In the beginning, God planted a garden.
That’s not a scientific statement, it’s a theological one. It’s not about the material origins of the cosmos. It’s about the relationship between God and the world. And I understand that it might seem like a delicate distinction, but it’s an important one. And if you want to learn more about it, then please come to our next I Have Questions, at noon, on Saturday, September 28th, where we’ll talk about Genesis and science. (Bring a lunch).
For now, we’ll have to settle for this. It’s not a scientific statement, but it’s true. No matter how, exactly, the stuff of the universe came to be, in the beginning, God planted a garden.
And after God planted a garden, God took the dust of the ground and formed it into a human and breathed life into him. And God put that human in the garden, and commanded him to keep the garden and till it… and to obey the one rule.
And then God said, “This human shouldn’t be all alone. I’ll make someone to be his partner and helper.” So God made the squirrel and killdeer and red panda and ocelot. And God made all of the animals of the field and all of the birds of the air. And they were all very nice. But none of them were right.
So God put the human to sleep, and took a rib, and used that rib to make another human. And now there wasn’t just a human; there was a man and there was a woman. And when the man woke up, he saw the woman, and said, “At last. Another other who is like me.”
And the man and the woman stood naked before God, and each other, and the squirrel and the killdeer and the red panda and the ocelot. They stood in the garden that God had planted. And they were not ashamed.
That’s not a scientific statement. It’s a theological one.
A while ago, I was introduced to someone. The person who introduced us said to me, “This is so-and-so, and he has such-and-such a job.” And the person who introduced us said to him, “This is Chris, and he’s a pastor.”
And he’s a pastor always makes things a little awkward, but we chatted for a bit. And a little bit into our conversation, he started talking about his… short pause… spouse. And I noticed that when he talked about his… short pause… spouse, he avoided names… and pronouns… and anything that might have given me a clue about the gender of his… short pause… spouse.
And I don’t know, but I think that this guy was talking about his husband. And I think that he wanted to tell someone about his husband, because his husband was going to have surgery, and, God willing, that went well. And I was the one who was there
But… well… I’m a pastor. And given what a lot of pastors would think and how a lot of pastors would judge, he probably didn’t want to come out to me. He probably thought that I would not be a safe person to come out to.
And I don’t know what he was feeling, but I do know what I was feeling. And it was a little bit of shame.
You see, shame is that feeling we have when we want to hide ourselves or a part of ourselves. It’s personal. It’s about who I am. And it’s social. It’s about hiding who I am from other people, because I’m afraid that they’ll judge me, or punish me, or shun me, or whatever. And, in that moment, I felt a little bit ashamed because I don’t want anyone—even a stranger—to think that they have to hide from me. I felt like I was being judged for who I am. And I wanted to hide.
I need to be careful here. I am not totally anti-shame. I think that there’s a place for shame. We are not who God is calling us to be, and a little bit of shame—a little bit of feeling bad that we are not who God is calling us to be—can spur us towards repentance… and change… and being more like the people who God is calling us to be.
But, most of the time, shame isn’t about God. Most of the time, shame is about other people. It’s about what other people will think about us. It’s about what other people will say about us. It’s about how other people will judge us.
And, again, sometimes, that’s okay. What other people think and say—how other people judge—matters. Sometimes.
And, sometimes, that’s not okay. Sometimes, the pressures of what other people think and say about us—or what we’re afraid that other people will think and say about is—are the very things that keep us from being the people who God is calling us to be. We can be so worried about hiding from other people that we end up hiding from God.
We can end up believing that everything will be fine if we just hide who we are.
That’s not a psychological statement. It’s a theological one.
After God created the man and the woman, the man and the woman broke the one rule. And after they broke the one rule, they saw that they were naked, and they made some clothes for themselves out of fig leaves, and they hid, and the world changed.
And… in a sense… the whole rest of the story is about God calling out to us, and working through us, and trying to get us to a place where we can come out of hiding and say, “We’ve done some screwed up things, but we are not screwed up things. We are loved, and we are worthy of love.”
In a sense, the whole rest of the story is about God getting us—getting the whole wide world—to a place were we can stand naked before God, and each other, and all of the squirrels and killdeer and red pandas and ocelots, in a garden that God has planted, and be… unashamed.
That’s not a literal statement. It’s a theological one.
A while ago, I was talking to a few people here in DeWitt, and they asked what I did, so I said, “I’m a pastor.”
And I’m a pastor always makes things a little awkward, but we chatted for a bit.
They asked where I pastored, and I said, “First Congregational United Church of Christ.”
And they asked—these people who live in DeWitt, these people who grew up in DeWitt—where that was, and I said, “It’s the church on 11th Street, across from the school.”
And they said, “Oh.”
So I asked, “What do you know about us?” And they said, “We just learned where you are.”
Here’s the thing about shame. We worry so much about what other people think about us and what other people will say about us. But, most of the time, most people… don’t think about us at all. Most of the time, most people… don’t talk about us at all.
That’s true on an individual level. Most of the time, most people aren’t thinking about me or talking about me.
And that’s true on an institutional level. Most of the time, most people aren’t thinking or talking about First Congregational United Church of Christ at all.
And that’s too bad, because we have this story that starts with God planting a garden and making some people. And we have this story that goes on that when God saw that we did some screwed up things, God put aside glory and honor and came into the world as one of us. And God showed us how to love and live and be the people we were meant to be.
And when we did some more screwed up things, like hanging God on a cross and laying God in a tomb, God got up again and said, “I’m not done with you yet. You are loved and you are worthy of love. And I’m going to love you until you get that. And for an eternity afterwards.”
And there are people who need to hear that story. I know because I’m one of them. And I know because I know you, and you’re some of them. And I know because I know people. And whether you realize it or not, there are folks in this town who are just trying to keep things together and keep their heads down and keep an eye on what people are thinking and what people are saying… because they are afraid of how people will judge.
There are folks in this town who will not darken the door of a church, because they believe that any church, that every church, that even our church, will tell them be ashamed and to hide. And they believe that because that is what churches have told them.
And those people need to hear a differently story. We all need to hear a different story. We need to hear a story that tells us the truth: that we may have done some screwed up things, but that we are not screwed up things; that God loves us just as we are, and too much to leave us that way; that we are loved and worthy of love; that we do not need to hide.
But that’s only going to happen if we are brave enough to come out of our hiding places. That’s only going to happen if we let go of what other people think about us and how other people talk about us. That’s only going to happen if we are willing to stand before God and the world… stripped of the psychological armor and social costumes that we have piled on ourselves… unashamed of what God is making us… wild and full or grace.
That’s only going to happen if we put away our shame and be the church.
Because that world, where we can stand unashamed before God and one another, is a beautiful world that God has been preparing since the beginning, when God planted a garden.