Saturday, November 14, 2015

The lies the serpent tells us

Genesis 3:1-21; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-8

Last week, Nadia Bolz-Weber was the speaker at the Conference on Ministry I attended as a pastor of this synod. She has become known as an authority in the church in recent years because she tells the truth. She tells the truth about the stuff some of her parishioners do and say. She tells the truth about how she feels about her emotions and her struggle to be a good pastor. And she seeks always to tell the Lutheran truth about Jesus. Her sermon on Wednesday morning made an impact on me, so I want to credit her with the starting idea for this message.
The text was Genesis 3, describing the way the serpent tricked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. The serpent assured Eve that the result of eating the fruit would be knowing the difference between good and evil. Eating of this fruit would make them as smart as God. This is the first lie the serpent told, but certainly not the last.
Interestingly, our English Bibles label this as the first sin, but today’s Jews do not consider this a story about sin. It is an origin story which explains why serpents don’t have legs, why childbirth hurts, why working the land to grow crops is so much hard work, and why men think they are the boss of women.
There are plenty of lies told by the serpent since this first one. Some of the serpent’s lies relate to the way the people operate; they trust in armies instead of in God; they make alliances with neighboring kingdoms instead of trusting God. Jesus warns us against this lie.
Some of the serpent’s lies relate to the way they treat one another: it’s ok for some people to make slaves of other people; it’s ok for some people to beat up on other people; it’s ok for some people to steal money and property and jobs from other people. Jesus warns us against this lie.
Some of the serpent’s lies relate to the way they worship: big fancy buildings please God more than simple ones; fancy clothes please God more than plain ones; longer prayers with 50-cent words please God more than short prayers cried from the heart.  Jesus warns us against this lie.
Some of the serpent’s lies relate to what we believe about ourselves: wealthy people are more blessed by God than poor people; God loves some people more than other people; some sins are not forgive-able. Jesus warns us against this lie.
Some of the serpent’s lies tell us that we can predict God’s response to us; we believe that we can tell when Jesus is coming again; we believe that certain behaviors or actions will make conditions ripe for Jesus’ return; we believe we can interpret God’s heart when we see trials and tribulations surrounding us. Jesus warns us against this lie.
The biggest lie the serpent tells us is that we are not worthy of God’s love. Jesus came to tell us that God loves us and forgives us, as a parent loves and forgives a child. Jesus came to prove to us that God loves us enough to die for us. Jesus came to tell us that we are never alone. Jesus came to assure us that there is a place for us after death.
Jesus tells us to trust in God and to never listen to the serpent’s lies. Like other Jews, the disciples have believed the lies told to them about the importance of the temple, of obedience to the commands of Torah, and the belief that the Messiah would come to free them from the Romans. But, Jesus said, don’t believe these lies.

Some stories:
Jack and Jill have important jobs, plenty of money to live on today, piles of money set aside for retirement. Their house is magnificent, and was featured in Southern Lifestyle Magazine. They jet regularly to London and Paris, just for the weekend. They are close to retirement, and making plans for how they will spend the rest of their lives.
But one day, Jill is killed in a car crash. All the money, all the planning, did not prepare Jack for this. The house is empty, he has no one to talk with about the day’s challenges and successes. The serpent lied to them, that all that money would make them happy.

Melissa is a nerd. She loves science. She does all her homework. She takes care of her little brother. She has a hard time being a friend because she is so shy. Other girls tease her, to the point where she wants to skip school, but she doesn’t want to disappoint her parents. The girls in school have started to send her text messages like, “You’re so ugly, the world would be better off without you.” At first, she ignored these messages, but lately, they are coming so often, she is beginning to believe them. Melissa is beginning to think about suicide. She is beginning to believe the lies the serpent tells, that she is no one, that she is worthless.
When she was younger, Sally led Women of the ELCA in her church, she served on the Congregation Council, and she attended synod assemblies once or twice. She loved the young people in the church, and kept candies in her purse for them.
Lately, it seemed to her that her ideas were old and no one cared what she thought. She thought it didn’t matter if she was at worship or if she stayed home to watch TV preachers. Sally believed the lie that she was old and that she had nothing more to contribute to the church.
But, someone asked her to make phone calls, checking on the homebound folks each week. They knew she enjoyed talking with people, and soon these phone calls gave her a renewed sense of purpose. They also helped her realize that as long as she was able to, she ought to get herself to church each week. Her friends helped her stop believing the lie that she was too old to be worth anything.

There are lots of lies we are told by the serpent, speaking through those we know, those we read about, those we watch on TV. It is essential that we check the lies to see if they match the truth Jesus told us.
The truth is that Jesus loves us. Jesus forgives us. No one is unworthy of his love. Everyone has something to contribute.
It is our task as disciples to seek the truth and to tell the truth. It is our task to expose the lies told by others, and to make sure we believe only Jesus’ truth about ourselves.

Please pray with me. Truth-telling God, help us to seek your truth for our lives. And help us to share your truth with others, especially those who believe the lies others are telling about them. Amen