Tuesday, March 11, 2014

It's all good! Right?

2:15The 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.”
3:1Now 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.

1Then 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 splendor; 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.

Listen to the sermon here. 
It’s all good. You’ve probably heard this slang about a thousand times in the last few years. In Genesis, when Eve looks at the tree of knowledge of good and evil, she was probably thinking, Why not, it’s all good, right? She didn’t yet know the difference between good and evil, so of course she would be tempted.

Look what the passage says about it:
It was good for food
The tree was a delight to the eyes
The food was desired because it could make one wise

Through Eve’s eyes, the tree looked all good. Having some would be so satisfying. Being like God would be so cool. So of course she takes a bite of the forbidden fruit.

And then, suddenly, it's not all good.

Once she eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, her view of the world changes. What seemed “all good” wasn’t anymore. 

Eve and Adam learn that knowing the difference between good and evil comes with consequences and responsibilities.

Taking that bite allows them to became self-conscious. Before the bite they were naked and didn’t realize it. After the bite, they see that they are naked and different. So they make loincloths to cover those differences.

Their new knowledge had huge implications for the actions in their lives. Suddenly they were responsible to choosing between good and evil. They are kicked out of the garden and must fend for themselves. Since their “discovery,” humanity has been reflecting on what is good-- in our lives, our governments, our sciences, the Broadway show Wicked is a two-hour exploration of what is in song, drama and dance.

In Lent, we reflect upon our relationship with God and our actions. We think about how Jesus behaved in the world, on his way to the cross. We look closely at the choices he makes and the actions he takes for guidance in our own lives. Some of us give something up for Lent, like meat or chocolate, and are tempted to indulge. Others of us take something on, like more prayer or Bible reading, and are tempted to skip it. In these 40 days, many of us intentionally seek temptation.

Most of aren’t miracle workers like Jesus though. Because we believe that Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are one, we know that Jesus could have eased his temptations. But he didn’t. He suffered through them.

Jesus, too, was intentional about his temptation. He didn’t go on a vision quest or spiritual retreat. He wasn’t fasting to be holy or even to get closer to God. His sole purpose for going to the desert, according to Matthew, is to be tempted. But the temptation doesn’t even start until after he’s fasted for 40 days and 40 nights.

And while each of  Jesus’ temptations may look different, they are really the same. Each temptation encourages Jesus to use his power for himself. Each temptation is about power—his body, his reputation, his place in the world. Jesus is tempted to act like he is the most important thing in the universe. Like he’s the only one that matters. Thank God he didn’t!

Eve looked at the fruit on the tree and thought it’s all good. Jesus looked at the world and knew better. Eve learned the hard way about consequences and responsibility. Jesus was born with the responsibility of the world upon his shoulders.  Eve listened to the tempting voice of the serpent. Jesus refuted it.

The “fallen” part of us is seduced by that voice that tells us we are the most important thing in the world, that our needs somehow outweigh the needs of others. Jesus didn’t seem to think that way. Yes, each and every one of us is important to God. Our problems arise when we forget that this applies to every one of God’s children; when WE think that we are the most important thing.

The three temptations stories reveal who Jesus is and what he values. Will he put his own comfort and well being first when tempted to turn stones into bread? No.  Will he make a spectacle of himself by throwing himself off the top of the temple? No. Will he seek to be a dominating political force? No.

We don’t have to be in the wilderness to encounter small temptations. We don’t even have to leave our homes. I’m guessing that you have something in your own life that tempts you. Maybe it’s something benign like chips or shoes or tools or clothes.  Or maybe it’s something harmful like cigarettes or alcohol or drugs.

These things trigger the part of our brain that says—Just give me that and it will all be good! At least for a while.

With that new tool this project will be easier. With those new shoes I’ll feel more confident. A couple of chips will satisfy that craving for salt. These are the low fruits of our temptation trees. They make life easier and more enjoyable for a while. We look at those delightful, satisfying temptations and desperately want them to be all good, except they are not. They aren't all bad either. Much of it depends on the situation.

And then there are our wilderness temptations—the hard things that we face when we are weak and hungry. The temptation to get back at our ex. To lie about our grades or our accomplishments. The temptation to slander another person in order to get a promotion. To leave some income off of our tax return. To speak hateful language about someone who is different from us.

Jesus shows us that the self-aggrandizing, self-satisfying way is not always the good way. The spectacular way is not always the good way. The rewarding way is not always the good way.  Sometimes the good way is filled with rocks and stones and poverty. Some days the good way will draw us into a wilderness and we will suffer.  Some days the good way leaves us hungry and weak and tired. And that’s when we slip. That’s when we think, Oh, that would be good when really it’s not.

When we look at Jesus in the wilderness, we see how he dealt with temptation. When the tempter asked the question, Why don’t you…? Jesus had one answer for temptation—the answer is God. He tells the tempter:

We thrive on the words of God’s mouth.
We don’t test God.
We worship only God.

Yes, Jesus was tempted by the things we are-- power over his body, power over his reputation, and power over his place in the world. When faced with those temptations he doesn't look his needs, but elsewhere.  His answers to the three temptations are God. God. And God.

Eve had the luxury of looking at the world and that fateful tree through innocent eyes and thinking, It’s all good. Jesus didn’t have that luxury, not do we. When Jesus looked out at the world he saw good and evil. When confronted with the opportunity to satisfy himself he chose a different path. Jesus chose God each time.

It’s the decision that we face, too. It’s the responsibility that comes with knowing the difference between good and evil. Is it good, really good, if it only satisfies me or me or my people? Is it good if I’m the only one who benefits?

In the end we are people of a good book. People who believe in gospel which means  good news. We believe that even though evil has entered into the world, it won’t defeat the world. We hope that they day is coming when, indeed, there will be more goodness than evil. We look forward to the day when we can fully participate goodness—seeing all the tears wiped away, hunger eliminated, and inequalities gone. We trust that the day is coming when we can say, It’s all good.

And mean it.

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