Sermon for February 10, 2008
Sermon for February 10, 2008
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Hello. My name is Ken and I’ll be your Lenten guide for this season. Our Lenten specials this year include repentance, ashes, sin, and suffering. And this morning we have an especially attractive Lenten stew composed of three readings: the first from the first book of the Bible, then a very complex and long theological argument written in the first century by St. Paul, both mixed together with a traditional story of Jesus in the wilderness forty days, tempted by the devil.
Unfortunately, the lessons (and perhaps the season itself) may be an acquired taste. To us, the god of the first lesson may seem capricious, against knowledge and education, even vindictive. In our days, we are very suspicious of God.
As to the second lesson, Christianity is best served by acts of service, not by long drawn out theological arguments like the book of Romans. Who really cares about the fine points of theology these days?
In the last lesson, these days, the confrontation between Jesus and Satan seems more like a dream or myth than anything else. These lessons may be an acquired taste, something that might be served up on the history channel with a great deal of interpretation.
However, our taste for the lessons and their seasoning may be acquired if we begin with some new definitions. This morning, let’s say that it is the tree of “awareness” rather than the tree of knowledge. Using the word awareness will help us, I think.
This morning let’s use the phrase “the Shredder,” as in that which destroys or pulverizes, instead of the devil or the serpent or Satan. Actually one could use the word “grinder” as well as shredder, or “Shiva, the destroyer,” in the Hindu tradition.
Instead of the word sin, let’s use the word “urge.” Let’s define the list of reasons Eve generates for eating the apple as “rationalization.” Instead of the word “naked,” in this first story, let’s use the word, “vulnerable.”
The stories and the season then come alive in different ways. These are the stories of the struggle and pain to become more aware. As we become more aware, we sense the conflict between good and evil. We feel the intensity of that struggle when life becomes difficult and the shredder or destroyer raises up our deepest urges.
In this, we often weave rationalizations: intricate emotional and theological webs. Through this struggle and awareness, through the intensity of shredding and urges, through the odd places our rationalizations take us, we often find ourselves feeling more and more vulnerable.
Welcome to Lent. Our Lenten specials this year include repentance, ashes, sin, and suffering. Or one might say that Lent is about awareness, the struggle between good and evil, facing our urges and the ways life is pulverized before our very eyes, the rationalizations we weave to get by, and the sense of vulnerability we face as we talk about all these things.
Usually when we construct our lives, we try to create a Garden of Eden. We want to be happy and free, living without limits, blissful and eternally joyful.
But even the most tightly constructed paradise has within it a point of contention, a tree of knowledge, and a loose string that unravels. Most paradises are built on non-awareness. As we become more aware, we face difficult choices between good and bad, often feeling more confused and vulnerable than anything.
Do any of us really know the conditions of the workers who made the clothes that we are wearing in church this morning? Do we want to be aware of that?
Are any of us really aware of what it is that makes us feel the way we feel? Therapy is never fun. Self awareness is necessary and sometimes painful work.
Do we really know the extent of the brokenness in our world caused by greed, war, selfishness, and disregard? Do we want to be aware of that? Do we want to be fully aware of good and evil? That vulnerable?
Do we really want to know how we might have hurt others simply by being who we are, shaping things for our own well-being, thinking that we are the ones who know how our families, cities and institutions should be? Dow we want to be that aware? Are we able to be that vulnerable?
Oh, we can hold this story in the Garden of Eden at a distance, insisting that it does not fit our world view or our view of God. But here is a passage about awareness of good and evil, our own urges as life is tattered, and our own rationalizations which make us even more vulnerable.
And yes, we can hold that second lesson at arm’s length by calling it boring, irrelevant and endlessly intricate theology. If you have been having trouble falling asleep at night, consider reading the book of Romans before you go to bed. It can be just as effective as any sleep medication.
But is this lesson any more convoluted that the psychological rationalizations we use to define our lives and shape our souls? Do you think that God really cares about all our highly rationalized and intricate psychologizing any more than we care about first century theology? Sometimes we go on and on and on about things, piling up the words and deluded rationalizations until nothing really makes sense anymore.
And yes, we can scoff at the third lesson as being merely a legend. But here, in this struggle between the force that shreds life and the force that creates it, in the arena of temptation, in this painful point of awareness, in this wilderness, in this confrontation, we find Jesus and the Great Unraveler.
Jesus in this last lesson is humility, a rather stubborn and confident humility. No, he says, I need to take some time to face my demons. No, I won’t be a sensation. No, I won’t sell myself to the highest bidder for greatness. No, I won’t think that I am the most important person in the world. No, he says, with stubborn and tenacious humility. In this story, that which has unraveled is now being re-woven. This is the point of Paul’s argument in the second lesson.
Oh, it is early, but it is Lent. Our Lenten specials this year include repentance, ashes, sin, and suffering. Or one might say that Lent is about awareness, the struggle between good and evil, facing our urges and the ways life becomes shredded or unraveled, the rationalizations we weave to get by, and the vulnerability we face as we talk about all these things. We begin these forty days with the tenacious humility of Jesus in the wilderness.