For the first Sunday of Lent, our first reading comes to us from Genesis Chapter 3. After God created Adam and Eve, He tells them that all of creation is theirs to enjoy except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We know the story. Satan, who lies with the truth, convinces Eve that she will not die, as God foretold, if she partakes of the fruit from this tree. Satan, of course, was speaking of physical death and the death our first parents experienced was spiritual. Eve convinces Adam to do the same and the result is lost innocence. Immediately we see how sin, which is the turning away from God, affects our relationship with each other and our relationship with God. Eve points the finger at Satan; Adam points the finger at Eve; each began to exercise what we might refer to today as “plausible deniability.” Realizing they were naked, they sewed fig leaves together and made loin cloths. That is where the reading ends, however, if we continue to read just one verse further we hear “When they heard the sound of the Lord God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”
In John’s Gospel 14:15, Jesus tells us “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Adam and Eve disobeyed, which is a betrayal of God’s love. When God, the jilted lover, enters the Garden they hide out of shame. Don’t we often do the same, not only hiding from God but from each other? How often do we hide ourselves among the trees of the garden? Those trees represent all the good things of God’s creation. What trees are we hiding behind? Pursuit of wealth? Pursuit of personal pleasure at the expense of others? Pursuit of our own ego, turning inward to the self instead of outward towards God and neighbor? Maybe I am hiding behind the tree of alcohol, drugs or pornography. When we use the good gifts of creation for our self-gratification instead of for the glory of God, we can turn good into evil. Deciding for ourselves what is good or evil often leads to not-so-good results. Not everything that appears good is for our benefit. A good, over-indulged, becomes an idol.
The Gospel is from Matthew’s (4:1-11) account of the temptation of Jesus. The final temptation is one of wealth and power.
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him,”All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him,“Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
During this season of Lent, God has blessed me with the opportunity to present several parish missions. The focus centers on the fact that we are Temples of God and the Holy Spirit of God dwells in us. (1 Cor 3:16). Session two of the mission is a reflection on the account of Jesus cleansing the temple. What gods have we set up in the temple of our hearts squeezing out the Holy Spirit? All this I will give to you if you prostrate yourself and worship me. What is it you worship? Have you carved idols out of the trees in the garden and installed them in your temple? During Lent, we are called to a renewed sense of conversion, a turning towards God. This is a lifetime, daily, not a one-time only aspect of our spiritual journey. The account of Jesus cleansing the temple is violent. He makes a whip, flails it at the merchants, turns over tables and expresses anger. Sisters and brothers, cleansing the temple of our hearts can inflict violence on our souls, or even physically in our bodies. Cleansing our temples from addiction hurts. Cleansing our temples from holding old grudges hurts our ego and our soul. Cleansing our temples from unhealthy habits is hard, ask any smoker.
So let us turn during Lent towards God in a spirit of repentance.
“Everything is possible for one who has faith.” (Mark 9:23) “What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.” (Luke 18:27)
When the Lord God comes walking in the garden, He is not seeking to punish or destroy us. He is seeking us out, calling us out from hiding in the trees. He wants to restore the broken relationship and heal us. He seeks us out of love, the love with which He created us. Repentance involves our turning back to the Lord God, not hiding from him, and accepting His loving offer of restored relationship.
I’d like to close with the Collect prayer from the Saturday after Ash Wednesday.
“Show gracious favor, O Lord, we pray, to the works of penance we have begun, that we may have strength to accomplish with sincerity the bodily observance we undertake. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, Who lies and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever.”