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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Restoring the Broken

We live in a world where we have broken the good relationships God intended for us with God, with each other, with the creation.  The powerful gift of Jesus is a restoration of all we have broken, and a healing of the whole creation.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 10, year B; texts: Genesis 3:8-15; Mark 3:20-35; 2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1; Psalm 130

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

When I was a child I remember being angry with Adam and Eve.  I remember talking about it at Sunday School and Bible camp, how they ruined it for all of us.  If only they hadn’t sinned, I used to think, we’d be fine.  Everyone would get along, the world wouldn’t be ruined, God wouldn’t be angry.  Jesus even wouldn’t have had to die.

Of course that’s foolishness, but not just because the obvious truth is that all of us have and would have perpetrated the same sinfulness, regardless of anyone before us.  But the deeper flaw in my thinking is the very problem Adam and Eve have in this story today, a problem which, if not addressed, only perpetuates our broken, sinful world.  The biggest flaw in my childhood thinking was blaming someone else for my problems, for my sinfulness, for my brokenness, instead of myself.  It’s at the heart of what’s going wrong in this terribly sad story.

As we consider our lives, and the world as it is, the way to healing and restoration lies in maturing into people who take responsibility for our actions and our inactions, people who recognize and confess our own wrongdoing.  Because when we do that, we find ourselves able to receive the glorious good news that our God has begun to restore what was broken by forgiving us and renewing us, and thereby the whole world.

This is a tragic story from Genesis, filled with a great deal of pain.  And it’s a story of increasing brokenness.

It starts beautifully, which only makes the rest of it worse.  The LORD God is walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, looking for Adam and Eve.  It’s hard not to covet such a moment of peace and joy, walking with the LORD God and sharing such an intimate relationship.

But Adam and Eve are hiding.  They hid themselves.  They have disobeyed God and eaten of the forbidden tree.  And so they avoid doing something that each of us here would long to do: walk with God in a lovely garden and talk.  They avoid it because they are afraid.  And because they are guilty.

This is the first break: their joyful, intimate relationship with God has been broken by their sin.  God’s first question is perhaps the saddest of the whole story: “Where are you?”  The reason they’re not with God is not that God has left them, but that they are hiding from God.

And that’s not the only break which happens.  Next, we see the damage to their own relationship.  When God finds them, and asks for an explanation, Adam blames God and Eve before admitting that he ate.  Adam just throws away that phrase, “the woman whom you gave to be with me.”  But remember how powerful and wonderful a gift that was?

In the previous verses Adam was painfully lonely and God made that statement which still gives us joy today, “It is not good for him to be alone.”  From Adam’s loneliness came God’s gift of relationships with other human beings, including the deepest relationship of two committed lives, of marriage between two people who love each other and are helpmeets to each other for the whole of their lives.

And this Adam tosses aside to protect himself:  That gift you gave me was flawed, he says, and she gave me the fruit and I ate.  So either it’s God’s fault or Eve’s fault, but not Adam’s.  His precious relationship with Eve is now as nothing to him, because he’s afraid.  And because he has sinned.

And the destruction of all God’s good is completed by Eve’s words.  Eve passes the guilt on to the serpent.  Notice that never in Genesis is the serpent identified as the devil.  Here it’s just another creature of God’s, but one who convinces Adam and Eve that God wasn’t to be trusted.  In many ways that makes it far more like our lives, doesn’t it?  We live in a complicated world, and lots of times what happens, whom we meet, who speaks to us, affects our faith, our judgment.

Eve’s mistake, like Adam’s, however, is not to take responsibility for her sinfulness.  She blames the other, the one who led her astray.  And the result of her tossing the serpent aside is the breaking of their relationship with the creation, with the animals and plants and all God made.  From here on out, the creation will not be a safe, caring place for humanity to live.

So every good relationship God gave them is destroyed: between them and God, between each other, between them and the world.

But what I needed to learn, what all of us need to learn if we’re ever to grow up, is that they are us.  We are Adam and Eve.  It’s why the story is so powerfully sad.

We know the same pain of broken relationships with God, with each other, even with the creation.

We can’t even imagine what it would be like to have such an intimate connection and love with God that we took walks of an evening with the LORD.  At best we fret that we are unacceptable to God; at worst we figure God must be the one who isn’t doing enough to communicate and be with us.  But the relationship is broken, we know that.

And look at what people are doing to each other in this world.  Look at the broken human relationships.  We live in a world ruined by broken relationships.  We know what it is to have broken relationships with those we love, and to blame others for our own failures.  We live in a world where people throw away their committed marital relationships at an exhausting rate while at the same time some people work hard to prevent others from having such committed marriages because they are gay or lesbian.  We live in a world where broken relationships between people create crime, poverty, hunger, despair, oppression, war, violence, abuse.

And we live in a world where our relationship with the creation is also damaged, a world where death reigns, where we face decay and brokenness and tragedy and a good beautiful creation destroyed.  The intimacy of living in God’s good creation, at peace with the world, with nature, with each other is something we can’t even dream about.  There’s far more evidence of brokenness in the creation than of the good sometimes.

And worst of all is that deep down we know that we have sinned and caused much of the pain of our lives and of others’ lives.  Even though we also recognize ourselves in Adam and Eve’s attempts to shift the blame to someone else.

And it isn’t that we don’t know how to get back.  We get back by confessing our part in this.  We get back by obeying God once again.  Even Jesus in today’s Gospel says that those who do God’s will are his brothers and sisters and mother, restoring the relationships of family we broke.  To get back to the joy of Eden, we need to begin to obey God, and admit our part in the pain and brokenness of the world.  We need to learn to pray Psalm 130, as we did today, as honestly and openly as we can.

The problem is, we can’t do it.  And it isn’t that we don’t try.  Most of us try hard to be good Christian people, and obedient to God.  We try to be honest about ourselves.

It’s just that we seem trapped, unable to really change what is deeply wrong with us.  If you’re like me, for every step in the right direction you take, you sometimes feel like you slip two back.  Even with the best of intentions, we don’t live as we know God wants us to live, and as we want to live as well.  We’re people whose nature has been warped by sin, and that seems to direct us even without our wanting it to.  That is why Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians today are so important.

You see, God has decided to fix the problem instead of waiting for us to do it.

The thing Paul says today is that we believe that death is not our Lord, nor can it be.

We may live in a world of decay and death, and may even see it in our own bodies and our lives, but we know something very important.

We believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and will raise us also, says Paul.  Even better, in being raised, we will be brought back into the presence of God, which is the greatest gift of all, since it is the greatest loss of all that our sin has removed us from walking with God face to face.  Can you think of a greater joy than knowing God as the Bible says Adam and Eve did originally?

Because of this promise in which we believe, Paul says, we do not lose heart.  We do not lose heart.

Though our human nature is broken, wasting away, Paul says, and though it traps us in sin and denial, there is in our baptism a new nature inside each of us.  That inner nature, says Paul, is being renewed day by day.  The real us, the new us, the beloved child of God that God has made in each of us, is being renewed and fed by God every day: as we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments, as we share this blessed community of believers, as we live with the Spirit in our hearts.

Knowing that, Paul can call all of life a “slight, momentary affliction.”  That doesn’t diminish the reality of suffering nor dismiss it.  It doesn’t take away our responsibility for the brokenness of our lives and of the world.  It just recognizes two things.

One, that this will all pass one day into a new life for us all, a life of intimate loving relationship with each other, with the creation, and joy of joys, a life of grace and love with our good Lord God.  We can endure here, knowing what we have to look forward to.

But secondly, there is a deeper joy for us here: that eternal life is not a future thing only.  Because we have this new nature from God inside us now, given at our baptism, we can live in this world with joy and peace, and even know God intimately now.  Not as we will of course, but in a way impossible under our sin.  In our forgiveness and grace in Jesus, we come to know God so that we have our Lord with us even on this side of the grave.

So we do not lose heart.  God is restoring all that we have broken.

Our God is with us, renewing our nature, and blessing us with love and forgiveness.  We do not lose heart, for even when we fail to live in obedience to God, despite our good intentions or our bad ones, our God forgives us and restores us.

And we know this: this restoration is happening right now, in this life, it’s not just something for which we hope.  So our relationships with each other can be renewed by the same healing of God.  And our relationships with all God’s people and all God’s creation can also be renewed and restored, so all will know God’s love and grace, from those closest to us to those children dying of hunger or murdered in war on the other side of the planet who are also part of our care and concern.

So we do not lose heart.  For when all seemed lost, when all seems lost, here comes God looking for us, picking us up and bringing us home, healing all that we broke, and bringing life once again.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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