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.

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