Sunday, March 13, 2011

First Sunday of Lent

The Gospel lesson for this Sunday is always Jesus' temptation in the wilderness.  But I went with the first account of Temptation - from Genesis.  As you may recall, it didn't turn out so well.  Adam and Eve were a big fail.
I wanted to tell that story as my first "Tree of Life" for Lent.  I'll post the sermon.  But I also want to remember that I got a picture of Chuck and his girls, and met with another potential confirmation person (who had so many good questions and observations - quite exciting for the pastor!) and then ate the Malawi dinner with the senior high folks.  So it was a good day.  Thank you, Jesus.  Here's my "listen to Jesus" verse for the day:  "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  It really was light today.

 Forbidden fruit.
This is a tree in the garden in Artes, West Bank, Palestine.  
It was behind a fence that said "Do Not Enter" and Khalid, my driver, just 
pushed it open and took me inside.  
Then he picked nuts, which were like delicious soft shelled walnuts 
off the tree and gave them to me.    
(Mabel the Maple should have looked this good!)

The Tree of Life:  Temptation
Gen. 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Mar 13, 2011

I saw the whole thing!  Call me Mable.  Mable the Maple, and if you want to “tap” a first hand source  - then just gather around and I’ll tell it to you straight.  I was in the Garden when it all went down.  Of course, I was just a sapling then - skinny, just getting my branches - but I was tall enough to see what was going on right there in the center of the garden that day when the Beings - the Ones Made out of Dust - did what they did.  And God did what God did.  And the whole thing was so amazing I just about dropped my leaves in astonishment.   I’ve lived a long time, but I’ve never seen anything like it.

The day it all happened started like any other:  The Dust - Beings woke up when the sun warmed their faces, and the wind rustled through my leaves and kissed their cheeks.  They stretched and limbered up, chatting all the while with One another.  Some mornings the Creator strolled by and they all made a circuit of the garden together, but sometimes the Dust Creatures did that themselves.  They checked the strawberry patch, and the lettuce, and picked a pear or a peach as they walked through the orchard.  Of course, being somewhat limited in my mobility, I didn’t see everything they were doing.   Nor did I care.  I was more excited that morning about the possibility that a pair of cardinals might make a little nest in my newly lush leaves.    They would be my first nesters.   That would be cool.  The tree of Life - right south of me, had lots of birds nesting in her.  And the Tree of the Knowledge - directly to my west was a nice full tree, too.  Birds add a little something to a tree, don’t you agree?    Now my neighbors - Life Tree and Knowledge Tree - were more well established than I.  And I have to tell you, those were a couple of gorgeous trees.  Tall - Full - gorgeous green shiny leaves and fruit!  The fruit looked fabulous.  If you like that sort of thing.  I myself don’t have fruit.  But I do have those whirling wing-like confetti that is so pretty on a windy day. 

There were enough fruit trees in the Garden.  Orange trees, fig trees, grapefruit trees, lemon trees, pear trees, peach trees, mango trees, nut trees, pineapple trees . . .  Pineapples don’t grow on trees.  I was just making sure you were paying attention.

OK.  I’ll get on with it.  The Creator had made these Dust Beings and this Garden and they were perfect for each other.  The garden was beautiful, and pleasant - warm.  There were animals, too, but no predators.  Every kind of things just got along splendidly.  The Dust Beings could move around on their feet, they could eat the fruit from the trees, and the plants that grew out of the earth - their leaves and their seeds. 

There was one thing they couldn’t eat, though - my neighbor tree, the Tree of Knowledge was off limits, according to the Creator.  Now I’ve heard people wonder why that was.  And I don’t know.  But I’ve got alot of rings around my trunk, I’ve seen alot of living since that day, and here’s what I think: 

I’ve noticed that anytime life gets really good - there is some sort of limit involved.  A tree like me can only grow so big.  If I grew bigger, my limbs would be too tall for the sap to rise all the way to the top.  There is a limit.  Raising children - what’s one of the most important things you do for a child?  Set appropriate limits.  Love between a man and a woman - when it gets really good, they get married.  Which draws a boundary around that relationship.  Somethings become “out of bounds”. 

And Dust Creatures seem to have a difficult time with boundaries. They don’t seem to like anything to be off limits.  Think about Girl Scout cookies.  You think I don’t know about Girl Scout cookies?  You open up that package, you think you’ll have one or two Thin Mints.  That’s your limit.  And pretty soon the first sleeve is empty.  And you are too full to make a nice healthy dinner.  Limits are hard.

But this limit was huge.  The Creator had said, “This one is off limits.  You eat of this one and definately, immediately, you are going to die dead.”  And, after all, this was the Creator talking.  He should surely know.  The Dust Beings knew that they could trust Him. 

But on this day, the Dust Beings walked right past me and over to that particular tree.  Something had caught their eye.  It was a snake.  He was just hanging there on one of the low branches, singing, and the Dust Beings went over to have a little chat.  I listened.  I wasn’t eavesdropping.  I just happened to over hear what they said.

The snake said, “So.  What a nice place this is.”  The Dust Beings agreed.  “Lotsssss of good fruit trees.” said the snake.  The Dust Beings agreed.  “It’s too bad you aren’t allowed to eat any of the fruit.” he offered.  The Dust Beings looked at each other and kind of smirked.  I could tell they were thinking, “Silly snake!”  The woman spoke up, “Oh, we can eat of the trees.  All the trees.  Except that tree you are in right now.  God told us “If you eat of that tree - or even if you touch it - you will die.”  I think it was a little prank.  I think she expected the snake to get scared and jump out of the tree.   Cause that was a lie.  God never said that. 

But the snake didn’t jump.  He just said, “Really?  He sssssaid that?  I wonder if that’s true.  It looks to me like a perfectly good tree to me.  I’ll tell you what I think:  I think this is the bessssst tree in the whole garden.  I bet God didn’t tell you that to protect you.  I bet God told you that because he knows that if you eat of this tree, you’ll be like God - you’ll know everything God knowsssssss.” 

And a funny look came over the Dust Beings faces.  Wasn’t God good?  What if God was just arbitrary and interested, not in them, but in keeping his own power?  What if He didn’t have their best interest at heart?  What if they ought to look out for themselves?  To guard their own best interest?  A God like that - power hungry and arbitrary - who wanted to obey that kind of a God? 

They looked around - at all the other delicious trees.  But I could tell that suddenly the NO tree did look to them like the best tree in the garden.  Better than all the YES trees.   They didn’t trust the Creator’s love behind the boundary.  They wanted to have it all. 

They had to push the limit God had set. 

So the female Dust Being reached out and picked a couple of pieces of fruit.  I watched in horror as they looked at it, polished it, sniffed it, licked it. And then took a big juicy bite.  They did it.  They broke the boundary.  They ate it. 

I held my breath.  Surely this was the end of this cute little couple! 

And, in a way, I was right.  It was the end.  At once the couple’s well ordered, harmonious world begins to disintegrate. There is no more talk of tending the garden. There is no more walking with God in the garden. There is only mistrust, blame, guilt, and alienation.  (Dennis Bratcher - )

The first sign is the way they looked at one another.  Before the fruit, they had been naked and unashamed.  Now, they are embarrassed. 

And they did something so lame and futile.  They plucked off some of my leaves and tried to cover themselves up.  They knew something was wrong - but the way they tried to fix it - ouch.  Painful for me and ineffective for them.  But I thought, “At least they know they’ve messed up.  They know they what God said.  But I thought, I guess like they thought, Maybe there is still a way to fix this.” 

But no.  It just got worse.   They heard the Creator coming.  And they couldn’t face Him. He called to them, and you should have heard the pathetic answer:  "I was afraid because I was naked."   Deathly over there.  I braced myself, because I knew what was coming. 

They were going to die.  But before they did, their partnership unraveled. . .   the man blames the woman for his disobedience. Then, unbelievably, he even tried to shift the blame to the Creator:  saying, This woman “you put here with me” as if it was somehow God’s fault.  You know how blaming goes - The woman blamed the snake. For the first time in their talk, there is not love, not trust, no sharing, no mutual accountability. There is only guilt, blaming, trying to avoid responsibility, damaged relationships. (Bratcher again) 

It was like watching a wreck in slow motion.  The destruction just kept coming.  And I knew the biggest one - the one God was going to have to impose, was yet to come.  Because the Creator had said, If you eat of it that day, you are most certainly going to die.   All of in the Garden were expecting to see the couple fall dead.  Justice demanded it.  Creation fell silent as we waited to see how God was going to make them die. 
I tried to cover my eyes.  A minute passed.  Two.  I peeked. 

And when I did, I saw an astonishing sight.  God was not carrying out the death penalty.  He let the couple live.  But God the Creator became God the Forgiver that day. God responds to disobedience, not with the full weight of justice, but with mercy and grace!
 It cost him, too.  It cost him the peacefulness of the garden.  He had to sacrifice animals to make the garments to cover the Dust Beings pitiful bodies.  Things would never be the same between animals and people and trees again. How could it be?  After people mistrusted and lied and hid  . . .  it can’t be that things just go back to being perfect.  What they did was too disruptive to allow for that.

But even though he had to sacrifice the perfection he had created, for a second time, he gave them the gift of life.  But this time, they had to live it on the other side of the boundary.  They had crossed over when they ignored the limit and nothing could bring them back. 

But I wanted to tell you this story, straight from the tree to you, because it’s really important that you know who this Creator is:  This One does not give you what you Dust Beings deserve because he loves you and won’t give up on a relationship with you. 

Take it from me.  Take it from the tree.  I was there.  I know. 

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