First Sunday in Lent A
Preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Three Lakes, WI.
Why do we need Lent?
When I was in high school, a boy and a girl in my circle of friends started dating. This happened all the time, but thought the pairing a bit strange. Thankfully, it didn’t last long. I remember sitting on the band room floor eating lunch with our friends, when the boy decided that it was time to go. He grabbed his girlfriend’s arm with enough force to make her cry out in a pain and insisted that it was time to leave.
Then there were two friends, also dating, with whom I had been close, until one day, I was talking with the girl in the hall in between classes, and her boyfriend walked up, slammed her locker shut, stood in between us, and ushered her away over her objections.
Today, we listened to the story of Adam and Eve, the first man and the first woman, and how they cursed all of humanity, their descendants, with the stain of sin. We need Lent because of this story.
You might think that we need Lent because in this story, Adam and Eve break God’s rules—it’s their fault.
You might think that we need Lent because in this story, humanity gives into temptation—we are bound to do the same.
You might think that we need Lent because in this story, humanity hides from and lies to God for the very first time—something we have become quite good at.
I would instead say that we need Lent, because this story, which is supposed to show us right from the beginning that we are a people who are not as we ought to be; that we are broken and in need of redemption; instead of that message, we have taken this story, and used it as justification for the most horrible, heinous, and vicious crimes.
For hundreds of years, this story “explained” why women were to be mistreated. It was interpreted to mean that Eve, a woman, caused Adam to sin. It was all her fault. And the man, given authority by God, had to make her pay.
Let me get this out of the way first, though. This is not an historical story. Do not take it literally. It is an etiological myth, a story written to explain why things are the way they are. That will make the rest of this much easier to understand.
I like to think we have come a long way from the days when women were legally the property of first their fathers and then their husbands. That we as a species no longer consider women to be objects instead of the people God created them.
But the truth is that we haven’t. We still blame Eve for our own problems and seek to take it out on women. By the way, read that story again, and you’ll find that Adam is standing there the whole time, perfectly complicit in everything that happens.
The true story of Adam and Eve, the true etiological myth, or explanation for why things are the way they are, is the story that humans have always craved power over one another. And we will exert that power any way we can, in the worst and most disgusting ways possible.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 4 women will probably experience a sexual assault in their lifetime. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by age 18. In 8 out of 10 cases, the rape victim knows their assailant. On average, every 3 minutes, 4 women are raped in the United States alone. Though we often refuse to believe that it is possible, an estimated 92,700 men are raped in the United States each year.
And we continue to justify it.
Samantha Field, writer of the blog Defeating the Dragons, has spent years reflecting on, admitting to, and finally sharing the fact that she was repeatedly raped by her fiancé at their ultra-fundamentalist Christian college. When she announced that she was going to be writing an article on the way the school grossly mishandled her rape and the rape of other girls, she received immediate and vocal backlash blaming her for what happened. According to them, if she had followed school policy, she would have been protected and would never have been in a situation where rape would have been possible. If only she had done this… if only she had done that… everything was her responsibility. It was her fault.
Her story is the same reason why only 16% of rapes are ever reported. When the first questions asked of a rape victim are, “What were you wearing?” “Were you drinking?” “Did you lead him on?” “Did you actually say no?”, is it any surprise that the abuse continues?
Even on a milder level, what my two high school friends experienced was an exertion of power over the girls that the boys felt entitled too, because they were their girlfriends.
This is why we need Lent.
Rape is perhaps the worst way in which human beings exert control and use power against one another, but it is by no means the only way. Many of you will remember the Jim Crow laws and legal segregation, the dominance of one skin color over all others, that eventually gave birth to the Civil Rights movement. Further back, before the founding of this country, its government and people engaged in widespread slaughter and forced relocation of native peoples under the banner of “manifest destiny”. Last night, I showed some of my pictures from Israel and Palestine, an area that, for the last 10,000 years to this day, has been a hotbed of conquest, violence, and death.
All of these situations, both past and present (because they all still continue today), are at the same time inexcusable, and yet defended. The United States had a right to the land, no matter who was living on it. Whites were perfectly justified in separating out blacks. And women only get raped if they are asking for it. The domination and abuse of power is allowed to continue.
This is why we need Lent. Not to remind us of the little things we do that we common call “sins”. Although yes, we need to be reminded when we fall short of God’s expectations. It’s the only way we learn and grow.
But we need Lent to remind ourselves of the real moral of Adam and Eve’s story. We need to be reminded that we as human beings are stuck in a cycle of death. We’ve been stuck here so long, we can’t tell that this is not how it should be, or that it can be in any way different.
Adam and Eve hadn’t yet reached their full potential. Like children on the cusp of growing up, they had many choices in front of them. Their identity was in God, but instead of living into that identity, they wanted to take their own identity. They wanted to exert their own power.
The sad part is, they succeeded. Their eyes were opened, and they knew good and evil. But they no longer had the potential to grow into the beings God intended. Like a sheet of paper that could have become a touching love letter, but instead became hate mail, they had lost sight of the one who created and loved them, and instead struck out on their own. They got what the wanted, but found nothing. The results have been disastrous. Not only did we turn against God, we turned against each other.
That is sin. That is why what we need to be reminded of—that our connections to God and to each other are broken. That is why we need Lent.
But we also need Lent to remind us that while it’s too late for humanity to redeem itself and make itself right, it is never too late for God to redeem humanity. Even in the story of Adam and Eve, after pronouncing curses on the snake, woman, and man, God takes the human beings, provides them with clothes, teaches them how to survive, and remains with them for the rest of their lives.
And when the time was finally right, God became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Faced with the same temptation that humanity also faces: the desire to dominate others, Jesus rejected that path of growth and became the human being God always intended us to be—in relationship with God.
And, as Paul says, if through just one man, the relationship with God was broken for all of us, then through one man, the relationship is restored for all of us.
When Adam and Eve left the garden, God went with them. God maintained a relationship, even if it was a broken one, with the people God loved and cherished and could not bear to leave on their own. In a final act of forgiveness, Jesus Christ went to the cross, a victim of our need to exert our power over God, and died.
And in a final act of defiance against our power, Christ was raised again from the dead, coming right back to us. This is how much we are still loved, that not even death could kill the love God has for us.
We were once lost and broken without any hope for our relationship with God and each other to be anything more than domination, power struggles, and destruction. Lent reminds us that we are still lost and broken, but we are no longer hopeless.
That is why we need Lent.