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Genesis 3:1-4:16

The woman took her place in line with the others. Her hunched gait and wrinkled skin caught my eye as she made her way among the guests at the homeless shelter. With her son she sauntered up to the counter for the evening supper.

That night we served a meager meal of spuds and rice, with whole milk thick as cow’s cream. To them it was a feast. Them—“street people” to many, “bums” to some, “guests” to those of us who worked at this homeless shelter in Los Angeles. The woman ate her share. The son ate more than his, and also endured his mother’s angry words.

After supper, to the mixed rhythm of chirps and snores, those with their homes on their backs or in their bags — Isodore, her son, and 18 others — bedded down in comfort, shelter-style. Weary from yet another day on the street, they slept well, or so it seemed.

The biblical story in Genesis 3-4 tells us that the home God lovingly created goes afoul. The human earth-creatures (`adam from the `adamah) animated by God’s Spirit (Genesis 2:7) refuse to trust in God their Maker. The consequences are monumental. Because of their lack of faith, the humans become alienated from God, from each other, and from the earth. For example, no longer responding to the call to serve and protect the garden home (Genesis 2:15), the ground (`adamah) is cursed on account of the human (`adam) and our tilling of the ground becomes toil. Sin is the word we often use to describe this estrangement — these various broken relationships. Humans are, in short, rendered homeless.

The biblical story of homelessness only gets worse. Cain murders Abel and in so doing refuses to be his brother’s keeper. Thus Cain is cursed and destined to be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth. He is doomed to the Land of Nod, Hebrew for the Land of Wandering. A perpetual nomad. Always homeless. The story goes from a call to stewardly homemaking to the reality of disruptive homebreaking (Genesis 3). From a vision of home’s harmony to one of family violence (Genesis 4). From a fruitful garden to an imposing tower of idolatrous imperial aspirations (Genesis 11). The biblical story moves from home to homelessness.

Yet even here we catch a glimpse of God’s grace. The narrative of home and homelessness is not the whole story. God persistently works to move the story from homelessness to homecoming. God fashions garments of skin (Genesis 3:21) for the now homeless humans. God installs a flaming sword to keep them from eating from the tree of life (Genesis 3:24), lest their estrangement become immutable. God puts a mark on Cain to protect him (Genesis 4:15). Even in these difficult circumstances God’s grace is at work to move the story from homelessness to homecoming.

Few of us are living in homeless shelters, but all of us, I would guess, are in some way homeless. In this season of Lent, let us acknowledge our waywardness but also not forget the gracious ways of our homemaking God.

Prayer: Loving God, the Creator and Redeemer of all things, we confess that our lack of trust in you has made us homeless. Forgive us, in your mercy, and empower us by your Spirit to receive your gracious life-giving homecoming. Amen.

Steven Bouma-Prediger

Steven Bouma-Prediger teaches religion at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. You can read more about these topics in his book Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, co-authored with Brian Walsh, and For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care.  For a more in-depth look at ecological virtues, his brand new book is Earthkeeping and Character: Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethic.

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