Today, on this First Sunday of Lent, I want to explore the lives of people who made changes in their lives, people who traded one thing for another. My hope is that we will hear in their stories an invitation to make changes in our own lives. Each Sunday in Lent this year I will end the sermon with an invitation to discipleship, meaning, I will offer you an opportunity to change, to trade something in your life as we learn to walk more closely with Jesus.
Our story today is about the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, who unintentionally traded away paradise. I say unintentionally because as I have read their story, I’m not sure they understood what it was that was going to happen.
I also know that when most people read this story they immediately make a leap from the story itself to the traditional Christian doctrine of “original sin.” That sin, according to many early theologians, was based on the pride of Adam and Eve who chose to seek their own will rather than the will of God. From the moment they made the choice to act on their own, they began to experience separation from God.
Sure enough, God had told them they would die, but the story would have us believe that nothing had died as yet, so they couldn’t have known what death was. They saw the fruit, it looked delicious, and they ate it. This is the same story that we ourselves are living: we tend to act impulsively, seeking immediate gratification without considering the cost or consequences.
We hear all the time, for example, that as a country we have become increasingly overweight. The teen obesity rate is almost 30 percent, and can be traced directly to a desire for immediate gratification. Fast food, snack food, processed food have all made it easy to grab something quick and easy – and in the process our health is suffering.
Our national financial system has been compromised by the desire for short-term gains, even if it yields long term losses. Quarterly earnings reports rather than annual reports, for example, and daily reporting of stock market values put enormous pressure on business leaders to make short-term decisions, to act on impulse as they respond to the daily news rather than sound business practices.
Or think about the economic crisis that began years ago, something that we may or may not be working our way out of today. There were people who were borrowing beyond their budget. They wanted to have the biggest house and the most expensive car and the fastest boat – and they wanted it now. So they borrowed on the future to have their immediate desires met, but all of that was an illusion, and their bubble was painfully and abruptly burst. The rest of us are still paying the price for the selfish choices made by others.
One could argue that the growing national debt is a result of our desire for immediate gratification. Far too many representatives and senators have, over the years, been seeking re-election by finding programs for their own constituents, often at the expense of the nation’s well-being.
And while it’s easy to point at other people’s actions, the fact is that we often do the same thing. None of us is innocent. As a result, we have yet to learn the lesson of the Garden of Eden, so we repeat it again and again.
Adam and Eve ate the fruit and paid the price, and countless generations later we continue to do the same thing. We find our own fruit that looks good, so we eat, and we pay the price.
Fasting, on the other hand, is a remedy for this—fasting is nothing more than practicing delayed gratification. This is precisely what Jesus does in the wilderness when Satan tempts him:
Rather than bowing down to Satan, he waits until he is raised from the dead to have the world see who he is (Mt. 4:8-10).
Rather than turning stones into bread to feed himself, he waits until there is a hungry crowd before he feeds them with just a few loaves and fish (Mt. 4:2-3).
Rather than tempting God, Jesus waits for God to act when he is on the cross, even if it means God’s response will take place three days later (Mt. 4:5-7).
We all fall into the temptation of seeking immediate gratification, and the only way to avoid it is to be clear about our purpose, to have a clear sense of who we are and what we truly believe in—and sometimes what we truly believe in has nothing to do with what we SAY we believe in. Choices always involve trading one thing for another. Adam and Eve’s choice may not have been intentional, but the consequences of their trade had lasting effects.
So, how do we make better choices and trades than they did? One of the things I think we do not hear often enough in our text today is the abundance of gifts God has given to us. Adam is given the garden in which to live, he is given a task or a purpose in the garden, he is given permission to eat the fruits of his labors, and he was given a boundary in which to live (Gen. 2:15-17). The serpent (who in Jewish understanding is not Satan, but merely a snake, btw) frames the question in such a way that the gifts of God are overlooked and the only thing that matters is the “warning”.
When we hear or read this story, that’s pretty much how we understand it as well, because we’ve not allowed ourselves to hear the whole truth. Instead, we trade away the story of vocation and freedom for a tragic tale of sin and punishment.
Today, then, I want to remind you of the good things that God gave us—all of them gifts to be kept in balance. Our time is limited, and some things we will have to wait for, but we can still make choices that are more consciously in line with God’s grace and God’s timing.
As I said earlier, each week during Lent, I am going to provide you with an opportunity to respond to the homily. Today’s invitation is to do some soul-searching and self-examination in silence for a few minutes.
I invite you to ask yourself the question of where and when you have sought immediate gratification rather than allowing God to bring you joy. Lent is about entering the wilderness, so perhaps you could consider changing one aspect of your life. What is one thing you could trade in an effort to more closely align your life with God’s best dreams for who He made you to be??
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