1st Sunday in Lent: A 2023

Today’s Old Testament reading, the infamous fall of man, the beginning of sin, the old Eve ruined everything, scripture is one of my favorites and also one I detest the most.  Why one I detest you ask: because it is so often misused by religion for purposes of fear mongering and control.  On the other hand, it is  a beautiful allegory on the difficulties of watching your children grow up, watching them make poor choices, knowing their innocence is slowly fading away.  After all, the Creator gave humanity free will, the gift of choosing right from wrong, of choosing our own paths as individual, cognizant creatures and yet, like any loving parent, wanted to extend our life in Eden and spare our loss of rose tinted glasses, the loss of our childhood innocence.

You see, in humanity’s “childhood”, we were like the other creatures in Eden; we responded to our instincts.  If we were hungry, we searched for food, if we were cold we sought warmth and shelter,  if we were tired we slept.  There were no worries about where the next meal came from or how far we had to walk to get it;  the Creator provided and we did what was needed to obtain it.  Our only fears were the physical dangers, other animals who might attack, falling from heights, ingesting something which tasted bad or made us ill.  These were real life dangers we learn about from our elders or by personal experiences (Paraent: “Don’t touch the fire, it is hot”, Child: “OUCH!”).  Our innocent minds were shielded from psychological fears like what might happen if, or the monster from our dreams or what is after death; the Creator, just like a good parent, shielded us from such things.

But humanity, like any child, began to grow up, to think, to wonder, to ponder the “what if someone else has an advantage over us”.  Yes, the WIFS (what ifs) serpent began to lurk in the corners of our consciousness, tempting us with imagined fears of loss, pain, isolation, or worse, not being popular with the other kids!  And so we have Eve, experiencing the quiet, nagging, hiss of the WIFS, tempting her to disobey the Creator, causing her to reach out to her partner Adam and introduce that nagging hiss of the WIFS into his mind.  Then in a moment of weakness the WIFS strikes like lightning, the hand reaches up and is bitten, as if by reflex the fruit of disobedience swallowed, the arm drops and the pain of regret courses through the soul.  It is done.  The Sin of disobedience lifted the veil of innocence, eyes were wide open, the horrors of reality, of pain, hunger, labor and toil, misery, imagined doom and death flood the mind, they were naked, afraid and humanity is forever cursed by the WIFS venom.  Humans must now face the reality of consequences, we know too much for our own good and fear all that might or might not be; the life on the farm has been ruined after seeing the lights of Paris! 

The WIFS venom of irrational, hypothetical and imagined fear raged throughout humanity’s history, the scriptures recount story after story of irrational fear leading to transgressions against the Creator, against other nations and against each other.  Cain, out of fear and lack of faith, skimps on his first sacrifice of worship and it is rejected while Abel’s sacrifice is accepted.  Out of fear and anger Cain commits the second transgression, murder, against his brother Able, and from thence the WIFS venom of fear continued to pulsate in the veins of humans throughout history.

In today’s world, the WIFS’ venom of hypothetical fear is just prevalent as it was in the beginning.  Today it goes under the guise of “keeping up with the Joneses” or patriotic nationalism, or even religious “salvation”.  Television advertisements cajole us into spending money in some imaginary competition to be popular and politicians stir divisions through false representations so as to divide and conquer the people and maintain their power.  Worst of all, the false prophets who misuse the story of original sin and transgressions through the ages to gather their riches and power by preaching the worst fears, the venom of the false Gospels of prosperity, of hate, of isolation and division, the oppressive view of all people as worthless sinners not worthy of redemption, of Satan’s power ushering in the end times, of the minions Beelzebub overpowering us helpless mortals, and of other religions being the cause of all evil; all to gain power over the masses.  They seek  their own entrance into the kingdom by promoting the parading picket signs of judgment, singing praises to their own vainglory and extolling “look how many baptisms my church did, look how many souls I saved”.  They offer salvation through their own devised ways of worship and sacrifice and, like Cain, they cut corners and do what seems acceptable to their own eyes but are in disobedience to the Lord’s teaching.  They eschew the sacrificial covenant made with the blood of Christ and place their faith in worldly schemes and self promoting philosophies.  

My brothers and sisters, I am here to tell you that the story of Adam and Eve is NOT one of the condemnation of humanity to forever be disobedient delinquents who are doomed to an eternity of sin and transgressions at the hands of Satan.  Instead it is a tale of God’s children coming of age, of growing up and being able to make personal decisions and determine their own life’s path.  The Creator didn’t so much toss humanity out of Eden, as allow us the freedom to grow, to experience and to choose which path to follow.  We all have the ability to make the right decisions, to put our beliefs into actions of faith by the things we say and do and,  just as any loving parent would do, our Lord has provided us the tools to learn from and wisdom to discern right from wrong.  Of course the WIFS venom still courses through our veins and temptations may be strong and numerous in our lives, but the words of the prophets provide us the answers to resist temptation.  

When Jesus went to the desert and was faced with the many provocations of that WIFS serpent, He took with him the wisdom found in the scriptures, the belief in the Creator’s Covenant with the people of Israel and his faith that all would be accepted if one does what is right.  It was with these tools and the gift of wisdom that Jesus countered each temptation and rebuked Satan.  

My Brothers and Sisters, this is the message I wish to share with you, that the Creator loves each and every one of us and desires nothing more than for us to live our lives faithfully to the Covenant Christ established with his perfect sacrifice.  We all have the power to take the righteous path and we do not do so alone.  Our Lord has promised in the scriptures that if we “ Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5).”  Do what is right, follow the teachings in the Gospels, honor the Lord with all you say and all you do and rebuke that WIFS serpent whenever it rears its head.  None of us is alone, we are all in this world together so that we might create a new Eden based in faith and righteousness.  And lest we ever feel lost or overwhelmed, remember the words of St.Paul: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)  So it is time we all grow up and, in the words of my beloved mentor: “sit down, shut up, love people and love God!”