THE THEFT OF IDENTITY         The Rev. Brian E. Backstrand        3-9-14

For just as by the one man’s disobedience (that is Adam’s sin in the garden) the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

buy neurontin 800mg no prescription As we take the first steps in our Lenten journey this year, our first Sunday reading begins at the beginning – all the way back to Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden or Paradise.  Adam comes from the word Cananea Adamah which connects this primeval human to arable land and especially to earth.  Eve carries with it the sense of life itself.   And they are in Paradise, a place of beauty and innocence to be sure, but also a place in which we sense a close proximity to YHWH,  the creator God who can you buy modafinil in australia places the pair in the Garden and who later is described as walking in the Garden,  this perfect place that we have never known but nevertheless understand in so many ways.

We begin at the beginning.  And even here there arises the possibility—in the midst of perfection itself—of imperfection.   Paul in  Roman’s calls this imperfection one man’s disobedience and he tells us that through this eating of a forbidden fruit we have ultimately the story of the entrance of sin into the world, a polluting stain, a powerful force that perverts and undermines, and he sees a connection between the entrance of sin and the reality of death.   And so we have in the garden the famous trio of which Martin Luther spoke so often:  sin,  death and the devil.   The devil is a slight presence here.  Merely a serpent.  But a mere serpent is a dangerous presence.  It is dangerous, for this snake is an insinuator,  a foe,  a presence described in some translations as subtle.   This foe is therefore able to insinuate,  to slide with subtle grace into the most reasonable and acceptable reaches of life.

We have never known Paradise.   But we carry within ourselves a sense that the life that we do know is out of kilter—that it is not the way that it is supposed to be.   And so we carry within ourselves a sense of Paradise,  a sense of Shalom, the perfection and harmony of all the creation with the Creator.   But our Shalom has been vandalized,  stolen.   We are left with a sense of loss.  And theft.

Our Gospel reading for this first Sunday in Lent begins with another reality of our human experience:  temptation.   The temptation here is not that nice little innocent temptation of chocolate or sugar cookies.   It is not the temptation of more powerful allurements that can captivate and change our lives and cloud our thinking (here I am thinking especially of the vast array of recreational drugs that our society knows and indulges in).   No,  the temptation that we see in Matthew chapter four and in other Gospels is nothing less than a frontal assault on us personally as we see ourselves in the face of Jesus who goes out into the wilderness for those long days and nights in the burning heat and then in the silences and the cold as darkness falls.   It is a frontal assault.   For what Jesus encounters is an attempt to steal his identity.   I say it again,  An attempt to steal his very identity.

In one of his letters, Paul says for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.  This is not idle talk even if it is elevated.   Paul is suggesting that he has found something in his faith that grounds him.   Shapes him.   Nurtures him.   He is speaking of an identity that he has found seemingly outside of himself but also marvelously deep within.   For if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away.  See, everything has become new.

This is talk of a paradise,  of a new way of living and being.  It is a suggestion that we have an opportunity to experience in some small way the newness of Paradise itself—within ourselves and our spirits.   We have a chance to drink of living water and to eat of the bread of life itself.   In Paul we hear the words of St Augustine later who says that we are restless until we find our rest in the ultimate Mystery, that is in the presence of God.  I submit that this restlessness is nothing less than a search for the deepest and best part of ourselves and that our purposes in life,  our role and calling,  our values and dreams are to be shaped by the presence of God if we are to find the best part of ourselves.  Identity and the temptation to replace it with something less.

This is what Jesus was facing during those searing days and cold nights in the desert.   For when the serpent described here as tempter and devil came to Jesus in his weakened state,  he came to separate him from his calling,  from his mission,  from the deep purposes of his life.     At his baptism, the voice from the cloud  (that is YHWH,  the LORD) proclaimed him to be my beloved Son.  But now,  alone and in the desert, he has to decide.   What does it mean to be the Son?   What shape is my mission to be?   Is the tempter,  the devil going to steal my real and true identity and replace it with something shallow and less satisfying?

We face similar questions.  There are times when we see ourselves in the face of Jesus in the midst of His journey and this is one of them.  What does it mean for me to be a follower of Jesus?   What does it mean to live a life of faith?   What does it mean for me to place my restless heart in the enveloping presence of God so that I can rest there?   What does it mean for me to have a mission?   What does it mean for me to live in terms of a new creation?   Is the tempter going to steal my real and true identity…?

Today via billboards,  radio messages,  the television and especially online all of us in this room or who read this sermon will be told in one way or another that we can have it all.  All of us will be told that we deserve the very best.  All of us will be told that our lives will be so much better if we merely latch on to this or that product,  this or that lifestyle,  this or that dream.   Sound familiar?

Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him “All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me” 

Settle,  the tempter says.  And do we remember the response?  Do we remember what needs to be said? Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan!”

This is the challenge of Lent.   It is a spiritual reset,  a way of saying to the tempter in our lives—AWAY.  It is this tempter who offers us—with subtle and unassuming style—all the blandishments of life if we but worship them and him.  It is the tempter that would captivate us and lead us down false pathways into dead ends and box canyons.  AWAY.   It is the insinuator that comes to us in our minds and spirits and also by way of our culture:  AWAY.

Is this tempter stealing our identity?   Our most deep and satisfying reason for being formed out of the dust of the ground,  our most deep and satisfying reason for being created in the image of YHWH,  our most deep and satisfying reason for living on the planet?    Is the tempter stealing that part of us that is new creation?  James tells us: Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.

This Lenten season,  this forty day journey,  it is time for us to join our Master in examining the temptations of our life,  to face all of the things that urge us to worship them or to grasp on to them as though they are all important.  It is time for us to summon up courage and fortitude—even if we feel that we are living in the desert just now—and to say to all of the negative thoughts,  all of the temptations,  all of the subtle and powerful suggestions  AWAY,  AWAY,  AWAY.

In the name of God,  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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