March 9, 2014: First Sunday in Lent

The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
First Sunday in Lent

How many of you have seen any of the Hunger Games movies? Some of you have. I haven’t. But I am going to preach about them anyway. I imagine I won’t be talking about what you have seen, but I won’t know for sure. Hunger Games, the movies, are hot topics among theologians these days. I get my cursory information from reading their comments.

Do you get bothered when you read some things in the Bible you wish weren’t there? Now you are highly educated, sophisticated, post-modern people, so like me, yes, we do get anxious when the Bible talks about weird stuff. Is anyone else bothered by a talking snake or a beguiling tempter? I think the Biblical writers assume we would still be using our imaginations and not be reading them literally.

Hunger Games – Adam and Eve and Jesus seem to be playing them today. They’re not alone. We do, too. Adam and Eve hunger for what they can’t have. Had I been Eve, we’d still be picking fruit off the trees in paradise. My parents taught me to run from snakes, not have coffee and conversation with them.

We live “on demand” lives. What we want and can’t have becomes urgent. Adam and Eve teach us that.  My mother perfected the art of setting up my sister and me. She made brownies – marshmallows, nuts, chocolate, cake – Mississippi Mud – best thing to come out of Mississippi. The smell was divine. She took the pan from the oven, cut the brownies into squares, and put them in a tin – right in front of us. As only a mother can, she’d say, “And if you want to live long enough to drive a car, you’ll keep your hands off,” and walk away. I’d turn to my little sister, “Go ahead. Eat one. I won’t tell.” Then I slithered off.

And Jesus – after 40 days and nights of not eating, Matthew says he’s famished – duh. And who comes to assist in his weakest moment?  The tempter. Again, let the Hunger Games begin. “Here, turn these stones into Big Mac’s. You could feed the world. Jump off the Temple top with no parachute – that’ll get you on Jimmy Kimmel. Look at all the nations and people of the world. Sign this paper and it’s all yours.” We already know Jesus is “Beloved Son of God.” God’s told him, and Matthew tells us. So, will Son of God yield to the devil right out of the gate? He’s sinless, right, and yet human, so he experiences temptation, as we do, and that’s all. He knows what humans face. Where Adam and Eve fail, and we fail, Jesus succeeds. Temptations tempt us to take or misuse power as if it’s ours. We forget. God lends us power for a time, and cares about how we use our powers. Jesus won’t reach beyond God. Look how he handles temptation – for us. Jesus’ momma could have set oven-fresh Mississippi Mud in front of him, and I will guarantee you he wouldn’t have touched it — seems to be part of his incarnational DNA.

Does a tempter ever get your ear? Are you more likely to order a side of cottage cheese with your deluxe double-decker, bacon-encrusted cheese burger, or the lard-laden, chili-cheese fries? Maybe food is not your weakness. The department store window you pass has a shirt or blouse you want. “Do I, or not?” One day you pass, and the store has a half-price sale on everything. A voice in your head says, “Buy me and you’ll be happy.” Is it bad – to treat or indulge ourselves? That depends. God is concerned with how we treat others. Do we treat them as we’d like God to treat us – including those on the margins, strangers and friends, those we don’t like? Do we lecture more than listen? Do we always have to be right – demand our way? Do we presume to know someone else’s motives without ever talking with them? Are we becoming more loving, caring, forgiving, gentle and humble toward others?

These stories are not about us. God doesn’t say, “You immoral people, you’d better think about your sins in Lent, and mend your ways.” Well, maybe a few of us could. It’s about Jesus, how God saves and secures us. We get into messes and make bad choices – but look who is there with us. We mess up, and we get up, because Jesus is there to lift us up. He knows our hungers and temptations, and he remains loyal to God for us, because we can’t. Regardless of what we do, God uses divine power to love and save us when we are weak, lost and wrong. We make a conscious decision in each moment to choose God first. The more we do that, the higher our batting average will be.

Listen carefully – you may hear another voice on the playing field – one that gets crowded out often. That voice tempts with bread and wine that miraculously becomes living bread to feed our souls. That voice tempts us to take divine power to love, forgive, seeks the best in each other, welcomes the stranger, feeds the hungry, dreams kingdom dreams and strives to fulfill them. It’s a strange power, revealed on a cross with a dying Jesus attached. Many can’t see much power in that. That voice tempts us to deny ourselves, and go to all people bearing the message of divine love and grace – seeking to serve Christ in all persons, losing our ideas of self to find what God’s ideas about us are.

Lent has a lot to do with our hungers, and where we’ll pull up a chair to fill ourselves. Some forgo favorite foods or drinks to focus their hunger upon God in Lent. Maybe a talking snake and a tempter are not our enemies after all. These are stories about how God responds to us, how God knows what we’re up to, and how God makes a way home for us anyway. So – let the Hunger Games begin.


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