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Sermon for Second Sunday after Trinity

Sunday 9th June 2024 Genesis 3:8-15

Mark 3:20-end

Today I’d like to take the opportunity to delve into the story from Genesis, the man and the woman in the garden and the LORD God (with some help from our highly complex Gospel).


The first thing to say, and I think this needs to be said, is that this great Genesis story is not literally true, nor was it ever written as if it were a scientific explanation for the Universe, nor was it often read as literally true by many of the great early theologians and spiritual teachers of the early Church. Adam and Eve and the serpent are not literally true characters, Eden is not a historical place, and anyone who draws you aside and tries to tell you otherwise is engaging in the type of disastrous fundamentalism which has given rise to creationism (which is the belief that the Bible is to be interpreted as literally and scientifically true).


No, this story is, in the deepest sense, a myth. It was written as a myth and meant to be read as a myth. A myth: a story which is telling us about the richest, most precious inner truths that we need to know for our growth and wisdom. The writers of Genesis were creating a story which was attempting to explain and understand humanity’s intimacy with, and alienation from, God.


Let us say this. Once, we don’t know when, the divine and the human were not separate, were not in conflict. Humanity knew itself, in its most profound aspect, as somehow at one with God. We lived in the divine; we lived out of the depths of the divine. Here is where we come to the myth of Eden. Eden is a place where God and the human indwell each other. ‘The man and the woman heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.’ A placeless place outside time where humanity dwells with God ‘at the time of the evening breeze.’ But this story is charting the painful growth of our consciousness, how we become dangerously, tragically self-conscious, ‘and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.’


Here we see the reach of this myth. What happens to us when we hide ourselves from the presence of the LORD God? When we cut ourselves off from the depths and riches of the divine? We become isolated. We become individuals. We stop intuitively knowing that we are rooted in God; God falls away, perhaps becomes a ‘god’ out there, rather than a God within us and beyond us. Just think about the ongoing suffering in the Middle East? When we unleash violence on our brothers and sisters have we not hidden ourselves from the presence of God? We no longer know the divine image in ourselves, and we no longer see the divine image in the other?


‘But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” “Where are you?” God seeks us. We hide ourselves from the wellspring of love and God seeks us out. The presence of God is seeking us while we feel like there is nothing there; that we are stranded in time and space; an individual; alone and unhoused and hiding. God cries out, “Where are you?”


The man says to God, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” This is the great alienation from the divine. The man is afraid of God. God has become for the man a vast, terrible, hostile power. For many this is how God remains. A vast, terrible, hostile power who can see everything. In the alienated consciousness we are terrified of being known and judged and found wanting by a vast, terrible, hostile power. So, we hide further and further from the presence. We do not want to be known or loved by the divine. We are ashamed of what and who we are. We are naked and we are afraid.


This is why it is so richly absurd to read Genesis as some sort of explanation for how the world began. Absurd because it takes away the real truth, richness and power of Genesis, which is that it is a timeless myth about how we fall away from the intimate presence of God and into the lonely, dis-enchanted consciousness that we are still inhabiting today.


In today’s Gospel Jesus actually describes this divided consciousness quite brilliantly. ‘If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.’ Without a sense of the presence of God the house of who we are feels divided against itself; we are not connected with the life-giving depths of the divine; it feels like we have lost our key to that inner kingdom that Christ came to tell us about.


“Where are you?” The cry of the divine beloved seeking us in our modern, fallen state. But something in us knows that we are divided, that we are not connected to the life-giving depths, something in us rebels against this dis-enchanted world. ‘Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice;’ as it says in today’s Psalm.


This hiding from the presence of God, this expulsion out of Eden, we can in fact learn again that God is not distant, not a vast, hostile power. We can learn again that we can dwell in the depths of the presence of God. That we can enter a secret Eden in the depths of our prayer. That we are not the isolated self expelled from the presence but that God, wonderfully, is the very depth and ground of who we are. “Where are you?” “I am here,” we answer “and you, you are closer to me than I am to myself.”

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