Sunday Morning Worship – 10 February 2008 – 1st Sunday in Lent

“Making Loincloths for Ourselves”

Genesis 2:15-17; 3: 1-7

We’ve been full of revelation recently. A month ago we moved from Christmas into the feast of Epiphany, when Christ is revealed to the Magi. The Christmas intimacy of Jesus’ birth refocuses to include Gentiles, as the Magi arrive and the story enlarges. Our eyes adjust to the ongoing revelation.

Last Sunday, the fourth and final Sunday after Epiphany, was Transfiguration Sunday. We went to the top of that mountain with Peter, James, and John and stood amazed as Jesus was transformed into someone almost unrecognizable in his glory. Once again we squinted, along with the disciples, trying to make out just what God was doing. What is it we will see the next time the light changes?

Revelation is a strange sort of experience. An unveiling. Often, something which has appeared quite normal, something we never questioned at all, is unveiled to reveal another layer, another perspective, another motive or purpose, a deeper beauty or truth. When God is involved, you never know what you are going to get. You mean you were in there all along? Why are you showing up like that right now? This is the season – the season of revelation – that we’ve lingered in until this week, the first week of Lent.

When Bishop Will Willimon was here for our McDonald Lecture last year he spoke about revelation in a way that I had never conceived of it. Fitting, huh? He talked about learning as revelation. What else is learning but an unveiling? You read and ponder and write essays and solve for “x” and reflect on the lecture and in time you are given to understand something you didn’t see before. Revelation!

I love this way of thinking about the academic pursuit. But, see, I give myself away here by calling it the academic “pursuit.” I may love Willimon’s novel description and recognize the truth in it, but a big part of me is stuck back where I was before I heard him say that. This is how we are raised in this country. Sure, you may have some natural gifts of intelligence and perseverance which make school a good fit for you. But really it’s because you work hard, right? Revelation?! Come on, I earned that grade. I busted my butt studying for that exam. No one handed it to me!

Maybe you have a similar gut reaction?

I think it’s an interesting one, as if the only choices are between full out, hi-def, surround sound, God-given revelation or do-it-ourselves Protestant wok ethic pride. Either God gives it or we make it ourselves.

Does that seem right?

Last week Elizabeth said in her sermon that a lot of the time we come to church looking for just enough of God’s help to make it through the week, but not enough to have our lives turned upside down.

This goes beyond academics. We want to be in charge! In recent years I’ve heard several biblical scholars describe various stories – Job, Jonah, Adam & Eve – as all boiling down to this central point: I’m God and you’re not.

Apparently there is a steep learning curve on this lesson. Our people have been working on this one a long time, beginning with our story from Genesis today.

God puts the man and the woman in the Garden, telling them to “till and keep it,” offering them abundant food from every tree in the Garden except one. Avoid that one and we’re OK, God says (Genesis 2:15-17).

But along comes one of God’s other “good” creatures (Genesis 1:25) who puts a new idea in their heads. What if God’s not really providing for you but keeping the best from you? Doesn’t that one lone untouched tree over there look tasty? What if God just wants to keep you from being like God (Gen. 3: 6)?

Well what if God is trying to do just that?

Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament scholar and professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia, says it this way, “The destiny of the human creature is to live in God’s world, not a world of his or her own making” (Interpretation: Genesis, p. 40). Here’s Elizabeth’s comment again, about wanting only enough of God to help us do what it is we want to do in the first place, ourselves. We want to come along like thieves and snatch the low-hanging fruit. We want the food without the tilling. We want the food that we want, not the feast we are offered.

And we end up suddenly naked. Vulnerable. Ashamed. Not sure how we got here. Something unexpected has been revealed – and it is not a beautiful sight. It is a clear vision of our grasping after what we were not offered. There it is in plain sight. It is painful and humbling. And we have got to cover this unbearable exposed nakedness!ÂÂ

It’s interesting to me that Adam and Eve don’t run straight to God when their eyes are opened. If nothing else, it is firm testament to what God was saying all along. Why not throw themselves at God’s mercy? Why not run to catch up with God taking an evening walk in the breeze and ask for forgiveness?

It’s interesting what they do. They make loincloths for themselves (Gen. 3:7). Seeing how completely wrong-headed they were, seeing their own nakedness, catching a whiff of their own vulnerability, they don’t run back to the God who has given them every good blessing they have received in life. No. Instead they decide to fix it themselves. Thinking, for the first time in human history, that two wrongs will make a right, they sew together some fig leaves (Gen. 3:7). Making bad worse, they try to cover up their mistake, which, of course, only brings loud attention to it.

This is the perfect text for the first Sunday of Lent! The story from Matthew is good too, with the wilderness and the 40 days (and we’ll tackle that one at the Wesley Foundation tonight), but this oldest of stories seems truly perfect. How long will it take us to get this life with God right? How long until we learn to turn back and rely on God when we find ourselves grasping for what’s not ours? Or when we end up naked, unmasked and deceived?

This is where spiritual practice comes in. And, believe me, it does take practice.

Artists and writers speak about priming the pump. All those days rising at 5am or staying up until 3am, scribbling away or covering the canvas…All those days, many of them resulting in work that isn’t yet art. Nothing to sell or even to show to another person. But the artist trudges up there one more time the next day. In our production-consumption society those days, those activities, don’t make sense.

But those are the priming the pump days. The days when the artist submits herself to the practice itself, not knowing where it will lead nor what will emerge from the time. Those are the days when she agrees to put herself in the way of revelation, in case one of those days is the day when it shows up and art is born. That’s the crazy way it works. Most writers will say that their best writing seems to come from somewhere deep within and, at the same time, seems to move through them from some place else. A revelation.

Spiritual practice can be like this, too. Sure, there are days when it all coalesces and we are in the groove and the scenery changes to splendor and the choir rocks and we deeply feel the presence of God as we pray and it’s so easy to see Christ in the people around us and we overflow with generosity.

Then there are the other days. The toaster catches fire while we’re trying to have 5 minutes of morning prayer time and when the smoke clears we still can’t feel God in the room and no one anywhere looks remotely like Christ.

But we are called back to the quiet corner, the walk in the woods, the devotional booklet, the kneeler. We choose to put ourselves in the way of God, trusting that when we do this often enough our eyes adjust and we can see what it is God reveals. We choose practice, not because it makes us perfect, but because it’s all we can do. It is our vocation, how God calls us to participate with God in reconciling all of creation to God. It’s part of the tilling.

Jan Richardson, a United Methodist elder, writer, and artist, wrote this on her Lenten blog this week:

“These days challenge us to take on a practice, or give one up, so that we can look at our lives in a different way. As Jesus knew, going into the barren and uncomfortable places isn’t about proving how holy we are, or how tough, or how brave. It’s about letting God draw us into the place where we don’t know everything, don’t have to know everything, indeed may be emptied of nearly everything we think we know. And thereby we become free to receive the word, the wisdom, the clarity about who we are and what God is calling us to do” (www.paintedprayerbook.com).

During this season of Lent, don’t be surprised if God is still in the revelation business. Don’t have your eyes so focused on Easter that you forget to look around. Remember that what you give up or take on is one way in, one path to God – but not God Godself. Your practice does not need to be perfect. Take a break from the loincloth-making and let God give you what you need. Feel startled or uprooted or relieved or at loose ends or eager. Feel whatever this dependence feels like to you. Let God speak to you in your vulnerability. Let God be with you in your anxiety. Let God show you what you’ve been dying to see.

Thanks be to God!

© Deborah Lewis 2008

Weekly Meeting Schedule
  • Sunday
    • 11:00 Morning Worship at Wesley Memorial UMC (next door)
    • 5:00 Sunday Night Worship
  • Tuesday
    • 6:00 Tuesday Night Dinner
    • 6:45 Forum — Discussion/speaker on a variety of faith topics and student life.
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