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
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.