This week as I was preparing my sermon, I came across two quotes that struck me. The first was from Terra Futura…a book of interviews with Pope Francis that was published on Wednesday. In it he said, ”Pleasure arrives directly from God. It is neither Catholic, nor Christian, nor anything else. It is simply divine.”
The second quote is from Anne Lamott…commenting on a book written by Pope Francis about four years ago. The title of Pope Francis’ book was “The Name of God is mercy.” And she says, “ Our name was mercy, too, until we put it away to become more productive, more admired and less vulnerable.”
And here…in these two quotes…we find once again the eternally beating heart of the creation story that we read this morning. The first quote…the first truth… is that Pleasure arrives from God. God creates Goodness. Beauty. Joy. Delight.
God created a garden…beautiful. Wondrous. With oceans and forests, rolling hills and deep canyons, showy birds and joyous sea creatures. With fauna and flora so multitudinous that we are still discovering the intricacies of their varied species. God created a garden — for us to delight in…to enjoy. A garden for us to live in and to love. And it is simply divine.
Creation is God’s garden. And it is breathtaking. Stunning. Majestic. And it is filled with wonders to delight in. God created goodness…divine pleasure and joy for every human with breath upon the earth. The pleasures of good food and warm sunshine and refreshing breeze…the pleasures of family and friendship and laughter and intimacy and sexuality. These are God’s divine gifts…divine grace for everyone. Not just some people. Not just a certain religious group or ethnic group. God breathed God’s own breath in all humanity…and the divine gifts of the garden are God’s amazing grace for all. And we are simply meant to enjoy them. To celebrate them together. To pay attention…notice them….share them. To appreciate and delight in them. And to delight in God who gave them to us. That is what life is for.
But instead? Oh…instead….we listen to the serpent. And instead of delighting together…we grasp for more..more than what our neighbor has. We grasp for power. The power to know good and evil…the power to decide some things are bad and others are good. The power to decide some people are bad and others are good. The power to decide some people matter and others don’t. Paul Farmer, a doctor who has invested his life finding ways to provide health care in Haiti and other impoverished corners of the world…is quoted as saying “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” That idea is what takes root in this story.
We don’t want to just trust God…we don’t want to be humble recipients of God’s grace and mercy..the goodness of the garden. No, we want to be deserving …to determine WHO is deserving….who is worthy…who is the winner.
When God puts humanity in the Garden…it is to “till and keep” it, it says. But one thing that we should note is that in Hebrew…the word used for “till and keep” is a word that always refers to the work of a servant. Not a landowner. Not a master. A servant. That means that this garden of wonder and delight doesn’t belong to us…it isn’t here for us to use as we please…or us UP as we please. We are not the masters of our domain….rulers of all we survey. No, we were made to serve this garden. Creation wasn’t made for us to use and abuse… We were made to humbly care for it. Receivers of God’s mercy and grace….we were made for mercy and grace…toward one another and toward the garden.
And here’s where the second quote comes in. “God’s name is Mercy, Pope Francis says…and Anne Lamott says… and our name was mercy, too, until we put it away to become more productive, more admired and less vulnerable.” Yes…being created for mercy and putting it way…that is the rest of the story…the eternally true story of creation and our fall…of who we are and how we are as humans on this planet. Instead of enjoying God’s gift of creation together with delight and pleasure…caring for this earth with tenderness and humility….we have chosen to be more productive..more admired…less vulnerable. We have chose to be the best. To win. To make more. To profit. To use and abuse the earth and our human family.
Every sin…every evil…begins here. With a grasp for power in the garden. In the next chapter of Genesis, Cain will kill Abel…jealousy will cause him to look at his brother and see a threat to his “winning”. God seemed to like Abel’s grain better than Cain’s sheep. And somehow, that was worth killing him for. And ever since…we have continued to look at one another…and instead of seeing our brothers and sisters….we have seen threat and competition. Over and over, the desire to be more productive…to make more than others…to be more admired…to be better than others…and to be less vulnerable…needing to be right…never letting others see our weakness… has led to violence and division, hatred and cruelty, war and oppression. It has led us to poison the air we breathe and the water we drink. It was profit seeking that drove slavery. It was hunger for power that started our world wars.
But it is also what drives us…to enjoy life too little and work too hard. It is what feeds our idea that we aren’t good enough…we aren’t doing enough. We are addicted to point keeping, and we walk away from the simply divine pleasure of God’s gift of life.
But our name is meant to be Mercy. Because it is the breath of God whose name is Mercy…that gives us life. We are not created for this…for this world we live in. We are not created for point keeping or profit making or winning …we were created for mercy. We were created to receive mercy….to receive the breath of God given to us. And to give mercy to one another. To breathe life into one another. To build one another up. These days, so many folks have gotten their breath knocked out from them. Literally…in the smoke…those who have lost their homes or their loved ones in the fires. Those who have lost their health or loved ones or livelihoods due to the pandemic….those who have relapsed with addictions and mental illness due to the pandemic. Those who are exhausted from living in a world where too many people believe black lives matter less than white lives. They need mercy. We need mercy. Lord have mercy.
Today…we gather to receive the mercy of God. Today, we gather to breathe in God’s goodness…the garden and the grace… to hear Jesus whisper again…that points don’t matter. Today, we need to savor the simply divine pleasures of hot coffee and friendship and furry companions. We need to take time…stop and smell the roses in spite of the smoke. Because this is what we are meant for. Not to win. Not to be the best. Not to make the most. But to be loved and to love. Our name, you see…is Mercy. Amen.