Preacher: The Rev’d Jenny Wilson
In the name of God, creating ,redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.
This evening’s Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah leaves us in no doubt that we are flawed.
See, the Lord’s hand is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
Rather, your iniquities have been barriers
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2)
God is here, but our iniquities, our sins have placed a barrier between us and God, so much so that it seems as if God cannot respond. It is not God, though, who is unable to act. It is human beings that put up the barriers.
The passage we heard read this evening from Isaiah chapter 59 uses powerful imagery to illustrate sin.
For your hands are defiled with blood,
and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies,
your tongue mutters wickedness. (59:3)
We act with violence, we speak with slander. If that is not enough, Isaiah employs the images of snakes and spiders, creatures that are certainly a source of fear for many of us.
They hatch adders’ eggs,
and weave the spider’s web;
whoever eats their eggs dies,
and the crushed egg hatches out a viper.
Their webs cannot serve as clothing;
they cannot cover themselves with what they make. (59:5-6)
Particularly powerful is the attack on the spider’s web. The spider’s creation, the web, beautiful as it is in the view of some, this web cannot function to protect or adorn.
As we hear the closing verses of our passage there seems no hope:
Therefore justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us;
we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness;
and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. (59:9)
Justice is far away, righteousness cannot reach us. But what is clear in every word of this passage and, in fac,t every word of the books of the Old Testament from which this prophet’s writing comes, what is clear is that God is.
God is. God sees. God cares when we sin and that sin harms our relationship with God. But when our sin is so prevalent, it seems that God cannot reach us.
One of my favourite writers, the Jesuit, Gerard Hughes, describes sin as “the failure to let God be God”. Another theologian, Dorothy Soelle, describes sin as “The Ice Age – the slow advance of cold, a freezing process which we experience and try to forget …[it is] the absence of warmth, love, caring, trust … [it is ] the destruction of our capacity for relatedness …[It] means being separated from the ground of life …”
Last Friday morning, we found ourselves at the 7:30am Eucharist reading part of the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis Chapter 3. This story is sometimes called the story of Original Sin. Problematic as this story has been, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, illustrates with great insight the effect of sin on the relationship between God and God’s people. It illustrates a failure to let God be God, as Gerard Hughes put it. It illustrates the separation of human beings from the ground of life. The story tells of Adam and Eve covering themselves and hiding from God after they have eaten forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the middle of the garden. In that story, there then follows, I think, one of the most poignant moments in the bible. We hear of God wandering in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, looking for someone to talk to. In the time and place of the people of Israel, it was at this time of day that much social interaction took place. “Where are you?” says God, looking for the people God has made. The people God has made for relationship. Tragically, those who God had made and who God loves are hiding – knowing they have disobeyed God’s instructions, knowing their sin. The people know themselves for the first time to be naked, they feel for the first time vulnerable, and so they cover themselves and they hide from God. The relationship between God and God’s people damaged in a way that seems irreparable.
God is looking. And God will never stop looking for God’s people. But the people seem unable to found. The shame and fear that their sin engenders in them, causes the people to lose faith in the God who made them. Or to lose faith in themselves as capable of facing God, of looking God in the eye and asking for forgiveness.
This evening’s psalm, Psalm 53, continues the theme, the theme of the damage that sin causes.
Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’
They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts;
there is no one who does good.
2 God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God. (Psalm 53:1-2)
God watches from afar as the people commit sinful acts.
Insight into wisdom into seeking after God comes a verse or two later.
Have they no knowledge, those evildoers,
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon God? (Psalm 53:4) God seems to cry out.
Crying out is what matters. God seems bereft that the people to not have a critical form of knowledge. That knowledge is that, even as sinful people, they can cry out to God; God will welcome, God will respond to their cry.
Sin damages relationships and particularly our relationship with God. But God would have us cry out. For God, the relationship with humanity is one of the most precious things and God longs for that relationship to be repaired.
God searches the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve, God searches for those described by Isaiah and the writer of the 53rd psalm to have committed great sin, God is always searching. What is needed is that we find the courage to cry out to God. That we find the courage to confess our sins to God. That we know ourselves naked and come out from our place of hiding.
It is often said that confession involves turning away from our sins. I am not so sure that this is the case. I think that the first thing we need to do is to turn towards our sins. To look at the action we have taken of which we are ashamed, to remember the way of being we have which we heartily wish we could grow out of – to look at these things and to feel the discomfort of these things – to know ourselves naked as Adam and Eve did, to realise that we are hiding – and then to cry out to God for forgiveness. The psalmist says that this is knowledge – to know that we can call upon the Lord. To call upon God and to know God present. And then to hear God’s words of forgiveness. To know that God is searching for us, calling out “Where are you?”
It is in confession and the acceptance of forgiveness that we allow “God to be God”. To allow God to be present and not to run away, even when we have been at our worst. For that is all that our compassionate God wants. To be present. To be alongside us, even when we are at our worst. To forgive our sins and set us free.
 Gerard Hughes God of Surprises
 Quoted in John Shea The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Teachers and Preachers – The Relentless Widow p.63.