Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17; Psalm 104:25-25; Mark 7:14-23
What are you giving up for Lent this year? Ash Wednesday is only one week away and it’s that time of year when people start considering what guilty pleasure they’re going to sacrifice for the Lenten season. Many choose things that they feel are bad for them like a favorite dessert, red meat, or like me in my senior year of college, my favorite beer: a thick, dark, Irish Stout. At the time, I felt as many people do, that in order to deserve Easter freedom, I should have to suffer a little. Looking back I realize that I missed the point of the exercise. The Lenten fast is not necessarily about denouncing that which is bad for us, nor is it about making ourselves miserable for a few weeks. Rather, in the words of Step 3 of theTwelve Suggested Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is about ‘turning our will and our lives over to the care of God,’ trusting that He will provide for our needs in abundance.
In our first lesson today from Genesis we hear how God shared his creation with Adam so that he might enjoy it and gave him the task of caring for it. God delighted in this partnership and provided for his every need. There was only a single stipulation: that he not eat the fruit of one tree in the Garden. Adam and his wife Eve felt slighted that they couldn’t have it all and when tempted disobeyed God and ate of the fruit. In doing so, they literally bit off more than they could chew. God’s ordinance was not to deprive them but rather to protect them. It wasn’t the fruit of the tree that defiled them but rather the fruit of their greed.
In Jesus’ day, people took proscriptions against certain foods to an extreme. It was their belief that the food itself made you unclean and unworthy of God’s love and blessing. Not only were you not to eat certain foods, but you were not to associate with anyone who did. However if you were poor and had nothing to eat, sometimes your only recourse was to eat a restricted food in order to survive. This branded you as an outcast and sinner. Jesus’ message was that it was not the food that made you unclean, but rather the fruits of ego and self-reliance. To reject God’s provision and isolate yourself from others was to go against what Jesus taught was the essence of the Law: Love of God and love of neighbor.
The Psalmist says it beautifully:
O LORD, how manifold are your works! *
in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
All of them look to you *
to give them their food in due season.
You give it to them; they gather it; *
you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.
You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; *
and so you renew the face of the earth.
This is good news and Lent is a period of time when we can empty our hearts, minds, and hands of all that burdens us so that we can extend them in assurance that God will provide in abundance everything we need. What are you holding on to desperately that you need to give to God? What is it that is keeping you from claiming the abundant life that God wants to share with you? As you come to the altar in a few moments, bring it with you and give it to Jesus. Then you will be free to extend your hands and receive the abundance of God. Amen.
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