Sunday, March 30, 2014

Blind but Now I See

John 9:1-41

        That was a long scripture reading, but   I wanted you to hear the whole story.  I find it to be an amazing tale which begins with a miracle and concludes in confusion.  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  If a person is blind and we pray for a miracle, we might be hopeful but we are also realistic.  Nobody is going to walk by, place a pad of mud on his eyes and say, “Open your eyes and see.”  That is the kind of stuff that reminds us of charlatans that prey on the blind and sick by promising a faith healing.  Most of us don’t have much time for this kind of sideshow.
        But what if it actually happened?  What if a person blind from birth is miraculously healed?  How would we respond?   As someone who was once legally blind, I say bring out the band and throw a party.
        I don’t really remember when I began to lose my eyesight.  It was nothing unusual; it happens to tens of thousands of kids every year.  One day I am eight and have no problem seeing the blackboard or the hand of an opposing pitcher as he lets go of the ball.  But then the black board began to get fuzzy and the pitcher’s hand disappeared into a shrouded fog.   It was a gradual experience.  I didn’t say anything because no one who played sports back then wore glasses.  We would have eye test at school and I would casually walk by the chart, and memorize a couple lines and successfully pass the test.
        The one exam I could not pass was the “dad” test.  When I said I was having trouble reading the black board he told me to move closer to the front to the room.  But when I went a whole season without a single hit, he pushed the panic button.  It didn’t matter I was nine and was playing against 11 and 12 year olds.  I could always hit a baseball.
        Dad took me to an eye doctor who told my parents my eye sight was 20/200 in one eye and 20/400 in the other.  According to the doctor, that meant I was legally blind, a fact the local draft board later conveniently overlooked. But the good news was my eye sight could be corrected.   I still remember the first time the glasses were placed on my face.  I was told to look out the window.  I never realized there was a hospital was across the street.  Once I was blind but now I could see.  Sure I got teased by my friends who all called me “four-eyes”.  But I quickly forgot about all the ribbing when the next season I hit over .300 against pitchers who were still two years older than me.
        With glasses and later Lasik surgery I consider myself a walking miracle.  But as I have learned through the years, sometimes blindness has little to do with the eyesight.  When we have a belief or preconceived notion that we learned as children, it is fine to live with our blindness as long as we are living among the blind.  But what happens when we receive our sight.  Our blindness is challenged.  We struggle with who we are and what we believe, knowing that if we announce our new insights, our friends might reject us as being delusional.  Sometimes it is easier to choose blindness over vision.
        The problem with the blind man in our gospel story wasn’t his blindness; it was the vision of his community.  As long as he was blind, he easily found his place in his home town.  Folks would drop by weekly and place money in the jar by his feet.  He made enough to get by.  No one treated him poorly.  He was part of the scenery and they took care of their own.
        But then he received his sight.  The one thing he had prayed for was the vision to see what everyone else took for granted.  He could only imagine a sunrise, a rose, a smile on another’s face.  Then his prayers were answered.  A stranger entered his life, placed mud on his face and said, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.”  He did, and for the first time in his life he could see.  That is when all the trouble began.
        First the church leaders wanted to know who had performed the alleged miracle.  The former blind man told his story.  He called Jesus a prophet.  But the leaders were unimpressed.  They decided the blind man must have been faking his blindness all these years.  Jesus was not on the approved list of healers.  Jesus was nothing but a fraud.
        Next they went to the family of the blind man for proof of his illness.  The parents saw the mob and were afraid.  They told the Pharisees that their son was an adult and could speak for himself.  The Pharisees returned to the former blind man and questioned him again.  After not getting the answers they desired, the religious leaders banned him from the city.  The man was deserted by his family, deserted by his community, and deserted by the life he knew.  With no place else to go, the blind man followed Jesus.  When the Pharisees witnessed this they said to one another, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”
        The Pharisees were not bad folks. In fact, it is easily argued that the Pharisees were the best the folks in that particular culture. They were good people who cared for their community. They were logical people who knew within a superstitious world one miracle story could overturn all the work they had done to legitimize the role of the synagogue. One miracle could overthrow years of believing primarily in the wisdom of the mind and the necessity of the institution. People needed the synagogue. It gave them strength and security.
        Remember when the church in America claimed that same mission. In the 1950’s there was a church on every corner. Everyone went to church. Towns and villages shut down on Sunday morning and everyone, dressed in their Sunday best sat in the pews listening for the word of the Lord. But then something devastating happened to the church in America. People who were blind began to not only see but talk. One recovering blind person asked, “Why is 11:00 on Sunday morning the most segregated hour in America?” Someone else asked, “Why are all the preachers and leaders of the church male?” Another who had found her sight inquired, “Why does the church spend nine out of every ten dollars collected on itself rather than the community?” And then the most devastating question emerged, “How can one limit God to a building, or a culture, or even a nation?” Eyes were being opened. The church claimed to be the earthly personification of Christ created to preach good news to the poor, the blind and the lost. But that claim was challenged. Those who disagreed were encouraged to leave. And they did. Many folks left claiming, “We can find God on our own.”
        The reaction of the mainline churches was predictable. We acted like the Pharisees, suggesting those claiming new sight were charlatans who were leading us nowhere near the presence of the living God. We closed ranks and closed our doors to the conversations that were beginning to shake our society. By the beginning of the 1970’s we had lost a generation and the steady decline of the Christian Church in America had begun.
        Some might ask, “How do we recover what we lost?” Personally I am hard pressed to believe the church of the 1950’s is worth recovering. But I do believe the church of today can have a radical influence on the society in which we live.
John Savides loaned me a book last week by Francis Spufford titled, Unapologetic. In it Spufford wrote, “The church is not just another institution. It is a failing but never quite failed attempt, by limited people, to perpetuate the unlimited generosity of God in the world.”
That is what this story of the blind man is all about. Jesus placed mud on lifeless eyes and gave them vision. The first thing the man saw was the face of one who had given him a priceless gift. Is it any wonder the man wanted to sing God’s praises? Is it any wonder the man wanted to offer sight to those who could see but were blind? Can we blame the Pharisees of yesterday or the ministers and sessions of today? Who wants to be led by someone with no proven track record? Folks insist on saying “If the church isn’t broken, why fix it?” My response would be the definition of insanity is doing the same thing incorrectly over and over and over again. Has the church in America become so set in our determination to preserve the institution that we have lost both our sight and the vision of God?
One of the gifts that church of the 1950’s did give me was a song we regularly sang at the evening vesper service.   It was written by Helen Lemmel, a brilliant vocalist who in her 30’s, lost her eyesight, and was deserted by her husband. Ten years later she sang these words. May they become our anthem. 
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in his wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.”                        Amen.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I am Nobody. Who Are You?

John 4:5-26

        With only a few notable exceptions, I expect each of us is a bit of a snob. I know I am a snob when it comes to literature and music. I have been known to not listen to particular types of music, knowing they were just a bit beneath me. Deb and I went to see Steve Goodman in Richmond many years ago. I was a huge Goodman fan so it hardly mattered that I did not know anything about the headlining artist. After Goodman finished his set, the feature attraction took the stage. She sang two songs and I said to Deb, “I’ve heard enough. Let’s get out of here.” I am probably the only person in the world to walk out on Emmy Lou Harris.  A decade listening to music in Texas helped me see my sinful ways. Today I am not only a huge fan of Emmy Lou, I learned personal taste does not excuse the snobbery that is often exposed by one’s ignorance.
        I am a biblical snob. Anyone who has been to one of my Sunday School classes knows this.  I introduce the class to only the “right-thinking” biblical scholars, or to be more exact, the ones with whom I happen to agree. The funny thing is when I look back on my biblical and theological journey, it has undergone some radical turns. I guess that is why I keep my old books. They remind me where I have come from and more importantly they suggest that God is hardly finished with my biblical development.
        I am a Presbyterian Snob. I don’t christen children, I Baptize them. I don’t come to the altar, I stand behind the Communion Table.  I certainly don’t throw my hands up the air and speak unintelligent mumbo-jumbo. I am a blueblood Presbyterian. I am proud to be one of God’s “Frozen Chosen”, although I wonder if God gets much joy out of my muted celebrations.
        My being a makes me a huge fan of Nicodemus. I think he would have made a great Presbyterian. You might remember Nicodemus was brought up in a respectable family, attended all the right schools and became a leading scholar at the local synagogue. Nicodemus knew the Torah from right to left. He was a good man and was beloved in the community. Like any good Jewish Scholar he had an immense curiosity about the text and was open to hearing other voices. As you remember, under the protection of darkness, Nicodemus sought out Jesus. He wanted to first hand hear what this young Rabbi had to say. Nicodemus had no idea who Jesus really was, but Jesus was more than aware of the reputation of the Rabbi. Jesus treated Nicodemus with the respect he deserved and their conversation concluded with John 3:16, a verse that celebrates the very essence of our faith. This encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus makes me believe both would feel right at home in a Presbyterian Church. Though we rarely venture out after 9 in the evening, we are educated, we are leaders in this community and we are nice people with good reputations. The problem is once we open the door to Jesus, there’s no telling who might be next.
        Jesus met Nicodemus in Jerusalem during the Passover. When the festivities ended, Jesus and the disciples headed back to Galilee. The trip from Jerusalem to Nazareth was over 100 miles and took the better part of a week.  The worst part was there was almost no direct way to make the trip without going through Samaria.
        John writes, “The Jews and the Samaritans did not share many things in common.” That was an incredibly understated. The ancestors of the Samaritans rebelled against Jerusalem at the death of Solomon. This led to a bloody history as an independent nation which was terminated 200 years later at the hands of the Assyrians. The Jews considered the Samaritans a pagan race of mixed blood. They fought endlessly and remained mortal enemies even though Rome tried to unite them into one province.  No self respecting Jew had any contact with a Samaritan. Just the simple act of drinking from the cup of a Samaritan was considered a sinful act.  
        Jesus, fresh from the Feast of the Passover, fresh from stimulating conversation with a leader of the religious elite, finds himself in the Samaritan city of Sychar. It was midday and Jesus was tired and thirsty. He approached a well to have a drink only to discover there was no apparatus available to draw water. A woman appeared and Jesus inquired, “Could you please give me a drink of water?” Ever asked a favor of someone you never considered your equal?
        I was born in Georgia, and raised in North Carolina and Virginia. I went to college in Tennessee. For the first 22 years of my life the farthest north I ever went was Washington DC. I was inducted into the US Army in Richmond, Virginia and given a bus ticket to Ft. Lee, New Jersey via Philadelphia. It was after 9 p.m. when the bus pulled into Philly. I got off the bus, looked at the schedule board and did not see a bus going to Ft. Lee.  The ticket person told I was at the wrong terminal and shut the window. I was in a strange city where everyone spoke a strange language and for some unknown reason I started to quietly sing, “I wish I was in the land of cotton.”
        A black guy, who smelled like he had been on the street for more than a day interrupted my singing. “Hey kid, you looking for the bus to Ft. Lee?  Ten bucks and I’ll show you the way.” Naively, I gave him the money and he said, “Follow me through this tunnel”.
What do you do if you when are thirsty? What cultural fears and personal snobbery must be overcome to trust a stranger? Jesus didn’t just ask another person for a drink of water. He asked a woman who represented everything he had been taught to hate. As a good upstanding Jew, when the woman approached him Jesus should have moved away without saying a word. But he didn’t. So the woman challenged him. “In your eyes I am nobody. Why are you talking to me? No Jew can be that thirsty.”
Here is the amazing thing about Jesus we should never miss. Be it Nicodemus, a fine upstanding member of the community, or a nameless Samaritan woman who was an outcast in her own community, Jesus always had a word of grace. For Nicodemus it was, “God so loved the world”. For this unnamed woman of the world, the word was, “Let me give you a drink of eternal life.”                           (pause)
The Reverend Fred Waldron Phelps, the minister of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas died on Wednesday. I am not sure if that name rings a bell. Let me freshen you memory. Reverend Phelps and his church publicly stated, “God hates America because America loved gays and lesbians”. The good reverend and his flock travel to military funerals and disrupt those solemn occasions declaring the death of our soldiers was God’s punishment on America. Reverend Phelps stands for everything I hate and I am ashamed we share the same profession. What will Jesus, who spoke of God’s love for the world and the living waters of eternal life, say to Reverend Phelps? Reverend Phelps was not the only person to die Wednesday. We also lost Vernita Gray, a renowned social worker and gay rights activist from Chicago. Imagine Rev. Phelps and Ms. Gray standing side by side just outside the Pearly Gates. I am certain they looked at each other and wondered if they were in heaven or hell. Then they looked to Jesus, much like Nicodemus looked to Jesus, much like the woman at the well looked to Jesus, much like we snobs look to Jesus, and we are amazed, shocked and perhaps even curious as to why Jesus would offer each of us a drink of his living water.
Imagine America giving up hate for Lent. Imagine taking all our divisions, all our distrust, all our past histories, all our fears, all our ignorance, everything that so fouls our social and political attempts at unity, and just letting them go.
Imagine a Jewish man drinking water from the cup of a Samaritan woman? Imagine the same man saying, “I know who you are and I love you anyway.” Imagine drinking of that water and believing that with God, all things are possible.   

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What's In a Name?

Genesis 12:1-3; John 3:16-17

Everyone here has a past.  Each of you has made a name for yourself in industry or the military or as doctors, teachers, lawyers, mothers, fathers, bankers, or craftsmen. You arrived with a reputation earned through hard work. But the uniquely wonderful thing about this part of the country is nobody cares who you were. We are only interested in who you are becoming.
Part of the blame lies in living in the land of Jefferson. I cannot begin to guess the number of post-graduate degrees that occupy this room. I have a box in my office that contains four framed diplomas. Why have they never made it out of the box?  If Thomas Jefferson insisted on simply being addressed as  Mr. Jefferson, who are we to place a title before our name?
But there is more to it than that. Many of you sitting here are known by your number. Bill Shiveley or Doug Wood could care less where I did my doctoral work but come Friday morning they want to make sure the handicap number I give is accurate. Some you spent careers untying complicated knots yet you never talk about it. But should I want to learn the art of tying a fly more than one of you would give me hours of your time. You are master gardeners. You volunteer at the rescue squad, at the tax office, at the church. Your past, however illustrious is just that, it is your past. You are now here, making a new name for yourself.
This morning texts are about two folks in the process of changing their names.  One text begins the story of one of the most famous characters in the Old Testament. The other celebrates the most cherished verse in the Bible. The texts are about  new beginnings just when two men are weighing their retirement options. They are about a man who is about to become famous and another who is already a legend. Both texts revolve around two men beginning a new journey under the same name, Child of God.
Abram was an old man. He had received his gold watch and was ready to sit by the fire and read those books that kept piling up on his shelf. His wife Sarai was an old woman. Retirement should have meant pampering her grandchildren except one must have a child to have grandchildren. Abram and Sarai had memories, they had regrets, but most importantly they had earned respectability. They could dote over their nephews and nieces. They had the right to sit back and watch………..except.
Nicodemus was a scholar. At an early age the local Rabbi had seen his potential. His memory was good and his desire to learn was even better. Nicodemus studied with the best teachers until he reached that day when the learner became a teacher and students were now coming to him looking for answers. He was highly respected and his voice had the ring of authority. He too was reaching the end of his career. He no longer yearned to spend his days in conversations with twelve year olds looking for a gem amidst all the paste.  He was ready to retire, to sit back, to enjoy letting someone else take over……….. except.
Except can be a mighty big word. Abram reviewed his life with no regrets except there was no one to whom he could bless with his name. He lived in the past and could see no future. Nicodemus knew the text, he served his community, and he had memorized the Torah. Life was good, except his legacy rested on who he had been rather than who he could become. Both men knew there had to be more, except nothing else seemed attainable, until they met God.
How envious I am of Abram and Nicodemus. They encountered God up-close and personal. In a dream Abram is issued an invitation to not only begin a new life but to begin a new family. God said, “Yesterday doesn’t matter, but tomorrow does. Pack up your bags; take only what is necessary and head west. I will give you a new name. You will be the father of a nation.” Can you imagine what his neighbors must have said? Abram lived in Ur, the center of the universe, yet on a word heard in a dream he headed with his wife and nephew into the wilderness.
And what about Nicodemus? He had it all but felt as if he had nothing. I like to imagine he was sitting at his desk and one of his disciples came up and said, “Teacher, there is no one wiser than you…..” and that is all he heard. Obviously the student had a question or perhaps even an observation but all Nicodemus heard was his own mind saying, “I am not the wisest. There is another and I must seek him out.”
Under the disguise of darkness Nicodemus searched out the young scholar who was upsetting many of his contemporaries. This man named Jesus obviously knew the Torah but he approached the text in a new and yet somehow an old way. This Jesus moved beyond the traditions of the law and spoke as one who embraced the compassion of the law. As a Pharisee this made Nicodemus a little nervous. But as a lover of the Torah his heart and mind were excited by the young man’s words.
Nicodemus asked, “I know you are from God. How can I see what you see?” Nicodemus got an answer he could have never expected. Jesus said, “Your mind and heart must be born again. You must believe that God’s love is so great, that God would do anything to give you life. Come out of your own darkness and celebrate the light of God. Come out of the darkness and see who you can become.”
Sometimes God comes in a dream; sometimes God comes in mid-sentence; sometimes it seems  God will never come.  When I was a teenager I spent a week as a counselor at a Jr. High retreat. My job was to hang out with the kids and make sure they got to all their events on time. Near the end of the week one of the adults took me aside and asked if I had ever considered becoming a minister. Then she said, “Pray about it. God will give you an answer.”
I took her up on her suggestion. After the kids had gone to sleep, I slipped out into the darkness and made my way to the edge of an open field. From that spot it seemed like I could see the end of the universe. I prayed seeking some instruction. After twenty minutes I became bold enough to ask God for a sign. I stayed out in that field for at least an hour looking at the sky. And I got nothing. No voice from above, no flash of light across the sky, not even a junior high kid asking me why I was sitting in the dark. 
Six years later Deb and I were sitting in a church service at First Presbyterian in Hopewell Virginia.  We had been married for less than a year but had known each other for the better part of our lives. I was in my last year of my commitment to the US Army. The minister had been droning for at least 20 minutes and both of us had lost interest fifteen minutes earlier. Deb touched my hand and then whispered in my ear, “You can do a lot better than that.”
God comes, in a dream, in the darkness, even in a sermon. So listen; in this season of Lent, listen; in this autumn of your life, listen. For the one who calls you child of God is only interested in tomorrow. Listen, and discover what God might have  in store for you.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Buck-Naked in the Eyes of the Lord

Genesis 3:1-7

      Ever had the whole enchilada and then wanted more.  I remember September 26th, 1980 like it was yesterday.  That day I celebrated my 30th birthday.  It was also the day Martina was born.  Deb and I rushed to the hospital early in the morning, expecting a long day in delivery only to discover Martina had no designs on waiting.  A couple of hours later I watched as the doctor delivered our first child.  Deb blurted out, “All I want is for her to have ten fingers and ten toes.”  Deb got her wish, but it turns out good health was just the beginning of what we desired.  We wanted Martina to be happy, socially adaptable, and do well in school.  We wanted her to go to college, find a career, a husband, and have babies of her own.  We wanted all the things any parent wants for a child.  Who could argue with our desires?  But notice how quickly our wish list grew as soon as our first request was met.
      Most folks are never completely satisfied?  I watch Wheel of Fortune and calculate how much the winner will have to pay in taxes. Once I add the travel and expenses of going to Los Angeles I wonder why they even bothered. Can you think of a time you were completely satisfied?  Maybe it started when we were children.  I remember once being asked, “What do you  want for Christmas?”  My response was, “All I really want is a bicycle.”  Once the bike arrived I immediately wished I had asked for a different color and a few more gears.     
      Oscar Wilde wrote, “I can resist anything but temptation.”  In this day and age of mass communication and commercialism we are constantly tempted to acquire the next best thing. Remember when all telephones did was make phone calls? I bought a phone last month that collects e-mails, links me to anywhere I want to go, informs me of the weather, takes pictures, invades my privacy,  and does a thousand things I will never need or desire. There is no reason I need a device this complicated. But you know why I bought it?  I can resist anything but temptation. 
Every Sunday, along with the rest of you, I faithfully pray, “Lead me not into temptation”. Good luck with that.  The only commercials on TV I don’t find tantalizing are the ones trying to sell me a phone.  I gave into that temptation last month.
      How appropriate it is that we begin the season of Lent with the great temptation story that opens the Old Testament.  I suspect most of you are familiar with the Genesis version of the origin of sin.   I am not concerned if you see this story as a metaphor, as I do, or if you believe it to be factual. My real desire is you view the story as a vehicle imparting a basic truth of human nature. This morning I ask you to observe the situation, acknowledge the temptation, and then contemplate on the outcome of the choices that were made.
      The first two chapters of Genesis offer the story of creation. New life was celebrated and all that was created was decreed to be good. The later part of chapter two introduces human beings as the central characters in God’s new world. What is their destiny? What is their connection with God’s creation, with each other, with God? We are told by the writer of Genesis that Adam and Eve were created to live in God’s world, not in a world of his or her own making.  Adam and Eve were expected to live in harmony with all the rest of God’s creation.  They were given the power to both rule and care of the world God created.  Eden was destined to be the perfect community.  And there in lies the problem.  I think we are all aware the word “community” comes with a lot of baggage.  Community implies good or bad, we are in this together.  Community calls for egos to be put in check and temptations to be ignored.  No matter how often human beings talk about the peace and purity of our community, there is always that snake in the grass asking questions such as:
      “Aren’t you really entitled to have just a little bit more?”
“Didn’t you work a little harder than everyone else?”
“Is this what God really wants for you?” 
“Don’t you deserve a little bit more?”
      Why is it that we are always tempted by the one thing we do not have?  God presented Adam and Eve with an incredible gift.  They were given the world.  Can you imagine a more magnificent endowment?  They were given permission to be caretakers of God’s creation.  According to the Psalmist, “this earth, which was the Lord’s”, was entrusted to them.  But there were boundaries.  There were Godly expectations.  God said they could eat from every tree in the garden, except one. Why would God do this?  Why would God place this thought, this temptation into this marvelous plan?  I think the answer is pretty basic.  God needed to know the loyalty of his sub-contractors.
      Most people who work are tied to a clock.  There is a certain time that an employer anticipates the staff will begin work and a minimum number of hours in which they are expected to fulfill their duties.  If one is self-employed, the presence of the clock looms even greater.  The clock becomes the prohibition.  The clock becomes the initial means by which the employer ascertains loyalty.  Did we arrive on time?  Did we take extra time at lunch?  Did we leave early?  I have heard that many businesses have found punctuality such a problem that they have had to create consequences for tardiness.  But workers still clock in at the last second.  Are they temping fate?  Are they declaring their independence?  Are they making a statement that personal independence is far more important than vocation?  I don’t know?  But I do know that some businesses have given a grace period of five minutes before the worker is late.  I suspect soon it will be extended to ten minutes. We humans are a strange lot.  The more we are given the more we take.
      Adam and Eve were not bound by a clock.  They were bound by a promise that was symbolized by a tree that grew in the middle of the garden.  Remember the agreement?  They could eat of any tree except the Tree of Knowledge.  The more I read this parable the more I realize that it is a parable for our times.  What is more tempting than knowledge?  Descartes would have eaten the fruit and never given it a second thought. Of course the tree represented a lot more than just knowledge.  It symbolized a walk on the wild side. It was the temptation to live just outside God’s boundaries. This forbidden fruit was tantalizing.  Adam and Eve didn’t need the snake to introduce the idea of taking a bite.  I imagine the thought of tasting the tree’s fruit was already firmly fixed in their minds.  They just needed a nudge in the wrong direction.  Ultimate knowledge was the one thing they didn’t control.  With one taste from the fruit of the tree, Adam and Eve could become gods.
Why we are even surprised Adam and Eve yielded to temptation?  They ate the fruit.  They placed their appetites before the desire of God.  And what great knowledge did they receive?  They were no longer innocent.  They witnessed what the world looks like outside of God’s covenant.  For the first time but certainly not the last, they saw chaos, loneliness, disease, hunger, and fear.  They were vulnerable, uncovered or as it has been so wonderfully expressed in a little ditty by Terry Allen, “They were buck-naked in the eyes of the Lord.”   They were naked in their heart, they were naked in their soul, and they were completely exposed to all of life’s imperfections.  Once Pandora’s Box, has been opened, the consequences are more than one might imagine.  Adam and Eve had lost their innocence.
They no longer trusted each other.  They became suspicious, fearful, and resentful. When paradise is lost, what replaces it would hardly be mistaken for heaven.  Adam and Eve had it all.  But they wanted more.  But then don’t we all. When have I not given into the temptation of a smarter phone, a better golf club, a faster car or a fancier house?
Don’t we all complain that God’s expectations are too high? Face it, who can meet God’s holy standard?  God’s moral paradigm of the greater good for all rather than the convenient desires of a few seems neither fair nor possible in this complicated world. Isn’t it a lot more realistic to ask, “What is good for me” rather than “What would God have me do?”
I suppose all of us can tell stories of being exposed to the light of God’s higher expectations.  I suppose we have all had our Garden of Eden experience. You know how difficult it is to yield to temptation.  We rationalize, we claim we are compromising, but in reality all we are doing is jeopardizing our relationship with God’s community.  Eventually, when we see the end results of our misguided desires, like the first Adam, don’t we run to cover ourselves?  But it is too late.  When we yield to temptation, we set ourselves up to be buck-naked in the eyes of the Lord. Trust me, at our age it is not a pretty sight.
So what do we do? Do we give up chocolate for Lent? Do we beg forgiveness offering a liturgy laden with excuses? Do we by-pass the forgiveness part and rationalize our transgressions? Do we lament with such loud cries of self pity that even the injured parties beg we fall silent? Even in our confessional state isn’t it amazing we remain legends in our own minds. In this season of Lent, might I be bold enough to suggest a daily prayer:
God of grace and compassion, we confess that we have failed to love you with our whole heart, soul, and mind.
God of mercy and forgiveness, we confess that we have failed to love others as we have loved ourselves.
Living, Loving God, forgive our foolish ways.