We just heard what I think are two of the most beautiful and poignant verses in the whole
Bible–from the passage in Genesis 3:
“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
You can practically feel the warm breeze against your cheek and hear the sound of leaves rustling, birds singing. I can barely begin to imagine what the “sound of the Lord God walking in the garden” might have been like–rolling thunder? Ocean waves rolling and crashing? A pod of humpback whales singing and breaching? A herd of elephants calling out in their deep rumble? A thousand tubular bells? Maybe a still, small voice?
But then that voice, calling to them, “Where are you?” “Where are you?” The Lord God
couldn’t see them? Didn’t know where they were? “Where are you?”
A friend pointed out, “The worst thing that can happen in hide-and-seek is to have no one come looking for you.” Another friend recalls a time when a group of kids were playing hide-and-seek in someone’s big, old house, and his son hid under one of the beds. He was one of the younger kids in the group, and somehow, whether by intention or just forgetfulness, they forgot to look for him. He fell asleep there, and finally when it was time to go home, they realized that Moses wasn’t around, and it was then that they all had to seek him and , in the end, he was indeed found. A happy ending. But what if no one had remembered that little boy? What if no one had wanted to find him?
“Where are you?” The man and the woman have hidden themselves from the Lord God among the trees in the garden because they had listened to the serpent instead of to God. They knew they were naked. “I heard the sound of you in the garden,” the man says to God, “and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” Not only does the man try to hide among the trees, but he then also tries to hide behind the woman–”The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” And the woman does the same thing–”The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” Hiding behind half-truths is as effective as hiding among the trees. Ultimately, they are found out, and whether you read it as punishment or merely conse-quences, their lives are never the same again. Children grow up. Adolescents experiment and test the boundaries. Adults live on the other side of innocence, perhaps sadder but wiser. The Lord God fashions garments of skins to replace the fig leaves, before sending them out into the world, as many a parent has done since.
And still, the echo of that evening call–”Where are you? My son, my daughter, where are you?” They may have been expelled from the garden, but God wasn’t confined to the garden either. God followed them out into the world.
God keeps calling to us–”Where are you?” And beneath that question, “Do you know where you are? Are you where you want to be?” On and on, throughout the ages beyond this primordial time, God continues to seek us out, longing for relationship, longing to be in honest relationship with us.
So the question with which Jesus responded to the crowds who told him that his mother and brothers and sisters were outside the house sounds utterly jarring. “Who are my mother and my brothers and sisters?” They have come seeking you out, Jesus, because they think you have gone out of your mind! They’re worried about you, because you’ve left the protective and societally-sanctioned web of your family and you’re going around with all these strangers and keeping crazy hours and interacting way too closely with demons. Come home with us.
And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers and sisters?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers and sisters! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Weren’t they just wondering, “Where are you, Jesus?” Where is the boy who grew up in our household, who was expected to carry on the family business, to care for his mother, to keep in his place in this observant, peasant family? “Where are you?”
Jesus knew that that question was not coming from God this time, and that actually was what that whole discussion about Beelzebub, that is tucked in the middle of this story about his family, was about. You need to be able to discern the difference between God’s voice and spirit and The Temptor’s voice and spirit. And woe to you if you cannot perceive God’s Holy Spirit working and calling you, if you cannot see the healing and justice and truth and liberation that God is working to bring about, but instead dismiss it and work against it.
“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” It is, in a way, another story of coming of age. Can you recognize when the gods who were your parents to you growing up are no longer the God whose voice you must listen to? Can you, at some point, recognize and appreciate all your parents did for and said to you, knowing that they were and are not the Lord God, that they were and are as fallible and imperfect as any human being, and that there may be a fuller, deeper truth that you have to live into?
“Who are my mother and my brothers and sisters?” And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers and sisters! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Sometimes our blood family cannot accept that we need to move away to escape the web of dysfunction and abuse. Sometimes our blood family cannot accept that we are gay or lesbian or bisexual or born into a body that doesn’t reflect our
true identity. Sometimes our blood family sees our wanting to go to college or into a different career as a judgement upon them. Sometimes our blood family cannot accept that we have grown and changed.
That’s when the water of baptism is thicker than blood. That’s when, Jesus knew, that blood was too narrow a definition of family, and that sometimes the community of faith is given to us as family, to care for us, to hold us accountable, to cry with us, to cheer us on.
At the end of his life, from the cross, Jesus says to the disciple whom he loved, “Behold your mother,” nodding to his birth mother. “Woman, behold your son,” nodding to the disciple. And from that day forward, he took her into his home and cared for her. We don’t need to reject our families; but we do need to know that family is a much more expansive reality than DNA or address can determine.
“Where are you?” God always wants to find us. God keeps calling to us, whispering to us. “I love you. You are part of me. I am part of you.” Here, this is my body, broken for you. Take and eat. And this is my blood, poured out for you. Take and drink. Come home to who you really are.
May it be so. Amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark