First Sunday in Lent
March 5, 2017
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11
Pr. Craig Mueller
Lies, lies, lies. Think of the lies you’ve heard, the lies you’ve told, the lies and deception that are part of your story. “Don’t lie. Tell the truth,” we were told as children. “Liar, liar, liar, pants on fire,” we chanted on the playground. Maybe you have a good internal lie detector and you can see a lie on someone’s face.
I wish I had a lie detector these days that could help me sort through the fake news and the news which comes with a political spin, which is most of it. Today’s lie detectors are fact checkers that verify the credibility of what our elected officials tell us.
One’s word is not enough. We don’t trust one another. And everyone blames everyone else. In our postmodern lives, truth is whatever I believe or feel. We are our own experts on everything and everyone. A lie detector seems to be in the eyes of the beholder.
So let’s go way back to the Garden of Eden, okay? Adam, Eve and a talking snake. “God’s not telling the truth,” says the crafty serpent. “You will not die if you eat the forbidden fruit. Come on, really. You can have it all. The possibilities are endless. Just do whatever you want. It’ll be OK. Trust me—not the god-voice in your head.”
But wait a minute. I want to come to Eve’s defense. Eating the apple is a kind of curiosity. Is it such a bad thing? The quest for knowledge. The desire for creativity. The yearning to discover the mysteries of the universe, the mysteries of love, the mysteries of who we are. If that means being like God, count me in. What’s the problem?
Let’s go further. There’s the devil tempting Jesus with a false sense of identity and security. To atheists, such myths involving Satan, devils, and serpents are lies. Seducing us into placing our trust in nonexistent gods and powers.
The devil made me do it, some say. An excuse? A rationalization? Whether you believe in the devil or not, there are lies we tell ourselves—for our safety, or for our security. Several decades ago, M. Scott Peck wrote a book on evil called People of the Lie.
Lent comes along as a kind of lie detector. Exposing the truth about ourselves. Exposing a different truth about the human condition.
Think of some of the larger lying myths of our time. The lie that security is found in power and might. The lie that our identity is bound to influence and affluence. The lie that we cannot do whatever we want and not suffer the consequences.
Then there’s the inner critic in each of us. An inner seducer telling us the lie that we are not good enough, not smart enough, not rich enough, not spiritual enough, not sexy enough, not attractive enough, not young enough.
One preacher says that the greatest lie—the greatest seduction of all—is that nothing matters. Lent challenges this nihilism, this nothingness. Sin, death and the devil—from our religious tradition—could be called the three great nothings. Their power lies in their ability to deceive us. To lie to us. To take on the appearance of a great reality.
The talking snake wants us to live in denial. “You will not die. God knows when you eat of the forbidden fruit your eyes will be opened, and you will like God, knowing good and evil.”
You will be like God? Have you heard about the new book by Israeli author Yuval Hurari? It’s called Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Homo Deus could be translated: humanity as God. Peopl\e used to pray to the gods to spare them from war, poverty and famine. Now science has given us the belief that it can solve any problem if we only gain more knowledge.
Rather than trust in a Messiah to save us, Hurari says a geek in a laboratory in Silicon Valley might solve the problem of old age and death. To many, the old myths are dead—the Garden of Eden, the Jesus story. Power today is in the realm of technology. Where once we turned to priests, rabbis and shamans, now we turn to engineers.
This new techno-religion, as Hurari, names it, makes promises. It can give you happiness, justice, immorality here on earth. The new gods are Amazon, Apple, and Google. Like a book I read called iGods. And salvation: now it comes through algorithms and genetic engineering.
I’ve often wondered how soon our bodies will be connected to the Internet. Hurari sees a day when a brain-computer interface will take us from healing the sick to upgrading the bodies of the healthy. And since everyone won’t be able to afford it, we may move from economic inequality to biological inequality.
But think also of the earth. And what our godlike powers have done. Many scientists say we have now entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. The age of man. Humanity is now controlling nature. The last two years have been the hottest on record. We use earth’s resources for our benefit without regard for the other animals, plants, ecoystems. We believe and act as if we are the center of everything. Some estimate that 95% of the vertebrates on land consist of human beings, their pets and livestock bred to our specifications and raised in mostly enormous industrialized monocultures.
We’re in charge. A great lie or hope for our planet? When we are tempted to reject human vulnerability and mortality, the lie detector of Ash Wednesday still rings in our ears: you are dust and to dust you shall return.
When we are tempted to consider the concept of sin old-fashioned, we confess that we are curved in on ourselves, as our tradition defines sin. The lie detector reveals that part of the human condition is our pride. That we live with no regard for those who come after us, no regard for the poor and the common good. That on our own, we simply cannot get out of the mess we have made.
Created in God’s image, yes, but not we are not God. Rather, divine compassion, divine grace, divine forgiveness is revealed in our finite world, our suffering world, our fragile world, our wounded world.
Homo Deus. God and humanity in one. For us, that means incarnation. Jesus joining us all that it means to be human. On our violated earth, in our wounded bodies, among our stressed-out and worried lives.
This is the free gift—the grace—that leads us from the wilderness back to the garden. From Lent to Easter. From lies to the truth that sets us free.