Please don’t give up anything for Lent this year. Please! It is getting so I really hate Lent. You see, lots of people give things up for Lent. And then they spend the next 40 days and 40 nights complaining about what they have given up for Lent. As a priest, I get to hear all about how difficult giving up stuff has made their life. Over and over and over again. Here’s what I mean.
One bright day in Len I am sitting quietly enjoying a moment’s peace in a coffee shop when a friend walks in, get a double latte no whip with half decaf – well we were in the Bay Area – and sits down with me. “This is so…so…so difficult,” he tells me. “You see,” he says, “I’ve given up sex for Lent.” And what I wanted to say was: “Dude it doesn’t count if you give up something you don’t get. It’s like I could give up riding around town in a bright red Alfa Romeo coup. But I don’t have an Alfa Romeo. So giving up something I don’t have isn’t going to mean much.” But of course, being a nice guy I didn’t say that. But today I am asking you not to give up anything for Lent. Instead, take up justice.
Across America, immigrants and their families are literally trembling in fear. A Mom who has lived here for 20 years without a problem – and raised three kids – has been sent back to South America. A father who was picking uop his kids from school is now in custody. A Dreamer – one of those who could stay here under Obama’s Dreamer Program – criticized the current Administration and will be deported without a hearing. People are terrified – so don’t give up chocolates: instead take up justice!
Transgender Americans are reeling from the Administration’s decision to roll back guidance protecting transgender students in public schools. Others fear attacks on Planned Parenthood will end their access to the medications they need to stay alive. People are hurting – so don’t give up white wine: instead take up justice!
American LGBT people and their families are frightened by the Administration’s commitment to roll back marriage equality. The new president has pledged to sign a law that creates a new “religious freedom:” the freedom to discriminate against same-sex couples. People are threatened – so don’t give up desert: instead take up justice!
America’s Jew and Muslims now share a new common experience: the wave of hate unleashed by this Administration has led to vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers, and the burning of Muslim Mosques. A mosque in Antioch, CA burned – it was arson – and the other day a Sikh man who was working in the driveway of his home was shot by a masked white guy who said: “You don’t belong here.” The white haters don’t know the difference between a Muslim and a Sikh, but they do seem to see a difference based on the whiteness of skin. Some say we are in the midst of a campaign to “Make America White Again.” People are threatened – so don’t give up a favorite activity: instead take up justice!
Our shared walk through Lent this year must focus on how we can take up justice if we are to be true to our own Baptismal Covenant: the words we say each time someone is baptized in this Church and the words some of us said when we were baptized.
Remember when you promised to persevere in resisting evil?
Remember when you promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Remember when you promised to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
These are powerful words – but can they hold any meaning if we don’t live up to our promise here and now? What does our commitment to live as the Body of Christ in this community mean in real terms, in terms of real actions?
These are some of the questions wrapped up in the idea of taking up Justice this Lent. During the next few weeks we’ll talk about scripture and what’s happening in our world. Then together we can look for ways we can live out our lives as the Body of Christ: as a people who make no peace with oppression. And perhaps, if we join together on the night before Easter, we can affirm our commitment by repeating our Baptismal Covenant during The Great Vigil of Easter. It is the most holy night of our year, a time of ancient, authentic rites and darkness vanquished by candlelight. I hope you will join us for this journey and that very special evening,
So let’s start at the beginning: the Garden of Eden, the place where so much good – and evil – came into our world. We all know the Story of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: how the Snake tempted Eve to eat the apple; and Eve told Adam to eat the apple; and Adam ate the Apple; and therefore everything that went wrong was Eve’s fault. Known in theological circles as the “sin of Adam,” or the “original sin,” or in time as the “sin of sex.” In those theologies, new born babies carried the “sin of Adam” for birth – it is why so many babies were baptized right after birth. These theologians claimed unbaptized babies who died were headed to hell because they have not been saved through baptism.
This kind of theology is based on a literal reading of scripture. But that requires us to see God as a magician who stocked the Garden with a talking snake and magic fruit. I remember back in seminary I studied with a Rabbi who included time for questions in each class. One day, a Christian classmate asked: “What about original sin?”
“We Jews don’t think there are any original sins left,” the rabbi said, his eyes twinkling in good humor.
“Well, our classmate said his voice rising in indignation, “well, how do you explain the original sin Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden and the grievous Sin of Adam then?”
“We don’t look at it that way,” the rabbi said. “You have to understand we don’t have a central office that sets a creed all Jews believe. It is often said that whenever two or three Jews are gathered, there are four or five opinions. But within that understanding I can tell you one way to read that scripture.” We settled back to listen to the rabbi.
“You have wonder why God would do that – why an all-knowing all-powerful God would put temptation in the middle of the garden and then be surprised – even angry – that Adam and Eve did what he must have known they would do. If preventing Adam and Eve from eating the apple was all that important, why not make it physically impossible for them to do that? Something is not right with this story.
“I think this is what happened: God is sitting in the garden and thinking about a problem. Finally his decides what to do and calls Sammy the snake over. “Sammy, you know how you are always asking me to get rid of those feet so you can slither on your stomach?” “Yes, Lord,” Sammy replied. “Well, if you help me out I’ll do that for you,” says God.
“What do you want me to do?” Sammy asked warily. “Just convince the woman to eat the apple. “The man would be easier,” Sammy said. “A deal’s a deal,” God said. So Sammy took the deal and convinced Eve to eat the apple. Eve was harder to convince than Adam, but Sammy managed it. Then God came along and through Adam and Eve out of the garden.
After the couple left Eden, Sammy asked “God why’d you do that?” God answered: “It was time for them to move out of the garden and start their own family. They’d learned everything they needed but they didn’t want to leave. So this way they are out of here and on their own”
In this reading, what some Christians see as the “fall of man” becomes a coming of age story, an allegory about the need to let young adults live on their own once they know the difference between good and evil. By interpreting this part of the Bible as allegory we come closer to what the authors of this scripture may have intended. Equally important, we escape from the transactional trap that casts sin as the central theme of Christian belief. Most important, we open the way for a faith centering more on redemption than damnation, more on love than judgment, more on salvation then sin. Isn’t that what Jesus would do? Isn’t that what Jesus did?
Jesus compressed his teaching into two commandments – love and serve God and treat your neighbor as yourself. Let us build upon this firm foundation as we search for our own spiritual path through this trying and turbulent times.
Let us pray: Artist of souls, you sculpted a people for yourself out of the rocks of wilderness and fasting. Help us as we take up your invitation to prayer and simplicity, that the discipline of these forty days may sharpen our hunger for the feast of your holy friendship, and whet our thirst for the living water you offer through Jesus Christ. Amen.