Keawala’i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
“Loa‘a mai: Receive”
Josephine had a certain allure about her whenever she appeared on the television comedy that was known as The Flip Wilson Show many, many years ago. Wilson played the coy young Josephine who was known to get swept up in titillating romances.
Whenever such dalliances became problematic and too much even for her, she would be the first to insist, “The devil made me do it.” We laughed not because we were encouraged by a laugh “track” or because we thought it to be true, but because we were aware of how difficult it was for us to admit to our own shortcomings and to accept responsibility for our own actions.
Our inclination is to blame someone else. It has been said that “there is something captivating about seeing evil incarnate on the big (or small) screen, in the pages of a novel, or in the names of those who are said by a nation to pose political threats.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, page 45) This is true even of the biblical text.
In Eve and then Adam and later in Aaron and Job and David, each is tested by evil. The Apostle Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, explains that our inability to resist temptation is one that we somehow managed to inherit from Adam.
Through the sin of Adam death came into the world and death has spread to all because all have sinned. Josephine will insist that the devil is responsible for evil and sin. Paul asserts that Adam and Eve are responsible.
In some ways both explanations lets all of us off the hook. We are not responsible.
Paul reminds us that if the fall of Adam and Eve from God’s grace is the source of distress, then the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the source of our joy. It is through his death that all of our transgressions, all of our sins are covered and it comes at great price.
Our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew reminds of what was required of Jesus. He is tested. He is tempted with bread to satiate his hunger; to save himself from danger; and to receive all the power in the world if he would choose to worship the devil. Each time Jesus rejects the temptation the devil sets before him.
It may be difficult for most of us to understand the temptations Jesus faced. I mentioned Maryetta Anschutz last Sunday. She is one of the key founders of The Episcopal School of Los Angeles.
points out in her own reflections on today’s reading from Matthew that
“most of us cannot imagine the devil offering bread after a forty-day fast. We
do not know the fear of being held over the ledge” of a precipice. “We
certainly do know the temptation of being offered all the power in the
world.” (Ibid., page 48)
But what we do know, what we understand is our own “pride, vanity, selfishness and apathy. (Op. cit.) There is no devil in the wilderness for us to blame for our shortcomings. The temptations come our way and it is Anschutz who reminds us that such moments occur “when we look at others and feel insecure about not having enough. Temptation comes in judgments we make about strangers or friends who make choices we do not understand.”
“Temptation rules us, making us unable to look away from those in need and to live our lives unaffected by poverty, hunger and disease. Temptation rages in moments when we allow our temper to define our lives or when an addiction to wealth, power, influence over others, vanity, or an inordinate need to control defines who we are.”
“Temptation comes when we get so caught up in the trappings of life that we lose sight of life itself. These are the faceless moments of evil that . . . lurk in the recesses of our lives and our souls.”
In many ways that is what Jesus faced in the wilderness. For me the journey into the wilderness was not about Jesus facing the devil , but about Jesus facing himself and determining whether or not he had the strength to remain faithful to the Spirit’s presence in his life.
He did not go into the wilderness by himself. He was led by the Spirit.
He did not go on a solitary journey but on a journey filled with remembrances of all that he had learned. The devil was quick to quote scripture in tempting Jesus and Jesus was equally quick to respond with his own quotations.
So it is that we must go on our own journeys aware of the Spirit’s leading and of God’s constant presence in our lives. We do not go alone.
This is the start of the season of Lent. Lent originally marked the period of preparation for baptism. Eventually it became a forty-day period set aside in preparation for Easter based the “forty days and forty nights” that Jesus spent in the wilderness.
It is a time for us to consider our actions and the ways that separate us from God and neighbor and to be reminded of God’s abundant grace that seeks to restore and heal us. The writer of The Book of Psalms tells us that there are three words used for the ways in which our thoughts and deeds separate us from God and from one another. They include the words “transgression,” “sin,” and “iniquity”
But they also include three words used to restore our relationship with God. The three words are “wrongdoing is forgiven,” “covered,” “no more.”
This season of Lent is a time for each of us to take stock of our own lives; to engage “the dark places in our lives that we may come face to face with them, name them, understand them, and seek forgiveness for them.” (Op. cit.) It is not so much about feeling guilty as it is about being free from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us all. (Seasons of the Spirit, Congregational Life/Lent/Easter, Wood Lake Publishing, Inc., Kelowa, British Columbia, Canada, 2009, page 30)
I will be 62 years old this year. When I turned 50 I had a chance to sit down and talk with my mother about things that had troubled me all of my life.
My mom and dad were never married. I never had an opportunity to get to know him. When I asked my mom why they were never married she said, “His parents said ʻNo, because I was not Japanese.’” My mother was Hawaiian-Portuguese.
My grandfather became my guardian when I was three years old and in time he legally adopted me. When I asked my mother why she “gave” me to “grandpa” she said I was not given but taken.
I spent 50 years of my life being angry at what had happened. I survived. But the life we share in Jesus Christ is more than about surviving.
I don’t know that I will ever fully understand what happened in my family. But my visit with my mom put to rest some of the things that had troubled me most of my life.
It may be that other family members will have their points of view. In the end the details do not matter as much as the anger that I felt.
What is it that may be troubling you today? Lent is a time to look at those places in our lives that require our care and attention.
We may want to fault the devil and Adam and Eve for all our troubles, but we are responsible for all of our words and deeds. If there is any consolation in the faith we share it is to know that we are invited to receive – loa‘a mai – the free gift of God’s grace poured out to us in Jesus Christ. Amen.
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