3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 10 June 2018
Rev Dr John McCulloch, St Andrews Jerusalem & Tiberias.
Genesis 3: 8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4: 13-5:1; St Mark 3:20-35.
He Still Walks in the Garden
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen
He still walks in the garden
In his poem ‘The Second Coming’, W.B. Yeats gives us a picture of a world which is out of kilter and not right:
‘Things fall apart, the centre will not hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
(…) The ceremony of innocence is drowned’.
In our OT testament reading from Genesis 3, we are presented with a picture of the human condition. The authors and editors of Genesis depict a world where things have gone wrong. The poetic imagery deployed reminds us that human beings are in conflict with each other, trapped in cycles of violence where suffering is part of the ecosystem of life. It is a world of scapegoating and accusation; where humans are held captive by fear and shame.
The Garden of Eden, once a picture of life, growth and close communion with the God of peace, has now turned into a garden of conflict, where thistles and thorns grow, a vivid depiction of our world, not just at the beginning of time, but down through the centuries.
We too live in a world of sharp contrasts. We can be inspired and overwhelmed by the beauty of a sunset; refreshed when we walk in shade of trees. And yet, we don’t need be reminded that we live in a world where structural economic and political injustice crush the poor and the vulnerable., propped up by our addiction to violence and military might. A world teetering on the brink of ecological devastation because of our greed. A world in need of the God of peace, to breathe life into the burnt wastelands of despair.
But the Genesis passage is not without hope, for despite the shame, the violence and the suffering, God is still walking in the garden.
Look again at verse 8: ‘Then they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze’.
God had not given up on them because of the wrong they had done… By the grace of God, they could still hear his voice.
As we look out onto our world, do we still hear the voice of God? Do we still believe that he is walking in the garden?
As we hear God’s voice, and we look deep within our own hearts? Do we recognise the things within our selves that separate us from him and from each other?
Earlier this week a few of us visited the Bedouin community of Khan Al Ahmer, who are about to lose the little they have as it is likely that their village is going to be bulldozed down.
I am grateful for the generosity shown by this church and others, who donated much needed supplies of food and water, which we were able to deliver.
What struck me, was that despite the terrible injustice of the situation, I also saw the face of God. I saw the face of God in the generosity and compassion of the community, I saw the face of God in the children who played barefoot amongst the rock and dust, I saw the face of God in those who had journeyed there to lend what support they could: Palestinians, Jews, internationals. I felt that God was still present in this place, just like he was present in the Garden of Eden, when everything had gone wrong. And this should not surprise us, for was there not another garden into which our God willingly walked? Not a garden of primordial beauty and innocence, but a garden of death and abandonment, where all hope seemed to be lost. In the garden of Gethsemane our God associates with all those who have been crushed and tortured down the centuries; with those who have been pushed to the margins and stripped bare of all they have.
Our gospel reading continues with a picture of conflict, a world of demons and divided kingdoms, where confusion, madness and division are at work, even when Christ is in their midst. And we are warned about the seriousness of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Mark 3: 29 reads ‘whosoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’.
To blaspheme is to insult and contravene something that is sacred, and the gospel writer takes it very seriously. In a sense, blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is engaging with that which stands in direct opposition to his work. If the fruits of the Spirit are peace, love, kindness, gentleness, meekness, patience and joy; then all that which actively works against this, is a kind of blasphemy. When peace is replaced by war; when hatred rules instead of love; cruelty instead of kindness and pride instead of meekness; we have a world system that is living in blasphemous opposition to the Spirit of truth and love.
But that is not the end of the story, for as we read in 2 Corinthians 4:14 ‘we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also (…) and bring us into his presence’. In v.16 we are told to not lose hope, to not lose heart, for ‘even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day’.
God is still walking in the Garden.
Will you be a tree, that is planted and rooted in the God of peace and non-violence, so that your life bears the fruit of the Spirit? Will you open your ears, to listen for his voice, who longs to draw you to himself?
How our world needs the church to stand up and embody the self-giving love of our God, who does not abandon us to our fallenness, shame and despair, but calls us as he called Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden with the same words of Genesis 3:9: ‘Where are you’?
Will you hide in the shadows because of your nakedness and shame?, or will you come to the one who longs to clothe us in his righteousness, that we may embody his message of healing and reconciliation in our world?
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen