Creekside Church
Sermon of March 1, 2020

"Food For Thought"
Matthew 4:1-11

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! This is the first Sunday of Lent: if you were raised Roman Catholic or have Catholic friends, Lent probably has some very specific associations for you: these would vary according to different communities, but might have included not eating meat on Fridays, giving up chocolate, not using the word Alleluia during worship services. If you were raised in the Church of the Brethren, in another free church tradition, or without a religious affiliation, the whole idea of Lent and all these special “rules,” or practices may seem a little weird. I can’t promise to explain it all, and I certainly can’t compel you to do anything for this Lent, but I hope to make a case for why spiritual practices aren’t a separate, seasonal part of our lives, but should actually be part of our ordinary routines.

Our Lenten theme for Creekside is Holy Manna: food for body and spirit. I talked just a bit at the Ash Wednesday service about how body and spirit are inseparable. Especially in the Hebrew-Jewish tradition, there was not a sense that body and spirit were two different things, or that one was more important than the other: if it helps to put some different words to this idea, you can think of it as Believing and Behaving: what we believe is important, but so is how we behave. This is also an emphasis of the Church of the Brethren. In some circles this is characterized as not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. Are you with me?

Throughout Lent, I want us to consider how Old and New Testament texts might be in conversation with one another. This Sunday we have two temptation stories with two very different outcomes: you heard one read, I’ll summarize the other from the book of Genesis -- I’m guessing you have heard it before. Adam, the first human, was formed from the dust of the earth and breath of God; and God placed him in a garden filled with all the food he needed, and told Adam, “You may eat freely out of any tree in the garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (2:17) And then God makes a woman to be a companion and helper for Adam. You know what happens next, right? The woman Eve is tempted by a serpent to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree, she takes a bite and generously shares it with Adam; their eyes are opened, they understand that they are naked, and they try to cover themselves and hide from God. Of course, the consequences of that action go way beyond Eve and Adam; they extend to all the rest of humanity. Never again will people live without self-consciousness in a beautiful garden where everything they need to survive is provided without their effort. We don’t know how long Adam and Eve would have lived if they had not eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil -- presumably forever -- but we are excluded from that life and from that garden because of what they did.

Our other temptation story is from the gospel of Matthew, but you can also find it in Mark and Luke. It is the temptation of Jesus, who was led up by the Spirit (Mark says driven by the Spirit) into the wilderness. He was without food for forty days and was, understandably, famished. The first temptation was a physical one: Jesus was hungry and the tempter suggests that Jesus could use his power as the Son of God to turn stones into bread so he could have something to eat. What would be the harm in that? Jesus answers, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” which is a pretty clever answer. Jesus could have just said, “No, I’m not doing that,” but he actually quotes words from God that he would have known from studying the holy writings: these words are from Deuteronomy 8:3. Jesus immediately and explicitly makes the connection between body and spirit: he lives not only by food for the body, but with the spiritual nourishment of the word of God. Jesus -- and Satan too -- know the larger context of this quote from Deuteronomy: it refers to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years. They were being tested to see if they would keep God’s commandments (that is, whether they could walk the walk), and while God was testing them, God took care of their needs: not only did God feed them with manna from heaven, God made sure that their shoes didn’t wear out and their feet didn’t swell up. What Jesus sums up for Satan, without spelling all this out, is that God took care of the children of Israel; I will be following God’s commandments and I trust that God will take care of me: body and spirit. So no, Satan, I won’t be turning any stones to bread at your suggestion.

Notice that while both Adam and Eve and Jesus are tempted by food, there are deeper issues afoot: the real issue is Do you trust God to take care of you? Do you trust God enough to follow God’s commandments? Adam and Eve weren’t even hungry -- they could have eaten from any other tree in the garden -- they just wanted to learn what God knew that they didn’t; they wanted to be a little more like God. What they found out is that God holds the power of life and death, and that to disobey God means to choose death. Jesus made the opposite choice: he was famished; so hungry that his body had probably started to consume itself, breaking down muscle tissue in order to survive. Jesus could easily rationalized that if he had the power to save himself -- to turn stones into bread -- should he use it? Wouldn’t God want him to take care of himself? After all, God never commanded Jesus not to turn stones into bread, right?

Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus would have two more temptations. All three of them would involve, in subtle and potentially convincing ways, the temptation for Jesus to save himself. Save yourself from starving to death -- you could do it easily. What good are you to God if you die of hunger? Save yourself from physical harm by leaping from the pinnacle of the Temple: the angels will take care of you (it’s Satan who quotes scripture this time): it would immediately establish with all the religious folks that you are God’s chosen; think of how that would kick start your ministry campaign. You would be the frontrunner for the Messiah nomination for sure. Save yourself from the powers of this world! Go ahead and claim world domination -- you can have it all. Just sign under the fine print here that you’ll set God aside and worship me instead.

Lenten practices of giving up certain foods, giving up a bad habit, or giving up a part of the liturgy are helpful because they give us something to do (or not to do) as a way of demonstrating our commitment to God. The problem is that a practices which gets separated from its intention can become an end in itself, and then it can just seem silly: What does God have against chocolate? I have to skip it in the springtime, but other times of the year are OK? Jesus suffered on the cross and that means I should eat fish on Fridays? When you take those practices out of the context of being mindful of God’s provision and the importance of trusting and obeying God, they don’t make a lot of sense.

On the other hand, if our attitude is Oh yeah, I totally get that I can trust God and I need to follow God’s commandments -- I don’t need to do anything different at all: that also misses the point, and it is pretty arrogant That is essentially giving lip service to God, but acting as if I can save myself, and I’m doing it pretty well, thanks. Somewhere in between those two is a lesson we need to hear about behaving and believing: talking the talk and walking the walk. Somewhere in between those two we need to find the humility to confess that we live not only by bread, but by the word of God, and that no matter how bad we have been or how good we have been, we cannot save ourselves. Only Jesus Christ can save us, and that is only accomplished when we believe that it has already been accomplished and act like it has already been accomplished.

There are a multitude of ways that we can remind ourselves of God’s provision and our need to trust God during Lent. The humility for me is to know that I can’t make you do any of them. I will suggest a simple practice for each week, which you can extend until Easter, or not. The point is not to follow my directions, it’s to find things which you do on purpose to make you mindful of God. This usually involves changing your routine -- what you ordinarily do, or how you do it -- in some way. And because everybody needs to eat, and most of us eat several times a day, one obvious place to begin with a practice which incorporated eating, or food. So here is a simple idea for this week: I call it slowing, instead of fasting. Take a favorite food -- [Slide] not an entire meal, but something like this [Slide] or this [Slide] -- and eat it slowly. Really slowly -- like over the course of 10 or 15 minutes. Take time to consider how you got it: did you make it? where did those ingredients come from? Did it grow somewhere? Locally or out of the area? Who might have picked it? Before you even taste it, consider how it got to you, and how many people might have been involved in that process. When you’re ready to taste it, do it slowly and consider the textures as well as the flavors. When have you had this food before? What associations do have with eating it? What is the longest you’ve gone without tasting this food? You get the idea. Finally, give thanks to God for the taste of goodness you have received, for the ability to take pleasure in simple things, for the invitation to stop and pay attention to something you might have otherwise taken for granted. Do this as often as you wish during the coming weeks: it works best if you’re by yourself and you aren’t in the car trying to cram in a meal while you’re rushing to somewhere else.

Whatever goodness God sends our way in the coming week and through the season of Lent, I hope we can find ways to pause, pay attention, and give thanks for God’s care. Trusting in God is not only something we believe, it’s the way we behave in the small actions and the small choices of every day: this is the way we are formed as God’s people: body and spirit. God bless you as we walk this journey of Lent together. Amen.

 

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