Lent is upon us whether we are ready or not. Some of us are scrambling to put together an Ash Wednesday service and other’s are already working on Holy Week. Those of us in between are looking at Sunday and wondering what to say about some familiar texts. I don’t know about you, but Lent is one of those times when I feel compelled to find something new, something I haven’t said about these particular texts. This year I keep hearing snippets of Squeeze’s “Tempted by the Fruit of Another” in my head as I contemplate Eve and Adam, and Jesus in the desert. This background music provided by my psyche isn’t particularly helpful, but it does remind me to breathe and not put so much pressure on one sermon.
That being said, Eve really was tempted by the fruit of another. I love this story for what it reveals about human beings. We never want to take responsibility for our actions and we often mistake knowledge for wisdom. What if this Lent we focus on taking responsibility for what we do (or don’t do) as individuals and as congregations and also search out wisdom as well as knowledge? Instead of responding to the temptation to take an easy road to wisdom as did Eve and Adam, can we trust God to guide us through the wilderness places in our lives and in our world?
The Psalmist reminds us that those who do not hide their sins from God are happy. It is better for us not to be like a horse or a donkey in need of of bridle. Life is more bearable when we follow God’s teachings without resistance. Then we know that we are surrounded by the steadfast love of God. The Psalmist makes it sound so easy. And yet, there’s a familiarity with how troubling life is when we stray from God’s commandments. One might think that Psalmist knew something of a donkey’s stubbornness or a horse’s need for training. Can we lean more intentionally into confessing our sins and embracing God’s guiding love?
Paul is advocating for the same choice in Romans, though in a much less direct way. It’s strange the way we want to deny our sinfulness and, at the same time, question God’s love for us. We still have a tendency to think we can work out our own salvation, or earn our way into God’s good graces. Paul reminds us that neither is ours to do. Salvation and grace our God’s gift to us through Christ. We might as well embrace both our sinfulness and our righteousness and give God thanks for a love that claims us as beloved. Life would be so much easier if we could bring our whole selves before God without worrying over the sharp, unpleasant, broken, or ugly bits. Through Christ, God claims us as whole and beloved. Now all we have to do is admit that we need God because we cannot save ourselves. What reminders of this need will we encounter in the wilderness this Lent?
Now we arrive at the Gospel reading with Jesus out in the desert with Satan. Satan wants Jesus to walk away from what God wants and do as he pleases. You’re hungry? Make some bread for yourself. You’re wrestling with your identity? Prove that God will save you. You want to be powerful? I’ve got a shortcut for you right here. These temptations are often our temptations. Take a seemingly easier way to get what we think we need and we will be successful. How often does the easy road lead to regret or suffering? How often do we talk ourselves into something that serves only the gods of our own making? How often do we end up making Eve’s mistake of confusing simple knowledge for true wisdom? Where might we need wisdom, rather than simple knowledge in our lives? Where have we been tempted to follow an easier path (and convinced ourselves it was a good idea), only to discover God is calling us elsewhere? In what ways will or congregations benefit from some time in the wilderness? Where might we need wisdom and which lesser gods do we need to turn away from in order to find it? How can we prepare ourselves to be tended by angels?
Where are you finding wisdom this week? Please join the conversation that we may accompany one another on this journey.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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