Naked and Ashamed

 Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

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’?”

2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but 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.’“

4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6So 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. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. 8They 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.

9But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

10He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

 

 

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

 

 

Legend has it that Lady Godiva made her famous ride through the streets of Coventry; and that she was naked on her horse.

 

There was a Lady Godiva. That part is historically true and she lived in England around the year 1000 CE and died after the Norman Conquest of 1066. She is mentioned in the famous Domesday Book which is the oldest surviving public record in English history.

 

Lady Godiva was noted for her generosity and along with her husband was a benefactor of churches and monasteries.

The legend (which cannot be proved true) is that she complained of what she thought was an excessive tax burden that her husband, the Earl of Mercia, had levied on the citizens.

She complained again and again that the people were suffering grievously, and finally after wearying of her complaints the Earl said that he would lift the tax burden if she rode on a horse naked through the streets of Coventry.

 

So she took him at his word and rode naked through the town exposing herself to shame and humility for the sake of Coventry’s citizens.

According to legend the citizens were so grateful that they did not look.

A much later legend had it that there was a tailor who looked, whose name was Tom, and supposedly that is where we get the expression “Peeping Tom.”

 

I suppose the legend has lasted because of the nudity and the tendency of people to turn things into salacious gossip.

 

We don’t know what happened, but I like the legend. It is of a person who willing endured shame and ridicule on behalf of poor oppressed people.

And after all is that not what Jesus did?

 

I know when we see a crucifix or a picture of Jesus on the cross he is always wearing something, a loin cloth. However Romans usually stripped those to be crucified naked, so it is almost a certainty that Jesus was stripped naked to further embarrass and shame him.

 

Jesus was laid bare. He was stripped down, naked. He suffered the humiliation and shame to show how much he loved us.

 

But there are other stories of naked people in the bible.

 

In Mark’s gospel when they arrested Jesus there was a young man following wearing only a linen cloth and they tried to grab him, but the cloth fell off and he ran away naked.

A strange story to keep in the bible.

 

And according to the book of Isaiah, the prophet went around naked for three years as a sign of what would happen to Egypt and Ethiopia.

 

And there was King Saul, about whom the scripture said the Spirit of God took hold of him and he danced and took off all his clothes and laid naked.

 

And King David danced before the ark in a very exposed way. Some say in his underwear. Some say naked. Some say in a loose robe that when he danced came open and exposed his private parts.

 

Why all this nudity or nakedness?

Because…. because as you might expect besides the physical side of things nakedness has more than one meaning in scripture.

 

It is a kind of metaphor. One of the meanings is that of shame and humiliation.

To publicly shame and humiliate people sometimes the oppressor strips them bare in front of others.

 

Sometimes in history to shame and embarrass people the judge or the jury or the executioner would see the condemned stripped.

In history sometimes the losing soldiers in a battle would be made to strip naked to humiliate and shame them.

 

 

The other metaphoric meaning of nakedness lies around the idea of stripping away all the things one relies on to protect one’s soul or spirit and one’s soul or spirit is laid bare before another, or before God.

 

You have heard of the “Naked Truth.” What is it like to stand before another and be absolutely and unconditionally honest?

…To be known for what one really is. …To have all the secrets exposed, the thoughts revealed.

All pretenses and masks and roles stripped away.

 

These metaphors are important I think to understand the story of Adam and Eve and the story of what has been called “The Fall”

 

Much has been made of the serpent and I think too much has been made of the serpent and its role.

To me the serpent is a literary device and not the point of the story at all.

 

The point revolves around the nakedness of Adam and Eve.

They were in the garden naked and not ashamed and not embarrassed but in wonderful harmony.

 

They had a relationship with the divine. They talked to God like a friend talks to a friend.

It is an idyllic picture this garden of Eden.

 

And it represents all those in whom you can put your trust, and strip yourself bare, and with whom you can take away all your masks and totally be yourself….

and you are not embarrassed, because you are loved and accepted for who you are.

 

I love it when babies and toddlers take their clothes off and run around naked and they are not embarrassed or ashamed, because pretty much all they know is unconditional love and they are safe and accepted for who they are and they are free to be themselves.

There are no masks, no complicated egos, no pretenses.

 

Eventually they will learn that the world is not safe and that they cannot trust everyone and not everyone is a safe place.

They will learn that people will put them down, or humiliate them as a way to gain power over them. They will Shame them to hurt them and to wield power over them, to get them to conform and follow the party line.

 

Shame and Judgement is one of the most powerful weapons there is and it is a weapon that most of us know how to wield.

 

So Adam and Eve have this wonderful relationship with God and can be totally naked in front of God and there they find acceptance and love and understanding.

They don’t have to hide.

 

But then they are naked and ashamed. They know good and evil.

What has happened?

 

Well simply put they stopped loving and started judging.

 

This desire to be like God was to stop trusting in love and acceptance and start trying to decide what is right and what is wrong.

 

The famous theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote basically that in human society the whole point of ethics is basically the knowledge of good and evil, but that for Christian ethics it is to get rid of the Knowledge of good and evil.

 

His argument was that as long as we trust in God we don’t need to know about good and evil, all we have to do is do what God asks us to do.

All we have to do is become like Jesus Christ.

 

Once we humans deal with categories of good and evil we stop loving God and trusting God and putting people into categories and labeling them and systematizing them.

We try to become Gods and all we do is hurt one another.

 

A prostitute went to a counselor. She was deeply troubled by her behavior and by the fact that she had already involved her underage daughter in the sex trade.

She felt guilt and shame and she needed help.

 

The counselor listened and was supportive. At one time the counselor suggested. “Have you ever tried going to a church?”

Her reply was: “I already feel bad enough. Why would I go to a church to be condemned and feel worse?”

 

The question haunts the church. It may be one of the reasons that people don’t want to go to church.

Is the church so judging, so full of condemnation that we cannot be an actual place of healing and forgiveness?

 

Or is the church a place that people could come and take off their masks, their roles, their ego defences and be themseslve naked and unashamed because they are totally accepted.

Is the church the place to come and actually confess your sin, every last terrible awful one of the them and instead of condemnation, judgement, punishment, rejection or exclusion….

Find forgiveness, compassion, healing and grace.

 

And the truth, the harsh truth, or even the naked truth is that there is a limit to what we will forgive, what will accept, who we will include, who can be healed.

 

And that is because we are fallen. Every last one of us is fallen

And therefore at some point, at some time, with some people, we judge, we condemn, we exclude, we hurt, we punish, we blame.

Because we know what is good and what is evil. We like to be like God.

 

And we stop trusting in unconditional love.

 

And yet Jesus naked on the cross says “Father forgive them.”

Jesus naked on the cross is shamed so that we can come to him unashamed.

 

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Traditionally people would physically fast during Lent, denying themselves as a way a letting go of the world to come before God.

You see what it really is about is stripping ourselves down and being totally honest before ourselves and before God.

 

I had a conversation the other day with a friend about Radical Honesty.

 

The conversation was around whether you could have a wife or a husband of a partner and be absolutely and unconditionally honest about everything with them.

 

So if you had a lustful thought about someone who was not your partner and you shared it with your partner in radical honesty, could the partner then totally accept that and love you and understand.

And if you made mistakes and sinned could you come totally clean to your partner and find forgiveness and understanding.

And in some ways we decided that would a wonderful ideal….

…that you could be absolutely honest about everything with your partner, but that in real life, if you don’t have boundaries, maybe radical honesty would hurt more than help, because the truth is that we are all fallen and have limits to hearing the truth, and limits to understanding and limits to forgiveness.

But in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit you can be radically honest.

Lent is about that radical honesty.

It is a time we can let go of everything so we can be totally honest with ourselves and totally honest with God.

It is a time for radical honesty so that we can confess our sins, and not only find forgiveness but healing and help.

It is a time for radical honesty that that we can be changed…so that we can become like Jesus, so that we can be changed to be like Jesus,

So that we will have power to say no to that which tempts us to be anything else but loving and caring.

 

 

Didn’t Jesus say: I was naked and you clothed me.

 

What would it be like that you and I were such safe places that people could be totally naked and find that they are clothed in love and acceptance.

 

That is what Jesus did for us.

There is no judgement, no condemnation in Jesus.

 

 

Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to the cross I cling;

Naked, come to Thee for dress;

Helpless look to Thee for grace;

Rock of Ages, cleft for me.

Let me hide myself in Thee  (Augustus Toplady)

 

Amen