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.”
11He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
14The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
There’s a phrase of advice that drill sergeants implant in recruits during their boot camp. It goes, “Do the right thing even when no one is looking.” One can’t help but chuckle at the sergeant’s advice given the situation. Nothing goes unseen by the drill sergeant!! For six long weeks, every waking moment you have is scrutinized and manipulated by the sergeant. Even when you’re sleeping you’re being watched! And for some recruits the constant scrutiny is too much to handle. They resist and fight being told what to do and when to do. The drill sergeant works even harder on those recruits, making their lives completely unbearable. But most recruits quickly adapt to the watchful eyes and behave exactly how they’re told to behave. They accept their situation and learn to go unnoticed and unseen.
As the days and weeks pass, the compliant recruits slowly get privileges returned to them. Sure, they’re still under watch but it doesn’t feel like they’re being watched. The drill sergeant seems to disappear for longer stretches of time and the recruits are left to their own devices. Some choose to shine their boots, some choose to organize their lockers, some choose to press their clothes, and some choose to study their materials. They’re doing what the sergeant wants them to be doing but they’re not being directly told to do it. The sergeant’s phrase of advice is going through their mind—do the right thing even when no one is looking.
The six weeks eventually end and the recruits are sent off to their respective training schools, each learning a unique skill to be used in the actual military. The restrictions continue through the training but with each passing week they are less and less. Finally, successfully trained recruits go to their posts where they put their skills to use and fulfill their duty. They’re often times placed in jobs and situations with no one around. Whether it’s manning a remote post on the guard fence or controlling a machine out in the field, military personnel often find themselves alone with nothing but their thoughts to keep them company. There is temptation to become complacent or absent-minded on the job. Some soldiers simply fall asleep at their posts. But good soldiers return to their boot camp training: do the right thing when no one is looking.
If only the man and woman in the garden were blessed with the drill sergeant’s advice! It wasn’t as if they were being asked to take position at a remote post. God left them in paradise…with each other! And like the drill sergeant, God didn’t really abandon them. God simply allowed them to exercise their free will. God gave the man and woman opportunity to obey or disobey; to do the right thing or the wrong thing. It’s easy to do the right thing under the scrutiny of the drill sergeant. It’s much harder to do it when the drill sergeant appears to be gone. Many temptations will assail us when we believe we aren’t being watched. But God is always watching. Everything we do is being watched. When we’re awake and when we’re asleep God watches us. We can choose to fight this reality or we can choose to accept it. It is a good thing that God is with us in all that we do. God wants nothing but the best for us. God wants to help us become the best we can be. God has a deep and profound love for us. God doesn’t want us to fall prey to temptations. God embodied temptation in the form of a snake so that we might easily step on it and kill it. God wants us to choose loving Him and doing His will. God wants us to do the right thing even when no one is looking because He’s always looking!
1Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
3If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
4But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
5I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
6my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
7O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.
8It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
Even though God wants us to do right thing when no one is looking, sometimes we can’t help ourselves from doing the wrong thing. Sometimes temptation is far greater than our willpower. We are not infallible. We make mistakes. We give in to sin and temptation and do exactly what God warns us not to do. At times, we find ourselves in the same contradiction as Paul confessed to in his letter to the Romans. As he wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” We are divided selves, torn between wanting to do what’s right and actually doing what’s right. Our sinful natures wrestle with our holy natures. God wants us to do the right thing, we want to do the right thing, yet sin and temptation keep us from doing the right thing at times.
So what does this mean? Are we to be condemned to the outer darkness, far from God’s loving reach? David was like Paul and us. He, too, found himself doing things he hated and not doing what he wanted to do. But unlike Paul, he took his understanding of his divided self one step further. David came to God in prayer with a contrite heart. David cried out to God, “Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication!” David simply wanted to be heard. He didn’t want to plead his case for forgiveness for all the sins he had committed. He took full responsibility for not doing the right thing in many situations. And yet he came to God asking for forgiveness. He came eager to wait upon God’s judgment and loving mercy. As he sang, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and his word I hope.”
You see, there’s a difference between simply stating wrong-doing and asking for forgiveness. It’s interesting that the man and woman who ate from the Tree of Knowledge never came to God with a sorrowful heart. They simply stated their sins. The man ate the apple that the woman gave him and the woman gave the apple that Satan had given her. Both man and woman tried to shift blame on someone or something else and it got them nowhere with God. God still punished the man and woman and Satan. Now had they taken it on step further and asked for forgiveness, perhaps the consequences would have been different. We can only guess at whether God would have reacted differently but David’s approach of seeking forgiveness for his actions is unique and noteworthy.
David’s song teaches us that we aren’t to be condemned to the outer darkness for our sins. We are to mimic David’s relationship with God. We are to cry to God, “There is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered…for with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.” God recognizes our sin but He still wants us to come to him. After all, our sin is our burden. It prevents us from experiencing God’s love. Our sin doesn’t hurt God, it hurts ourselves. God loves us and wants us to know His love. We do this by not only acknowledging our sin but asking for forgiveness.
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
13But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke” —we also believe, and so we speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
5For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Why do we struggle with doing what’s right when no one is around? When we’re with people it is oh so easy to do what’s right or wrong. People have that amazing ability to influence our actions. We want to please other people. We want to be accepted by other people. We want to be valued by other people. There are times when we find ourselves doing wrong things in order to please or be accepted and valued by other people. It is important to be pleasing and acceptable and valued. If doing wrong things enable us to have these traits then it’s all the more easy to do them.
But what about when we’re all alone? Why is it so difficult to do the right thing with no one around? We’re not pleasing anyone by doing the wrong thing. We’re simply hurting ourselves. No, it’s difficult to do the right thing because we think it doesn’t matter. We think that because no one is around to see what we’re doing then our actions have no consequences. We fail to consider that God sees all that we do. It doesn’t matter whether people see what we do. There are always consequences for what we do, whether seen or unseen by others. God sees when we do the right thing and we get closer in His loving embrace when we do it.
Paul wrestled with understanding our seen and unseen realities as seen in his letter to the Corinthians. For Paul, everything in this mortal life is fading away while at the same time bringing us ever closer to our eternal life. This mortal life is the seen reality and the eternal life is the unseen reality. Our eternal life transcends time and space. One day we will all die and be reborn in our eternal life. It will be an unseen life yet seen by God. God will welcome us into our eternal life and we will never be far from his steadfast love.
Not that we’re far from it now. When we pray and do the right thing, not because it will be seen by others but rather because it is seen by God, then we experience God’s everlasting love. As Paul writes, “17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” We experience the “eternal weight of glory” when we do the right thing. The right thing itself transcends time and space and we enter timelessness through the right thing. It ought not to be difficult to do the right thing when no one is around. Doing the right thing enables us to transcend our small, limited lives and keeps us connected to our large, unlimited lives yet to come.
20And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
What made Jesus such a great teacher was his ability to teach about unseen things. In our reading from Mark, Jesus had an encounter with a group of people that wouldn’t or couldn’t understand what he was teaching them about the unseen, eternal realm of God. They hurled insults at him, claiming he was a demon-possessed man uttering nonsense. He rebutted their accusation by stating it is contradictory that a demon-possessed man would cast out demons from other people. There’s no reasoning behind such an accusation! Demons would encourage demon-possession rather than discourage it. But the crowd is unable or unwilling to see that he is an alternative dilemma. Jesus, as the Son of God, proves just as difficult to understand as a demon-possessed man. No one had even claimed to be the Son of God before. People were confused by who Jesus was and chose to attribute him to the demon-possessed with evil intention of destruction.
Jesus was indeed someone different than a demon-possessed man. Jesus hadn’t come to destroy but rather to create new life. Sure, there were times in his ministry that demanded he destroy so that new life might take root. But those situations were different situations destroyed by demons. Demons destroy life for the sake of destruction. They want death to reign over everything. Jesus destroyed for new life to come about. Jesus wants life to reign over everything!
More often than not, new life is an unseen reality. New life occurs beneath dead surfaces, tucked away from the death-enabling forces. New life occurs in situations that appear to be dead but are really protecting the new life and growth. Just look at our modern day church. People only see the church dying according to participation and giving. People fail to consider the growth under the surface. People fail to consider the power of faith, a strong unseen force at work in the world and in our churches. People need to realize that death invariably reveals new life. Jesus came to people in Scripture, Jesus comes to people today, and Jesus will continue coming to people for a long time to come.
We have entered into our long Pentecost season. It is a time meant to build discipleship by helping people realize both the seen and unseen Christ in the world. Christ is very much alive and well in the world today and it is our responsibility to help people realize this. Having faith in Christ IS the right thing to do! It brings us to God’s love and “the eternal weight of glory.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.