Do not lose heart: you are embraced in God’s clothing of love which removes all shame, and you are God’s beloved, no matter what.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 10 B
Texts: Genesis 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1
“Who told you that you were naked?”
It’s a ridiculous question. As Sunday School children for centuries have accurately and insistently pointed out, these two obviously knew they were naked. They didn’t have clothes on. Who needed to tell them that?
That means God’s asking something different. God’s asking, “Who told you that you should be ashamed of yourselves?” You’re hiding from me, embarrassed to see me; you’ve never done that before.
Our Hebrew forebears had amazing insight into our truth as human beings before God. This whole story is as true for us as it was for the first to tell it.
The Hebrews spoke of the creation in several ways, to show the full truth of God revealed to them.
Genesis 1 tells of a powerful God declaring a creation into existence, an explosion from chaos and nothingness into gradually increasing order and beauty, planets and stars formed, then life on planets.
But these people told a second truth of God’s creation in the next chapters: God is intimate with this creation, too, they said, building relationships, on hands and knees making plants and creatures. This God, named I Am Who I Am, a name that, when spoken in Hebrew, sounds like breathing, breathed life and love into the creation personally. And the two people in this story don’t have proper names, because they stand for all people. The man is called adam – soil, dirt – and the woman is called chavah – life. Our forebears tell this story because it’s your story, and my story, the story of all children made by God’s hands out of dirt and life.
And there’s a tremendous problem in this intimate story of God we heard today. Your problem. My problem. The problem of all humans, the Hebrews believed.
Who told you that you were naked? God asks. Who told you to be ashamed?
Human creatures, whom God declared “good” when they were made, learned to be ashamed of who they are, and taught each other to be ashamed.
But God’s Word isn’t about shaming. For centuries we’ve piled shame onto our reading of Scripture, piled it on to others, piled it on ourselves. We created a teaching called original sin that’s simply not found in the Bible and taught ourselves and each other that we can only approach God out of our shame, our utter wretchedness.
But these Hebrews onto whose faith we are grafted in Christ saw it differently, and so did Christ Jesus, by the way: God’s view of you and me, born of adam and chavah, dirt and life, is that you are beloved. I am beloved. All God’s creatures are beloved.
It’s not a question of right and wrong.
God’s Word is clear: God cares about right and wrong. About justice and ending oppression. About the sins you and I do that we know, and the sins you and I do that we are unaware of, including our implicit biases and prejudices that shape our lives and our culture, and the ways we participate in systems that crush others. God’s Word calls you and me to God’s way of righteousness and justice, the way of love of God and love of neighbor.
God’s Word is also clear about God’s unconditional love for all of us, for you, when you fail to live as God calls you, the forgiveness that flows from God’s love, leads to the cross, and bursts out in the resurrection life the Spirit pours into you. A life that brings God’s justice and peace to the world in you and in me.
But living as Christ, following God’s way has nothing to do with shame. There’s no place for shame in the love of God we know in Christ, the love of God the Scriptures proclaim.
It’s clear in this story from the way the Hebrews ended it.
In this second creation account, God goes looking in the garden, still seeking intimacy and relationship. God finds them when they hide, and is sad when they’re ashamed of who they are.
And in the end of this story, not in today’s reading, God does an amazing thing. While God would prefer that they didn’t have the knowledge that made them ashamed of being who God made them to be, God realizes that it’s going to take time for them to re-learn they are beloved, created good. So God gives them clothes.
God clothes them so they don’t have to hide, don’t have to be embarrassed. God gives them ways to cope with their unnecessary shame, until they can let go of it.
And God clothes you, too.
God would rather you weren’t ashamed of yourself, that you saw yourself as the beloved one God sees in you. But the Hebrews say that God knows it may take most of your life to unlearn what you need to. So God gives you ways to cope with whatever shame you feel.
God tells you repeatedly in Scripture that you are beloved. God offers unconditional forgiveness when you sin, when you are not Christ, and dies for you – not because you are a shameful pile of refuse but because God loves you.
On the cross, God’s Son hung naked in front of a city of thousands, and wasn’t ashamed of himself or of you. Out of love for the whole universe, for you, for all, Jesus allowed himself to be unclothed in the most public and humiliating way and to be killed. To finally convince the world, to convince me, to convince you, how much God loves you, loves me, loves the world.
Who told you that you were naked? God says they’re a liar.
So even when you hide from God, God still looks for you and invites you to be found. To let go of any shame or self-dislike and rejoice that you are God’s beloved child born of dirt and life.
And God clothes you with love that will never be ashamed of you, so even while you still struggle with shame, you are covered in your belovedness. So clothed in God’s love, the Spirit can heal the world through you, and me, and all God’s children. So, as Paul says today, grace extends to more and more people, and eventually to all.
So do not lose heart, Paul says. You are clothed in God’s love now and always, so that even you might one day believe how beloved you are.
In the name of Jesus. Amen