June 7, Second Sunday after Pentecost

Kristin White

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 3:8-15


I have a question I hope you will wonder about, together with me. What does God sound like? Really. If you were to say that you were listening for God, what are the sounds you would be listening for, or to? And how would you know? And what do you think you might do, if you heard those sounds?

The first reading today from the book of Genesis says this: “The man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.” Can you imagine what that would be like? Great big giant stomping foot prints, or just the rustling of leaves, or one regular old person walking barefoot on the grass, and whistling along the way?


I wonder, also, what it means that God’s very first direct question to those very first people is the one we hear God ask in this passage: “Where are you?”

The faithful response, the one we will hear later through many stories of the bible, from prophets like Samuel and Isaiah, is this: “Here I am, Lord.” That is the call and response. That is the whole. But that is not what humanity sounds like for God today. That is not what Adam says.

“I heard the sound, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and so I hid,” he says to God instead.

Sometimes, things fall apart. And now, all is not as it should be in that Original Garden. With this very first question, this first address, God shows people’s useless effort to hide, while they run away from the consequences of their own actions.[1]

So much is present in this question and response, in this moment: the blame of man to woman and woman to snake; the question of fear versus trust; and those twin factors of sin and shame.

To say it plainly, in the wisdom and words of the Godly Play lesson for this passage, sometimes things fall apart. Adam and Eve are created by God and live in this place of perfection where they have everything they need or want, almost, where God comes and walks around with them every night in the cool of the evening breeze…and there’s just one little caveat. One minor little rule. “This tree here, the one of the knowledge of good and evil? Leave its fruit alone,” God says. “Everything else is yours, just don’t touch this one. Don’t eat this particular fruit.”

Well. I don’t know about you. But when somebody tells me I can do anything I want, except for that one… tiny… little… thing… well, that one thing becomes the thing I very much want to do. In fact, that one little thing might actually become the only thing I want to do, or maybe even to think about.

So in the part of the story that comes before the reading we heard today, Eve looks at the fruit on that tree. She sees that it is beautiful, and she hears from that crafty (and hairless… which also means rather - ahem - naked…) snake, that it will help her know more than she knows right now. She hears that sneaky snake say that she will not die from eating it. So…she picks a piece of the fruit. And she eats it. And Adam does the same thing. And the snake is right: they do not die. And the snake is right about something else: they know something that they didn’t know before they picked and ate that fruit. Adam and Eve know that they are naked.

And things fall apart. God walks in the Garden. They hear God walking there, whatever that sounds like. And they hide. God calls to them: “Where are you?” And Adam and Eve don’t know what to say.

What had been perfect is not perfect anymore. What had been whole is broken. Things are not as they had been, and they never can be that way again.

It would be easy to build a sermon on sin and blame and guilt and shame. It would be easy to use the scriptures today to assign responsibility to gender and species. It’s been done. Whole theologies have been constructed on this particular moment in the biblical story. And honestly, though I don’t buy the whole thing, there are pieces that fit. Our actions have consequences. Once you know something, you can’t not-know it. Once you do something, you can’t not-have-done it. Adam and Eve know now they are naked. And God knows that they acted in ways that broke the sacred trust.  

But what about this? What if Eve had ignored the snake? What if she had followed that one rule, exactly? What if she left that fruit hanging on the tree, obedient and satisfied by all the other fancy fruit hanging on all those other trees God planted for the people, by the sweat of God’s own brow? What if Adam and Eve had behaved themselves, naked and content, walking together with God in the Garden each night, in the cool of the evening breeze?

“Everything hinges on this…and (this) text…deals with the chaos that comes from…her act of courage (or defiance).”[2]

After all, is a perfect place perfect, really? Can it be? In this Original Garden, there are “no differences, no opposites, no innovation, no creativity, no diversity, no rebellion, no need for grace or redemption.”[3]

And so this moment in our story, a story maybe less about our first ancestors and more of what happens to each one of us[4], serves as the hinge. Idyllic versus chaotic, whole versus broken. Eve sees that the fruit is beautiful. She hears that it will bring wisdom. And call it courage or call it defiance, she eats it. And so does Adam, her husband. (That one…tiny…thing…that you’re not supposed to do…)

There is no way to not-know what we know, there is no way to not-do what we have done. So God’s first people learn, as they quiver in the bushes, listening to God in that Original Garden, hearing God’s call to them, “Where are you?”

There is no way to go back to the unbroken and the perfect. All they can do now is go forward, trade their scratchy leaf-clothes for the better ones God will make for their protection and comfort, and walk themselves out into a world they do not know, but will.

And maybe, in all this, they trade what was perfect for what is real. Instead of the idyllic, they will face into chaos and struggle and loss and pain…and with that, moments of real joy and solace and peace borne through it all. They will learn something of hunger and perseverance, because they have to. And they will encounter things they never would have known in that perfect Original Garden: things like difference and opposite and innovation and creativity and diversity and rebellion. They will know their need of grace; they will yearn after redemption.

And since they won’t hear the divine footsteps every night in the Garden at the time of the evening breeze, the people will have to learn to listen for God. They will have to practice recognizing what God sounds like. So that way, when they hear God call to them, “Where are you?” - instead of hiding away to cover themselves, God’s people can respond, together with the faithful of every generation, “Here I am.”


[1] John Rollefson. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 3, Pentecost and the Season after Pentecost 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. “Proper 5, Genesis 3:8-15, Pastoral.” 102.

[2] Bert Marshall. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 3, Pentecost and the Season after Pentecost 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. “Proper 5, Genesis 3:8-15, Homiletical.” 101.

[3] Ibid, 103.

[4] Ibid, 103.