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Fully Alive! – Mending

Date: 14/05/2023/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Fully Alive! – Mending
14 May 2023
Miak Siew (FCC)

Last month, Rabbi Miriam shared about according to the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, that God’s primordial light, this first light, created on the first day of creation were placed into 10 holy vessels. But alas, those vessels were too fragile for such a powerful, divine light. The vessels shattered, and the light escaped in the form of holy sparks, scattered throughout the world. But that’s not the end of the story. There is a charge for humankind. Rabbi Miriam asks “Why are we here on this earth? To find those sparks of light, those shards of broken vessels. To gather them up, to bring them together. To repair the brokenness.”

Like Pauline and myself, the image of kintsugi stuck with Rabbi Miriam. She described “Kintsugi is the best visual I can imagine for what those mystical vessels might look like after we’ve collected all the pieces scattered around the world.”

While we see God as the one doing the mending – we often fail to see that God is doing the mending through us.

And so today I am going to talk about mending.

In the beginning, in the creation story, something else broke.

What, other than the 10 holy vessels, do you think broke in the creation story?

The relationship between humankind and God.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs whom Rabbi Miriam quoted said ““Adam, the first human being, could have redeemed the world and restored the divine light to its proper place.” However, when Adam ate the forbidden fruit, and he and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden, what your tradition calls the Fall of Adam, he missed out on the opportunity to do this much-needed repair work.”

Before I jump into the reading, I want you to have this question as you listen to the reading. At which point did the relationship between Adam and Eve (humankind) and God break?

Genesis 2:25-3

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die, 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

What followed, was the expulsion from the garden of Eden.

Traditionally, we are taught that Adam and Eve were cast out because of their disobedience. They disobeyed God’s command. Of course, there are other theories (like how God was afraid that they would eat of the tree of life and become like God.) I want to offer another perspective.

Just like how my theology professor, Rev Dr Jay Johnson pointed out to my class – how we hear God’s question to Adam and Eve “where are you?” is shaped by how we were taught about this passage, how this passage was “traditionally” understood, and how that understanding has been perpetuated around us – especially in popular culture. We hear “where are you” as an angry parent who had discovered that their children had disobeyed them. Rev Dr Jay Johnson suggested that God could possibly be asking “where are you?” like a concerned parent who cannot find their child because the text doesn’t say that God was angry. Perhaps all that anger is our projection onto God. What if it was a loving “where are you?” instead of an angry “where are you?” Because the text doesn’t say.

Today I want to draw your attention to Adam and Eve.

What was Adam’s reply to God’s where are you?

“I heard the sound of you in the garden, I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

What emotions/behaviours did Adam exhibit here?

Afraid – fear

Because I was naked – shame

I hid myself – avoidance

In what circumstances have you experienced these emotions / behaviours?

When we did something wrong.

I have avoided people because I have not handled circumstances wisely or compassionately. I have made detours to avoid bumping into someone I would rather not bumped into because I have hurt them in the past. That was what Adam was doing.

So I asked you – at which point do you think the relationship between Adam and Eve (humankind) and God break?

I ask this because I don’t think the relationship broke at the point of eating of the fruit. Can you imagine, the being that loves you beyond your imagination, the being that knows you better than you know yourself, getting angry at you just because you disobeyed a command? I think what broke the relationship was when Adam and Eve blamed someone else rather than be accountable for their wrong doing.

And knowing that helps us make sense of how to mend this broken relationship, because mending this broken relationship has been central to our faith.

How did people in the past (in the Bible) mend their relationship with God?

Sacrifices. The book of Leviticus has lots of instructions on what to do for different kinds of brokenness.

How do these sacrifices mend / restore one’s relationship with God?

Let’s look at this from another perspective – when we have a broken relationship with someone, what do we do?

We apologise. But if we are really serious about mending that relationship, we make amends. Mend and amend is not a coincidence.

Making amends is more than just saying “I’m sorry.” It’s going the extra mile to make things right. By making amends, we are clearly demonstrating the difference between how we acted before and how we will behave from now on. Apologies don’t address the root causes of our choices, nor do they illustrate our intentions for the future.

So back in the past, the sacrifices came at a cost to those making their sacrifice. They will feel the pinch economically when they offer up an animal to make up for their wrongdoing, their sins.

But that sacrifice can be like an apology. Is there an effort to go an extra mile to make things right?

What if God isn’t after the sacrifices people were making, but after something else?

A sacrifice is meant to be something offered up to reconcile/restore our relationship with God.

We often see sacrifice as offering something else in our place – (killed in our place) But what if that’s not accurate? What if sacrifice, in the beginning, is about doing something to make up for what we did that will cost us something, so that our relationship with God can be mended? What if, over time, this evolved into substitution – something else (the sacrificial lamb) taking the blame on our behalf? And what if, this is still problematic because this isn’t the kind of restoration God wants?

For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17.

God desires from us a broken and contrite heart. That we know we did something wrong, and we want to make amends.

That should be how we understand Atonement – at-one-ment.

I want to return to Adam and Eve.

When God asked Adam and Eve, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” What was their reaction?

They blamed someone else. Adam said “the woman whom you gave to be with me” – as though implying that it is God’s fault! Neither of them held themselves accountable.

Why do you think Adam and Eve were not able to hold themselves accountable?

Perhaps they were afraid of the consequences – they were afraid of punishment. Perhaps they felt ashamed. Perhaps it affected how they saw themselves – that somehow they weren’t worthy of God’s love anymore.

I think that they didn’t believe that God will forgive them. They didn’t believe that God loved them beyond their imagination.

And I wonder – does that apply to you too?

I believe – and it is from my experience – that God will not turn away. God is the parent who instead of turning away, runs out to embrace us when we return, remorseful of what we have done.

I have been blessed knowing many parents around me. And I see often how to raise their children. And I see the times when their children do something wrong, and how they react. So many times, it is when the child lie, blame someone else, hide the truth – unwilling to admit, own up or be accountable for their wrongdoing that hurts them more.

I wonder what if they answered God differently – I wonder what would have happened if they owned up to their mistake.

What if they replied, “Yes, I ate from the tree that you commanded me not to eat. I am sorry.”

Because holding ourselves accountable is the first step of making amends.

Not willing to admit our part to play in problems

Not willing to be accountable

=> because shame.

Maybe we don’t feel safe.

We don’t trust

We don’t have faith.

Somehow we think God’s love is conditional. And that we can lose God’s love. So we hide/ pretend/ avoid/ lie/ – do everything except be accountable

But not willing to be accountable means – we are not able to face God – or the people around us – (shame / nakedness)

Seeking forgiveness – how it works –

Mending – and not armouring up – mending requires vulnerability. Armouring up is the opposite.

Samantha Stein 

When someone I love and care about tells me that I did something that hurt or upset them, my first impulse is to show them how they’re wrong. I want to explain how they’ve misunderstood. I want to help them see it from my perspective so they can have compassion for my choices. I want to show them how it can’t be that I’ve hurt their feelings because I’m a good person with good intentions.

When we care about someone, we don’t want anything bad to happen to them. We don’t want them to feel sadness, hurt, etc. and so the thought that we could have played a part in them feeling that way is, understandably, abhorrent.

We are invested in thinking of ourselves as good people, and we equate hurting others with being “bad.” So the idea that our actions might have caused harm is distressing because it runs interference with how we think of ourselves.

We carry shame around making mistakes. We have been raised in a culture where we get rewarded for doing things “right” and punished for doing something “wrong” instead of having an idea that we learn by doing, so that means that life is a learning process where we refine our choices and actions based on what we have learned.

In other words, we defend and justify rather than being accountable.

In other words, being accountable means being willing to face and understand that our choices and actions have impacted another.

That is the shame that we carry inside. That is why Adam and Eve hid. I started the reading from the last verse of Genesis 2. Because it said they were naked, but not ashamed.

There are times we feel that we are unable to face the people we have wronged, harmed, or hurt. And we feel ashamed, we avoid. Sometimes we avoid, by not meeting them. That may be your experience. There may be someone here in church you are avoiding, or there may be someone who is avoiding you.

Making amends restore our dignity – how we see ourselves. We are no longer ashamed.

Of course, we need to feel safe to step into being vulnerable to acknowledge our wrongdoing, and to be accountable.

And this is what we need to learn to do as a community, so that we will be able to walk each other towards growth and wholeness in Christ.

I pray we all journey together as we do the work of mending our broken relationships, and in that find reconciliation, and at-one-ment with God and with each other.

To find those sparks of light, those shards of broken vessels. To gather them up, to bring them together. To repair the brokenness. And we start here, in our lives, in our communities.