Ash Wednesday Year A Thursday Week 2 of Lent

Sunday Week 1 of Lent Year A

Print Version February 23rd, 1999

It might not be completely true, that you are what you wear, but you sure can tell a lot about someone from how they dress. For example, wearing purple is a sure sign that you are gay—especially if you are a British import and wear a triangle on your head like Tinky Winky the Teletubby. And he carries a large purse too … nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more! Even in that infant Eden you have to watch what you wear!
In their innocence, the earth creatures first fashioned by God are thoroughly happy romping around the garden naked. The have no need of clothes, for nature nurtures them gently, and, with nothing to hide, their nakedness goes unnoticed. Unnoticed, that is, until the serpent drives them into the closet and their earthen bodies become a sign of shame that drives them into the garment trade.
The urge to cover up goes back further than Clinton, further even than Nixon, it goes back to the beginning. Well not quite the beginning because the seamless garment of civilisation is not an original. In our story, it’s a knock-off, a poor copy, and that designer logo, so proudly displayed, is a serpent.
Once upon a time we were not ashamed to be made from earth because earth was our friend and we could walk with God in the cool of the afternoon. Our humble origins never entered into our heads. Common as muck. Simple as dirt. Down to earth. That’s us. At least it was.
What happened? Something simple. The earth creatures trusted the judgement of a fellow creature, that clever snake, and ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And that ruined everything. Not because God was in bad mood that day and not because God had sprung a trap he’d laid for them. The story is told without frills. The woman simply eats because she sees the tree is good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. She has no dramatic and evil intentions. No awful pride or scheming subterfuge. It just seems like a good thing to do. An ordinary, domestic, day-to-day choice. Yet it brings shame, alienation from the earth, from the creatures of the earth, from each other and from God. And it brings death.
A little harsh don’t you think? I mean they didn’t intend to put paid to paradise and begin a new world. They just overlooked the way things are made. It’s in the nature of the world, even then, that some things are good for you and some things not. The first fall was a forgetting. More an awful mistake than an indictable offence. But the root of all sin is there. Our earth creatures had everything they needed, absolute bliss given them each day from the very hand of God—just like in TellyTubby Land—and yet they want to find for themselves a little more.
The aftermath changes their minds completely so that their previous abundance now looks like utter emptiness. Suddenly they are naked. And so begins the long history of sin—the long history of dressing up what is beautiful with what is tawdry. We are no longer good enough for ourselves. We learn to hide from God because we would hide from ourselves if we could. We are ashamed of being ourselves. That’s the original sin: shame, not pride.
We have the same problem today. We face it especially in Lent when we are challenged to repentance for our foolish choices. The temptation has always been to make ourselves look better than we are. We try ever more elaborate garments to dress up the reality. Robes of fasting and good works. Coats of charity. Elaborate headgear of piety. Umbrellas of guilt. All trying to make ourselves look better. All trying to beguile God with our glamour. And all precisely the wrong thing to do. Since the garden, we have been hiding from God in case God see our nakedness and be revolted. But the truth is God hates the clothing and loves the creature underneath, made of dust and dirt … and God’s own breath.
Lent is our time to be made naked once again, stripped down to bare essentials. Notice it is “to be made” not to make. The struggle to make ourselves naked would turn out to be just one more outfit, however subtle the haute couture. All we have to do is not do. Not flinch when God takes a good look at us. Or maybe flinch but not hide, not cover up, not run for the closet.
Try it! Let God look at you now. Forget the self-consciousness. How does God look at you right now? Look into those eyes. What do you see there, as those eyes see you? …
The gaze of God upon our naked selves is the only thing that can take away our shame and undo the damage of millenia. The good news for this Lent is that all the work is God’s. God once fashioned us earthlings out of dust and only God can refashion our innocence once again and give us peace with each other and friendship with the earth from which we came. So let’s give up, this Lent, and let God get on with it.

Entry Filed under: Berkeley,Homilies


February 1999
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