The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
First Sunday in Lent
March 5, 2017
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Ash Wednesday was quite the day. I have so many stories to tell of that day; stories of joy, of holiness, of laughter, of sorrow. Our worship services, our Drive-Thru Ashes, our visitors to the local nursing homes, at Northwest Hospital, it was all simply amazing.
But, there was one low point. St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in town also decided to do Drive-Thru Ashes. But that’s not what irritated me. No, what irritated me was that Fox 26 did a story about their Drive-Thru Ashes but used video of Holy Comforter. I am now a stock photo. What irritated me was that they made me look like a Methodist, blah. I suppose there really is such a thing as fake news.
Of course, I’m kidding. My sister goes to that church, they are doing good work, and honestly I’m grateful that churches are out in the community sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Even the Methodists.
But it does make you wonder. Who was doing the editing at Fox 26? Didn’t somebody care to check the video? Did no one look at what they broadcasted last year? Were they just lazy? Did they just assume that Methodists and Episcopalians are the same?
And it makes you wonder. If they are careless in the little things – Ash Wednesday is a little thing – what about the big things? What about the stories that actually matter? Who can we trust? How do we know when we are being lied to?
This is the most ancient of human questions. Who can we trust? How do we know when we are being lied to? Take the story we just read from Genesis. The man and the woman, Adam and Eve, don’t know who to trust. They don’t know when they are being lied to. The Lord God tells them not to eat the fruit of the tree, but that serpent is awfully convincing. Adam and Eve are confronted with two differing stories. The Lord God says that they will die, but the serpent is awfully crafty.
And so they eat. And they die. What dies is their trust in God. Their relationship with God is totally broken. They choose to listen to the fake news the serpent is feeding them. They listen to the crafty story instead of the honest one. Adam and Eve buy into the lie.
Now there are a couple things I want to clarify about this story. Because this story, the story of Adam and Eve has itself been the subject of fake news. One of the fake stories out there is that this was all Eve’s fault. The fake story is that this weak woman believed the lie, ate the fruit, and caused the sinfulness of humanity.
From there, it’s not a far jump to misogyny, to paternalism, to out and out sexism. We have believed the fake news, and used the framework of this story, often in subtle ways, to blame women. To denigrate women. To prevent women from taking roles of leadership. We’ve bought into the lie that without the protection of a man, woman will cause all sorts of trouble.
Let’s put that fake news story to bed. Both the man and the woman eat the fruit even though they know exactly where it came from. The woman and the man buy into the lie. This was an equal opportunity sin.
There’s another spin on this story that isn’t quite the whole truth. That story is that Adam and Eve, walking around naked and talking to snakes, caused the fall of humanity. From that perspective, sin is a hereditary disease, passed on from one generation to another.
Now, granted, this was the first sin, the original sin, but there’s so much more to it. Right after Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree, God finds out. And when God asks them about it, the man blames the woman, the woman blames the snake. No one wants to take responsibility. That is the truest story about humanity. We do what we know is wrong. We try to cover it up. We blame another person. And, when all else fails, we justify it. “I didn’t think anybody would find out. It was just once. It wasn’t that big of a deal.” The story of Adam and Eve, the story of the serpent, the story of the fruit – that story didn’t take place long ago. It takes place every day of our lives.
So, is this story factual? Were there actual naked people walking around and having conversations with snakes? That’s irrelevant. But is this story true? Do we buy into the lies that sound so good? Do we blame each other for our own sin? Do we try to cover it up, justify it? Oh yeah. This story is painfully true.
I think that modern Christians have trouble understanding the difference between fact and truth. We miss the forest for the trees. We get caught up in the details of the story but miss the big point. Evolutionists and creationists fight about whether Adam and Eve were real people, but they’re both missing the point. They are both buying the lie. The story from Genesis is not about something in the past; Adam and Eve is a reflection of our own life. We are so concerned about the words in the bible, that we miss out on what the Holy Spirit is saying through the bible. As Marilynne Robinson says, “the bible today is much thumped but little pondered.”
During these forty days of Lent, it is time for us to do a little more pondering. To step back and to put everything in perspective. To do a little less thumping, a little bit more pondering. To do a little bit less talking, a little bit more listening. To do a little bit less blaming, and to take a little bit more responsibility. It’s time for us to be honest with God. And for us to ask God to be honest with us.
This is why I’m calling on us to read the gospels, to read the Acts of the Apostles during this Lent. To ponder, to consider, to reflect, to listen. We will open our hearts to see what the Spirit is up to. And rather than assuming to know what’s in the bible; rather than buying into all the lies that are being sold, we will open up our bibles and see what it really says. We will look for truth.
And perhaps, that is what makes reading the bible today even more important than ever. Competing versions of reality are vying for truth. And depending on our political inclinations, we call the other side “fake news.” Rather than buying into the all the lies out there being sold to us, it is incumbent upon us to open our hearts to the only truth that will ever be true. And that is Jesus. It is imperative that we open our bibles, not to justify ourselves, but to seek the truth. And when we find that we are wrong, we are not to entrench ourselves; to justify our past mistakes in order to save face. When we do that, we are doing exactly what the serpent would have us do. When we find that we are wrong, we have to come clean.
And if you are worried that you are being lied to, if you don’t know who to trust, start with yourself. Be honest. Never lie. If you are confused and not sure what is true and what is fake, start with yourself. Be honest with yourself. And most of all, be honest with God.
During this Lent, do not give up chocolate, or carbs, or Facebook. Do not use Lent as a time for personal betterment. Lenten disciplines are not glorified New Years resolutions. Lenten disciplines glorify God. Use these forty days to give up the lies, give up the deceit, give up the blaming, give up the justification. These are the things we should give up and offer to God. That will make you far healthier than giving up chocolate. That will make our world better. That will be a sacrifice pleasing to God.