Sermon for March 1st, 2020
One of Dolly Parton’s lesser known songs is a little number called the PMS Blues. Dolly begins the song by singing:
Eve you wicked woman! You done put your curse on me!
Why didn’t you just leave that apple hanging in the tree?
Well, I admit that I know nothing about PMS, but I do know a little about the bible and theology, and as much as I am reluctant to disagree with Saint Dolly about anything, I don’t really think it is fair to blame Eve for all our problems. I mean, Adam had a hand in it too you know.
Adam and Eve were supposed to be in this thing called life together. When Adam met Eve, she was “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” The two were one. It is only after the fall that Adam starts blaming Eve for all his problems. So let’s not try to scapegoat Eve when we are talking about the fall.
When the Apostle Paul talks about the fall of mankind, he doesn’t scapegoat Eve. In his letter to the Romans, Paul blames Adam. So I think it is best not to try and separate the genders here. Adam and Eve both fall, they are both responsible for failing to uphold the one commandment that God gave them. But why? What was it about that fruit that was so appealing that they just couldn’t resist it? Why didn’t they just leave that apple hanging in the tree?
The bible tells us actually. The apple was tempting in three ways. Human beings have three major weaknesses, there are three temptations which we are always weak to resist, and this little piece of fruit hit all of them.
Our passage from Genesis says: “the woman saw that the tree was good for food.” It’s the old adage that the fastest way into a man’s heart is through his stomach. Our flesh wants things. Our flesh wants to be appeased and sated. Our flesh wants pleasure and comfort. This fruit could fulfill a desire of our flesh. That is a hard thing to resist. It is especially hard to resist if you are hungry, but we have no reason to believe that Adam and Eve were hungry. They had plenty of other food to eat. This particular fruit was just a special pleasure that they wanted. It’s like that feeling you get after thanksgiving dinner, when you are so full you could explode, but for some reason you still want pie. The apple was a pleasure of the flesh, that is the first temptation.
Genesis goes on to say that the fruit “was a delight to the eyes.” It was pretty. We like pretty, shiny things. There is something enticing about owning something pretty. It is a rather odd desire, if you think about it. Food pleasure is easy to understand, but the desire to possess pretty things that you have to take care of and don’t really do anything, that is a bit different. Personally I would rather stand and look in a bakery case than in a jewelry case, because I get more pleasure from food, but the truth is I’m not immune from this temptation at all. For one thing, there is my dog Winston, who is pretty, but otherwise pretty useless. He’s a delight to possess but he requires care and in the end doesn’t really do much. He can’t pull a sled or ward off an intruder. There are actually quite a few things in my life that I own just because I wanted them. They are pretty. A delight to the eyes. We all do it; we don’t just want our clothes to be warm, if that were the case we could all just go cut a whole in a hefty bag and be done with it. No, we want our clothes to be pretty as well. We wash our cars. We plant lawns in front of our houses. We love beautiful things. We want to possess them. That is the second temptation.
Finally Genesis says that the “tree was to be desired to make one wise.” Think about this for a minute: what did Adam and Eve need wisdom for? They had everything they needed. They had almost all the food in the world. There was nothing that threatened them. There was no one else, no competition. Under those circumstances, what good is wisdom? Why not just stay ignorant and happy? Well, maybe it is because knowing things makes us feel good in a special way. Knowing things can make us feel superior, even when the knowledge we possess is useless on a practical level. Just ask the average PhD student. Now I say that as a doctoral student myself. Sometimes knowledge has practical value, but sometimes we like to know things simply because of how the knowledge makes us feel about ourselves. That is, afterall, what gossip is all about. How else am I going to feel superior to the royal family unless I dig up every piece of dirt I can on them? Sometimes we seek knowledge, just because it satisfies our pride and vanity. Wisdom can make us feel superior to others. Wisdom appeases our vanity. That is the third temptation, vanity, feeling superior.
These three temptations are our weaknesses as a race: flesh, possession, and vanity. On their own these three things are good. Food is good. Beauty is good. Wisdom and self-improvement is good. The problem for us humans is what we do with them. We are so weak where these three things are concerned that we end up having a disordered desire for them and that disorder takes something that is created good, and makes it evil. Humans have tried throughout time to resist these temptations, but we always failed. That is, of course, until Jesus walks into the desert for forty days.
In the desert Jesus is tempted by Satan three times. It should comes as no surprise by now what those three temptations are: flesh, turn these stones into bread and appease your appetite; possession, worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world; vanity, throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple and let everyone see how superior you really are. Flesh, possession and vanity. Jesus is tempted by these three things. And the devil is smart. The devil points out how good these things are; he even uses scripture to defend his argument, but each and every time Jesus is tempted with pursuing one of those three things, he turns to God instead.
Food is good, beauty is good, wisdom is good; but they will never be as good as the God who created them all. That is what Lent is all about. These next forty days we are challenged by our tradition to turn away from lesser goods and reorient ourselves toward the greatest good, toward God. To be sure, we will fail, just like Adam and Eve failed, that is why the second Adam, as Paul refers to Jesus, comes to triumph where the first Adam failed, but still if we would know Jesus better, if we would walk closer with him, we will follow him into the desert for a season and observe the ways in our day to day life, where we too have found it all too easy not to leave that apple hanging in the tree.