Sunday, February 10, 2008

First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 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’?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but 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.’“ 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6So 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. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Having children is like getting your own laboratory to study human nature. You don’t even need to set up any experiments: kids will naturally provide all the raw data you need to draw your own conclusions.

Case in point: Few objects become real until someone else picks them up. Any old thing, sitting idly by for months, becomes an object of desire about 30 seconds after someone else in the household makes it real by touching it. Do your own experiment: put children and some random stuff in a room and time how long it takes for someone to say “can I see that?”

Perhaps I’m being unfair to the children. Maybe try it with adults at the mall. However you construct this experiment, the outcome is the same: the moment someone else has something, we want it. And while my children demonstrated this in primitive form with ordinary objects around the house, we know that the older you get the more sophisticated the desire. They have it and we want it.

Without straying too far from my sermon, I think it’s amazing that we welcomed television into our homes. The television, aka “the desire box” shows us the things we do not have, presented in such a way that we can’t live without them. At first it was shiny things, then whiter whites, and finally a glimpse at a whole new life. And all this was voluntary: we bought the box, we carried it into our houses, and we turned the thing on.

Back to our laboratory, it seems that similar experiments have been happening since the beginning of time. Create a beautiful garden, put a tree right in the middle of it, and say, “Children, do not eat the fruit of this tree.” Or, imagine you buy a case of beer and put it on the kitchen table and say, “Kids, we’re going away for the weekend, and we don’t want you to have a party.”

Ignore the talking snake (a good rule in life is always ignore the talking snake), because the moment God says, “Don’t touch,” I think we know where this story is headed.


We are drawn to the narrative quality of Genesis 2 and 3. The conversation is the best part, as Eve and the Serpent engage in a learned discussion on the nature of the tree and the merit of receiving wisdom (followed, of course, by Adam saying “cool, I’ll have some fruit”). But the conversation is merely a dramatic device to describe human wisdom and to delay the inevitable: the beginning of human disobedience.


This morning begins the season of Lent – our 40 days in the wilderness – when we are encouraged to examine ourselves and prepare for the events of Good Friday and Easter. In many ways, Lent requires setting the scene: describing our reality, describing Jesus in the clearest way, and allowing these two descriptions to met. The intersection of our reality and God’s desire is called the season of Lent.

Over five weeks, we will hear stories of forgiveness and grace. Even the dead will be raised, as the story of Lazarus becomes a foretaste of Easter morning. And set against all this forgiveness and grace will be our lives in the land east of Eden. Cast out, as we were, we live far from the first scene in this human drama. Lent, then, becomes one of the few times when we are encouraged to really examine our lives. And, what we find, we give to God: trusting in God’s unending desire to forgive.


Back to that case of beer on the kitchen table, it’s hard not to feel a little set up. Taking human disobedience as a given, why introduce the idyllic setting enjoyed by the first humans? Why is it necessary for the author of Genesis to shift the blame from the Creator who made everything in the garden (including human desire) to the poor simpletons who were the first tenants?

My guess is that the author of Genesis was trying to protect God. The author of Genesis was trying to shift the blame away from God and onto a talking snake and a couple of people who did the very thing any of us would do when confronted with words like “don’t touch this tree, it’s a special tree.”

Despite the hard work of the author of Genesis, it is hard not to feel set up. Knowing that sinfulness is a defining characteristic of human life, and knowing that God is the Author of all that is, we are left with the conclusion that there was no pre-fallen state, and no apple, and certainly no talking snake: only a race of creatures, that try as we might, will always disappoint.

Despite the hard work of the author of Genesis, it is hard not to feel angry. Why make us so frail, both in body and spirit? Why implant human desire that leads us down so many unfortunate paths? Why create a dynamic where we want the things we cannot have and take for granted the things we have? Why create the fullness of life, and then say “you are dust, and to the dust you shall return”?

The problem with making a list of reasons to be angry with God is that it is hard to know when to stop. And maybe this is the best starting point for Lent. When we acknowledge that we are angry, it is easier to begin to address this anger. Hebrew poets knew this, and created an entire genre of poetry called lament: poetry that allowed them to express their anger and heartache and know that God would listen. This is the same poetry that Jesus quotes on the cross when he says “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”


And so we begin our journey. It will take us from the “fall of man” to the salvation of the world. We will hear stories of forgiveness and grace. We will reflect and repent and give God the glory. And we will walk together, trusting that whatever thoughts we have, or words we use, God is with us, and we are not alone. Thanks be to God.


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