Lent: A Journey For Live

Lent 1A
At some point in my childhood – probably around the 4th grade when I received a Bible from my church, I decided I was going to read the entire Bible. I made it through the first several chapters of Genesis, entranced by the amazing stories.  A beautiful garden, murder, a flood – wow! This is great stuff, I’m glad I decided to do this. And then I got to chapter 10: “These are the descendants of Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. These three had sons after the flood. The sons of Japheth – Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Mesheck, and Tiras. . .”[1] I kept reading a bit longer; but I certainly didn’t finish the book of Genesis – let alone the whole book of Genesis. But, a few years later, I’d get it into my head once more that it would be a good idea to read the whole Bible and again, I’d set out with Genesis, stopping at about the same place as the first try.  I repeated this exercise several more times in my childhood.  In a religion class in college, I actually did have to read the whole thing; but by then I learned the art of skipping the boring stuff.  In any event, the point of this is that I’ve read the first 10 or so chapters of Genesis a LOT and I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking about those stories.
So it seems to me that by now I should have no new insights.  Seriously – same garden, same serpent, same woman, same man, same God.  And then, this week, it hit me anew.  God tells the man, do not eat from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. . . for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”[2]  But, the serpent says to the woman (and, to be fair, the man is standing right next to her so he heard it too) – the serpent says to the woman, if you eat the fruit of this tree – the one in the middle of the garden – “You will not die. . .” No, the REAL reason God doesn’t want you to eat that tree’s fruit is because “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”[3]  Now there are any number of funny things going on in this story.  First, a talking snake. Come on. Is this a joke?  And then, the man and the woman, they don’t die - at least not in the way we might expect when God says “in the day that you eat of [this tree] you shall die.”  So, here’s what caught me this week.  The snake was right.  Death – no; knowledge of good and evil – yes. 
One of the interesting things about the stories in these early chapters of Genesis is that they were written not to tell a people how things would or should be from now on. Instead they were written to tell people why things are the way they already are.  For example, the Hebrew people might have wondered, “Why are there so many kinds of animals in our world?” and a story arose that explained that it was because when God was looking for a companion for the human, he made countless animals – none of whom turned out to be suitable.  “Why are there rainbows in the sky?” they may have wondered and a story arose that explained it was a promise from God that the earth would never be flooded again.  Don’t get me wrong, of course, these stories have many more layers of complexity and much deeper implications for life and relationship with God than just explaining why things are as they are; but, at least on one level, they were a kind of ancient precursor to Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories which explained such things as how the camel got his hump.    And then, one question leads to the next until you have a long litany of “why” questions. That’s what I think is happening with the stories in Genesis – a whole bunch of why questions and a peoples’ attempt to provide explanations.  And, today’s reading is an answer to one of the BIG why’s.  Why do bad things happen?  More precisely, why do people do bad things.    
And this reading on the first Sunday in Lent makes sense as we immerse ourselves in a season that asks us to pay attention to the ways in which we turn away from God and to focus on the path that brings us back to Christ.  God tells the first man and the first woman, do not do this bad thing.  And the man and the woman do the bad thing despite the warning.  And when they do it, they come up with an excuse – “the serpent made us do it.”  And here’s where this reading, provides us with an opening.  Like the man and woman, our eyes have been opened. We can and do see the good and the evil in the world around us.  If we are willing to be honest, we can also see the good and the evil in our own lives.  And yet even when we see the evil in our lives, we explain it away, providing excuses for our behavior, our lack of behavior or our indifference. When, for example, a task at the church or in our community needs a volunteer, we say, “I’ve done my time, it’s time for the younger generation to take their turn” or, “when I retire and have more time, I’ll help out” or “I’m too busy” or “someone else will do it” or . . . When we buy things that we know are made by underpaid or mistreated workers we offer excuses: “yes, I can’t afford higher prices” or “yes, but the store is on my way home from work.” When our neighbors live in fear of ICE agents knocking on their door or raiding their place of work, we offer excuses: “why didn’t they try to become citizens? After all they’ve been here for more than a decade?” or “I don’t know how to help.” 
The Hebrew people knew the difference between good and evil.  You and I know the difference between good and evil.  The Hebrew people blamed a serpent.  You and I blame a variety of serpents. The serpent says “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”[4] And God says, “in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”[5] The serpent was right.  Our eyes have been opened and we do see and discern good from evil.  And God was right, because with eyes wide open, as Paul writes in the letter to the Romans, “death spread to all” because “death came through sin.”[6]
As we journey through these days of Lent, we are invited to renounce again the evils we renounced in our baptism: Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God; the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God; and all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God.[7]  We are invited to turn away from all of this and turn once again to Jesus Christ, to put our whole trust in his grace and love, and to follow and obey him as our Lord.[8]  We are invited to see, name and turn from all the excuses we make and to turn to all the love God has to offer.  We are invited to prepare ourselves once again for the Renewal of our Baptismal promises at The Great Vigil of Easter when we will stand around the font to be reminded that the waters of our baptism are the very waters over which “the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.” They are the same waters through which God “led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise.”  They are the very same waters in which God’s “Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.”  They are the same waters through which, at our baptism, “we are buried with Christ in his death” and by which “we share in his resurrection” and through which “we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” And they are the same waters in which we “are cleansed from sin and born again” and “continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior.” [9]
For just as the disobedience of the first man and woman “led to condemnation for all, so [Jesus’] act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”[10] This Lenten journey is a journey for life.  It is also a journey to life, renewed life in Christ.

[1] Genesis 10:1-2a (“The Good News Bible,” Today’s English Version - because that’s what I owned when I was a child).
[2] Genesis 3:17 (this and all subsequent Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version).
[3] Genesis 3:4-5.
[4] Genesis 3:5.
[5] Genesis 2:17b.
[6] Romans 5:12b.
[7] BCP, 302.
[8] BCP, 302-3.
[9] BCP, 306-7.
[10] Romans 5:18.