God on the Way: The Journey for Healing

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Our Savior’s sign currently.

John 9:1-41

I’ll cut to the chase. This morning’s Gospel lesson is, needless to say, relevant. From the very beginning: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 

“Who sinned, that we are now in a pandemic?” 

It’s a question as old as time. Who is to BLAME?
The answer is the same in both cases: no one. Don’t waste your time on blame in a crisis or in the face of pain. The ailments are, instead, an opportunity.

In John 5, there’s a similar healing to the one I just read. In that passage and in this one, Jesus approaches the person in need of healing without the person looking for him. In John 5, Jesus asks a question of the man in need of healing that has been rattling around my brain this week. 

“Do you want to be made well?” 

In this passage, Jesus says to the man, “Go and wash.” 

(Jesus told you to; go and wash your hands. Unless you’re watching this live, you can pause me. I’ll wait.) 

We’ve all been readjusting to what has become our new normal. When we canceled worship last week, I was happy to take precautions but also didn’t think it would last more than a week or two. Now, in only a week, we are coming to realize that this will last longer than any of us want it to. 

Settle in. This is going to last longer than any of us want it to. 

We are being asked to practice social distancing: “Like a good neighbor, stay over there!” Places of worship have canceled services, including us, to protect our people. The state has mandated that we not gather in groups of over 25, and the CDC knocked that down to 10. 

We’re being told to go and wash — in this case, our hands. We’re being told to get exercise and to stay away from other people. I get the sense that most people are taking it seriously, but some aren’t.

America — “Do you want to be made well?” 

“Go and wash.” 

If we didn’t know this before, we are all interconnected. My carelessness in going out may not make me sick, but it could contribute to someone else getting sick. We must care for each other. We must ensure that everyone is made well as quickly as possible. 

We are all lonely. And hurting. And grieving things that have been canceled. And maybe even a little angry or at least annoyed with those we may be sharing a house with. We are bored. One of the cruelties of this international crisis is that we have too much time to think, to be anxious, to worry — about our loved ones, about ourselves, about our livelihoods. I share all of those worries with you. We are all in this together, and we must stay the course to flatten the curve of this thing and to ensure that it’s over with as quickly as possible. I am a marathoner, so let me tell you something about marathons: they last longer than you want them to, and they are painful, but once you start, you have no choice but to stay the course until the finish line. 

The same holds true here. 

“Do you want to be made well?” 

In this passage, Jesus does the healing and then there’s a whole line of conversation and controversy about how the guy got healed. In the same way, there’s a whole line of conversation and controversy about this virus. We’re yelling at each other, calling in witnesses, trying to figure out how it happened, trying to pass blame. We’re trying to find out how to stop it and get back to our lives. 

But the point of the story is in the blind man’s words: “I was blind, and now I see.” Now, more than ever, we need to realize that the Gospel is a story about God, not a story about us. Now more than ever, we need to do our part and handle what we can control — we need to want to be made well — and we need to realize right now how very much is out of our control. 

Beloved, one of the things that I always say, especially on Christmas and Easter, is that we always gather to celebrate. I always say that never do we get to the end of Lent and then shrug and say “Well, I guess we won’t get together this year.” We always do. We always, always do. 

This year is probably going to be different. And I realized something this week that I had not realized before, at least not like this: we do not make Easter happen. Easter will happen regardless of what we do, or do not do, which skits we perform, which music we sing. New life is going to burst forth out of the frozen ground, and it already is here in Massachusetts. The trees are sprouting. The shoots are coming up. New life is coming, and we did nothing to earn it or bring it in. Because we can’t make spring come. 

When we have gathered together in previous years for the first Sunday of Easter or Easter Vigil, I don’t think I fully appreciated that we were only acknowledging a reality, not making it happen. 

Beloved, new life will come. This will end. And Jesus Christ is as risen today as yesterday, and tomorrow, and forever. Doctors and nurses and infectious disease specialists are already working around the clock to get this under control. We owe them our gratitude, our love, our very lives. Help is on the way, and in the meantime, we need to stay home.

Focus on what you can control: yourself. You can call the people you want to talk to. You can wash your hands. You can get exercise and you can stay home. 

Let go of what you cannot control and rest only knowing that we are not alone. 

If any good comes from this, let it be that we no longer take for granted a hug from a friend, a beer at a bar, or the ability to gather together in safety to acknowledge and proclaim what God has already done. 

But that even now, in the middle of Lent, Christ is still risen. Even now, it is spring. Even now, there is hope. 

Our sign outside currently reads, “Hope is not canceled.” That is true. Easter is not canceled either. We may have to celebrate it in a different way this year, but Easter will still come. 

And after this year, we will never again take for granted the sound of children stomping out death at Easter Vigil. We will never again take for granted the smell of the lilies and the smiles on the faces of all of our people in their Sunday best. We will never again take each other for granted. 

So connect, however you can. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Let’s flatten this curve so that we can get back to loving one another in person. 

Until then, control what you can, and give up thinking that you can control everything. Let yourself rest and be still. We are not alone. You are not alone. 

Until we are all set free from this, we will love one another however we can, including like this. We will reach out and call one another when we need to. We will send loving texts and Facebook messages and laugh until we cry over video calls. We will make the best of this. 

And the best news of all is that Christ will bring us healing, and new life, and resurrection, whether we ask for it or not. When this is over, we will see everything, including each other, with new and grateful eyes.

We are not alone. Hope is not canceled. And help is already on the way. Amen.

God on the Way: The Journey to Find What We Need

This is part of a backlog of sermons that I have written since our collective social distancing and self-quarantine due to COVID-19 began in earnest on Sunday, March 15. This sermon and each one that follows are also recorded on Facebook live @Our Savior’s South Hadley MA.

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Artist: Jorge Cocco Santangelo

John 4:5-42

I thought I would be giving this sermon to you in person, but here we are. This sermon is one of many things I’ve had to re-write this week. 

This Lent is going to be an unprecedented journey, and all I ask is that you be patient and gracious with us. We are all human, and none of us has lived through something like this before. While you may find our actions extreme, trust that we are acting on the latest information and doing the best we can. Also understand that we are human. None of these decisions was easy. We are all tired, all stressed, all hurting. There is currently no guidance for what church leaders should do; we simply did what the majority of churches our size are doing today. Those who are not closed this week will very likely be closed next week. 

And now the good news. That’s what Lutherans might call a sermon.

“God on the Way.” 

Today, we continue with our Lenten theme of journeying with the woman at the well. The story is meant to be in contrast with Nicodemus. He met Jesus by night; she meets him by day. He gets a name; she doesn’t. He is an important religious leader; she is a Samaritan, one of “those” people. He’s confused by Jesus’ riddles; she comes to believe and tell others. By the end of the story, Nicodemus will be a believer himself, because, like we discussed last week, “The Son did not come into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him.” – John 3:17, the best verse in the Bible, in my estimation, which is naturally just after the most quoted one. 

The first week of Lent, we talked about the journey to find our identities — who we are, and who we will be in these times. Last week, we talked about Nicodemus and the journey for knowledge. 

The woman at the well isn’t trying to figure out who she is. She’s not looking for knowledge. She’s not even looking for Jesus. 

She comes looking for water. 

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of us are doing that these days. We’re looking for water so that we can wash our hands. We’re also, incidentally, looking for hand sanitizer and toilet paper and groceries. 

If you’ve started panic buying anything, stop. Notice the woman at the well didn’t drain it. We’re all in this together. 

Like the woman at the well, when we venture out these days, we’re on a journey for what we need. On that journey to find what she needs — water — she finds what she didn’t know she needed, Jesus. God, as always, was on the way.

Like many people, I’ve been venturing out much less in recent days. When I do go out, it’s on that journey to find what I need, like food, or exercise, or community, or work. 

In thinking about the woman at the well, I’ve noticed something: that if I know how to look, I rarely come back with only the thing that I needed in the first place. I go out to exercise nearly every day. Rarely to I come back with only a workout. At the gym, there’s much needed community and advice. On the running trails, there has been beautiful weather, and this beautiful Valley we live in always greets me kindly and rewards me with her beauty for coming out of the house to see her. A trip to the Big Y for food will often yield the kindness of strangers, or a much needed smile.

And then there’s you. A pastor’s life is a funny one, because our church community is also our workplace. You make things less confusing by your sheer kindness, your humor, and your sense of fun. I come here seeking what I need — work, and a purpose — and I leave with new memories of how funny, how smart, and how wonderfully logical and practical and kind you are. I leave with a renewed hope in humanity after spending far too long with my face in social media feeds where people seem only concerned about their own health and safety. 

You’ve restored my faith in humanity and in the church more times than I can count, and we will be back together soon enough, healthy and whole. 

“So [Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.”

She was just coming to get some water from the well. There was a man there, but she didn’t pay much attention to him. She could tell that he was a Jew, and she knew all too well what Jewish people thought of Samaritan people, and vice versa. So she did what we all do when we see someone who’s one of “them” — we stick to our business. She dips her bucket in the well. 

Then he speaks. 

“Give me a drink.” 

I wonder what she thought in that moment. “Get it yourself?,” maybe? Or maybe she’s just flummoxed. That’s what her response indicates. Because she knows that no good Jewish boy is gonna go drinking from a Samaritan woman’s bucket. 

She points this out to him.
He responds, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 

She looks him up and down. “You ain’t got no bucket. Where you getting water from?” 

He keeps talking about living water. She’s convinced. Without any sign, without any miracle, she believes. She asks for the living water. 

Then they have a brief exchange about her male companion. Long story short, he shows her that he sees her — really sees her. He doesn’t mention sin, because unlike people in our own time, she almost definitely didn’t choose to have five husbands, but was most likely the victim of divorce or, more likely, being passed from brother to brother as each subsequently died. Now she’s found a man to take care of her, but he isn’t her husband. Who knows why. That’s not the point. The point is that he sees her. Jesus does that a lot in John — tell people all about their lives before they tell him anything. It’s one of his coolest tricks. 

“Okay,” she says, “I see you’re a prophet.” She points out the religious differences between her people and his, which are mostly geographical. She wants to talk theology. This wasn’t terribly common for a lady. 

One day, he assures her, worship won’t be about geography. She says she knows the Messiah is coming. “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

Then Jesus does the thing he does that English translators always seem to miss. He doesn’t say “I am he.” The real words are so much better. 

He says, “I AM, the one who is speaking to you.” 

I AM. In Hebrew, Yahweh. I am, as in “the great I am.” 

“I AM is speaking to you.” 

She comes to find what she needs — water — and she finds God on the way. Or I guess, more accurately, God finds her. She went to find water and met her maker instead, but in a good way.

Then she goes and tells her whole town, and they come to find him, and they believe. She, this nameless woman who just needed water, becomes the first preacher of the Gospel. 

“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

In John, the disciples are many more than just the Twelve. The disciples are the ones who believe. The disciples are the new kind of family that we talked about last week. And it’s this disciple, the woman at the well, who is the first disciple to utter Jesus’ key invitation: “Come and see.” 

Her name is lost to history, but she is a saint in Christ’s church forever. 

All because she went to find water. 

Beloved, these days, we’re all keenly aware of what our bodies need. We need to wash our hands. We need to stay out of crowds. We need to not touch our faces. We need good food and water and exercise to boost our immune systems. 

In Italy, where the outbreak is far ahead of our own, people are mostly only allowed to leave the house for essentials, like water or food. But one thing has happened. Italians have started singing out their windows.
They harmonize with their neighbors. They entertain passersby with national songs of pride and opera and songs about how they’re going to beat this virus together. And people who are on the way to get what they need experience this holiness in harmony. 

May we do the same, providing kindness and beauty to one another along the way. 

Let the woman at the well be your guide. Go and find what you need. Go about your business and take care of your errands. Go find what you and your family need, in the most mundane of ways. Take care of yourselves and watch over your health. 

But don’t forget to look up, in the midst of all of this, and look for what is beautiful and holy. Look strangers in the eye. Take care of others. You never know who might be speaking to you, and you never really know where God might find you. Maybe in song, maybe in sunshine, maybe in the kindness of someone you know or the grace of someone you don’t.

On the journey to find what you need, be well aware that God might find you. 

Make sure, like the woman at the well, that you’re ready, that you ask questions — that you talk back. 

And, as we all go looking for water, often, to wash our hands, remember, as my colleague reminded me this week: Wash your hands and say your prayers, because Jesus and germs are everywhere.” 

We are apart now so that we can be together later, and God is with us, on the journey, now and always.

Amen.

God on the Way: The Journey for Knowledge

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The knights of Monty Python and the Holy Grail face the bridge keeper and the Gorge of Eternal Peril. 

John 3:1-17

“God on the Way.” 

Today, we continue with our Lenten theme of journeying with Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus by night, and also Abraham and Sarah, who must leave their homeland to find a new one. All of them begin a journey without knowing the end. All of them will step out in faith, while also seeking to know. 

Today’s journey, it would seem, is a journey for knowledge, and as with all our journeys, God meets some people on their way. 

In 1975, the greatest, most ridiculous movie in the history of the Western world was released: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 

In the movie, naturally, the nights of Camelot go on a comedic quest to find the Holy Grail. They have many adventures on their quest, of course. During one scene, the knights, including King Arthur, come upon the “Bridge of Death.” The keeper of the bridge, or as one the knights puts it, “the old man from scene 24,” asks each traveler three questions — or is it five? — no, three. If the traveler gives the correct answer, the traveler is granted safe passage. If the traveler gives the wrong answer, they are cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril. First, Arthur asks Brave Sir Robin to go, and Sir Robin immediately throws Lancelot under the bus. Lancelot, who in the movie is hilariously bold and overly aggressive, begins by illustrating his planned attack on the bridge keeper. King Arthur responds by saying, “No, no, just answer the five questions.” 

“Three?” 

“Yes, three questions.” 

Arthur sends Lancelot towards the bridge with the words, “Just answer the questions as best you can. And we will watch. And pray.” 

Lancelot approaches the bridge and is told to HALT by the old bridge keeper.

“STOP! He who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.” 

Lancelot stands tall and responds, “Ask me the questions, bridge keeper. I’m not afraid.” 

The bridge keeper begins.

WHAT is your name?” 

“My name is Sir Lancelot of Camelot.” 

“WHAT is your quest?” 

“To seek the Holy Grail.” 

“WHAT is your favorite color?” 

“Um, blue.” 

“Off you go then.” 

Lancelot responds, “Oh, very well, thank you.” 

Then he crosses. Sir Robin, hiding bravely as Sir Robin often does in the movie (he is the cowardly foil to Lancelot’s overly aggressive character) — Sir Robin exclaims “That’s easy!” and he ambles bravely towards the Bridge of Death. He hears the same spiel: “STOP! He who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.” 

The usually cowardly Robin also now stands tall and responds as Lancelot did: “Ask me the questions, bridge keeper. I’m not afraid.” 

WHAT is your name?” 

“My name is Sir Lancelot of Camelot.” 

“WHAT is your quest?” 

Robin responds, sounding bored, “To seek the Holy Grail.” 

“WHAT is the capital of Assyria?” 

Robin looks shocked. He stammers, “I don’t know that!” Just before he is cast into, presumably, the Gorge of Eternal Peril. 

Sir Galahad steps forward. 

WHAT is your name?” 

“My name is Sir Galahad.” 

“WHAT is your quest?” 

“To seek the Holy Grail.” 

“WHAT is your favorite color?” 

“Um, blue. No…!” 

He, too, flies up into the air and is presumably cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril. 

Finally, none are left except Sir Bedevere and King Arthur himself. Arthur steps forward. 

WHAT is your name?” 

“It is Arthur, king of the Britons!”  

“WHAT is your quest?” 

“I seek the Holy Grail.” 

“WHAT is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?” 

“What do you mean? An African or a European swallow?” 

The bridge keeper looks confused. He stammers. “I… I don’t know that!” Immediately, he flies off his feet and into the Gorge of Eternal Peril, leaving the knights to cross on their own. 

It’s a funny scene, but it’s all a barrage of information and questions, riddles and answers, simple questions and less than simple ones. 

There are riddles, of course, throughout literature and pop culture. Some of them are even in the Bible, but it’s pretty easy to miss them or even fall prey to riddles when they’re translated from another language — or even when they aren’t.

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 

He came to Jesus by night. 

In John’s Gospel, light and darkness matter. Nicodemus is coming from the darkness of not understanding to meet the Light of the World by night. He’s also coming in secret. You see a depiction of his face on the front of your bulletin. 

He begins by saying something a little unheard of for a Pharisee: “We know that you are teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

As usual, Jesus in John’s Gospel is notably not-impressed by those who are impressed by the miracles. In response, Jesus hands Nicodemus a riddle: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

You might be wondering why you learned a different version, and why a different set of words often gets quoted: “You must be born again. 

It’s a riddle, you guys. 

You see, the Greek word means both “from above” and “again,” and like many words, you figure out what the speaker means based on context. Unless the speaker is giving you a riddle based on the word’s double meaning. Then you’re just confused, like Nicodemus. 

I’ll give it to you straight: the word Jesus uses here is most often in the New Testament used to mean “from above,” but Nicodemus doesn’t understand how someone might be born “from above,” so he assumes the other meaning and asks a very pointed question back to Jesus about how someone might possibly re-enter their mother’s womb to be born a second time.

What follows is a barrage of questions, answers, and information. It can seem a little confusing. Jesus goes on about how one could possibly be born from above, and how what is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the spirit is spirit. It all sounds very mysterious and chaotic and maybe even a bit scary. 

So let me take you for a moment back to Christmas. 

This is the third chapter of John. Let me take you back for a second to the first chapter. 

The Word became flesh and lived among us. 

While we might be tempted to read Jesus’ words to Nicodemus as a condemnation of flesh, that’s not what’s happening. He’s just drawing a distinction between blood family and another kind of family. John 1 continues, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of humans, but of God.” 

Nicodemus comes looking for knowledge, and instead, what he finds is love, and a different kind of family. 

Abraham and Sarah are told to leave their homeland and find a new one. God sends them out to be a great nation, and a blessing. What begins as a mystery — something of a riddle — becomes a quest to find the promised land, and to be a blessing to all nations. 

Often, we find faith to be a riddle wrapped in an enigma. We set out to find answers, thinking that if we get the questions wrong or if we don’t know what’s correct, we’ll be cast, with Sir Robin, into the proverbial Gorge of Eternal Peril. 

We think that it is about right knowledge, right belief, and we set off on our quest to find the right answers. I guess you could say that I did that a decade ago when I enrolled in Gail R. O’Day’s John course. 

Dr. O’Day had written the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary on John. She was, as you might say, big in the business. She knew a lot. She was a trusted scholar. What I found instead is exactly what is found in this sermon. Over and over, the Gospel of John eschews knowledge in favor of love, and a new kind of family — the kind that is not born of blood, but of the Holy Spirit. This kind of family. 

The passage today ends with perhaps the most famous verse in the New Testament: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” 

This verse gets plastered on placards and signs everywhere. Dr. O’Day would often say that she wants to come in with a sharpie and add “dash seventeen” to every John 3:16 sign she sees. 

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” 

Jesus is not the bridge keeper waiting to cast us into the Gorge of Eternal Peril for not believing the right things. Jesus is here to form us into a community of love, and a new kind of family. And like any family, we gather at the table together whenever we can. We journey for knowledge and wisdom together, knowing that it’s not about having the correct answers, but about meeting God on our way.

So as we continue to journey together this Lent, I invite you to gather at this table with us, your new kind of family, whenever you can. We’re currently here, on Sundays and Wednesdays, gathering at the table, sharing love because Christ first loved us. Because God did not send the Son into the world to throw us into the Gorge of Eternal Peril, but that we all might be saved through him.

And on our collective quest for knowledge, that is all, as they say, you need to know. Amen.

God on the Way: The Journey of Identity

 

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Earl Shaffer, the first person to hike the Appalachian Trail in one thru-hike, on the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine.  

Matthew 4:1-11

Our Lenten theme for 2020 is “God on the Way,” and we’re talking about all the ways and journeys where we encounter God during our lives.  

This Lent, we’re talking about journeys. There’s a lot to draw from, but for our first one, I thought I’d talk about something that many of us have in common: a love of the outdoors. 

Since I used it in our children’s sermon, you now see Debbie’s frame pack there on the left side of the altar. As I was thinking of how I would preach this first Sunday of Lent, I dreamed of summer and thought a lot about frame packs and hiking. Chances are, at least a few of you have been dreaming about similar things lately too. It helps that in the Gospel lesson today, Jesus himself has gone on a bit of a hike through the wilderness. 

We read Matthew’s version of the temptation of Jesus today, but I admit that I like Mark’s best for one very nerdy reason: rather than saying that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness after his baptism, Mark says that Jesus was driven there. Not “driven” like he hailed an uber, but “driven” as in pushed. Mark uses the same word that he uses to talk about driving out demons here. Basically, Jesus was pushed out onto this journey. 

We’re now in chapter 4 of Matthew; in chapter 3, right before this, Jesus was baptized. He heard the words that we all hear at baptism: that we are beloved. Then God pushes him out into the wilderness to figure out what that means. 

And so, with Jesus, I want us to think about something foundational to our baptisms: the journey of identity — of figuring out who we are. 

At first glance, it seems like something that only children and teenagers do: figure out who they are and who they want to be in the world. And for sure, it’s those times that are probably the most foundational to figuring out our identities. But you know, Jesus takes this journey at 33 as he starts a whole new phase of his life. And we — we do that, too. Regardless of how old we are, we’re also constantly trying to figure out who we are and what our purpose is in this world, at this time, in this place, in these circumstances.

This journey gets more intense, of course, after big things happen in our lives. Someone dies. Someone is born. A relationship ends. We lose a job. We get a new job. We retire. Suddenly, we have to figure out who we are in light of this new information and these new circumstances. Usually, this isn’t fun at all. But sometimes, we manage to figure out just the right journey to take to help us figure it out. 

One such person who took a long journey to figure out who he was in light of new circumstances went by the name of Earl Shaffer. 

Earl Shaffer was the very first person to hike the Appalachian Trail. He began his journey in Olgethorpe, Georgia, on April 4, 1948. He had just finished his service in the army during World War II, and he wanted to, in his words, walk the war out of his system. And so he did — he walked the over 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail that year, averaging about 16 miles per day. At that time, there were no guidebooks; all he had was a roadmap and a compass. 124 days later, he summited Mount Katahdin in Maine. He felt bittersweet about reaching the trail’s end, writing, “I almost wished that the Trail really was endless, that no one could ever hike its length.” Earl would go on to hike the trail two more times: once in 1965, and one final time in 1998, at the age of 79. 

After witnessing firsthand the worst conflict humankind had known up to that point in history, Earl had to take a journey to figure out who he was in light of what he had seen. 

Similarly, we are all constantly renegotiating who we are in the midst of changing circumstances. 

Jesus is driven out into the wilderness after he is declared the beloved Son of God at baptism, and he embarks on his own outdoor journey. 

Famously, he meets the old foe, the devil, who tempts him with three different things: first, food, since he hadn’t eaten in 40 days. Then the old devil tempts Jesus to prove himself by throwing himself off the temple in front of people. Finally, the devil tempts him with power. Implicitly and explicitly, the devil challenges Jesus’ identity: if you are the Son of God…” 

After famously refusing the devil’s temptations and holding fast to who he is, angels come and wait on him. Jesus rest isn’t long, though — immediately after he returns, he’ll find out that John the Baptist, the one who baptized him, has been thrown in prison. Then he’ll start calling disciples. 

This journey in the wilderness is formative for Jesus in more ways than one. First, there’s the devil. It’s easy to get hung up on the questions: is there a literal devil with horns and a pitchfork? Is there a literal devil who doesn’t look like a cartoon? Or are the real devils all human, as we might suspect? The real question is, of course: is there an evil that exists outside of us, or is it all internal? This, too, is a question of identity. 

But for now, I’ll tell you exactly what I know: that one, maybe the most famous, traditional Hebrew name for the devil is “ha-satan,” which is exactly where we get our word “Satan.” And ha-satan means, in Hebrew, “the accuser.” 

He is the one who calls out to us at every turn: “you’re an imposter. You’re not who you say you are. God doesn’t love you. How could anyone love you, after what you’ve done?”
Similarly, in the Old Testament lesson for today, Adam and Eve are working through their very new identity. Are they creatures who are dependent on God? Are they trusting, or are they suspicious and defensive? Is God trying to hide something from them? Of course, the serpent feeds the flame: “You will not die, as God said, but you’ll be like God.” 

Don’t be naive, little humans. Eat the fruit.
We’ve all heard the voice of the accuser. You might think it’s just you. It isn’t. Even Jesus. Even the first humans.

If you are the Son of God… prove it. 

You will not die. God is lying. Eat the fruit. Prove that you are strong and independent.

We’re talking this Lent about meeting God on the way, but you should probably know that you might meet this other character on the way, too: the accuser. Whether you believe in a literal devil or not, I can just about guarantee that you’ve heard that accusing voice in your head. It might even be the loudest during those times when you’re trying to figure out who you are again — when you’ve just started, or re-started, the journey to recovery. When you’ve finally landed that new job. When you thought you were over your grief after a death or a lost relationship. These are the times when we can hear the voice of the accuser most loudly, saying things like, “You are an addict and you will always behave like an addict.” Or “You’re a terrible parent.” Or “No one will ever love you again.” Or “Your life is over.” 

Or, perhaps worst: “Why are you struggling? You are weak. You should be over it by now.” 

Beloved, the devil is a liar. 

Perhaps the biggest lie in the garden of Eden is that Adam and Eve were infinite and were capable of knowing how to do everything on their own and didn’t need God or anyone else. 

Beloved, you are not infinite. And you are beloved; God is not lying. 

Much like Earl Shaffer had to walk the war out of his system on the Appalachian Trail, this Lenten journey is here to help us walk the words of the accuser right out of our systems and figure out who we are. These days can lift us up and lead us to life renewed, if we’ll let them. So here we are, beginning our journey. Whatever you need to walk out of your system, I hope you’re able to name it. We may not be going on a literal walk, but we’re going on a journey together, on these Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. 

And as surely as spring will come, Holy Week and Easter will find us, telling us once again who we are: we are an Easter people. We are a people for whom the accuser never has the last word. We are a people whom God always pursues, always finds, always gives new life to, just as the warmth of spring will bring new life to the earth in due time.

Beloved, we are not infinite. We are beloved. 

So whatever you need to walk out of your system, name it now. And wherever you are on your current journey to figure out who you are in light of the circumstances you find yourself in, you are beloved. You are not infinite, and there is no shame in not having it all figured out yet. The journey is long, and as the sign outside says, God is always on the way.

In short, as I say all the time, God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. 

So we might as well have a meal, pick up our frame packs, and get to walking. Amen.