Theme: Keeping focused on what God wants us to do
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, you made us to take care of this corner of your creation; remind us always to remain focused on what you will have us do, thereby keeping us from temptations that distract us from our mission, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Humans are always declaring their freedom, wishing for more “space,” announcing that they belong only to “themselves.” We want to be free from the enslavement of the kitchen, or from confinement of a job we don’t like.
Airplane companies claim to set us free, and medical companies says the same. There are deodorant companies which promise to set us free from the worry of underarm wetness and odor; a certain toothpaste declares we can be set free from dull teeth. Then we are promised freedom from pain by Tylenol, Excedrin, Bayer, and others. Other products play on our desperation for freedom by telling us we can be free from “ring-around-the-collar,” and Lysol sets us free from germs. We want freedom to sleep at night with a clear conscience, freedom from fear of death, and above all, freedom from the terrors of the judgment day.
A teen-age boy told his parents he was going to run away from home. “Listen,” he said, “I’m leaving home. There is nothing you can do to stop me. I want excitement, adventure, beautiful women, money, and fun. I’ll never find it here, so I’m leaving. Just don’t try to stop me!” As he headed for the door, his father leaped up and ran toward him. “Dad,” the boy said firmly, “you heard what I said. Don’t try to stop me. I'm going!” “Who’s trying to stop you?” answered the father, “I’m going with you!”
Temptation can be obvious. It can also be subtle. We are vulnerable to temptation, because we have trouble staying focused on what God wants us to do.
Our Old Testament reading is from the famous story about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This is an excerpt of the much longer story. This is a story explaining why the world is not perfect even though the world was created by a perfect God. No where in this story is the word sin used (or the Hebrew equivalent).
The upshot is that it is our fault. We messed up the entire planet. This is a heavy responsibility and realization that we hear on this First Sunday in Lent. We carry this burden of our collective guilt with us through Lent and beyond. This is certainly the interpretation of St. Augustine, even though any concept of “fall” is not in the Biblical text.
There are other ways of looking at this story. They would include: God gave us the gift of free will. A wonderful gift that we have sometimes failed to properly use. And God wants us to live in a wonderful place, a place of total harmony and love.
An interesting consequence of temptation, curiosity, and ambition is human reproduction. We gained knowledge of procreation, without which we would not have experienced the joys, hurts, and love of children and grandchildren. This kind of love is deep and infinite. Without disobedience, we never would know this love and thereby we would never have an inkling of how much deeper God’s love is for us.
There are more takes on what this story is saying, but let’s take a look at what the lectionary has given us. The man is to till the place. This is the purpose of humanity: agrarian work. A more literal translation is that the human being is to serve or be a slave preserving and protecting the garden. Kinda knocks us down a peg or two in the scheme of things. The purpose of human beings is to take care of the earth. So, how are we doing?
The man may eat of anything in the garden, except the fruit of one tree. This is not an apple tree. This is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God says that if you eat of this tree, you will die.
Two notes: the man is a vegetarian. He does not eat any animal. And he seems immortal. Eating of the forbidden tree will result in death. This consequence of eating of this tree brings death to humanity, which is not rectified until Jesus’ resurrection. This is where we are heading this Lent, from the institution of self-inflicted death to God given life through Jesus Christ.
Then the lectionary skips a few verses when the woman arrives on the scene. As we all know, then all hell breaks loose.
That breaking loose begins with the introduction of a serpent. Serpents represented evil to the Hebrews and the people of the ancient Middle East. They also represented death. There are 20 different poisonous species of snakes in the Holy Land. Their deadly characteristic reinforces the view of snakes as being evil. They kill without conscience. This one is crafty. In fact, it is so crafty, it can speak.
Its target is the woman. Its issue is the forbidden tree. I mean after all, why would one tree of all the trees in the garden be excluded from harvesting? That doesn’t make any sense. It is said that its fruit is deadly, even to the touch. See how stories get exaggerated. God didn’t say anything about what touching the fruit of this tree would do.
The snake said, “No, you won’t die!” Which was true if we were talking about immediate death. But are we talking about immediate death? The man and woman did die. It just took a while. The snake then shared the truth. Eating of the fruit of this tree will open the eyes of eater. The eater will know the difference between good and evil, between good and bad.
After all, there was a lot of fruit on the tree. God won’t notice if a few are missing. Not only was this fruit full of knowledge, it didn’t taste so bad either. So she shared some with the man. It was then that they knew that they had done something wrong. It was then that they knew that they were naked. They experienced shame for the first time. They also provided countless jokes for many, many generations.
As we are tilling the garden we can’t help but notice fruit hanging around that looks good to eat. Again, we all have a little Attention Deficit Disorder. We meet interesting animals and strike up conversations. I mean, I talk to our dogs. We use our God-given intellect to make decisions that is beyond our God given mission, which is tilling the garden. Then we find excuses for not working on God’s mission.
Mission and distraction is part of our journey in Lent. God calls us to our mission and yet we stutter, stop, turn sideways, doing all sort of things other than what God wants us to do. So this time of year, in particular, we repent. We promise to get back on track and walk toward God, not away. Lent is a time to get back on the right path. Lent is a time to rededicate ourselves to God’s mission.
Text: Genesis 2:15–17, 3:1–7 (NRSV)
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but 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.”
3 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’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but 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.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,a knowing good and evil.” 6 So 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. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.