a sermon, based on Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7 and Matthew 4.1-11, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 1st Sunday in Lent, March 5, 2017
So I interpret this second creation story in the Book of Genesis. The man and woman are confronted by a wily serpent scheming to disrupt the perfect life of guiltless and shameless nakedness, happiness with self and harmony with God. Falling prey to temptation, they partake of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Immediately, they recognize their nakedness, and, no longer, no more at ease with their vulnerability, immediately they cover themselves.
And so, ever since, for all humankind, it has been. None of us dare go nakedly vulnerable, literally or metaphorically, into the public square. There is too very much at stake. Our sense of safety and security. The experiences of others teach us and our experiences tell us (something the first man and woman, newly created, didn’t have!) that other people can and will hurt us. So, it is best that we don the mask, wear a façade lest we reveal too much of ourselves…
A common, daily scenario, verily, the social convention governing a chance, passing encounter between friends:
Me (I don’t feel so well): Hi, how are you?
You (you don’t feel so well): Hi! Fine! How are you?
Me: Fine! Have a great day!
You: You, too! Have a great day!
All because we parade the pretense of our well-being, lest we reveal too much. Or have you ever experienced that awkward series of moments when a friend asked, “How are you?” You, not feeling so grand, demur, “Well…” Your friend, sensing something deeper, some state of your dis-ease, presses, “Really, how are you?” You, torn, desiring to be open and authentic, but not sure of the invitation and sure that you desire not to be a burden, again, demur, “Oh…I’m alright.” Your friend, now convinced all is not okay, offers the encouragement, “Please, tell me.” You, relieved, divulge your deepest worries and woes, only to be met, almost immediately, by the eyes of your friend glazing over in retreat. And all because we humans largely have lost our capacity for fullest self-disclosure and acceptance of another.
Would that it would stop there, but it doesn’t. It never does. For, as the Apostle Paul saith, “Now we look in a mirror, dimly”, unable to see and know ourselves clearly, fully.
How is it, then, that we reclaim our innocence so to live with naked, shameless transparent vulnerability, viewing life with eyes wide in wonder, not in fear?
One way to read and interpret the Bible’s Jesus-story is to see it as a paradigm, a model for our lives…
As Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan, the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove upon him, we, as followers of Jesus, baptize, presenting lives to be washed in the waters of baptism and praying the bestowal of the Holy Spirit.
And as Jesus, after his baptism, “was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Mark, in his recount of Jesus’ baptism, writes more forcefully, “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness”, clearly giving indication that this was to be no proverbial joy-ride or blissful moment in solitary retreat!), so Lent calls us to enter the inner wilderness of our souls.
Wilderness. Where, in its naked bleakness, all things, we are laid bare to our own eyes and we can ourselves as we are.
Whether we view Jesus’ wrestling with the devil as a struggle with an objectifiable, outward enemy or an inner battle between conflicting desires, one thing remains true. Jesus was forced to face himself, to know himself, to confess and possess all of himself. Courage and cowardice. Humility and hubris. Longing for peace with God and lust for earthly power. Then he could begin his ministry.
So, I believe it is for us. And, as my namesake, the Apostle Paul, oft gave examples so that his readers would know of what he spoke, so I, in the light and shadow my experience, do the same today…
When I think of God’s grace in my life, I rejoice in the Spirit-gift I have been given to love you with affection, yes, yet more, with the benevolence of kindness through which I will to do the best for you. Still, I am prideful. I have few abilities, but one (I think!) is the power to think thoughts, deeply. Now, in this, is it possible that I, thinking less well of how you think about an issue or subject or concern, might be tempted, indeed, might fall prey to the temptation to be disappointed with you and to treat you less lovingly, less than as an equal? Yes! Yet knowing I cannot relinquish what I have not possessed, it has been through my soulful wilderness experience that I have beheld this aspect of my being, named and claimed it as my own, and, therefore, have been able to offer it, relinquish it to the Holy Spirit that I might be free of the burden of its influence.
In this holy season of Lent, we, again I say, are summoned into the wilderness of our souls, where all things are laid bare and can be seen as they are. Where we can face ourselves and know all of our selves.
What do you see?
The Fall and Expulsion from the Garden (1426-1427), Masaccio (1401-1428)
The Baptism of Jesus (Baptême de Jésus) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum
Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness (Jésus tenté dans le désert) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum
 See Genesis 2.4-3.24
 1 Corinthians 13.12
 See Matthew 3.13-17
 Mark 1.12 (my emphasis). The Greek, ekballei, is better translated “thrusts forth”, which, I think, more than “drove”, indicates the force of the Spirit’s coercion that Jesus enter the wilderness for what was to be a harrowing experience.
 See, for example, Paul’s 1 Corinthians 12 discourse on spiritual gifts, especially verses 8-10, 28.