The United Church of Christ (UCC)’s vision statement and image is a giant comma and the words, “God is still speaking”.
No matter where my day takes me, it is often by a UCC church building or two where this simple image and statement reminds me of the wonderful and inconvenient truth about our God:
God does not like to be confined or tucked away or sorted into a canon and creed that settles the matter at hand.
We try! But these things are fallible and temporary:
The Ark of the Covenant or Temple as boundaries.
The biblical canon.
The Nicene Creed.
Nations and political parties laying claim.
Every human generation has put a period on God’s law and sacred imagination, defining the limitations of God’s glory and mercy by the capacity of our own minds and hearts.
But our God is the God of improvisation.
Of Yes… and.
Of Plan B and C and D.
Of choosing to include us in every process of creation and care – not because we have such a fantastic resume for efficiency and success, but because God never fails to choose including us in the process over perfection. God has a habit for picking a real relationship over being right.
This fall our worship services are rooted in the essential character stories from scripture – the tales that reveal something about our spiritual ancestors, but also about the character of God and our own human character today.
We are returning to the very beginning, to the glory days of the universe when rivers flowed and land produced more than people needed and there were no thoughts of sin and shame did not yet exist.
I know there are several different readings of this story about the first human beings and there is room enough in this sanctuary and the world for all of them.
Some of you hear this story as infallible history. Six days, 144 literal hours after the cosmos burst from formless void into being, Adam and Eve came to be by dust and breath.
Some of you hear this story as mythology, one of many creation tales human beings have shaped to answer questions about where we come from, how we got here, what God originally intended, and why things go off the rails.
And some of you don’t think it matters either way because, as one of my seminary professors once said, “Everything in the Bible is true. And some of it actually happened!”
These characters and their stories live on, not only because they were written down in a book, but because they are worth telling again and again. They still have something to say about who we are and whose we are. They are proof that God is still speaking, still improvising, still moving with us from Plan A to Plan B because this relationship matters more than the perfection of Eden.
Genesis 2 has something to say about God’s desire for beauty, safety, belonging, and companionship. That God desires for us to love relationships as much as God does. That we are tied to both the dust of this world and the breath of heaven. It invites us to consider every atom of our biology as both/and, life in the tension of creature and co-creator, beings who have eaten fruit from both the tree of life and the tree of knowledge.
I remember hearing the story of Adam and Eve as a child and thinking, “Why did they have to go and wreck it for the rest of us? Surely we wouldn’t all eaten from the forbidden tree. Can’t we go back and try again?”
Our restlessness and lack of satisfaction.
Our stubborn curiosity, needing to find out for ourselves.
Our urge to deny or deflect when we’ve caused hurt or pain.
Our desire to get back what we’ve lost, even while God is making a new way.
Adam and Eve are the characters who teach us about innocence and innocence lost. Everyone since lived without an awareness of their own nakedness and shame until suddenly – by circumstance or event or trauma or disappointment – the knowledge of good and evil flooded the conscience and life could never be the same.
Like Adam and Eve, we long to return to the garden, to a time and place where sin has not reared its head and love does not need to battle.
But there is no going back, nor is it the end.
God is still speaking, still writing, still leading, still abiding with us, moving from Plan A to Plan B, working with dust and breath to meet us in the tension of what is real and hard and good about being human in a world that knows its nakedness and feels shame all too well.
Perhaps you or someone you know is defined by the moment their innocence was lost, their shame introduced, their exile from the garden confirmed. And they stand at the edge of what’s lost and what waits without knowledge of the comma, a God who is still speaking.
There are plenty of people who have given up on the church or never darkened its doors because we forget to tell them about the comma. And so, on behalf of Adam and Eve and everyone formed from dust and breath, I stand here this morning to remind you that God left the garden, too.
God could have stayed, arms crossed and pouting, resenting the humans who disobeyed and ruined everything. But instead God left the garden in search of what was next, alongside the earthen creature and the one called life, choosing a relationship in the mess of the unknown above everything else that could have been.
God is still speaking, still improvising, still showing up wherever innocence is lost and shame introduced. Reminding us who we are and whose we are, rejoicing in relationships and love – no matter how far from Plan A we find ourselves.
So go and tell someone who has not yet heard. They do not need to agree about a literal or mythological reading to know what’s true: we are loved beyond measure, beyond certain punctuation, beyond categories and buildings and way, way beyond what could have been in Eden. Amen.