A missionary friend of ours whose name some of you have heard mentioned in past years, Rev. Anna Dederer, told a story about a custom in Micronesia where she served as both pastor and nurse. When the tribal chief died, they dug a hole large enough to bury him and all his possessions. Anna told the story at our dinner table with a twinkle in her eyes, and said in her German-English:
“Ach, vhat a big hole it would take for you!”
and we all laughed. It is a joke into which your name might also be inserted, going back to the original couple named Adam and Eve. They had a garden home filled with everything any human might need or want.
But the trouble was, the more they had, the more they wanted, and so, as their desire is described:
'… when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
and that it was a delight to the eyes,
and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,
she took of its fruit and ate;
and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her,
and he ate. '
Note: The man didn’t resist or question the woman’s offer; she gave and he took, and together they BOTH ate.
And when they did, … the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked… The more they had, the more there was to put in the hole that would be dug for them when they died. All “stuff” that has no lasting value, things that when people who have them, see what they have, like Adam and Eve, know that they are naked.
The truth repeated and perpetuated by one generation after another up to us. A man drives his top-of-the-line car between a winter home in Florida and a summer home in the New England hills and in between, jets to Europe to ski or the Caribbean to swim and snorkel,but then he develops a circulatory problem that becomes a recurring crisis sending him to the hospital and then to rehab and a new schedule for his life that confines him to his room.
He looks at his car, his bank account and investments, and knows they cannot buy him health or friends. From a distant past, when he still took time to go to church and devoted a few minutes each day to read his Bible, he remembers Jesus’ story about a man with many barns who hears God say,
“You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.
And these things…whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20)
He knows and he feels the nakedness of Adam and Eve. The Old Testament lesson heard on this First Sunday in Lent may be playing itself out in the lives of many who are hearing it. Ads and Apps, billboards and slick brochures tempt us to want the life they are promoting, like the Garden of Eden tree with fruit that “was a delight to the eye.”
If we have them, we will become “wise” with the wisdom of the world that tells us things will give us status found at certain rendezvous places, be they drinking holes or high-priced restaurants, educational institutions, sports clubs, spas, exotic get-away vacations, or stores that dress us in designer label clothing. All things that, when we have them, we have nothing beyond them; things that will eventually knock us down to the heritage of Adam and Eve’s line: they knew that they were naked.
The ongoing temptation of Adam and Eve, perhaps going on in your life and mine for which we are programmed by the world in which we live. In the Gospel that is always read on the first Sunday in Lent, the scene changes from a garden to a wilderness of rocks and sand, wild animals on the prey, scorching heat by day and bone-chilling cold at night, a place where Jesus withdrew from the world of water and food to fast and pray and sort through the options as to how He could best serve God and all God’s people.
In those forty days – the Hebrew way of saying “a long time,” His mind was dulled, his stamina drained, and His stomach ached for food. The perfect setup for being enticed with the world’s quick fix of instant satisfaction and gratification; become a miracle worker, an entertainer, a power-wielding idol. All of whom have their day and cease to be; and, like Adam and Eve, find themselves at life’s end stripped down to nakedness. Yet, those options are enticing, especially when famished with both emotional stress and physical hungry.
Years ago one of our young people was in a serious auto accident that required stitches in his jaw and face and limited him to sipping liquids through a straw for weeks. There he lay in a hospital bed watching a TV commercial for pizza with gooey cheese piled high and a variety of toppings. His hunger had him craving for a pizza like the one pictured on TV, and so, the first thing he did when he came home was to struggle to work pieces into his mouth between the stitches.
Like that TV ad, the world programs us to resort to feed our hunger with weight gaining foods and to do the same for the hungry around us. Give them boxes of food, box after box, ignoring the adage: hand a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.
Or the quick fix solution for stress-filled conflicts: react with the knock-down power play of force, out-bomb, out-burn; retaliate rather than negotiate. Intimidate people into submission rather than serving them with compassion.
The temptations Jesus rejected with Scripture that gave Him the strength to stand up to a knock-down world.
The God-intended choice affirmed with the picturesque line that ends the story: angels came and waited on him.
“Come in! Come in!” shout both the Garden and the wilderness stories, calling us to immerse ourselves in both scenes, to be tempted as were Adam and Eve and as was Jesus.
Then, let the seeking God Who questions, “Where are you?” see us leaving our life of things to give our full allegiance to the Voice of the Creator Who has called us into being; and let Jesus set the example, to use Scripture as He used it, and commit to following Him and receive from Him the strength to stand up to a knock-down world made strong with a question and answer that was written 450 years ago but remains timely…into our day:
“What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, not to
myself, but to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
I belong; YOU belong, not to the world, but to Jesus Christ!
Our standup answer to a knock-down world!”