Tag Archives: Lent

Lent Message Series 2017 “Root Cause” – Week 5

The final installment of my Message Series for Lent, “Root Cause.” So far I have named the root causes of humanity’s broken condition as choosing in free will to reject obedience to God’s will and attempt to be our own God (week 1, The temptations of Adam and Eve and Jesus), set forth the vision of a redeemed humanity (week 2’s story of the Transfiguration of Jesus),  personal choices to sin (week 3 as revealed in the story of the Woman at the well), and described humanity’s infection with social sin woven into the fabric of society (week 4 – The healing of a blind man. This week we look at the “cosmic” picture and learn how humanity’s choices to cooperate with the evil one has unleashed upon all of creation, death, decay and entropy the result of alienation (sin) from God.

Root Cause Message Series Poster

“The Power of Love”

Readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

This past week we priests of the Belleville Diocese received an e-mail from the chancellor. Among the responsibilities of the Diocesan chancellor is keeping track of personnel files. The e-mail from the chancellor was a request that those of us who haven’t sent in our funeral instructions do so and here’s a simple form to help you tell us what to do with you when you die. Sounds a bit morbid doesn’t it?

Nobody really likes to think about their own death. Going to a funeral home visitation is difficult. But thinking about your own death, maybe how your body will be the one people are looking at in the casket, that can be a depressing thought if not a fearful thought. Yet, we’re all going to die. Some people approach their death with a fatalism saying things like “when your time is up, it’s up, you can’t change it.” Other folks rage against death, fighting it with every ounce of energy they can muster. The truth is very simple, though. Everyone dies.

The first Sunday of Lent we heard the story of Adam and Eve; how humanity was created to live forever like God. The story of the Garden in Eden describes how people were to be God’s companions who God could love and receive love from back without a time limit. Yet, the root cause of death was humanity’s decision to reject that offer of love that called it into being and instead try to live by its own wits; humanity wanted to be its own God. From the moment of eating of the fruit of the tree at the center of the universe, death, decay and the tendency of everything to eventually break down spilled out into all of creation. Death became the ultimate alienation from the sustainer of all life, God the creator. Call death a symptom of the sinfulness of humanity that radiates out into the cosmos that needs to be healed. Death is the ultimate sign of humanity’s brokenness that longs to be repaired.

Today’s Gospel story of Martha and Mary, the dead friend Lazarus and Jesus proclaims that Jesus, God in human flesh, has entered into this world of cosmic disorder, to face down death. Jesus declares himself the resurrection of life! This encounter with death in the person of Lazarus is the moment in the life of Jesus when the Christ declares that death has been put on notice. Death’s power over humans is limited. Death’s reign as the force that controls the universe is finished.

Jesus continues to stand at the graves of the victims of the power of death unleashed by human choosing the root causes of our broken nature ready to call them out of the stench of death. Jesus offers the way to defeat death and live no longer bound with the fear of the power of death. Keeping with our message series theme of “root causes” let’s name a couple of these causes of death that can be healed by the power Jesus shows in the mystery of sacrificing self for the sake of others instead of the self-centered vision of humanity. Of all the seven “Capital Sins” (the root causes of human troubles) there are two that we can focus on that routinely unleash the power of death.

The first root cause of death taking hold in our existence is Greed, an excessive pursuit of material possessions. How often do we see greed on a grand, even worldwide scale? There is a hunger for territory. Such territorial greed has led to wars to conquer land someone else possess causing the death of military and civilians. As Pope Francis has warned  us in his encyclical “On the Care of our Common Home” there is greed shown in the insatiable thirst for natural resources buried in the earth, like oil, gas, and coal that make some rich, but at the same time doom especially the poor to suffer the effects of climate change. Human greed may kill the planet that sustains the life of the ones who exploit the planet that makes life possible.

Not only is greed bringing death. There is the deadly sin of Wrath which can be described as the uncontrollable feelings of anger and hate towards another person. How often we have seen in history attempts to wipe out whole populations because of their race. Even today, we hear in the news of the hate that religious fundamentalists have toward another expression of faith in God that they’re willing to slaughter human life.

Greed and Wrath are root causes of death binding up the human person, entombing humanity in the stench of death limited existence that Jesus calls out as evil and speaks a word of resurrection to life.

If we find ourselves under the influence of the evil one trying to convince us to give into greed or wrath, what can we do? How do we let Jesus free us from the tomb we’re sealing up for ourselves? Jesus’s power to bring life out of death cause by greed is revealed in the choice to live Charity. To love, another word for charity, cures greed by putting the desire to help others above storing up treasure for one’s self. Charity is sacrificing for the good of others and reflects the sacrifice of Jesus who defeats death by his sacrifice on the cross. If we realize we’re giving into wrathful anger, then Christ offers us the power of Patience. Patience cures wrath by giving us time to understand the needs and desires of others before acting or speaking. If we stop, attempt to see the dignity, the hurts, the needs of the person we’re angry with we can defeat the power of death at work in us.

But there is a productive anger,  also. Not all anger is destructive wrath. Sometimes anger is a necessary part of the process of moving on through life. Anger is one of the stages of dealing with grief and can help a person move from feelings that life is over for the survivor to living life in a new way. Anger about unjust situations can move a person to action to confront the cause of injustice.

Martha and Mary were angry at Jesus for not showing up in time to do something about the suffering of a loved one and saving Lazarus from dying. We may be angry at Jesus, too, for sometimes it seems he’s not in a hurry to save a loved on from illness, or not in a hurry to fix the mess we people cause in our world. That’s part of the process of coming to realize how Jesus operates. Jesus doesn’t take away death, but uses death as the weapon to defeat death, letting go of self as the way to find the fullness of life. If he showed up before Lazarus died he couldn’t have shown he has the power to use death to defeat the power of death to deprive us of real life.

What the Lazarus story reveals is the truth. By his tears he sheds at the death of his friend Jesus shares in the grief, the pain of humanity ruled by the experience of death. Recalling his distress reminds us he was angry with the fate of his beloved creation and was moved to step into humanity to change the fate of humans.

Driving to meet some friends for dinner last night I pulled up behind a car at the four-way stop in Lebanon. The car had a bumper sticker that read,

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power,
the world will know peace.”

I’ve discovered that the bumper sticker is a quote from the musician Jimi Hendrix, of all people. But how true. The power of love was shown in Jesus’ death. His resurrection unties the binding strips that ties up life limited by death. Jesus commands us to be free of the fear of death, to be free from the limits of mortality.  Love overcomes the love of a humanity hungry for power over one another, a “root cause” of the cosmic forces of decay and death unleashed by Adam and Eve who ate the fruit of the tree at the center of the garden. Jesus reveals the power of love on the tree of the cross which stands at the center of time and space. In the opening of grave Jesus reveals the power of love which is stronger than death, letting in the fresh air of eternity that removes the stench of death.

Attributed to Aertgen van Leyden (1498-1564) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Lent Message Series 2017 “Root Cause” – Week 4

The Lent Message Series continues…

 

Root Cause Message Series Poster“I See Nothing”

Readings for the 4th Week of Lent Cycle A

Many of us members of the baby-boomer generation and older will recall a popular T.V. show that I suspect lives on in reruns on nostalgia t.v. channels.  The show was Hogan’s Heroes. Your young people, go “Google” it. The t.v. sit-com was about a group of allied soldiers in a German P.O.W. camp who were involved in espionage against their captors. One memorable character was a bumbling German guard, Sargent Schultz, who often would say, “I know nothing! I SEE nothing! Nothing!” As we continue our message series “Root Cause”  that famous line by a fictional t.v. character is a way of describing the “root cause” underlying so many of the problems we’re identifying of humanity that required a savior like Jesus to redeem through his death and resurrection. Like a blind man “Humanity sees nothing,” People do not perceive the forces of evil at work in the fabric of our human societies. Humans are blinded to causes of the broken relationships between people that lead to wars in far away lands or conflicts on our city streets. Humans do not see the forces ultimately at work that blind us to the plight of people dying because of a choice to not see. The church calls this kind of evil “social sin” and we’re all victims of the disorder, the illness infecting the human community.

The symptoms of society’s blindness have names that usually end in “-ism.”Racism, nationalism, free market capitalism or socialism. Sometimes the symptoms have names that end in “-pobia,” a Greek word meaning “fear of,” like Islamaphobia, or xenophobia (fear of the foreigner) or homophobia.

If the names of symptoms end in “ism” and “phobia” what then are the root causes, the underlying illness? Let’s name a couple. Pride and Gluttony are two of the capital sins at work destroying human life. So often people appeal to national pride (my nation is better than any other and your nation needs to be like mine). There’s racial pride (my race is pure, my race matters more than yours). So often there are appeals to religious superiority and you need to convert or be damned or even killed for insulting God by your existence.

Then there is the gluttony expressed in consuming too much of the earth’s resources, not respecting creation (as reminded by the Holy Father’s encyclical on Creation “On the care of our common home.” Such gluttony has led to global warming that threatens as well as shows disrespect for fellow humans, most often the poorer members of our human family. Climate change has threatened the food supply of nations in Africa were famine looms for millions of people. When nations do not share in food that they have in excess with those in famine because there’s no profit, gluttony is at work.

Christ entered this human community and is confronted by it’s brokenness. The blind man in the Gospel, today, is a metaphor for the blindness of humanity’s inability to see the harm we do to each other. The man born blind is a stand in for the death we inflict upon each other when we refuse to see the “-isms” and the  “-phobias” that are not the vision God has for his human creation. We heard at the beginning of Lent that the desire of God was harmony, life without death, that humans rejected by thinking themselves as equals to God instead of creatures dependent on God’s mercy made in the image of His ability to love selflessly. The blind guy is a symbol of the blindness of humanity to the consequences of our actions and our need to see things in a new light.

So we are living in a world, a society infected with the root cause of our demise. How do we avoid being contaminated? What is the cure if we are infected with one of the root sins like pride or gluttony?

You know how people are always going around rubbing their hands with anti-bacterial gel? They’re trying to prevent being infected with a germ. Christ, in the Gospel rubs mud on the eyes of the blind man. He’s applying the antidote, the cure and the protection that prevents blindness and restores perfect vision. It’s sometimes seen as a symbol of being anointed in Confirmation. Anointed with the Oil of Christ in Confirmation we are made more like Christ, able to see the world as Jesus sees it.  Christ sees a world full of beautiful human life, worthy of God’s saving love. Christ sees the dignity of each human being, men and women’s incalculable worth in the eye of God. To be safe from the infection of the “-isms” and “-phobias” that lie about the dignity of other people we must let the anointing of confirmation’s Holy Spirit enlighten our minds with God’s wisdom, and unleash the spirit of discernment to help us see where society is demeaning people. Then we must rely on the Holy Spirit’s courage to enable us confront the sinfulness of society be it working to lift people out of poverty that is not their fault (and confronting those who blame the poor, like so many of our political leaders). We must speak out against those who give into stereotypes about Muslims or people of another race or sexuality. The story of the anointing of David is tied to this Gospel of “anointing” the blind man’s eyes to point out that those who are in Christ are to lead humanity to a new vision of our potential for true harmony.

If we recognize that we are infected with the root cause of humanity’s inability to see it’s got a problem, unable to recognize the dignity of every person, then we need to ask the Lord to put the muck of what ever we suffer in our eyes to we can identify it, be it racism or some sort of fear of people different from us, to help us see the consequences of that disease that we are spreading. Then we need to ask Jesus to give us the grace of conversion of heart so that we might see with the eyes of Jesus. Our participation in the sin that takes refuge in society’s disfunction may take a while to cure. It may need to be mentioned in the Sacrament of reconciliation. In that Sacrament of Reconciliation we are healed, restored to the state of being we became in Baptism. After having been washed in a pool of forgiveness in Reconciliation we are sent to carry on the mission of Jesus to enlighten the world, to help others see the need to resist the evil entwined in the human social order.

Ultimately, the cure for the root cause of social sin is the proclamation that Jesus is the Light of the World. Jesus enlightens our minds by his life, death and resurrection to understand how we can live together as a human community in harmony, like we did in the Garden at the beginning of time. Be servant to one another and work for the good of others. Don’t see enemies out to get me, but a child of God worthy of being cured, cured even from death by the Love of God  revealed in Jesus Christ.

Matthias Gerung 1530-1532 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Lent Message Series 2017: ROOT CAUSE -Week 3

Root Cause Message Series Poster“I Could Have Had”

Readings for the Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

This week, after my doctor imposed absence from last weekend’s Masses, we continue our message series called “Root Cause.” I was feeling pretty miserable  last weekend and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to get you sick so I stayed in bed as recommended by my doctor. Therefore, let me briefly share with you what I would have for last week’s part 2 of the message series I’m calling “Root Cause.”

On the first Sunday of Lent I shared with you how the root cause, the primary reason humanity finds itself in the state it is in is man and woman’s ability to choose. Humans can choose to listen to God, who seems to have some arbitrary rules, like don’t eat from one particular fruit tree in a perfect garden, or chose to listen to the voice of evil that lies about human potential where people do not need God. The ability to choose to be self-centered ultimately disorders our relationship with God and one another. The wrong choice unleashes corrupted relationships with the divine and other people that result in the death of those relationships and even physical death.

Last week I wanted to tell you about the “root cause” of the hope that humanity is not doomed to suffer forever the consequences of badly choosing to eat the fruit self-exultation. God continually makes promises to open up a future full of life. In the Transfiguration of Jesus, God revealed the future for those joined to  Jesus. In Jesus is the hope people choose to embrace a new way of living. For those who accompany him in everyday sacrifices that enable others to live more fully there is caused hope for a new life. The “root cause” of being saved from the power of death is being united to Jesus’ choice to follow the will of God, to die on the tree of the cross that opened up a new type of perfect Garden, the Kingdom of God where life defeats death. (You can read the full homily I would have given on my blog on the web, if you want. Check the bulletin for the internet address.)

If we want to choose rightly, to choose life instead of something that causes death in some form or another as we travel the paths of time in this world we must recognize the voice of the evil one hissing like a snake hiding in the grass asking us to choose specific ways of giving in to his lie that we don’t need to pay attention to the voice of God. Looking inward instead of out toward others we think we can know what’s best for us. The next three Sundays we’ll explore some of the “root sins.” Root sins is what a priest of our diocese (Fr. Bill Hitpas in a small pamphlet he has authored on examining the conscious before confession) has labeled the seven capital sins. Or, they’ve been called the seven deadly sins, because of how serious these root causes of sin are, You can say the seven “deadly sins” are expressed in a variety of symptoms that lead to the destruction of our relationships with God and other people. They’re the viruses that our everyday choices to sin are caused by. If we don’t deal with the deadly sin viruses, our life in communion with Jesus both now and in eternity will be dead on arrival. The liturgy makes this comparison of sin to illness in the opening prayer of today…

O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving
have shown us a remedy for sin,
look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy.

Spring starts Monday. Then, before you know it comes the hot, hot days of summer. The humid yet dry days of summer are a time a person can build up quite a thirst working outside. Mowing the lawn, working on a construction site, even just exercising by walking in the heat builds up a powerful thirst. What to drink? An ice-cold beer, perhaps. Or maybe a soda seems to be called for. But there’s a problem. Alcohol doesn’t really quench a thirst and replenish the fluids the body is sweating away. A beer dehydrates a body. Soda has a bunch of salt and does the same keeping a person thirsty, wanting more to drink that really doesn’t help. Water alone will ease the thirst. Plain old water is what the body needs when facing the threat of dehydration.

The story of Jesus conversing with a Samaritan woman at a well in the hot desert is actually about the bad choices we are personally responsible for. It is a metaphor for who we choose to drink of sins that don’t satisfy our thirst for a happy, fulfilled life. The story of Jesus and the woman is about how we deliberately choose to be selfish, to commit personal sins, the symptoms of the viruses of root sins in an attempt to satisfy a thirst to be happy or fulfilled. It is also about how she’s been looking for what satisfies in all the wrong places. That’s the detail about having five husbands. Jesus is the spouse the his bride the church is looking for so we can stop fooling around with other suitors, like the voice of evil hissing like a slimy con-artist.

One of the “root sins” that is the cause of our selfishness is envy. Sometimes it’s called jealousy. Envy is the desire to have something someone else has. Jealousy leads to judging other people. This root sin can lead to questioning God about why he doesn’t give me what I deserve instead of someone else. Envy is the alcohol, the soda that doesn’t really satisfy, but leaves us wanting more stuff, more money, more influence. But stuff isn’t really what will bring satisfaction or fulfillment to our lives! Look at some of the people in impoverished lands. They still find joy in life. They have love of family.

How do we stop drinking envy? The true water that Jesus offers by his example of his life that will quench our thirst for happiness is kindness. Kindness can cure envy by placing the desire to help others in need above the selfish centered expression. Instead of drinking of envy we need to draw from the well of kindness. Then we will find happiness, contentment, fulfillment.

There are other root causes of our separation from God’s life that involve making individual decisions to harm our relationship with other people. There is lust that sees other persons as a way to make us feel good without concern for their well being. There is the choice to be lazy, to not get down to the business of helping others in need because I’ve got more important things to do.

This week I invite you to examine your life with me. What do each of us personally choose to do that is rooted in envy, lust, laziness that doesn’t really bring us fullness of life? Perhaps it’s time to stop drinking from the well of personal sin and instead ask Jesus to give us a drink of his life of self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Many years ago there used to be a t.v. commercial for a vegetable based drink. The tag line always involved someone slapping their head saying “I could have had a V-8!” implying making a healthier choice was possible.Instead of making choices to drink of the well of selfishness and personally sinning today is a day to say “We could have had a taste of eternal life even now in this world of choices!” Remember, though, Jesus is waiting to offer us his forgiveness, too. Don’t hesitate to drink deeply of his mercy so that you can start a new life, like a woman who has a chance encounter with God’s mercy at a well.

lwowska_galeria_sztuki_-_jacek_malczewski_-_christ_and_the_samaritian_woman

 

 


Lent Message Series 2017: ROOT CAUSE -Week 2

This Lent I am preaching a Message Series called “Root Cause” exploring the roots of our broken human condition and the cause of our hope for salvation.

Unfortunately, this second Sunday of Lent I was too sick to celebrate the Eucharist and preach the second part of the series in my parish. Part of the “broken human condition,” the existence of viruses graded me by the respiratory system and laid me low in bed. Thanks to our visiting presider Father James Chambers, OMI who was able to substitute for me with short notice.

Since I didn’t get to give my message to continue the series, I’m posting it here, for continuity. I should be back in the pulpit next Sunday by God’s mercy. I’m feeling about 85% as I post this on Monday.

Root Cause Message Series PosterRoot Cause: Cross My Heart and Hope to Die (Lent Week 2)

Readings for Second Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

“Cross my heart and hope to die!” When I was young, “Cross my heart and hope to die” was a solemn declaration of a promise to another person. Maybe children still say such an oath when they want to indicate how serious they’re taking a promise. There are things in life worth risking ultimate consequences. Of course, no child actually believes they’ll be required to carry out the dying part of the oath. It’s just a promise the child will fulfill an agreed upon obligation.

God makes promises, too. When God makes a promise it’s called a covenant. In the time of Abraham such a solemn covenant agreement was often sealed with a ceremony of sacrificing animals. Animals would be split in two and the parties to the agreement would walk between the halves as a way of saying “If I break this agreement, so should I be split apart and die.” “Cross my heart and hope to die!”

The solemn promise made to Abraham in today’s first reading is a promise of protection from anything that would destroy Abraham. In the early days of humanity’s relationship with God after humanity’s choice in the Garden of Eden that lead to living in a world full of death, an afterlife in heaven wasn’t imagined. A person lived on in his descendants and the “nation” he founded. God, in the first reading is promising a kind of eternal existence to the man all three major religions that believe in one God trace their roots to, the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It’s a vision of the future, a future without death lurking in every moment of life.

These weeks of Lent we’re examining the “Root Cause” of humanity’s imperfect, dysfunctional existence and seeking to know the way to truly live. We were created to live! To live richly, fully, unencumbered by fear, illness or the limits of time. Ultimately, death was consequence of human rebellion against God’s desire for us, the root cause of our problem as a human creation. God reaffirms his promise, his desire for humanity to flourish, to know life in the story of Abraham. But the covenant to protect and make of Abraham a guy with lots of descendants was not a sufficient enough promise for God. It didn’t go far enough to achieve the vision of God for humanity. It was only a hint, a vision of what God had in mind. God needed a “root cause” of human salvation to be saved from the power of death.

Just as death was the consequence of the root cause of human choice to believe the lie of the evil one to Adam and Eve that humans don’t need God, Death becomes the root cause of our salvation in Jesus, the fulfillment of a promise.

Transfiguration by Ludovico Carracci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The day Jesus takes Peter, James and John up to some high place far above everyday life, Jesus is making a promise. The “mountain” is a symbol of a world apart, high above the mundane life of the everyday. God speaks from mountains in the Old Testament. Jesus is taking his friends into the realm of the divine, revealing His version of reality. Talking with Prophets on a mountain is the scripture author’s clue to the reader that Jesus is the fulfillment of a promise made to God’s people across the ages. Jesus is helping his disciples understand that he can be trusted to keep his promise to restore creation to it’s fullness of life. The ancestor of Abraham, the “root of Jesse” becomes the cause of a new tree of life (the Cross) to give up the fruit of eternal life.The transfiguration experience is a statement of the solemn promise that God makes humanity – death will lead to life.

Like the apostles we’d like to enjoy the fruit of the tree of life Christ climbs on Calvary without the sacrifice of offering ourselves in daily trials. We’d like to have the banquet of life without the work of preparing the feast in the kitchen of this world. Why must we sacrifice? Why must we suffer and then die? That’s the business about the apostles wanting to put up tents. Haven’t we all had moments in life when everything seems to be going so good we don’t want it to end? We were baptized “into” Christ. That means looking at our sacrifices, our sufferings as ways of sharing in the dying of Christ that produces the fruit of the cross, eternal life. The Transfiguration is a vision, a promise, that everything we have, do or will go through is worth the experience. There is a light guiding us through the realm of death.

In the midst of our suffering, as we make sacrifices for the good of family, in the midst of our grief when a loved one dies, look to the faithful Savior. Recall the vision of what God has promised in the death of Jesus, our root cause of hope in the face human destruction. Hear Jesus say, “Cross my heart and hope to die. For my death is the death of death and way to life for all who walk with me through the world below the heights of eternity.”


Lent Message Series 2017: ROOT CAUSE

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, hasn’t it? If I have any loyal readers, thanks for you patience.

I’ve been trying out an idea from the author of the book Rebuilt, Father Michael White. He is pastor of a parish that has become rather famous in the Catholic Church of the U.S. because of their seeming success in revitalizing their parish using many of the practices of the “mega-church” movement.  The leadership at the  Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland (home of Rebuilt) think preaching using the organizing principle of a “message series” is an idea that will engage parishioners. So, the last few weeks I organized a “series” based on the Sermon on the Mount that the Catholic Church was reading in the Sunday Lectionary called “Turn On Your ‘Kingdom Positioning System’ Or Be Lost.” The Sermon on the Mount is a kind of “directional system” for how to navigate the Christian life, like a GPS guides your route in a the physical world. Parishioners did remember the theme but I’m not sure how much practical life-change as Fr. White in the link above describes in his reason for using the message series.

So for Lent I’ve planed out another series called “Root Cause.” I’ll be exploring the “root cause” of why humanity is in the mess it is and ultimately needs the redeeming work of Christ to save it. Hopefully I’ll give some practical ideas on how to experience life-change (conversion of heart is the goal of preaching and liturgy). I’ll try to post each week’s “Message,” here on the blog. By the way, apparently it’s called a “message” instead of a homily because folks don’t want to be preached to but get advice and teaching on how to live their life as a Christian. Hmmmm….isn’t that what a homily is?

Root Cause: From Tree to Tree (Lent Week 1)

Root Cause Message Series Poster

Readings for the First Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

Parents know children will ask questions about the world. Why is the sky blue? Why does it have to thunder? It scares me! Parents realize kids won’t understand all the technical science language of light refraction that produces blue so they tell a story of how God likes to paint the sky with His favorite color. As for thunder; how many times have children been told it’s the angels bowling instead of the difficult concept to explain to a 4 year old that electricity in lightning supercharges the molecules of air that produces a sound wave boom across the sky. Stories have always been told to make sense of serious questions.

I like to think that thousands of years ago children seated around a campfire in a middle-eastern desert while traveling to some proposed “promised paradise” were asking their parents why humans have to work so hard to survive and then die anyway? (Besides asking “Are we there yet?”) And so, because truth has to be told in ways that the children could understand, a story is told. The story uses images anyone could relate to. A tree full of delicious fruit would seem like heaven to people wandering around without anything sweet in the hot, dry desert. Snakes, ugh! The ancient dessert travelers probably had seen their share of illness and death caused by the slithery creatures the embodiment of danger. The Adam and Eve tree story reveals that humans had it perfectly good and then “the evil one” tricked men and women into thinking they could ultimately control their lives. So humans had to leave their perfect life. They rebelled against God and suffered the consequences. Now we’re doomed to our fate because humans make bad choices to reject the Law God gave us. Those choices perpetuate illness,  trap us in suspicion of others and cause death. Like a fairy tale about witches who build houses out of gingerbread and lure children in “for dinner” humanity was given the chance to choose the good, to love; or people can choose to fill their selfish bellies and believe the evil witch or snake or devil really has what satisfy their soul hunger that isn’t for food.

The truth revealed in the scripture story of the tree in Eden is this: evil is real. Evil tempts us with a false “world view” where humans don’t need God. Humans are tricked into believing in our own power to save ourselves, that the individual is the center of the universe and that other people who want what we have are obstacles to our happiness. Or to use the language of our present day national leaders the “evil one” presents “fake news” and “alternative facts.”

Our message series this lent will invite us to consider that the “Root Cause” of humanity’s sorry state is revealed in the human freedom to choose self-interest over self-offering of lives for the good of others. The evil one isn’t a snake, but evil is heard in the voices that tempt people to think they can or should be able to dictate how life should be lived instead of submitting themselves to the will of a God that doesn’t seem too be concerned enough to intervene. Ultimately the root cause of all things that deprive humans of a fuller life is the lie that took root in the human heart that God isn’t in charge, so humans can be.

Jesus, in his temptations in the desert comes face to face with evil. I suspect Jesus is wrestling with his human nature, the fact that every human being thinks they are the master of their life. In the desert with nothing to distract him Jesus must face the very human, deeply rooted sense of self-importance expressed in selfishness. This confrontation with the voice of evil reveals three roots that drink from deep veins in the soil of the human psyche of alternative facts about human relationships. The devil in the story tries to get Jesus to choose to believe disordered relationships can satisfy better than the perfect order of life God created.

One root reaches into the image we have of ourselves. Jesus is tempted to think of “me-first.” He’s invited to have a distorted sense of self-importance. We too hear the voice when our egos start to get the best of us. It’s been a hard day. Those kids have been a pain. My spouse has no clue about how much I give up to make her happy. I deserve a break. No body will notice if I spend a little of our money on myself. When ever we begin to think “me-first” or “it’s all about me” the evil one is probably whispering in our soul to choose to eat of the tree rooted in the bad soil of self-interest. Jesus rejects the suggestion of taking care of self before all others. He chooses to be a man who is concerned about the hunger for the Bread of Life that overcomes death that he alone can provide.

Another root branches out into the realm of the proper relationship between humans and God. Jesus is tempted to distort the relationship with his Father, to test God. When we tell God what to do instead of seeking his will we put down another root into soil that won’t produce good fruit. Thinking we can make God do something, thinking I know what I need better than the Father can lead to separation from the source of life. Negotiating with God in prayer, reminding him I took care of the poor or I’ll give so much money to the church if you grant me a favor, anytime we make the I in our prayer more prevalent than God the focus is off. God is in control and will always provide our daily bread. It’s our job to trust, to seek his will, to ask for his grace to persevere but never demand or to think we can manipulate the Father.

The third cause of root disease that Jesus is asked to prefer over a healthy root system to the tree of life is to see himself as ruler instead of servant. The devil promises what he can not give. Power to control the lives of people, to make them servants to Jesus’ desire. Christians who refuse to see themselves as servant to those who are  brother and sister in the human family are going to find themselves cut off from the fullness of life. When we use people to make ourself feel better, when we refuse the identity of servant in the image of Jesus we were baptized into, we let evil influence our free will. Christ chooses to be servant, not a ruler. So should we.

Trees will produce good fruit if planted in good soil with strong root structure. The root cause of the messed up human condition is a decision. Not a decision by characters in a story named Adam and Eve, but each individual’s decision to be swayed by the evil that whispers in our heart. You can do better than it seems God is doing for you. It’s my hope that our message series this Lent will help this parish confront that voice of temptation like Jesus did. Refute the fake news with Good News. Here’s the choice we confront once again this Lent. Do we put down our roots in bad soil? The soil of self-interest, making ourselves the center of the universe? Or, do we put our roots down in the promise of Jesus causing the tree of our life to become full of fruit that benefits the rest of humanity.

We children of God wander the desert land the limited span of the time our life will last asking questions. Why are things in this world such a mess? Why are humans constantly at war or making life so miserable for each other?  Lent begins with the story of a tree of life and knowledge at the center of a perfect garden. Lent ends with another tree, the tree of the Cross of Jesus which gives life and knowledge, the Good News. To chose to eat of the fruit of sacrifice of self that hangs on the tree of cross is how we “get back to the garden,” the perfect life God desires for all humanity. Choose to recognize the root cause of our troubles and be a part of the cause that roots out evil and produces the fruit that offers the fullness of life eternal to humanity.

A relief at Exterior of the Duomo (Milan) -Tree of Knowledge and Tree of the Cross of Christ By Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

A relief at Exterior of the Duomo (Milan) -Tree of Knowledge and Tree of the Cross of Christ By Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


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