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Taking The Easy Way Out?

Matthew 4:1-11
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

My mom up in Thunder Bay, never misses Jeopardy. You know the game with all the answers and you come up with the questions? There are those categories in neat boxes all pre-arranged. But real life’s not like that is it?

Our Lenten Theme Jeopardy, Nore than the Game, recognizes that the risky questions our scriptures invite us to ask push us the edges of our comfort zone and sometimes force us even to shift categories. Questions that go to the heart of our human condition; and challenge us to get real with God, with ourselves and others, and to open ourselves to God’s transforming way.

Whenever you hear the # 40 in sciripture we know we are entering a mystical period of transformation and rebirth-the biblical symbolic time of forty. Watch out God’s doing something big. After 40 days and nights flood, Noah’s ark,the bearer of the remnants of creation, came to a new beginning and to renewed relationship with the Creator. It took forty years of wandering in circles in the desert for the Israelites to throw off slave mentality; and learn to be a people of God . Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days before receiving the 10 Commandments; the Way that gave ethics and structure to the people. And today we read that Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry.

All of us are thrust into wilderness at some point in our lives Wilderness is where one wrestles with illusions; where the rules and way one defined oneself in the past, no longer work. Wilderness is transition time, dying to the old, living with the ambiguity of not knowing the new. Wilderness is where you have to reinvent yourself, when who one was, no longer makes sense. Wilderness is where we wrestle with tempting alternatives-to take the easy way out, or to grasp at paths that offer only an illusion of hope.

Wilderness is not only a place in the Middle East, in Iraq and Sinai. It is very near. A 59 year old single woman who has worked in a government all of her life, is told that in one month the the section she has given her life to developing is closing down and she will be unemployed. She is thrust into wilderness. A young man goes to the Red Cross to give blood as he has done 3 times a year for l0 years. The phone rings and a voice on the end of the line tells him that they can not use his blood because it is HIV positive. He’s suddenly plunged into the wilderness. A young couple discover that the baby they had longed and planned for is so seriously defective that it will probably not survive in the mother’s womb until term.– A 53 year old woman in good health goes for her regular mamogram and is booked the next day for surgery for a growth that is unpalpable but possibly malignant. A father is forced to sit by while his young son is acting out with drugs and very risky behaviour, and to realize that there is absolutely nothing he can do about it. A woman begins to have memories of abuse she experienced as a child, memories that involve her family-and dispell the lie of a normal, happy childhood. A 40 year old man realizes that everything he has been doing in his life to get ahead, to be a success, has been at a terrible cost to his own soul and to his personal relationships, and he doesn’t know how to change it. Wilderness comes with many names, with many faces, but it’s not far away.

Matthew tells us that it was the Spirit who led Jesus into wilderness. Wilderness it seems is part of the pilgrimage-not something God protects us from – but protects us in. Jesus engaged in what native traditions call a vision quest. Anyone who has spent time wrestling with the inner demons in wilderness times, knows that the few lines and quick answers we read in our gospel today are not even a Cole’s notes version of the inner turmoil that must have gone on.

Jesus struggles with difficult moral dilemmas : How will I use my power? Whom will this harm? Whom will this help? Will this choice simply benefit me at the expense of others? How do I discern God’s will for my life? Heis pulled in different directions. There were easier ways out, there were ego-centric ways to use his power. Perhaps there was the temptation to forget all about it, to not get involved in something that wasn’t his business, to go on with his head down in Nazareth with his family. Jesus is tempted, not by evil options, but rather by his strengths-You see, tempting alternatives are not real temptations unless they really are possible options-possible life directions.

I hear over and over again, people struggling with these kinds of questions..I only have so much energy; where will I use it? Where will I use my money on stuff for me and my family, or in supporting what I believe. Or where will I use my technical skill and knowledge; to build bombs or to build a better world? How can I find ways to make a living, to use my gifts with integrity so that I am living in a way that is in harmony with my core values; so that I live in a way that is not self-betraying

All the temptations given by the satan figure the trickster of Jewish tradition, come from scripture itself. Obviously some parts of scripture help; and some hinder decision-making It seems that scripture itself can be interpreted in ways that distort and twist and threatened to lead even Jesus astray. There is no scripture that has been twisted and distorted and misused more than the story we read earlier from Genesis, except perhaps the half verse of Leviticus about homosexuality. (But that’s another sermon) Creationists have used it to to attack science. Ministers and teachers have been run out of town because they did not take it literally. It is used by some to this very day to buttress traditional patriarchal family values, to justify keeping women subservient helpmates. It is used to explain why women should not be priests, and to justify the sexualization of women. It is deeply planted in our psches. You will often see an apple as a symbol of sexual seduction in advertising. Look at the listing of any telephone book for escort services and you can be sure to have several around the theme of Eve, the temptress.

For thousands of years, we have been reading this ancient myth through the tainted eyeglasses of the Apostolic church, a church noted for its mysoginist theology. Women were labelled by Augustine as the gateway of the devil because through Eve sin came into the world. Eve, the mother of all sin had to be punished for her wickedness by being the unworthy subservient server/helper to the man who after all was God’s first and true spiritual creation led astray by a gullible wicked sexual woman. Now why would you think I might feel that we need to have a conversation with this ancient text, and with this interpretation from tradition?!!! Let’s talk !!

In scripture, there are two creation stories-the In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth version in Genesis 1 and the version of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2 and 3. These two ancient stories came from different traditions. The story that comes first in Genesis is probably the latest, written after or during the exile. In it male and female are created at the same time, and in a time when people were struggling with the defeat of exile, God’s proclamation that creation was good, indeed, very good, and that order comes out of chaos was something that they desparately needed to hear.

The more ancient garden of Eden version asks core human questions, “How can we explain the human condition? We have this deep yearning and knowing of God’s intention for us. Yet we spend most of our time living East of Eden, outside the garden in a world of alienation and paradox.
Let’s get a few things straight First- There is no apple in the story- There is fruit, but we have no idea what kind of fruit we are talking about. Second, about this Adam’s Rib bit-the original creature is called Adham, created out of Adhamah. (dust or earth). It is not a male-which in Hebrew is Ish. It might better be called an earthling to bring out the play on words that is inherent in the text. It is the longing for relationship with an appropriate other that God recognizes in the Adham. The animals are not worthy equal companions in this story( though you’d have a hard time selling that to some of the animal lovers I know) And God, after all is God, so loneliness, and longing for mutual equal relationship, causes God to create the division of Ish male and Ishah female, and only when that differentiation occurs is there in fact maleness and femaleness.

 Next about the Helpmate/ Servant thing. The word Ezer in Hebrew is used 21 times in Hebrew scripture. 16 times it is used of God’s direct assistance to human beings, and twice, it is applied to Eve, the human female. The Bible only uses this word of 2 specifically named entities- God and Eve. Eve is to be the ezer to Adham in the same way as God is to the people. This kind of helpmate is not about humiliating slavery.

Next About those fig leaves-The original middle-eastern audience would have had a real belly laugh about that one. Fig leaves have really prickly surface — most uncomfortable. Apparently they also have a really abrasive sap that they emit, that is most irritating to the skin. And if that wasn’t enough, they are known to wither almost as soon as they are picked! The futility of the humans’ scheme to hide their vulnerablity and nakedness takes on new proportions doesn’t it? Trying to hide from God is about as futile as putting on fig leaves and pretending that we are not there.

And then guess what else! -there is no Satan or Devil in the story!- What there is is a trickster snake whom you will notice does not lie to the woman, but in fact speaks truth to her when it tells her that the consequence of eating the fruit of this tree will be the capacity to distinguish good from evil. This is exactly what God has told them. Walter Bruggeman, a highly respected scholar of the Hebrew scriptures, calls the snake the first theologian-the first one to talk about the nature and meaning of God. The snake, like the trickster in so many traditions, including our native ones, is the character in the myth who has the capacity to transform situations and overturn the status quo. The trickster has enough mischief and nerve to shake up the cosmos and alter it forever. The snake is a symbol for eternal life and regeneration in many ancient cultures because it can shed its skin.

 In Greek mythology, Prometheus who disobeys the gods andgoes to the heavens to steal fire is held up as a great hero-the father of the race- as someone who brought great progress because of his courage to disobey. Eve on the other hand, who has done the same thing, has been treated very differently by the tradition.

Hebrew scholars, have a hard time figuring out how Christians can interpret this ancient story as the fall. They most often speak of it in terms of the dawning of consciousness , the ending of innocence, and the coming of age, of knowing moral choice.

 Human beings could never return to the former state of ethical indifference. They
had become a choosing creature

Scholar, Elaine Pagels gives us another set of glasses through which to view this ancient myth. She has brought to light some of the Gnostic writings discovered in the Nag Hammadi scrolls that show us a very different Eve, one suppressed by the apostolic fathers. Here Eve is sometimes called the daughter of Wisdom (hokma) who was co-creator with God. Here Eve’s choice is seen as essential. The alternative was to be eternal infants. It is Eve who leads Adam out of the garden by eating of the fruit that makes them fully human-in the image and likeness of God. Eve made a choice to take responsibility for her life and left us an incredible legacy of awareness, an ability to know good and evil. We would not be human without that gift.

 But this knowledge comes at a great price, and she does not bear it very well. She cops out, and so does Adam. He runs away from responsibility, first trying to blame God, “It’s your fault for giving me this woman”, then blaming her, and so community is destroyed. She hides and blames the serpent. They hide in shame. The blaming shaming game. This shame and blame distorts how they see one another and how they relate to God. They put on fig leaf masks to hide, to prevent the other and God from seeing their naked vulnerablity, their honest searching, their guilt, their sexuality, their human condition.

How we tell our stories matters. Do we tell this story as a story of Original Sin which shows how wicked we are (especially Eve). Or do we see the garden of Eden myth as a psychodrama of differentiation, of coming to consciousness, and moral choice. Do we see it as a story of growing up, of coming out of illusion into a real world of paradox, and alienation ,

As you begin your Lenten pilgrimage, some more questions that don’t fit the neat Jeopardy categories. where are you being invited out of illusion, to take risky choices for your growth? Who have been the tricksters in your life who have shaken up the system? Where have you had to lose naivety to live as a more whole person, in a world of ambiguities and struggle? Where are you tempted to take the easy way out? And at what cost does this come?

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