Sunday, June 9, 2024

Third Sunday after Pentecost
Hide and Seek
Rev. Brent Gundlah

First Reading (Genesis 3:8-15, NRSVUE)
Gospel Reading (Mark 3:20-25, NRSVUE)

The neighborhood in which I spent my elementary school years was a pretty awesome place (even if I didn’t appreciate it at the time). In the space of just one block there was a dozen kids of about the same age, so there was always someone around to play with. It was an especially fun place during this time of year, when school was out and our responsibilities were few (we were little kids, so it wasn’t like we had jobs to go to).

But sometimes, with a group of kids that large, settling on what to do can be a real challenge (over the years, I’ve come to appreciate that the same could be said about groups of adults too). There was, however, a handful of games that everyone was always down to play: kick ball, some variant of tag and the ever-dependable hide and seek. I enjoyed all three, but I had a real gift for the last one (not to brag or anything) — particularly the hiding part.

Our version of the game had only a few rules: the entire block was in bounds, but you couldn’t hide inside a car (I think that was because someone inadvertently hit the gear shift on their family’s station wagon and it rolled a bit — and by “a bit” I mean into the garage door), and you couldn’t hide in a house (because no one’s parents wanted a dozen kids running around inside their homes).

In retrospect, I think I should have considered becoming a lawyer because, at the ripe old age of seven, I found a loophole to exploit in that short hide and seek rule book. Sure, I couldn’t hide in a car and I couldn’t hide in a house, but nowhere did it say that I couldn’t hide in a car’s house — namely, a garage. And since I knew my way around my own garage, I decided to hunker down there. Come and get me (if you can find me, that is). And no one did.

Now, kids don’t tend to have the same perception of time that older people do, so I hadn’t given much thought to exactly how long I’d been in there — but after a while even I knew that it had been a long time. And a while after that I realized that it had been a really long time. I finally surrendered when I couldn’t put off making a trip to the bathroom any longer and, when I emerged from my garage, I noticed that everyone else had moved oneand started up a game of kick ball. I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that; yeah, I had found a great hiding spot, which felt like a victory, but they simply gave up and stopped looking for me, which didn’t feel so great.

In today’s first reading from the second chapter of Genesis, the folks who the Bible says were the very first humans — you know, Adam and Eve — engage in a game of hide and seek with God, and this one turns out a bit differently than mine did.

The story leading right up to this one is probably familiar to most, if not all, of you. Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden when the serpent shows up and convinces Eve to eat fruit from the one tree that God had specifically said was off-limits (for the record, nowhere does it say it was an apple; it could have been a peach or a kiwi for all we know). Now, God had told those two people that they would die if they ate fruit from this tree, but the serpent says to Eve, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Eve figures, the fruit on that tree looks really good, I’m hungry and I’d like to be wise,” so she partook of what that tree had to offer, and gave some to Adam too. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, apparently knowledge ain’t all it’s cracked-up to be, and disobeying God is never a good idea. Adam and Eve learn all this the hard way. Though the last line in today’s passage hints at the suffering they will endure due to their transgression, the passage that follows it does so in excruciating detail; some of the fun and games that await not only them but also humankind because of this? Conflict, pangs in childbirth, toil and sweat, thorns and thistles and, of course, death. This is where God tells them, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” which you may recall being reminded of on Ash Wednesday. Hey, thanks a whole bunch Adam and Eve.

And between the story of the forbidden fruit and the description of the consequences of having eaten it, hides our story for today: one that begins with Adam and Eve hiding from God (kind of like me hiding there in the garage between Dad’s car wash supplies and the lawnmower, only different.

Though the story carries a certain gravitas to it — because it’s in the Bible, because it purports to tell of humankind’s origins, because it’s been used as the basis for the Christian doctrine of “original sin” (more on that later) — it’s also quite absurd.

While Adam may have the dubious honor of being the first human being (well, at least according to this Bible story, anyway), he’s pretty terrible at hide and seek. I mean when whoever is it (in this case, God) calls out and asks, “Where are you?”, you’re not  supposed to answer them.

And when God starts asking other questions — specifically, “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not eat?”, Adam is awfully quick to throw Eve under the bus (which I’m sure worked out really well for him in the long run). And when God then turns to Eve and asks, “What is this you have done?” Eve immediately pins it on the serpent.

“Adam, did you eat from the tree?

“Eve made me do it.”

“Eve, what have you done?”

“The serpent made me do it.”

And the poor serpent, with no one else to blame, is just left to shrug his shoulders (I say this metaphorically because snakes don’t have shoulders) and await his punishment.

I have to tell you, I have a few questions of my own about this story.

Adam and Eve decide to hide themselves from God, and God goes looking for them but, if God is all-knowing, wouldn’t God already know where they are?

And at the end of the very first blame game (which I paraphrased above), God converses with the serpent who spoke to Eve; but do serpents understand let alone speak Hebrew (or any other language for that matter)?

And where did Hebrew (in which Genesis was written) come from anyway? I mean, God is already speaking to the first humans before the end of Chapter One. How did they all come up with a language that quickly?

And, while they’re in hiding, Adam and Eve hear the sound of God walking in the garden. So, does God have feet? What does God walking actually sound like?

So many questions…

Anyway, this whole story, in Christian theology, is the basis for the doctrine known as “Original Sin.” Though we could be here for years trying to work through that one, the concept, at some level is pretty straightforward. Theologian Justo González defines it as follows: [Original Sin is] the classical way of referring to the fact that sin pervades all human life from birth, and is therefore, more than mere acts we commit, a state in which we live.” And what, pray tell, is “sin”? Well, González continues, “[Sin is] a barrier that separates humans from God, standing between what we are and what we are intended to be.” And, according to Christian orthodoxy, Jesus is the one who saves us from all that.

But it’s important to understand that the whole concept of Original Sin wasn’t even a thing until about the second century CE — a couple hundred years after Jesus lived, and a long, long time after this story from Genesis was written down; and it’s worth noting that the word “sin” doesn’t ever appear in it.

Now, think about “original sin” whatever you will, but it’s tough to deny that there is, in fact, much separating us from God and from one another, that there is much standing between what we are and what God intends us to be.

Now, are we born into this situation or do we become a part of it as we exist in society? Is it nature or nurture? I don’t know; it’s complicated. And when we humans are faced with a complicated thing like this, one of the ways we embrace the challenge of understanding it is to tell stories about it.

So the great minds of the early Christian church — people like Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian and Augustine — were faced with this challenge (and who knows, maybe they also had a little time on their hands when school was out for the summer), so they put pen to paper and created the doctrine of Original Sin in order to explain it (a doctrine being a different way of telling a story). Though one is left to wonder what Christianity might be like today if those guys had chosen to play tag or kick ball instead of sitting around thinking and writing.

And the sages of ancient Judaism, when faced with the very same challenge, decided to tell this story of God and Adam and Eve and the Serpent and the forbidden fruit in in the garden order to explain it. Did it really happen this way? I don’t know; I wasn’t there. But maybe it doesn’t matter because a story can speak the truth without necessarily being factually accurate.

And maybe, just maybe the whole point of all this is, at then end of the day, a whole lot simpler than we humans tend to make it:

In a world where there is much separating us from God and one another,

where there is much standing between what we are and what God intends us to be,

where we choose to hide ourselves away from God and one another rather than loving God and one another,

God will never stop loving us,

God will never stop seeking us out,

God will never stop asking “Where are you?”

And for this, thanks be to God.