Genesis 2:15-17 15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but 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.”
Psalm 32 1Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
6Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
7You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah
8I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
10Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
11Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Romans 5:12-19 12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. 15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. 18Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Matthew 4:1-11 4Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
We gather on this morning in Itasca on the unceded tribal lands of the Kickapoo, Peoria, Ka-skas-kia, Potawatomi, Mya-a-mia, HoChunk, Winnebago and O-che-thi Sakowin nations, acknowledging that hard past and praying our way into a better future.
And so we pray.
Holy God, you created us as priceless and precious children of your heart but far too often we put price tags on priceless and purchasing power on precious. As we enter into this Lenten season of self-examination and personal assessment, help us to let go of our cost analysis and money changing sin soaked E – valuations and return us to a Divine world view of valuations, where we once again see the precious and priceless in all your people and in all your creation.
In your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
This Lent we are following the theme of Dust and Glory. We are dust and to dust we shall return – but because of God’s love and grace, we are given the chance to lay down our past choices and be transformed into creations of God’s glory. Throughout the coming weeks, we will explore and meditate on this theme. And so we begin.
You all know that I love the world of theatre and the actors and technicians that make amazing visions come to life. As a result, I have read more than my fair share of actors’ autobiographies. On in particular that sticks with me is was written by Judy Carne, called “Laughing On The Outside, Crying on the Inside.” If you are of the demographic I am, you might remember her as the English actress on “Laugh-In” who was known as the “sock it to me girl”. Her story was not a happy one – there were a lot of wrong decisions and mistaken paths. And she knew this. Laugh-In had a a lot of folks on it who became famous for a moment, but perhaps the one that at the time would have surprised people with her continued and sustained success was Goldie Hawn. What, Carne wondered, made her career different? What gave her staying power, when so many others sizzled out? In thinking about this, Crane recalled a day when Hawn came in to the set, looking absolutely devastated. Acting is not a profession where most folks get rich; the majority of actors struggle pretty hard. Hawn had been offered 10K for a commercial and to be clear, she needed that 10k to make rent and pay bills. But her agent turned it down because it would have locked her into a path that would not have given her that long career. He told Goldie to trust him – he was watching out for her. And the proof of his wisdom is pretty clear; Goldie Hawn is a name most of us know, while Judy Carne became a head scratcher trivia question. Carne held this moment as an insight for her own life; she always took the 10k, the shiny toy of the moment, and never worried about the ultimate path. That, she thought, had been her fatal flaw – she forgot to look down the path. In failing to do so, she blew all her talent and energy chasing illusions of fame rather than finding the real thing.
When Jesus begins his ministry, history tells us that there were a number of folks running around claiming to be the Messiah. After centuries of cycles of invasion, occupation and exile, many Jews were exhausted and impatient for the Messiah to show up, for redemption and restoration to be made real. And there were a number of false prophets who were happy to oblige – if you do a quick google search, you’ll meet many, and Acts and Luke also record at least 5, not the least of which is the Barrabus whom the crowd will call for Pilate to free during Jesus’ trial. But each of these false Messiahs will preach a message that does not last – because they speak to the solution of current troubles, rather than speaking to the Divine plan of what causes those troubles. The false Messiah will proclaim that the oppressor can be defeated through our actions rather than the actions of God. The false Messiah will claim and accumulate power into their own hands in the name of defeating that oppressor, rather seeking the liberation of the oppressed. Again and again, PT Barnum gets proven right: There’s a sucker born every minute; and when we look for the shiny, immediate gratification that they offer – we bite hard on that hook.
So today, we hear the Scriptures lifting up to us what that shiny baited hook looks like. In Eden, we had everything, but because free will was built into our DNA, we also had choices. Choose what is good and life giving – and good and life giving things will follow. Choose what is evil and death dealing – and well, evil and death result. Adam and Eve made choices, we have made choices, and Jesus, in his humanity, made choices. What made those choices different was what informed them. Like Judy Carne, Adam and Eve, and oftentimes we ourselves, choose what looks shiny and good in the moment, letting ourselves believe the lie that doing so is the right thing, the thing that in serving the need of the moment, will satisfy us in the long run. And because we take our eyes off the prize, we trip and fall short of where we intended to go.
Adam and Eve did not lose their ability to choose, and neither do we. So we are just as free to get back on the path as we are to fall off it – but how much easier, how much more fulfilling is it to not take all those side trips and detours. But being who we are – we don’t have role models for what better choices look like – or do we? In Jesus, we see the Eden choice revisited – but this time with a different outcome. That same hissing choice to be dazzled by the immediate reward is given to Jesus – but Jesus gives us the model for how to say no – for how to believe that there is more than just what lies in front of us.
Maslov’s triangle is a psychological tool that tells us there are 4 basic needs we have to meet in order to have fulfilled life. Maslov begins with what is most basic, food and water. Then the model moves up through safety, love and belonging, self-esteem and finally, when all those needs are met, self-actualisation. Satan is a clever old sod; just as he knew what to offer Adam and Eve – the opportunity to use their ability to choose whatever they want, tricking them into believing there would be no consequence – he thinks he knows just what to offer Jesus. He starts easy. Jesus has been on a 40 day fast – so here JC, have a burger. You want fries with that? But Jesus literally doesn’t bite. He states that his hunger – however great – is momentary. He’d rather wait and eat what God has on offer. Hmmm says Satan, let’s try this. Pain is for all of us no fun at all. I can tell you that, for my mother, who experienced chronic pain, this temptation to walk a pain free life would have been huge. Jesus, in his humanity, would have suffered pain – and in his empathic Divinity would have known the depth of others’ pain that surrounded him. How quiet and peaceful would that pain free life be! And there is Satan, offering that Thanos’ snap – whereby it will all disappear. But Jesus again defeats him – refusing to take the false peace and safety being offered and stating instead that he will breathe into the true peace of God, which meets pain and oppression not by denying it but by healing it.
Lastly, Satan – who I think has already shot his best shots! – decides to offer Jesus wealth and power. In 2023, looking back through time and history which have affirmed Jesus’ Divine power, it might be hard for us to understand the human Jesus being tempted by these trinkets. But this was a man born in a stable, just as crushed as all Jews were by the oppressive power and discrimination of Rome, who even among his own folks was an itinerant carpenter, making a living catch as catch can. If you have ever been scared about making the rent, the car payment, or have actually been in the shelters or on the streets – the idea of being free from that worry is a deep, deep pull. Combined with that is the power of respectability that comes with having an established base – for the human Jesus, this was a real temptation.
But again, Jesus models for us what having a faith larger than our fear looks like. He won’t sell his soul for the 10k commercial, he won’t take the sizzle, he won’t be the world’s respectable success story. He will stay the path, he will proclaim the year of Jubilee – the Lord’s grace and salvation which are worth more than the gold of the realm and the laurels of popular acclaim. He shows us that the path of faith is not tied to this world’s E-valuation, but is to be aligned with God’s valuation. We are not to look at the world as to what we can get out of it but rather what we are called to bring to it. Our neighbours aren’t competitors or rivals, but fellow travellers. Even the ones we don’t like. Even the ones who have lost the plot and are engaged in oppression and are caught in the game – in the Jesus model, we refuse evaluate them as enemies and choose instead to value them as neighbours’, worthy of our love and concern. None of this is easy – none of this lets us make easy, shiny choices. And in fact, making this choices and following the Jesus model is going to lead to a cross.
As we begin Lent, and reflect on how we have eaten the apple, chosen the 10K commercial, e-valuated our lives and those of folks around us, rather than valuating their lives and valuating the work of the Creator as precious and priceless – we are called to repentance and to follow the model of Christ. It will not be the walk that will look like success to the world; in fact, more than probably, it will look like failure in the moment. But Jesus models for us that our lives are guided by service to God’s goals – and if in our free will, we choose to follow God’s will, to say no to the apple, the commercial and the sizzle – and choose instead to stay the path of living into God’s values – that path will lead through the cross and land us on Easter morning’s resurrection. We won’t do it perfectly, but Jesus, the true Messiah, has said the Spirit will support us on that journey and even when we fail, She will always guide us back to the right choices.
We are dust and to dust we shall return – but because of God’s love and grace, we are given the chance to lay down our past choices and be transformed into creations of God’s glory. Let’s make the choice to live into our glory!