The First Sunday in Lent
5th March 2017
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
I’m going to go out on a limb a little bit today.
I’m going to make an assumption about why you are here today, and why you decided to spend your Sunday morning here at St. Paul’s.
Deep down, I believe that you want to live the life you have been given as best as you can, and that on some level, you want others to live the best they can also.
I’m guessing that you also believe that there is a wisdom in this tradition of ours that can help you get to where you want to go.
Am I right?
I sure hope so!
Because we are about to embark upon the journey of Lent, a season in which we let go of all sorts of things that pass as life, but are not, and get down to the fundamentals of the life we know in Christ Jesus.
And the readings we have today give us all sorts of clues about our human nature, and the way in which Jesus shows us how to embrace a larger humanity.
At first glance, the Genesis reading is one we might be tempted to simply explain away as a story about the origin of sin.
Theologians from St. Paul to Augustine to Luther have expounded upon original sin, and as such, sin tends to be one of the major themes of the Lenten season.
Questions about whose fault it was, the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit, and what life would have been like in Eden before the fall tend to fascinate, but they rarely touch upon the core principle that the story is communicating.
We humans, though living in a garden paradise where all we ever need is provided for us, are particularly susceptible to a desire for more, for better, and for self-centered power.
And when we indulge that desire, and its attendant feeling of lack, we embark upon a journey of ever diminishing satisfaction.
It’s counter-intuitive to say and believe that— at least on this side of Eden.
It often seems like our entire world is conspiring to convince us otherwise, like every advertisement or billboard is just a more direct form of the perpetual message: “You are not good enough as you are. You need something more…something that can only be found outside of you.”
Whatever that something is, be it fruit on a symbolic tree or a new designer suit, if we become convinced that we are incomplete without “that thing”, then the journey of forgetfulness has begun, and we move away— step by painful step— from paradise into a land that is waste.
Believing that we are not enough and that we will never have enough and then acting upon that mistaken belief opens our eyes to the chilling realization that we are indeed naked before God and each other.
And rather than freeing us to enjoy all the fullness that already surrounds us and pervades us, that nakedness and exposure begins to make us more and more shameful and fearful, and causes us to hide from each other and even the God who created us in goodness.
But it does not have to be that way!
Though the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden resonates with us because we know all too well our own hearts and the cravings we have for such exterior fulfillment, there is another story that remains more compelling.
That is the story of Jesus—a story that we are called to pay special attention to in this season of Lent.
The reading from Paul’s epistle today does its best to explain the significance of the Jesus story, at least according to Paul’s conception of sin and salvation.
But the Jesus story is obviously larger than what Paul can say here.
It is a story about how the gap between heaven and earth is not as distant as it might have seemed after the eyes of all humanity were opened.
In fact, it is a story that reveals the truth that God’s love of humans and all creation is so grand and all surpassing that even death cannot separate us from it.
There is no greater claim to the counter narrative of God in the face of the lie that we humans too easily believe, be it serpent or self that convinces us to pursue it.
If even death cannot separate us from God, then there is truly nothing OUTSIDE of us that we need in order to live the good life that we seek.
And there is nothing outside of us that by entering into us can defile us either.
We are utterly and inseparably one with God and bound together through the mystery of love, no matter how clearly we perceive that connection or not.
Fulfilling life comes when we wake up to that fact—when we learn to perceive this fundamental connection in ever deeper ways—and when we choose to live in a way that draws us further into the mystery, while inviting others to wake up to the truth as well.
If we need an example to show us the way to this fulfilling life, we need look no further than Jesus in today’s Gospel.
Jesus has been baptized by the prophet John and shortly after is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit—the place where for 40 years the people of God wandered searching for freedom in a promised land.
Jesus prepares for his public ministry through an intense period of fasting, like Moses and Elijah before him.
And it is only when he is most physically weakened, and spiritually awake, when the original temptation of Eden is placed before him.
Use your power to feed yourself…exploit your relationship with God…worship an idol and you will have everything this world can offer.
Jesus refuses to believe the lie that he is not already in possession of all he needs or that he is not already sufficiently yoked to God.
The triumph of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is in his utter fidelity to this deep truth and wisdom, even when believing the lie would have been so much simpler.
Oddly enough, later on he will go on to do all the things that the devil tempts him to do, but for very different reasons, and he will do those mighty acts for others rather than simply for himself.
He will turn a couple of loaves and some fish into food for thousands, not because he wants the people to make him king, but because of his compassion for them.
He will be lifted high upon a cross and be cast down in death, and angels will attend him as he rises from the grave…but it will not be a ploy to test the power of God, but rather to expose the great lie once and for all for those with eyes to see.
And he will have dominion over all creation, having vanquished death and the grave, but rather than lord this power over his subjects, he will serve them, and later empower them as stewards of the mystery and entrust to them the keys of the kingdom.
Jesus’ story is one of humanity’s greater calling—an evolutionary journey in which all of what it means to be human and all of what it means to be divine become inextricably linked to each other forever.
That’s a huge, huge deal people.
And as we sit here on the precipice of this season of Lent, I want you to wake up to this story and live it right now.
I ask you to join with me and with so many others who are waking up to the truth of God’s counter narrative in Jesus, and use the practices and disciplines of this season to put down the world’s lie once and for all.
We have 40 days to make a new start dear people of God.
We have the rest of our lives to experience the joys and sorrows that living and acting according to this truth brings.
May you be strengthened to make the journey, convicted of the truth of the good news, and supported by your fellow travelers in faith this Lent.
With God’s help, we will come out on the other side a changed people—a people no longer afraid or shameful or worried about any lack, but emboldened by the fact that the kingdom we seek is truly already within and among us.