A Wilderness Sanctuary

The Sunday Sermon:  Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 12, 2020

Scripture:  Genesis 3:21-24

In the Wilderness:  A Sanctuary

Pray with me … And listen for the Word of God.  Read Genesis 3:21-24.

Then the Lord God made clothes out of animal skins for the man and his wife.  The Lord said, “They now know the difference between right and wrong, just as we do. But they must not be allowed to eat fruit from the tree that lets them live forever.” 23So the Lord God sent them out of the Garden of Eden, where they would have to work the ground from which the man had been made. 24Then God put winged creatures at the entrance to the garden and a flaming, flashing sword to guard the way to the life-giving tree.

 The Word of the Lord … Thanks be to God.

The last four verses of the third chapter of Genesis is our scripture reading this morning.  It’s summer, it’s mid-July and we are “in the wilderness” more literally than we’ve ever been as a Church.  Genesis 3:21-24 images the first wilderness (of many) written about in the bible.  I trust that all of you remember well what has led up to this moment for Adam and Eve.  Creation, temptation, confrontation, and condemnation.  Expulsion into the wilderness East of Eden.  It would be a pretty sad book, the book of Genesis and the whole bible, if the stories ended there.  With our wandering all alone in the wildernesses of our lives.  But the stories never, ever end that way in our bible.

The whole Genesis story, really the story of the whole Bible, including (and especially for us as Christians) the story of Jesus, is not a simple account of inevitable human disobedience and the subsequent divine displeasure.  It is a story about the struggle “God” has in responding to the facts of human life.  And it’s a story about the struggles humans have in responding to the facts of human life.  In the very first stories of scripture, Adam and Eve disobey the law of the Universe, in essence they choose death.  But right from the start, “God” – Life and Love itself – insists on life.  But, we now know, not a carefree life apart from “the wilderness.”

Two things are made crystal clear right from the start of our sacred writings:  We live in the wilderness of creation, but we live here with God.  The central question for the rest of “this book” has to do with how we are to live with the rest of creation in God’s world on God’s terms.

It’s important for us to remember that first reality – we live in the wilderness of creation.  Nowhere in the rest of this prolific book do we leave “the wilderness.”  We might argue that we do in the last writings of Revelation, but even that is only a vision.  So, we must understand that as we live our lives in this world, we are never called out of the wilderness we are in to live a life separate from it.  I know that’s the central message of some of the most prominent Christian communities around the world.  It may be a message that you, too, embrace, even as Presbyterians:  That Christians are called to live separate from all this … “mess”; separate from worldly culture, awaiting the world’s destruction so that Eden may be restored.  But that is not biblical teaching.

That is the ultimate “us versus them” scenario – and it couldn’t be a more worldly narrative.  Biblically speaking there is no such construct as “us and them.”  It is “I and we,” and “I” can never, ever, be separated from “we.”  We are all in this together.  Everyone watching and listening to this service and everyone who isn’t.  The question since the dawn of time has not been where are we going to live together, but how are we going to live together in this … wilderness?

Scripture doesn’t answer that question very positively, at least not at first.  In fact, it answers that question in the most depressing way possible.  As familiar as you all are with what comes right before our reading this morning, you’re almost equally familiar with what comes immediately after it.  The story of Cain and Abel and the first recorded death in the bible, murder actually, fratricide.  Not a good first response to the question of the Universe.  There is death in the wilderness, we learn, even “with” God.

But I want us to focus in on the something “in-between” expulsion from the garden and death in the wilderness.  It’s found in the opening verses of chapter four.

Read Genesis 4:1-2             The man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain … and next she bore his brother Abel.

Eve and Adam produce life in-between banishment to the wilderness and death.  Life that is destined to sweat and toil as they have, life that is destined to be lived in the wide, wild world, but life nonetheless – which is to say, possibility and promise.

In this wilderness … sanctuary – a place of refuge and protection.

Sanctuary is any place we gather, two or more, not to forget the wilderness, but to prepare for it.  To prepare our lives again to meet God in the midst of life here, and beyond.  Fascinating, isn’t it, that now more than ever we understand that “sanctuary” is not a place, not a room where we gather together, but a life where we gather as One.  We haven’t been in our “room” for eighteen weeks.  But have been in our sanctuary together nonetheless.  We have gathered together in the name of Love, in the name of Life, more “in the wilderness” these days than out of it, but more aware than ever that our sanctuary is within and among us right where we are whenever we are together in the reality we call “God.”

We have an opportunity to reflect out here on “everything else,” an opportunity that we don’t get in most of the other places in our lives.  We all recognized that at one point or another, otherwise we wouldn’t be together here now – wherever you are and whenever you’re worshipping with us.  Instead, you’d be waiting for our “room” to open again!  But you’re not … you’re here.  We’re … here.

We are comforted here and find guidance here.  Through preparing ourselves, gathering with others we know are participating now and throughout the day, confessing, being reminded of grace, hearing scripture and sermon and song, and responding we are preparing ourselves.  For our work and in our lives in every other place we go through the week.  In “sanctuary” we have reminders of what comes first.  Before the banishments and flaming swords, before the sweat and toil, and before the jealousy and competition of life, there was and there is “sanctuary.”  This time is our reminder of that.

Our sanctuary is a place we gather, not to forget the wilderness – how could we, we’re in the midst of it!  We gather to prepare for it.  To prepare our lives again to meet God in the midst of life here, and beyond.  It’s good to be together in every way we can be.

It’s a wide, wild wilderness we’re a part of.  Now go … love it into Life.  Amen.

Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor

Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / July 12, 2020