Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
“OUR FAMILY PORTRAIT”
June 9/10, 2018
Christ Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
I never knew my father’s parents, William and Emma. However, I have this old tattered snapshot of them sitting on the front porch of their house in Richmond Heights, Missouri. My grandfather’s large, rough hands rest on his knee and chin. They are the hands of a man who spent most of his working life as a shoemaker. How odd? Are there any shoemakers in this country any more? His wife sitting at his side is worn from years of domestic labor. Both died long before I was born. However, I see some of myself in their eyes. I also see the eyes of my brothers and my children. I see a pious German-Lutheran couple both naturalized Americans, who were so proud that their son, my father, had decided to go into the ministry of the church. I look at them and see myself . . . and realize that my ancestors still live on in me.
We see the same when we look at our children. We often see in them the same habits and traits that we received from our parents. Sometimes they make us cringe. Sometimes they make us proud. We hope that when others see our children, they will think well of us. We hope that when our descendants look at our family pictures and the ancestors they never knew, that they will only see the good.
In today’s First Reading, we have another family portrait. It paints a picture of our first ancestors. We see their traits living on not only in us but in all of humanity. The picture is not pretty.
There are our first two parents, Adam and Eve, standing in paradise, the Garden of Eden. However, something is wrong in Eden. Adam stands there, tall, dark and . . . naked . . . and hiding . . . in the bushes. He appears to be speaking to someone, out of sight with his hand raised and emphatically pointing a finger of accusation at Eve. She too is hiding and naked . . . in the bushes . . . and staring back at Adam, mouth wide open as if stunned by his accusation. She also extends her arm as she points a finger of accusation, not at Adam but at a snake lurking in a tree.
This is a family portrait of guilt, shame and blame. It portrays not only this first family but also what every human family has been doing ever since. When God shows up, everyone is on the spot and starts blaming someone else.
I know I am not God but inevitably when I meet someone from Christ Church or someone who knows that I am a pastor, they think that in some indirect way I am God looking for them. They think that God has sent me to check up on them. It does not take too long before I start hearing excuses about why they not been in church recently. The guilt seems automatic. They cannot help themselves. Or when someone in a crowd learns that I am a pastor, I have to listen to all the nervous jokes about how they need to clean up their language and tidy up their lives since they are now in the presence of a man of God. They are fully clothed but still feel naked, ashamed, criticized and that they must provide an explanation for their hiding in the bushes.
When God asks Adam “Where are you?” it is not because God cannot find him but because God wants an explanation. God wants to know why he is hiding. Adam cannot help himself. All he can do is blame. It was not his fault. It was Eve’s fault. She had given him the forbidden fruit. He had no choice but to eat.
Eve cannot help herself either. She too has got to blame someone. She blames the snake. The snake had tricked her into eating the forbidden fruit. It was his fault, not hers.
This is the portrait of a family gone sour. Everyone is blaming someone one else for the mess they have gotten themselves into. Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the snake. . . . . and you know who made the snake: God!
The ugly truth is this: both Adam and Eve blamed God. Both turned their backs on their maker and became buck-passing, blame-making, finger pointing, not-my-fault, irresponsible malcontents.
That is our family portrait. When we look in the portrait, we see not only Adam and Eve, we see ourselves. This story from Genesis 3 is not just a snapshot of the ancient past. It is a timeless drama that gets acted out every day in our lives. If it were just an historical account of what happened a long time ago that explains why we are in the mess we are in today, it would be just another way to pass the buck, point the finger and blame someone else. “It is Adam and Eve’s fault, not ours.”
When God shows up in our lives, we too want to run and hide. We cannot help but feel nervous, guilty, ashamed and criticized. Every day we feel pressured to offer an explanation and a justification for why we living the way we are. We may think it is just our boss or our parents or our friends, but the frightening truth is that behind them it is God.
Is that not what we do every time we get caught with our hand in the proverbial cookie jar and say, “It’s not my fault. She did it. He did it.” “I’m only human” or “No one is perfect.” It is just one more way to blame the One whom the snake implies (and lies) is responsible for this mess in the first place: God. Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the snake. And you know who made the snake.
For such blaming and excuse making, they suffered the consequences. God would not put up with it. Adam and Eve and everyone in their family, including you and I, would be cursed with lives that would always be bruised, broken and under judgement and criticism. As today’s First Reading ends, it only begins to list the curses that have afflicted human life ever since.
BUT . . . that is not the end of the story. God was not about to write off this family. Already at the end of Genesis 3 we see God’s gracious heart and tender mercy tempering God’s disappointment. Even though God has mud on His face, God “turns the other cheek and goes the extra mile.” God becomes a tailor stitching together clothes out of animal skins for Adam and Eve, covering their nakedness and shame. God did not have to do this. They certainly did not deserve it. But God could not stop loving them.
This tender act of kindness is a hint of what is to come. As history unfolds and the descendants of Adam and Eve multiply, God would continue to rescue his people from the curse of sin and the cycle of blaming and finger-pointing that haunts the lives of all of us. A rainbow comforted Noah and his family after the flood. A promise of land and children gives hope to Abraham and his descendants. Israel was delivered from slavery in Egypt. God’s mercy climaxes in the coming of Jesus, who joins us in the shame and nakedness of our broken lives on the cross. There Jesus bears the criticism, guilt and judgment for us. Then, at the empty tomb of Easter we see that we are free.
All that would make us run and hide in the bushes is gone. The curses have been broken. Death has been defeated. God has given us a new life, a new future and a new family to call our own.
We are now in a new family portrait. In the old family portrait we were there with Adam and Eve hiding, pointing fingers, blaming others and living in fear. In the new family portrait Jesus has his arms around us, has covered our shame, wiped away our tears and calmed our fear. He is our brother. God is our father. In this new family our brothers and sisters look at us with eyes of love instead of looks that criticize.
Jesus talks about that new family in today’s Gospel. When the crowd reminded him that his mother, sisters and brothers were waiting for him outside the house, he looked to all those whom he had gathered inside the house and said, “Here are my mother, my sisters and my brothers. This is my family. . . . Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Doing the will of God is letting Jesus welcome us into the new family.
Last month 5 teenagers affirmed their faith in the Rite of Confirmation. Do you remember when you were a teenager and were always worried how you looked, concerned about your appearance and what your friends might think of you? It did not take too much to send us running like Adam and Eve into the bushes afraid that someone might criticize us and see us in our “nakedness.” Such insecurities are a big deal for teens but they don’t disappear when you are an adult either. We are all afraid of being criticized and exposed for our failures.
But here comes God in Christ ready to clothe us, not with animal skins, but with His constant assurance that we will always be the apple of His eye. That is what happened in the Baptism of Quinncy James Ashenfelter this morning. That is what happened to all of us when we were washed in the waters of Baptism. We like Quinncy were covered with the righteousness of Christ. It is like we were dressed for the cover of GQ or a full page ad in Vogue. Therefore, last month we dressed our confirmands in gleaming white robes not for graduation but to remind them that ever since the day of their Baptism, they have been dressed up in Christ. Covered by him they will always be sharped dressed guys and elegantly clothed ladies.
When we hear footsteps in the garden in the cool of the day, our first reaction is to run and hide and then point the finger and pass the buck . . . . just like Adam and Eve. But listen! Hear the voice? Doesn’t it sound different now?
Isn’t that us in the family portrait? Isn’t that us sitting there right next to Jesus? Look at the smile on Jesus’ face! I don’t think we have to hide in the bushes anymore.