Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Rev. Art Ritter
March 1, 2020
Genesis 2:15 – 17, 3:1-7
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but 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.”
Now 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’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but 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.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So 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. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
We have a few decorative fruit trees that surround our house and deck. Every three years or so I hire a tree trimming crew to come out and shape up those trees. Some of their branches start rubbing against the chimney of the house. The growth on each tree leads to shade that stifles the health of the grass and vegetation underneath each tree.
I recently heard a story of a man who noticed that his neighbor brought in a crew to trim his decorative fruit trees each and every year. While it made the neighbor’s yard more attractive, the man carried the opinion that such constant trimming was a waste of time and money. One day he asked his neighbor why he had the trimming done on such a regular basis. The neighbor replied with a rather surprising and non-utilitarian answer. He said, “I trim the fruit trees every year to create the space to let God into my yard.”
This week we entered the liturgical season of Lent. The forty day period began last Wednesday with Ash Wednesday and concludes with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday during Holy Week preceding Easter. In the ancient church, the time period of Lent was used by those wished to become Christian, to study and prepare themselves spiritually for baptism at Easter. Later Lent became to be known as a period of preparation for Easter for all believers – through prayer, the repentance of sin, fasting, giving, and the denial of oneself. Today many Christians give up something for Lent, a certain luxury or habit that helps believers associate themselves with Jesus’ journey of temptation in the wilderness for forty days. One of my colleagues this week told me that because of the busy nature of the season within the church, she was considering giving up Lent for Lent. In recent years some faithful have chosen to add a Lenten spiritual discipline, using the forty days to read a daily devotional, set aside a time of active prayer, or take on a habit that brings one closer to God.
It seems to be that the problem most of us have with Lent is that we tend to think of it as a “negative” season. I spoke briefly on Ash Wednesday about how Lent is a time of saying “no” to things that keep us from God. We tend to think of Lenten discipline as self-denial. Just say no. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. But then we have found that life isn’t so black and white. There are experiences in life in which just saying no does not apply. There are time in which following the accepted rules doesn’t make sense. There are moments in which denying ourselves reasonable things produces no sense of wholeness or integrity.
Another colleague wrote that in past Lenten season she had given up meat and wine. On Easter Sunday she had a steak and a glass of wine to celebrate. Her Lenten behavior didn’t do anything for her other than to prove she could go without steak and wine for at least forty days. It wasn’t wrong but it didn’t change her life or begin to change the world.
It occurs to me that instead of seeing Lent as a time of self-denial that perhaps we can come to see it instead as a time of self-awareness or self-knowledge. Instead of viewing ourselves broken in a stumbling and bumbling and failing way, we are to understand that our brokenness actually occurs when we are people of not our true nature. We are broken when we failed to live out our God-given worth.
The traditional readings for the first Sunday in Lent include the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This is the story that is traditionally referred to as “the fall.” Adam and Eve were living in an absolutely perfect world created by God. There were no responsibilities. Then along came the serpent who brought evil into paradise. “Did God really tell you that you may not eat from any tree in the garden?” Eve fell into the serpent’s trap and man and woman both succumb to temptation, trying to be like God, eating of the very fruit that God had forbidden them to eat. Centuries has added to the complexity of the story involving snakes and fruits and which sex sinned the most and the punishment brought on by such a terrible choice. We have used the story to explain the origin of sin and not perhaps what the original author intended the story to be used for- to explain the reality of what it is to be human. It is about our human tendency to rebel against God and resist God’s boundaries for us and our desire to be like God rather than thankful creatures of God.
What happened after Adam and Eve ate the apple? Their eyes were opened. Before they were seeing with closed eyes, a partial seeing, a blindness. There was something about eating that fruit that gave them a new awareness and brought them into a new level of consciousness. They knew good and evil. They saw it all. Life in their world got a whole lot more complicated but potentially more real and more beautiful.
I think that the purpose of Lent can be a lot like that garden experience. But instead of seeing our sin as a failure to say no to temptation, we need to take Lent as a lesson in self-knowledge and a time to find our place in God’s creation. Can we use these forty days to open our eyes, to be honest about ourselves and to allow the presence of God to shine into our shadows? How can we see the world and ourselves in a brand new way? How can we open our eyes to see the places of wholeness and integrity as well as the places of brokenness and pain? What are the painful places in us that cause us to act out in ways that are not good for us or others? What are the buttons that get so easily pushed that cause us to react in ways that we really don’t want to act? What are the ways we have contributed to the pain of others and how can be a part of the healing? In what ways have we knowingly or through fear lived a life less that who God wants us to be? Where have we fallen short and missed the mark? What are the patterns and habits that direct and control our lives? Do we truly believe that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters and are we living in ways that make that belief authentic?
John Calvin once wrote, “Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God.” Let us use this time of Lenten to examine ourselves truthfully and honestly. Let use this time not to find our flaws and blame ourselves. Rather let us use this time to accept our humanness and know that each of us were created to be in relationship with God. The goal of the life of faith isn’t to escape our limits or to punish ourselves for our limits but to discover God amid our needs and to learn that God’s grace is sufficient for what and who we are. Lent is a time to trim the trees to let God back into our lives.