of themselves? In the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4: 1-16), God asks Cain, “Where is your brother?” to which Cain defensively replies, “How should I know; am I my brother’s keeper?” I sympathize with Cain in a way.  Am I supposed to be everyone’s baby-sitter?  Before we try to answer that question too quickly we need to know three things:

(i) We need to know who our brothers and sisters are… (4.1-2) The most obvious thing about these first few verses is that it is the story of a family.  That interrelatedness of the entire human family and its relatedness to God is a presupposition of the biblical story and it’s also the perspective of science.  We’ve known for decades now from DNA evidence that all human beings living on earth today are biologically related to a common ancestor (Eph. 3: 14-15). But Scripture is not just interested in our biological relatedness – it also says that we are spiritually related…because we have each been given the breath of life by God and created to reflect God’s image.

This is important to keep in mind, because though we may be biologically and spiritually related to every other person on this planet…our experience tells us that pride, resentment, and jealousy have often driven us apart.  Take Cain and Abel…When Eve gives birth to her first son she names him “Cain” which sounds like the word “acquire” or “get” in Hebrew as when Eve says, “I have “gotten” a man with the help of the Lord.”  The name may imply strength and self-reliance. Abel’s name, on the other hand, is related to a word meaning “nothingness,” or “frailty.”  We can’t say for sure, but it’s possible Cain represents the proud, self-reliant one who cared nothing about his “frail,” “nothing” of a younger brother.  My point is that sometimes we would be just as happy not to be related.  Something like what President Obama and former President George W. Bush must have been thinking when they discovered through the New England Genealogical Society that they were 10th cousins once removed!  But isn’t that just like God?!

So who is my brother or sister? You may be sharing a room or a cubicle at work, living across the street from them, sitting next to them in class, or saw him on the street asking for a handout.  He may have cleaned your teeth on Wed., given you too much homework on Friday, or fought you for a parking place on Sat.  And though you may wish some of your brothers and sisters were only 10th cousins… the fact that you’re related to them is a truth you can’t deny.  Why we should care about them, though, is what we need to understand!

(ii) We need to know why we should be their keeper… (4. 3-7) Because caring for others is an act of true worship.  Jesus told us that there are two great commandments, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  When Cain and Abel brought their offerings, they were coming together to worship God.  God is honored by our love for him…but he is equally honored by our love for each other.  When Cain demonstrated hatred for his brother, he was showing hatred for God as well.

Our actions often reveal the attitude of our hearts.  Abel brought the firstlings of his flock (There are many references to the offering of firstfruits to God in the Mosaic law.  See, for example, Exodus 23:19), but Cain appears to have brought an ordinary offering of the fruit of the ground.  Abel brought his best to God – a gift that cost him something – while Cain appears to have brought whatever he could find.  Did Cain show half-heartedness toward God with his offering?  We can’t say for sure, but what we can say is that he was heartless toward his brother and enslaved by anger; and if he was heartless toward his brother, he could not have been wholehearted toward God. Jesus once said that if we come to the altar with a gift, and remember that our brother has something against us, we should leave our gift at the altar and go and reconcile with our brother and then return to offer our gift (Matt. 5: 21-26).  In other words worship is dangerous…because being on God’s team is not just about singing songs, saying our prayers and listening to sermons…it’s also about being able to say to one another and to those who are not here, “I’ve got your back!”  I’m your defender and your team member for the sake of Christ!

I think it’s interesting that even though quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers are the ones who receive the most headlines in the NFL today, it’s actually the left tackles who grab the second highest paycheck. In Michael Lewis’ book, The Blind Side, he explains the importance of these anonymous, but essential, offensive linemen. He traces their emerging importance back to the injury of star quarterback Joe Theismann.  On a Monday Night in 1985 more than 17 million people watched as an incredibly athletic linebacker named Lawrence Taylor blindsided Theismann, breaking his leg and ending his career at age 36.  By the way, Theismann has never blamed Taylor for this injury.  But back to the left tackle.  Since most QB’s are right handed, the main role of the left tackle is to prevent his quarterback from being hit from behind, unseen. And it takes a special person to do it. Left tackles must weigh more than 300 pounds and have long arms to block, but they must also be quick on their feet. Today, teams are willing to pay for such a player.  Only starting quarterbacks earn more than the left tackle today. The role of the left tackle is literally to be his "brother's keeper."  So again, why should we be our brother’s keeper ?  Because that’s simply what being on God’s team means…to honor God by looking out for our team mates, watching their backs, honoring them and keeping them well.  But let’s try to be more specific, because beyond knowing who our brothers and sisters are and why we should be their keeper…

(iii) We need to know how to “keep” them well… (4. 8-16, 25-26) It’s certain that Cain is not our model for how to “keep” or “watch over” our brothers and sisters well.  But what would coming in the opposite spirit look like? 

First, it means that we value our brother or sister’s life!  In Hebrew thought, the life of a person is in the blood…so when Cain shed his brother’s blood he was not only disregarding his life, but taking something that belonged to God alone.  Jim Wallis was speaking to Christian students about the intersection of faith and politics one day when “A young woman stood and said “4,000 lives were lost today because of abortion. How can I vote on any other issue than that?” Another responded, “Fair enough, but 9,000 lives were lost because of HIV/AIDS. What about them? And a third said 30,000 children died today because of needless disease and poverty.”  All this is to say that we can be selective about what life or whose life we care about when as Christians we need to be consistently life affirming…I realize that can sound overwhelming.  This brings us back to the question I first posed at the beginning of this message: Does caring about every life mean I am called to be everyone’s babysitter…which is the way E. Peterson translates Cain’s sarcastic response to God’s question. I think we can say, “No” – unless of course we’re talking about an actual baby.  But then what is my responsibility?

I think that from Cain’s negative example, we can say that keeping our brother does not mean babysitting them, but empowering them to use their unique gifts and capacities as human beings.   As Christians we do this by (1) loving people where they are, (2) inviting them to follow Christ, (3) helping them see their God-given uniqueness, and (4) equipping them to use their gifts to God’s glory.  This is something Cain could not do…he was too filled with jealousy and resentment to value his brother’s extraordinary offering.   When we don’t appreciate the contributions of others…we’re really treating them like “nothings.” Now let’s be honest, it is hard sometimes to rejoice in the gifts that others have that we wish were our own…to celebrate the successes of others while we wait on the sidelines.  Yet God calls me to accept and cherish not only my own gifts, but the unique gifts and contributions of those around me.

While some of our students were on skid row yesterday sharing food and love with the homeless, I had the opportunity to sit in a Presbytery meeting.  On the way I was sure that being on skid row with those students was where I should have been.  I was surprised to find out that the meeting was actually focused on organizations that are addressing homelessness in our city.  One of these was Union Rescue Mission, directed by Andy Bales.  What a man of Christ-like compassion... This organization has nearly 400 guests on any given day…and almost half of these are children or teens.  Certainly they provide food and shelter, but they also offer sobriety and recovery classes, counseling for grief and loss, P.E. classes for the body and what Andy calls “Life Transformation Programs” where the focus is on making disciples of Jesus and productive members of society.  It’s a long, tough road, but one man was there to speak of that trans-formation. He said, “Jesus is the one who changed my life, but it is his people who helped me become a man.  Truly, God is a God of second chances.”  Andy and others recognized the value of his life, helped him to grow and take responsibility as a man, and to identify and use his gifts for the sake of Christ.

Is there someone whose unique gifts and special contributions God is calling you to honor rather than resent, whose life God is calling you to cherish and even protect, or who our Lord is calling you to invite into God’s family as your brother or sister in Christ?  God is challenging us to come in the opposite spirit of Cain (1) by recognizing who our brothers and sisters are (not only here, but out there), (2) by understanding that why we love them is that it’s the highest expression of our love for God; and that (3) how we do this is to encourage others to use their unique gifts to the glory of God. 

Gracious Lord, you have shown me that you care about where I am in relation to you; but also that you care about where my brothers and sisters are…and that you want me to share that concern.  Help me to turn from any attitude or action which is preventing me from caring about others in practical ways…whether chronic busyness, a self-centered focus, petty jealousies or bitter resentments. Help me to see in those around me the reflection of your sacred image – one you’ve called me to honor and care for without coddling, and who is potentially my brother or sister in your Forever Family. Now may this be the demonstration of my loyalty and devotion to you – that I love even those I once called “the least of these,” just as you have loved me.  Amen.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Where are You? [The Bible's Greatest Questions]

A simple question is powerful!  When someone asks us a question it says we have value, that our opinion matters. The right question can help us articulate our deepest convictions, awaken us to new possibilities, and inspire us to live more faithfully. The Bible gives voice to the most important questions of life…and for the next 11 weeks, we’re going to explore some of them.  The first question that God asks in the Bible is found in Genesis 3: 1-24 after the First Couple have turned from God and gone hiding.  It’s a question that is meant to awaken us and confront us, but also to reclaim us.  It’s the question, “Where are you?”  This morning we’re going to try to understand some of the reasons why this question, asked by God, is the first and most important in Scripture.

First, God asks us where we are, to awaken us to his eternal presence. We read that Adam and Eve heard the sound of the LORD God “walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze” (8).  This image of God walking with us (mit-haw-lek') is a familiar one in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s a beautiful picture of the intimacy that the First Couple enjoyed with God.  This awareness of God’s divine presence, this close relationship with the Creator, is something God intended for us to experience continuously. And yet this time, when God came around to take his customary evening walk with them: they were surprised, they had been distracted by a seemingly harmless little sin, awakened again to the reality that God is always there even if we are not aware of it or prepared for it.

It’s a sad fact that many of us go through our entire lives distracted, without this awareness, this alertness to God’s presence. Psalm 139 speaks of the everywhere presence of the Living God. “Where can I go from your spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?”  Answer: Nowhere, because as Paul said to the Athenians, “in him we live and move and have our being.”  

Notice that Adam and Eve are surprised when they hear the sound of God walking in the garden.  It appears that God was making some noise. There are many ways that God makes himself known: through the witness of his creation, through his Word and Spirit, the daily miracles of life, and above all through Christ.  God is making noise all the time, and wants us to hear him.  Therefore, “To all those who have ears to ear,” said Jesus, “Let them hear.” About 9 years ago, I came very close to a head on collision while driving down Centinella as Kaitlin was screaming.  I was inattentive, & barely missed a serious crash.  That was a little wake up call. I said, “Lord, I got off easy that time.  Thanks for the warning.”  It’s a gift to be made aware of God’s presence, his love and forgiveness.  Adam and Eve heard the sound of God because God had given them ears to hear him!  If you are here today, it is because God has given you ears to hear him walking in the garden and calling out to you too.  Thank God for that… “Thank God” for that ability to hear or sense God’s presence, and his voice calling you….because for all of us at some point, the sound of God’s voice grows dim, or signals that it’s time to run and hide…which leads me to my second point….

God asks us where we are, to confront us with the sadness of our sin.  I can tell you from experience as a diabetic that one of the first questions paramedics or doctors ask you when you awaken from unconsciousness is “Do you know where you are?”  Do you know what day it is?  When you can answer questions like this, they know you’re fully conscious, that your coming back to the real world.  When God asked Adam & Eve, “Where are you?” (9) it was not because God (like a paramedic) did not know where they were…it’s because God wanted to know if they knew where they were.  Our smart phones allow us to pinpoint our exact location, time and speed anywhere on the planet using a constellation of 25 dedicated satellites, but as cool as this may be, it cannot help us know where we are spiritually or interpersonally with God or with other people! 

God asks a question to help them pinpoint their exact location, spiritually and relationally…to help them see that they weren’t where they were supposed to be.  We all know what that feels like! I remember toilet papering my youth pastor’s house when I was in high school with a bunch of friends.  It was late at night, and we didn’t know it at the time, but we had walked right into a police stake out.  Apparently, the house next door to our youth pastor was being targeted for a drug bust.  It was a dangerous place to be…since these were armed police officers, ready for a confrontation.  We had no idea what was going on until they started yelling at us to get back in our cars.  They had their own special way of helping us understand where we were…which is not where we were supposed to be.

Adam’s response to God’s question is telling.  Adam says three things in v. 10. (1) “I was afraid,”  (2) “I knew I was naked,” and (3) “I hid myself.”  Adam is telling us a lot here about his state of being.  He’s telling us that his relationship with God is now defined by fear, that what he feels about himself is shame, and that his only option is to run and hide. That’s what sin does to our relationship with God and other people.  It brings the fear of punishment, shame, and an all-out effort to hide from the truth.  By the way - that denial, that running and hiding is unforgettably pictured as Adam and then Eve each begin to make excuses for their behavior, passing the blame on to others, and refusing to take responsibility.  Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the Serpent, and the Serpent doesn’t have a leg to stand on. 

The truth, of course, is that we are to blame, each of us, and that we are sadly far from God, for we have all sinned and fall short of God’s glory; and result of that sin is described when God explains the consequences of their actions in vv. 14-19. (1) There is disharmony instead of cooperation between the sexes (16); (2) there is disharmony between human begins and the earth that now suffers because of us (17); (3) there is disharmony with God, the source of Life, giving death power over us (19); (4) and there will be a continuous struggle with the serpent, with sin (15).  Yet there is hope we read that not only willyou will strike his heel” buthe will strike your head.”  I’ll come back to that in a moment.

The reality of sin and the fear, shame and denial that come with it are sad, but there is another way in which sin is sad, and that’s in how it affects God.  When God asks, “Where are you?” it implies that we have abandoned him, like a son or daughter who had turned in anger from the parents who love her.  The God of Scripture desires to be loved by us, allows himself to be moved by us, and is therefore able to be hurt by us when we don’t love him in return. That’s what humankind has done by refusing to acknowledge God’s presence or his will.  Genesis 3 sounds pretty depressing and hopeless, but it helps to explain why we often feel the things we feel, why our spirits are so restless.  We long to hear God speak a word that can move us beyond sin and sadness and, once again, that word is found in God’s original question, because…

Finally, God asks us where we are, to reclaim us for his purpose.  There is incredible hope in God’s question because it shows God’s initiative of love.  It is not Adam and Eve who come looking for God.  It is God who comes looking for them!  God takes the initiative.  God is the one who looks for the lost sheep.  God is the one who looks for us…and that should encourage us.  

But the question is hopeful for another reason.  It implies the possibility of a different choice.  It’s an invitation to come out of hiding, to turn from what we know is wrong and face up to the truth, to be reconciled with God, and reclaim our original purpose.  God accepts us right where we are…but he never leaves us where are!  God wants to reclaim us for his purpose…to extend his kingdom on earth, to live lives of grace and truth, righteousness and love….but how?  

There’s a hint in this passage: One of the first things that God does after Adam and Eve’s disobedience is to clothe them with garments of skins.  It’s an act of loving concern.  Even before any words of repentance are spoken, before we hear one “I’m sorry God,” he dresses them for their journey beyond Eden.  I can’t help but find something very powerful in that sentence…that a life was sacrificed to clothe Adam and Eve…that new life is given only as life is laid down…knowing that one day God himself would lay down his life for us in Christ, bear the full weight of our sin on the cross, and defeat its power. Of course, we may object that God only dresses Adam and Eve in order to shove them out the door…to drive them away from his presence.  But in fact, even as God drives Adam and Eve out of the Garden it is the testimony of the rest of the Bible, that God walks out with them; that God accompanies them into the new world in which they are now sent.   In Lev. 26:12 God promises his people that as they honor him, “I will walk (mit-hal-ek) among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”  Elsewhere we read that God walked with Israel through the desert (Deut.23: 14). Above all, the Lord Jesus walked beside the sea of Galilee, calling his disciples to follow him, he walked to Jerusalem and the cross, he struck the serpent on the head, dealing evil a mortal blow, as Genesis 3: 15 said he would, then he walked out of the tomb, and walks with us today by the power of his Holy Spirit.

So, where are you?  Today, truly knowing where we are begins as we (1) awaken to the reality of God’s presence, walking with us each day, (2) as we are confronted by God with the sadness of our sin – sin that separates us from him and each other - and (3) as we begin to walk in fellowship with him and reclaim the purpose for which we were each created… 

Last month, the first man to step on the moon passed from this life.  It was July 20, 1969…and I was 7 years old, on summer vacation.  The huge Saturn V rocket had lifted from Cape Kennedy carrying three men into orbit around the moon three days earlier.  As Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended from the orbiter in the lunar module with Collins remaining behind…they landed with 50 seconds of fuel left.  Armstrong’s heart was racing at 150 beats a minute.  “The Eagle has landed,” he said.  Then several hours later, the world watched as shadowy images were beamed back to earth showing a man descending a short ladder and stepping on to the moon.  “That’s one small step for a man,” he said, “and one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong was aware that not only did he just take a short step down a ladder and touch the moon’s surface, but in a sense the entire world and all of humankind past and present was touching the moon’s surface with him.  He represented himself, but he also represented the hopes and dreams of all of us.  Where he was is where we wanted to be…and in a sense we were there with him. 

In a different way, the story of Adam (meaning either man or mankind) is both the story of our most distant ancestors…and their turning away from God, and it is our story…because our own sin and brokenness is something which we have inherited from the generations that came before us. But here is the good news…Christ – as Paul reminds us – is the New Adam, and in him we have taken the giant leap from death to life.  In him we can know victory and the possibility of moving from deadly selfishness and pride to mercy and self-giving love and eternal life.  In him…we discover that where we want to be is exactly where is he already is.

Gracious God, thank you for looking for us, for caring so deeply about where we are. Across the ages, you have patiently sought us out like a runaway child, ready to forgive and eager to welcome us back. Though it’s true that you have always known where we are, we have not. Thank you for awakening us by your Word and Spirit and so reminding us of your eternal presence and power. Thank you for shaking us from our spiritual complacency, convicting us with the truth of our sin. Thank you for giving us the hope that we can be reclaimed for your purpose as we turn from the things we know are wrong, and walk in the way of your Son, who prayed, “Father, I desire that those whom you have given me may be with me where I am” (John 17:24). For where you are, whether in heaven or on earth, is exactly where we want to be.  Amen.