Paige Foreman-Smith Episcopal Church At Yale
1 Lent Year A March 1, 2020
Saved by Scripture
“For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.”
As a child, I didn’t believe in God, but I believed in UFO conspiracy theories.
I grew up in the southwest and dreamed of driving down State Route 375, also known as the Extraterrestrial Highway, and sneaking into Area 51 to find out what secrets it held. I believed that in a July 1945 thunderstorm, a flying saucer crashed into a ranch just outside of Roswell, New Mexico, not a weather balloon.
After all, my teacher’s daughter’s boyfriend’s uncle was one of the police officers called to the crash, and he said that through the pouring rain, he saw gray life forms on the ground just outside of the UFO.
I visited Roswell during a middle school camping trip, and we browsed a tacky museum I don’t remember very well, but I do remember that the streetlights had alien eyes on them. I met their gaze and then looked up at the too blue desert sky, imagining telepathic beings of light that lived on distant crystal planets under strange moons and stars.
I knew the truth was out there. Somewhere. In a galaxy far, far away.
When I became Christian, I turned to the truth of Jesus Christ.
Paul says about Christ in today’s reading, “For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Paul doesn’t tell us exactly how sin and death entered the world except that it has to do with Adam’s disobedience of God’s command.
The passage from Romans alludes to Genesis, and to understand our salvation through Christ, we must understand what happened in Eden.
You know the story. God tells the man not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it leads to death. The woman has a conversation with the serpent. The woman eats from the tree and then the man eats, disobeying God’s command.
A crucial moment for understanding the story though, is this line: “Then the eyes of both were opened…” The woman and man gained awareness. And awareness is made of memory, imagination, and the body. It is a lantern that shows us the past, the present, and what the future might be. It enables us to plan and make moral judgments.
First, the woman and man became aware of their nakedness and immediately tried to cover themselves when before, they were unashamed. Later in the story, the man and woman are assigned gender roles and get names. These are things that are socially constructed.
Adam disobeyed God and became aware that he disobeyed God. To be Christian is to be aware that something is profoundly wrong with the world and that we are what is wrong with the world. Our name for this wrongness is sin. Sin is a symptom of consciousness. We are aware we live in a world of misery, violence, injustice, and death.
I want to point out that Eve is subtly and not so subtly erased by the biblical writers for today. I suspect this has something to do with the sins of the patriarchy.
That said, by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners. Let’s turn now to the obedience of Jesus Christ in the wilderness.
Over forty days and forty nights, Jesus is tempted three times by the devil. Scripture does not say much about the origin of the devil except that he voluntarily disobeyed God and attempts to bring about the ruin of humanity by lying about God. One of my favorite theologians, John Calvin, would state that it’s important to not mistake this for duality. The devil does nothing without God’s permission and is under God’s control. The devil works to bring about God’s providence.
In the wilderness, the devil tempts and lies to Christ in three ways: trying to convince Christ to give into his hunger, distorting the message of Scripture, and telling Christ to test God.
For each test, Christ responds to the devil with the truth of Scripture.
Deuteronomy 8:3, “…One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”
Deuteronomy 6:13, “The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone, you shall swear.”
Scripture grounds Christ in his faith of God. To be without Scripture is to be completely defenseless, which is why the main strategy of the devil is to get Christians to discard Scripture. Christ emerges from the wilderness victorious, and the angels, invisible but not absent during the temptation, comfort Christ afterwards.
With this in mind, I want to share with you an excerpt from Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay, “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?”
“For fantasy,” she writes, or in my case UFO conspiracy theories, “is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom.”
I want to ask a similar question. Why are American Christians afraid of Scripture?
According to a recent research study, 87% of American households own a Bible, but more than half of them have read little to none of it. Access to Scripture is high, but Biblical literacy is low.
Why are we afraid of talking serpents, of angels and demons, of the wilderness?
Scripture, like the wilderness, demands a lot from us. Growing up in the desert, I was hissed at by rattlesnakes, the summer heat has made me vomit, and I’ve been stabbed by cacti. Desert living is not for the faint of heart.
Why are Americans afraid of Jesus Christ? Perhaps it is because Jesus demands that we leave everything behind to follow him, and the lies of privilege and power are very difficult to let go of. We are afraid of Jesus Christ because we are afraid of the Way and the Truth and the Life. We are afraid of freedom, of salvation, because it demands all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds.
I’ll share the metaphor John Calvin uses for Scripture. He writes, “…laying aside the disease of self-love and ambition, by which he is blinded and thinks more highly of himself than he ought, he rightly recognizes himself in the faithful mirror of Scripture.”
Scripture keeps us accountable. It is how God speaks to us when we cannot grasp God. If the burden of our human condition is awareness that we are sinners, then let’s repent by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. Let’s write about Scripture in our letters to senators, let’s shout Scripture in the streets during protests, let’s pray on Scripture when we fall into racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism. Which means we must pray unceasingly.
Let us take Scripture seriously by interpreting it responsibly and critiquing it with the discernment of the Holy Spirit. Above all, let us be free.
And if we are oppressed, if we are persecuted by demonic forces, let’s follow the example of Christ in the wilderness and respond with Scripture: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The desert of Lent stretches out before us, and if we repent and believe in Scripture, we have what we need to obey God, which is a demanding task.
And when we stumble on lies, and we will, remember that the truth is near, in a kingdom that is at hand.