1 Lent A17—3/5/17
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Pr. Scott Kramer
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I traveled to Arizona, which included two days in a remote monastery on a pre-Lenten silent retreat. It was a wonderful experience that you can read about in this month’s newsletter, if you haven’t already.
This monastery we visited is surrounded by desert and mountains, similar to what I imagine Jesus saw when Matthew describes him being “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
With all the conveniences of our modern world it’s easy to forget how hostile the desert environment is to human life. Our monastery experience was in the desert, yes, but it included running water, electricity and heat. We simply were not faced with the kind of potentially life-threatening circumstances that Jesus faced in his desert experience!
Alone in the desert a person might feel tempted toward despair. Another possible temptation is denial of the problems he or she faces: Command these stones to become bread. Throw yourself off the top of the temple. Acquire for yourself as much power and control and wealth as you can. These were the temptations Jesus faced. These were the lies.
Flying back to Seattle, I was struck by how we as a civilization have given in to the temptation of denial. As my wife and I flew over the sprawling metropolises of Phoenix and Las Vegas, for example, we saw swimming pools, golf courses and two million people living in the middle of a place where there is practically no water. Talk about a desert mirage!
We imagine that we can “turn stones into bread”; that is, deserts into paradise with no long-term consequences. We imagine that we can “throw ourselves off the top of the temple”; that is, to live as if there is no limit to the world’s resources and, even if there is, that God will jump in and save us. And, from pioneer times we have looked at all the lands laid out before us, as Jesus did. Unlike him, however, we believe that they are ours, to do with what we please.
But it’s easy from 35,000 feet in the relative comfort of a jet aircraft for someone from Seattle like me to literally look down on people and judge their choices. What we find in scripture is that temptations and lies are found not just in the desert. They are just as present in paradise! The story in Genesis is set not in the heart of a desert but in the Garden of Eden.
With some of our young people I drove up to Snoqualmie Pass yesterday to do some tubing in the snow. Think of that. Here in March–flowers blooming at sea level; snow in the mountains if you want it. As people who live in paradise—lush, green, Puget Sound; water, mountains, natural abundance—maybe today’s story from Genesis is the one we need to hear!
What we find in this story is more temptations based on more lies! God gives the man and the woman great freedom, with only one restriction: not to eat of one particular tree, on penalty of death. Along comes the serpent, planting a seed of doubt. Did God say you would die? No! says the serpent–even though that’s exactly what God said. This one lie was all it took to make God’s beloved human creation begin lying to themselves:
The tree was good for food; how could God argue with that? It was a delight to the eyes. God is all about beauty! And the tree was to be desired to make one wise. Above all, doesn’t God desire for human beings to become wise? Let’s eat from the tree! What could possibly go wrong?
One lie spoken. One seed of doubt planted. And all paradise came crashing down! If all it took was one lie to bring about catastrophe in this story, what do you think are the implications for our own time in which we are awash in a sea of lies?
Friends, how interested are we in the truth? We choose leaders on the basis of their transparent lies. Like that original couple in the garden we seem less interested in truth than in what we want to hear and what we need to believe. What does it say about us as a people that we accept phrases like “fake news” and “alternative facts?” Let us call them what they are: They are lies, and the people who tell lies are called liars, no matter what office—or no office–they hold.
We may be squeamish about calling a thing what it is, but Jesus was not. In John, ch.8, for example, he speaks of the devil: When he lies, Jesus says, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. In the first epistle of John, readers are warned, Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars. Likewise, St. Paul in his letter to the Romans writes, Everyone is a liar—not as a way of excusing it but condemning it. And the prophet Jeremiah many centuries before said much the same thing when he wrote: The heart is deceitful above all else; it is perverse! Who can understand it?
It may be that unlike such spiritual ancestors we modern folk lack the moral courage to call a thing what it is. Still, you know what they say: You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.
Not everyone is afraid of the truth. Some are willing to do the hard work of digging for the truth, no matter how painful or difficult. Our bulletin cover this morning is a full-page ad that has appeared in The New York Times by The New York Times over the past several days. What does it say about us that the secular media seems bolder, more public, and more faithful in calling for truth than God’s own people?
Dear friends, as we move into this Lenten season of repentance we are acutely aware that our world and especially our nation are awash in a sea of lies. Not just from the White House. Not just from members of Congress. No, we come before our God, acknowledging that whether out of fear or pride we have fallen for the lies and by our silence or indifference have become unwitting accomplices of the liars themselves.
Here’s a question to ponder: Where are you personally right now; in a season of the desert or a season of paradise?—maybe it’s some of both. Regardless of whether our souls are wandering in the desert or enjoying the fruits of paradise, each of us resists truth in some area of our lives. Each of us lives with some form of denial. Every last one of us is in need of repentance, which means turning toward God and living for God.
If you are still in need of suggestions for what you might give up during this season of Lent, consider asking God to show you where in your life there’s a lie, and ponder what it might look like to work on giving that up.
In return, may you be encouraged and restored and filled with gratitude for the priceless gift of forgiveness, which as our scriptures assure us once again this morning is Christ’s free gift to us all!