Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Mar 01, 2020

    The First Sunday in Lent

    Passage: Matthew 4:1-11

    Preacher: The Rev. Sarah Carver

    Category: Lent

    Detail:

    iPoem In a modern take on the story of the fall, iPoem by George Bilgere reads like this:

    Someone’s taken a bite from my laptop’s glowing apple, the damaged fruit of our disobedience, of which we must constantly be reminded.

    There’s the fatal crescent, the dark smile of Eve, who never dreamed of a laptop, who, in fact, didn’t even have clothes, or anything else for that matter,

    which was probably the nicest thing about the Garden, I’m thinking,

    as I sit here in the cafe with my expensive computer, afraid to get up even for a minute in order to go to the bathroom because someone might steal it

    in this fallen world she invented with a single bite of an apple nobody, and I mean nobody, was going to tell her not to eat.

    For so long, Eve has been held responsible, solely, for the fallen state of all of humankind. But as our wise poet points out, she was not alone in her disobedience for there wasn’t any around who would tell her to stop, or even refuse her offer to share. We hear in our reading today how Adam, without protest or resistance, took and ate of the fruit Eve offered him revealing him to be a participant, and not the victim he proclaims to be. Yet when God discovers what they have done, both Eve and Adam point to someone else to level blame: Adam to his fellow human being and Eve to the snake who tricked her. They do this rather than accept that they had failed to obey God in the glorious garden they were given for a home. I wonder how this story might have been different if they had. And so, as a consequence of their choices, the humans of the earth have to leave this place of great intimacy with God because everything has changed. They find themselves in the aftermath of a relationship betrayed and innocence shattered, humanity is now destined instead to make its way in the newborn wilderness, to work the very ground from which humanity was formed.

    Now, Matthew’s gospel presents us with a very similar scenario but with a very different human being. Jesus, after his baptism follows the Spirit into the wilderness, into a place of desolation without all of the physical and spiritual comforts of the garden, and remains there for a time. When confronted by temptation, remains obedient to God with each temptation. Refined by his experience there, Jesus’ ministry begins upon his return. Now, we don’t tend to give much thought to first great challenge of Jesus here and it doesn’t come from Satan, it comes from just going into the wilderness in the first place. Jesus followed the Spirit into the wilderness.

    The wilderness is a tough place to be. Its lonely, none of our usual comforts are there, let alone real food and water. We are vulnerable in the wilderness because we are in an environment that we aren’t able to control—the ground is hard, the night cold, the days scorching, there are no roads or even paths sometimes, we are closer to danger than we usually find ourselves. I remember once standing on the edge of the Sahara Desert after stepping out of a ceramic factory in Egypt. All I could see ahead of me for forever was rolling sand, and clear blue sky. The heat that swept of that sand hit me in the face like an oven. I couldn’t imagine being out there in that wilderness for any length of time. And that is true for all of us, isn’t it? We avoid the wilderness out there or the wilderness inside ourselves because we fear those difficult places, because they are uncomfortable and scary. But it is into those difficult places that the Spirit is leading us.

    Lent is that time we set aside in our liturgical calendar to go into the difficult places of ourselves and our world. As Greg pointed out on Wednesday, this is not about punishment, but about seeing ourselves in truth—seeing both those parts that we find easy to love, and those other parts we hide from others and from ourselves. Lent helps us see the truth about what we have done and what we have left undone, to see the story of humanity and our brokenness and see how that story can change in Christ. Frederick Beuchner writes that “just as Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.” Who are we really, we need to ask. Who are we as the broken and beloved children of God who have disobeyed our Creator and left the garden only to find ourselves trying to get back there by our own effort and on our own terms rather than following the Spirit that lead Christ as well. When we resist going to those difficult places we remain resistant not only to God’s will for us, but also to God’s goodness and God’s will that we all be healed.

    I remember when I began working in a cancer center as an oncology social worker, people would exclaim to me that there was no way they could ever do that work—it was just too hard and depressing. And frankly, I had had such reservations. But I found often, the opposite. I found hope, determination, community, even joy sometimes. I met people of great faith and a depth of spirituality that I sometimes found elusive in my own church at the time. But I also found that those who didn’t talk about their disease, or their struggles, and those who didn’t were often the worst off, like the one gentleman who had allowed his cancer to advance so much that it was nearly fully obstructing his windpipe. It was only when his life was in imminent danger did he seek treatment. But when the social worker would try and connect with him, and help him with his health, his addiction issues, and his housing issues-- everything was fine. He couldn’t bring himself to go to that difficult place and acknowledge it and therefore, nothing really changed. No one could really help because it is impossible to heal without acknowledging that we need to heal in the first place. We have to go to those difficult places.

    Bryan Stevenson, in his work as a human rights lawyer spends a lot of time in prisons working to try and free innocent people from death row, to save children as young as 13 from having to spend the rest of their lives in prison, to provide representation for those who never had proper counsel due to lack of resources and severe mental illness. His work brings him close to a lot of suffering—things most of us don’t want to be near. But for change to happen, Stevenson says we have to close—close to those who are suffering, and close to their suffering. He says that we need to go to hopeless places and be a witness for hope. I would add that we have to go to the places that don’t know love, and speak God’s love into them, both to heal the wounds of the world and to heal our own wounds. We have to go to those difficult places to do this.

    You see, in those places that are difficult or scary to venture into, there is healing, there can be gifts, but always there is God. Mr. Stevenson talks about going to death row for the first time and through his encounter with Henry, a man who had not had representation for over two years, and how we walked away from his time with Henry with a changed understanding of “human potential, redemption, and hopefulness.” This was the beginning of Mr. Stevenson’s own transformation into the advocate for justice that he is today. But I also think about the two Mary’s who in a few weeks we will read about their going to the tomb where Jesus was buried. They will head out, together and in their grief, to tend to his body. It would be so much easier to stay home and in bed. But they go and when they arrive they will not find death, but will encounter the risen Christ. I think about Jesus, who will go to the cross, without which there would be no resurrection for him or for us.

    Lent is not about punishment—it is a time set aside for healing, our healing and the world’s. And anyone who has spent time healing physically, spiritually or mentally knows that healing is hard work—at times it is scary and painful, but it is necessary if we want to make our way to wholeness. So the practices that we choose to put on this season, the prayer, the letting go of some things, and the taking on of others, the fasting and disciplines, they are a meant to help us heal. In our Great Litany this morning, we name the things that we need help in healing, and we bring ourselves closer to them and own them so that we can finally let them go. God is not holding onto our sins…we are. So take the time to let yourselves go to those difficult places, whatever they are for you. And remember that even though you are in the wilderness, God is there. God did not abandon Adam and Eve after they left the garden, and the Spirit remained with Christ as he fasted for days. We are not alone, but the way home is not through the garden, it is through the wilderness.