THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
ST. PETER’S — NEFFSVILLE
SEPTEMBER 13, 2015
Preaching Text — 4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. 14The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’ 18 Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ 24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:4b-25)
So … what are you full of? Now, now … before you get all Puritan on me for thinking the “s” word in church, be assured that it is just fine and dandy to say to yourself, “I am full of sin.” Okay? …. Nothing to worry about … What? …. Weren’t you thinking the same thing that I was thinking?
Fullness is the word for the day … a fullness that is so rich that we can hardly comprehend it. Breathe in the aroma of the dark, rich earth that is turned up by the plow as a farmer tills the soil of a field that has lain fallow for two or three years, and that deep, fertile and loamy smell that arises from the ground. Visualize again the brightness of the sun that demands you shade your eyes from its glory, on the morning following a gray day full of rain like we had yesterday. Picture yourself opening a brand new jar of peanut butter, and immediately after you pull off that protective seal dipping your finger into the creamy perfection of that unsullied delight. Fullness – there are few experiences in life as enriching as when you are full but not stuffed … satisfied but not engorged … content but not bloated. Is your life full? If you would answer that question “no”, then I return to my original words … “What then, are you full of?”
Both of the creation stories that we have read this morning … the theologically loaded story from St. John’s Gospel, and the more accessible human story of the Garden of Eden from the book of Genesis … proclaim that God the source of every blessing in our lives. They describe a God who gives us everything we need for life in this world. And yet, if you are like me, you have moments of dissatisfaction … periods in your life when you feel that you are anything but blessed. So what’s the deal?
It gets back to the “s” word, doesn’t it? Yes, the sin in our lives, always seeks to blind us to the good things that surround us. Think for a moment … I’ll give you a few seconds … think of one thing in your life that you would say is your richest blessing … take a few moments … (PAUSE) … can you visualize one of your blessings? And that is just one thing brought to memory in a few seconds of time. Imagine if I gave you a minute … or an hour … or a day to write down your blessings. You could fill pages. And yet … and yet … think of how often we are still not satisfied.
The Garden of Eden story that we just heard read a few minutes ago, tells us clearly what the problem is. The problem is this … that in a land where we were in a perfect relationship with the created world … in perfect relationship with other creatures like ourselves … and in perfect relationship with God … we were not satisfied. You can blame the problem on Adam and Eve all you like, but they live on in you and in me. And given our dissatisfaction, we thus pursued the one and only thing that God commanded us not to touch – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The one thing that defined the difference between the Creator of the world and the creatures that Creator brought to life and placed within this world. We still pursue that same desire today, don’t we? You know we do. We desire to be something that we are not, and we pursue things that are not in our best interests. We want to play God … we think that we can comprehend the knowledge of God … and thus we doom ourselves to misunderstanding, mixed up priorities, and mis-founded logic. And while we have more material possessions in our lives – and more experiences in our lives than we can keep up with – and more relationships in our lives than we can manage … while we stuff our hours full of activities and obsessions … we still feel empty. You could think of a few of those empty places too, if you tried, couldn’t you. We are empty, because we fill our lives with all the wrong things. We fill our lives with things that which drains us and saps our energy, instead of filling our time in meaningful and enriching ways. It is our sin … the sin of our defiance … the sin of our arrogance … that condemns us. And it leaves us empty and hunger.
The good news is that God is never satisfied to leave you alone in your emptiness. God is never content to let your soul starve itself while it is surrounded by spiritual nourishment. God is never happy to see you crying out for human contact while you are being smothered by a host of people you cannot see.
And so God calls you back into a new beginning … into the dawn of a new day … into the start of a new chapter in your life. That is what these foundational stories of creation are all about – they are not a judgment upon us for our sin … but instead, a washing away of that sin, so that we might pursue the life God intends for us. When you get home today, your assignment is to Google James Earl Jones and his “People Will Come” speech from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams. If I was in New Day today, I would play it on a video clip for you. As you read it, just substitute God for baseball, and you will find yourself dipped in magic waters. You have come here today because you sense that offering God holds out to you today. Sure … you might say that you have come to church today only because it gets your wife off your back … or because you want to see what the new Director of Children’s Ministry will do with your kids … or because you are curious about how the Herald Choir and Canticle Choir will sound this year … or because you simply have no better option today like a football game or a weekend at the shore. And certainly, some of those may be the reasons you share with your family and the guy you meet at the coffee bar for coming to church today. But behind and underneath those reasons, you are coming because you feel empty. You recognize that at some level, the world and its sirens calls to just about everything imaginable, have disappointed you and left you hungry … yearning for something deeper in your life. And you hope and pray that maybe … just maybe, you will find it here. Peace for your grieving heart … strength for the addiction you cannot conquer … hope for a future that appears awfully dark to you … healing for your loved one, who is slipping away from you … meaning for a life that feels increasingly meaningless. The church won’t be able to deliver on all of those desires to have your emptiness filled, of course … because we who gather here are broken and human and disobedient, also. And we ourselves sometimes get in the way of God’s new beginnings, and the food for our souls that God lays at our feet. But what you will find here is companionship for the journey, and encouragement for a life whose poison is purged by the cross with which we are marked, and then filled by the light of an empty tomb in which our Risen Lord no longer stands. You will find people here who know that One who invites us into a new beginning, and who will struggle with you to walk in the light of that Risen One who leads us from hunger into hope, and from emptiness into fullness.
Now, if you walk out this door in a short while, and find that the emptiness seeks to get the better of you, and you are still struggling, then I’ll invite you to do this. Name the emptiness … name the darkness … name the boundary or hurdle that threatens you. Write it down and email it to me in the next couple of days. I’ll collect those cares and concerns … I will keep them anonymous … and I’ll shape a prayer or devotion around them, and blind copy it back to everyone who emailed me. And we can spend the latter part of the week praying for the communal burdens you have lifted up, and find some community during the week as a waystation between our Sunday gatherings.
This is no perfect community … but it is a faithful community … and where there is faith, there is God’s presence. I pray that this strong and tireless God will continue to invite you into a new beginning in your life, and fill you in ways you can yet imagine. Amen.