Livestreamed service

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-13
Matthew 4:1-11

        In the beginning, there was blame.

        In the beginning, after God spoke light into the darkness and separated the sea and land from the sky, after God created the swimming creatures and the flying creatures and creatures of all kinds who lived upon the land, after God made humans in God’s own image and blessed them and gave them everything they needed and empowered them to care for it all, there was blame.

        We all know the story that’s been told and re-told, interpreted and re-interpreted, and used to oppress and abuse for thousands of years:

        How the first woman listened to the clever serpent, took the delicious fruit from the forbidden tree and ate it. How the first man stood by and said nary a word but took the fruit when it was offered.

        How the fruit imparted knowledge, and knowledge gave rise to awareness, choice, and consequences.

        How the One who had created the humans in love for love went looking for them to lavish still more love upon them but could not find them.

        How when they were found, the man first blamed the woman for giving him the fruit and then blamed God for creating the woman.

        How God inquired of the woman, and the woman blamed the snake.

        In the beginning, there was blame, and from blame came more blame and then a breaking down of the created order. Things went from equality to ranking, from mutuality to separation, from liberation to oppression, from harmony and security to domination and fear, violence and war, from trust to mistrust, from original blessing to original sin, from oneness with God to competition with God and alienation from both the Holy and ourselves.

        And thus it has ever been: with the wealthy blaming the oppressed for their poverty, with judicial systems blaming rape victims for bringing on their assaults, with the party out of power blaming everything on the party in power, with white politicians blaming those who would teach the true history of race relations in this country for promoting division, with the sowers of misinformation blaming truth tellers for a culture of mistrust, with all of us often blaming others for our own problems or the problems of the world.

        As if that’s not bad enough, humanity’s history of blaming, oppression, and oppressive theology has also fostered self-blame, a condition to which women and racial and sexual minorities are particularly susceptible.

        And still, beloveds, there is good news: God’s love for the world and all creation never ends. God’s faithfulness never falters.

        And Jesus, thank God, breaks the chain of blame. Jesus shows us  there is another way—the way of blessing and trust—and that we all can change.

        After receiving his baptismal blessing, a blessing that honors him as God’s beloved child, Jesus might have been filled with a sense of pride and power. And maybe that is why the Spirit sends Jesus on retreat, where he encounter his own limits and be tempted to take the easy way out—to give up on God and live as if everything is up to him.

        And who would have blamed him? Who else, on the verge of starvation, wouldn’t grab the opportunity to get some comfort food? Who else, having landed at rock bottom and starting to doubt their every thought, wouldn’t jump at the chance to prove their worth? Who else, alone and hungry and beginning to wonder if their life makes any difference, wouldn’t sell their soul for a shot at glory?

        No one would have blamed Jesus for giving into temptation in his weakest moment, and, if they had, he could have blamed something else—the devil, low blood sugar, hallucinations, human nature, an absent God.

        But Jesus doesn’t give in; instead, he drills down and draws on the word of God. Instead of acting out of desperation to save himself, he trusts that God will sustain him. He rejects the lie that if he doesn’t put himself first, no one else will, and, instead, trusts God to care for him. He resists the temptation to believe that the welfare of the world is all up to him and, instead, finds peace in trusting that God is in charge. He knows he can depend on God.

        And then the angels come and take care of him.

        Jesus breaks the chain of blame by claiming God’s blessing, and in so doing, he shows us that we can, too.

        And Jesus calls us to change—to stop blaming others for our problems and, instead, to trust God, taking responsibility for our actions and loving our neighbors and our enemies. He calls us to change—to give up our fear of not having enough and, instead, to trust God, live with gratitude, and share what we have. He calls us to change—to stop running after the gods of power and privilege and, instead to trust God and work for justice and peace. He calls us to change—to look beyond ourselves and our families and to trust God and make community with the lost and the least. He calls us to change—to stop living as if making the world a better place is all up to us and, instead, to trust God and find rest and peace. He calls us to change—to die to all that is false and self-serving and to live anew in the God who is love.

        It sounds well enough, but so much in the world tells us that real change isn’t possible: that we are who we are, that things are the way they’ve always been and always will be.

        But Jesus came to tell us—and I’m here to remind us—that that is a lie. It is an oppressive lie promulgated by the keepers of the status quo. It is a life-limiting lie told by oppressors and those looking for someone to blame.

        I’ll never forget sitting in a Northampton courtroom years ago for the trial of dear Don Perry, who, until his arrest, had been the manager of Not Bread Alone. Until Don had been arrested and charged with stealing an iPad and a Kindle, we hadn’t known that he had served 18 years of a life sentence for armed robbery or that he was on parole for the rest of his life and had to submit to regular searches and drug tests.

        All we knew was what a difference Don had made at Not Bread Alone. He’d also become a strong leader in other Valley organizations that serve the homeless, the poor, and those released from prison.

        But the criminal system wasn’t interested in any of that. So when Don’s case finally came to trial, after he had been jailed for almost a year, the assistant district attorney built much of his case on the supposed unchangeability of human nature. All the DA wanted to talk about was Don’s criminal past—before he had turned his life around, before he had graduated from college, before he had dedicated himself to working with the poor.

        Referring to Don, a strong and dignified Black man, the DA told the jury, “A leopard cannot change its spots.”

        But Don was not a leopard; he was and is a beloved child of God. And by the grace of God he had changed. The jury could see that, and it acquitted Don of all charges.

        And, beloveds, neither are we leopards or slaves to circumstance, biology, or status. We, too, are beloved children of God, and the capacity to grow and change, to heal and be transformed, is baked into our divine DNA.

        This is not to say that change is easy; ask any recovering alcoholic about taking things one day at a time. This is not to say change isn’t sometimes painful; ask anyone who’s in couples counseling or working through a difficult situation with other people. This is not to say that lasting, life-altering change is guaranteed; we have to open our hearts, give up old ways of thinking and being, be willing to trust others, ourselves, and—most of all—God’s love and Spirit power to do a new thing in us.

        But what better time to begin than now? What better time than Lent to prayerfully examine ourselves and pray for the strength, willingness, and courage to change what needs changing? What better time is there ever to let go and let God? What better time than now to let Love have its way with us?

        God is calling us in love and inviting us to wholeness. God is calling us from the ways of blame and inviting us into blessing. Are we willing to change?