Pastor Emily Hartner:
A little over a year ago, Ian and I traveled to Texas for my goddaughter’s baptism.
We were in their living room one afternoon when my goddaughter’s older brother, who was 2½ at the time, came into the room and announced that he had made a mess.
Well, that was an understatement!
His father followed him into the bathroom where he discovered that the toddler has used his bath toys–the kind with small holes in them for draining the water–to “transport” water from the toilet to the bathtub.
There was toilet water all over the bathroom floor, left for his dad to clean up.
This sermon is about our tendency to make messes and Jesus’ ability to clean them up.
It doesn’t take much looking at this world to reach the conclusion that we sure have made a mess of it.
Of course it shouldn’t us because this tendency to mess things up is as old as time.
We have, after all, inherited the genetic material from Adam and Eve that makes the relationship between evil, temptation, and sin a rather intertwined and complex one.
It’s such a part of our humanity that it’s hard to determine the real root of the problem–it’s like looking for the forest among the trees.
I wonder if we might start, though, with Martin Luther’s definition of sin.
Luther said sin was the human curved in upon itself–egocentric naval gazers.
And because we can be so egocentric, the chance that we might actually get away with our selfish ways makes falling to the temptation of thinking only of ourselves even more appealing, in a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” kind of way.
You can almost imagine the serpent tempting Adam and Eve with those words as he dangled the fruit in front of their noses.
“You will not die,” he says to Adam and Eve, “for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.
Go on, what happens in the garden stays in the garden.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
So, believing the serpent, Adam and Eve eat, but their secret is not safe.
What happens in the garden does NOT stay in Vegas.
God learns of their sin immediately and Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden.
But that’s not all.
Adam and Eve know as well.
The knowledge of their sin can’t stay in the garden, because from that point on it lies deep in their hearts.
Wherever Adam and Eve go, their transgression follows them like a dark shadow.
And because of that, the things we would prefer to hide can’t stay hidden, either–we have inherited this sin from Adam and Eve, buried deep in our hearts as well.
We can try to run from it, we can pretend that it doesn’t exist, like it never happened, but sooner or later something will happen–like the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery or bomb threats to Jewish organizations to remind us that, even if we weren’t the vandals, even if we didn’t call in the threat, we can’t escape the infestation of naval-gazing that causes so much harm.
And yes, each one of us is guilty of it.
Think about, for example, our tendency to drive over the speed limit.
Most of the time we do it out of a desire to get where we are going as fast as possible, to the detriment of the safety of everyone else on the road.
Because the serpent tricked them, because what happens in the garden does NOT stay in garden,our lives, our communities, and our world are infested with evil, temptation, and sin.
It’s a pretty grim picture until you consider that Jesus couldn’t say in confined, either.
That’s at least one reason why it is, in essence, good news, that what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas.
The situation is similar.
This time, “Vegas” is not the garden, but the wilderness, but you can still imagine the devil tempting Jesus with the same words.
He dangles temptation in front of Jesus’s face as one would dangle a carrot before a horse–the fame that would come with turn stones into the bread, or jumping successfully off the top of the temple, the power that would come with ruling the kingdoms of the world.
“Go on,” he says, “what do you have to lose? What happens in the wilderness stays in the wilderness.
You know, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
As in the case of Adam and Eve, what happens in wilderness does NOT stay in the wilderness, except that here it is not evil, temptation, and sin that spread like a wildfire through the generations, but Jesus’s resistance to evil and temptation.
It followed him throughout his lifetime, and it followed him to the cross.
“Save yourself!” the onlooker yelled as Jesus was hanging there, left to die.
“If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Again, he resisted.
If sin is the human being curved in upon itself–egocentric naval gazing–then Jesus is the opposite–selfless compassion.
If we have inherited that naval-gazing posture from our ancestors Adam and Eve, then it is Jesus, who resists temptation, and Jesus, on the cross, looking not at himself, but at the world, arms embracing all, who begins to uncurl us and show us another way.
And what a fresh, new way this is.
Can you imagine if everyone only ever served their own interests?
We would be in one hot, mess–much hotter and much messier than we are already, if you imagine that.
We should be eternally thankful that what happens in the “Vegas” of the garden or the wilderness was never going to stay there.
The season of Lent–the forty days leading up to Easter–initially began as a time of preparation for those who would be baptized at the Easter Vigil.
Lent, then, is a good time to reflect on our own baptisms and the significance they have for our lives.
When we say, for example, in our service of baptism that we renounce “the devil and all the forces that defy God” we are renouncing the empty promise that our secrets are safe in a place like Vegas.
But we are also renouncing the empty promise that Jesus, and Jesus’ resistance to evil, could ever be contained there as well.
Have we made a mess of this world?
Oh my gosh, yes.
Will this world continue to be a messy place where we can see no further than beyond our own navels?
Until Jesus’ kingdom comes in its fullness, yes.
Evil, temptation, and sin will continue to infect us.
But remember: what happens in the garden or the wilderness does NOT stay there–neither our failures nor Jesus’s resistance and that, my friends, is the good news that is the only hope for this world, and the good news we long to celebrate come Easter.