|Easter Sunday, Year A||April 12, 2020||Easter Sunday, Year A||Matthew 28:1-10|
|Good Friday, 2020||April 10, 2020||Meditation on the Cross, Good Friday, 2020||John 18:1-19:42|
|Palm Sunday, Year A||April 5, 2020||Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday||Matthew 26:18|
|Lent 5, Year A||March 29, 2020||Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A 2020||John 11:1-45|
|Lent 4, Year A||March 22, 2020||Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C||Psalm 23|
|Lent 3, Year A at the Cathedral||March 15, 2020||Third Sunday in Lent, Year A||John 4:5-42|
|Lent 2, Year A – March 8, 2020 – the Rev. Deacon Carey Connors||March 8, 2020||Lent 2, Year A||John 3:1-17|
|➤Lent 1, Year A||March 1, 2020||First Sunday in Lent, Year A||Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11|
|Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020||February 25, 2020||Ash Wednesday, Year A||Joel 2:1-2, 12-17|
|Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||February 23, 2020||Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 17:1-9|
|Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||February 16, 2020||Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Sirach 15:15-20; I Corinthians 3:1-9, I Corinthians 13: 11-12; Matthew 5:21-37; Psalm 119:1-8|
|Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||February 9, 2020||Epiphany 5, Year A||Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12];Matthew 5:13-20|
|The Presentation||February 2, 2020||Presentation of Jesus in the Temple||Luke 2:22-40|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 26, 2020||Third Sunday after the Epiphany||Matthew 4: 12-23, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Congregational Meeting||January 19, 2020||Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, Congregational Meeting||Isaiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42|
Lent 1, Year A
Sermon Date:March 1, 2020
Scripture: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11
Liturgy Calendar: First Sunday in Lent, Year A
San Hermano Pedro, the patron saint of Guatemala
Please listen to today’s sermon as a form of midrash—a Jewish way of prayerfully studying scripture that looks at and through the text in order to see what may not have been written down to help engage the reader or listener more deeply.
I’m using this approach today, adding to what we have written down, because these passages are so familiar that their words can slip past us in their familiarity, leaving us unchanged.
I’ll be interested in hearing if this midrash helps you hear these words in a new way.
Back in the beginning, the writer of Genesis tells us that the Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man to till the garden and to keep it, and in the middle of the garden God plants the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
God tells the man not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because he will die if he does so.
One day, Eve and the serpent are having a conversation under this very tree. The serpent points out to Eve that if she eats that fruit, her eyes will be opened, and that she will be like God, knowing good and evil.
Maybe the woman had never looked closely at this tree before, but now she takes a long look. The fruit looks and smells scrumptious, the tree is lush and green, and the serpent promises that she will be wise, so she takes some fruit and bites into it and gives some to her husband, who is with her, and he eats too.
I picture Adam and Eve here at the center of God’s garden, under this beautiful tree, its branches hanging low with the weight of delicious ready to eat fruit. I’ve never seen a painting showing Eve and Adam sitting down to eat, but now I picture them simply sitting down on the earth with the freshly picked fruit on the ground between them. As they pick up the fruit and eat, they are wondering why they’ve waited so long to try it.
But then their pleasure is spoiled, because they suddenly realize that they are naked and sitting on the ground! They need clothes! They need a plate for the fruit, and a table for the plate, and chairs for themselves. And suddenly the garden is very crowded with their own desires and they can think of nothing else.
They are so alarmed by thinking about all that they now need that they don’t even finish the fruit. They leave it on the ground as they rush around looking for something to cover themselves in.
They strip a fig bush of its leaves and stitch the leaves together to make clothes for themselves. And then Adam, in his haste and anxiety, chops down the tree of the knowledge of good and evil! Out of the wood, he builds two chairs, because he and Eve don’t feel comfortable sitting on the ground any more. They must have seats for themselves. Then he starts constructing a table.
Adam and Eve can only think of themselves, and all that they suddenly think that they need. And the garden has become a place for them to exploit rather than to tend and to keep as God has asked them to do.
When they hear God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening breeze, Adam quickly tries to hide the half finished table and the broken boughs of the tree and the smashed fruit lying all over the ground and then he and Eve hide from God because they are ashamed.
God takes a look at the mess and calls to the man and asks why he and Eve are hiding. And they say that they are hiding because they are naked.
After talking to the man, the woman and the snake, and looking at the fallen tree and its ruined fruit, God decides to send Adam and Eve out of the garden, and as they are leaving, God sees those chairs that they’ve already made, and says to them, “Don’t forget your chairs!” and straps those chairs to their backs.
Now wherever Adam and Eve go, they and all of their descendants to come will have to carry a chair made of the wood of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil strapped to their backs. Carrying those chairs on their backs will allow them at any time to unstrap the chairs, to sit down in them, and to remind themselves that due to their own wisdom and efforts, they are truly seated at the center of their own little worlds, or……maybe they’ll learn something else from having those chairs strapped to their backs.
Now the lectionary takes us out into the wilderness, where we find Jesus, alone and starving, sitting on the ground, exhausted after forty days and nights of fasting. And because he is a descendant of Adam and Eve, he too has a chair strapped to his back.
The devil, Satan, the Evil One, shows up.
And the first question to Jesus is, “Why are you sitting on the ground? Why is that chair still strapped to your back? You could be sitting in it.”
Jesus looks puzzled.
So the Evil One says, “I can see you are hungry. So if you are the Son of God, turn all these stones on the ground into bread. You need that bread now. And while you’re at it, turn some of the stones into a table. Take that chair off your back, sit down, pull it up to the table and eat until you’re full again.”
And when Jesus has no response, the Evil One says, “Plus, if you turn all of these stones into bread and make your table big enough, you can feed the world. And YOU will be sitting in YOUR chair at the head of the table.”
Much to the Evil One’s dismay, Jesus quotes scripture from Deuteronomy about people not living by bread alone but by the word that comes from the mouth of God. The chair stays strapped to Jesus.
So the Evil One tries again.
This time he puts Jesus in a dangerous position—at the top of the pinnacle of the temple. “Be reckless, Jesus. You KNOW that God will take care of you!” Plus, you can protect yourself with that chair! Tie your robe to the chair and turn it into a parachute that will cushion your fall. You don’t really have to count on God to protect you from danger. You can do that yourself. Just think, you could even use that chair as a shield if an enemy tried to rush you and kill you on the spot.”
Again, Jesus just looks at the Devil and quotes Deuteronomy again, about not putting God to the test.
The Evil One is getting frustrated.
So next the Evil One takes Jesus off to a very high mountain so that Jesus can see all the kingdoms of the world.
And the Evil One says, “Unstrap your chair and set it here, and I will turn it into a throne for you. After you fall down and worship me, take a seat on your throne and rule the entire world. After all, it all belongs to me, but you need it. I’ll give it to you.”
Jesus slowly stands up and unstraps the chair. Jesus places the chair in front of him and looks hard at the Evil One.
“I’ve got him now. He must love the throne idea,” the Evil One thinks excitedly.
But then Jesus says, “This chair is a throne reserved ONLY for The Lord your God. Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” The empty chair starts to glow in front of the Evil One’s eyes, and muttering fearfully, the Evil One vanishes.
And suddenly, the angels came and wait on Jesus.
And when they are through waiting on him, the last thing they do for Jesus before they leave is to help him strap his chair onto his back again.
He’s going to need it for all that is to come.
About one thousand, six hundred and sixty years later at dusk, a man walks down a dirt street through the poorest sections of a town, a chair strapped to his back.
San Pedro stumbles over a weak old man lying in the dirt where he has fallen, too weak even to move out of the street. Quickly, San Pedro kneels, takes his chair from his back, and straps the old man into the chair.
Then San Pedro lifts his chair up onto his own back and fastens its straps tight around him again. He turns and carries the old man, strapped to his back in his chair, to his own hut. Kneeling in the center of his hut, San Pedro unstraps the chair from his back, unstraps the old man from the chair and lays him gently on the floor. Then he waits on the old man who lies there along with several others that San Pedro has brought back here on his back in his chair.
The empty chair sits there in the center of the hut, ready for San Pedro to strap it on again and bring another person to healing and safety.
there in the dim, flickering light, you can see, if you look, that the chair is not empty after all.
Someone is sitting in the chair—someone who will help San Pedro feed those people, someone who will help San Pedro heal and protect those people, someone who will answer San Pedro’s prayers for their healing. Someone who will provide San Pedro, a poor man caring for the poor, with all that he will ever need.
The Lord Jesus sits in San Pedro’s chair, and San Pedro’s chair is the Lord’s throne.
Who sits in your chair?
When I went to Antigua, Guatemala, a few summers ago, I learned about San Hermano Pedro, the patron saint of Guatemala.
San Pedro was a Franciscan brother who devoted his life to the forgotten people; the sick, the unemployed, and those in jails in Antigua. He also worked with young people. In 1658, San Pedro was given a hut to which he brought sick people who had gotten out of the hospital but who had no one to help them recover. Before long, inspired by the zeal of San Pedro in caring for the poor and the sick, people bought the houses around him, and constructed a hospital in which he could work. They added a homeless shelter, a home for the poor, an inn for priests, and an oratory.
Today, in the museum in Antigua dedicated to San Pedro and his work, San Pedro’s chair sits in a protective glass case. The guide there told me that San Pedro had strapped that chair to his back and used it to carry people who needed help and were too weak to walk.
That image is unforgettable—a man with a person in a chair strapped to his back, carrying that person toward help and healing.
Pope John Paul canonized San Pedro in 2002 for his work with the most vulnerable, the neediest, and the sickest, and for the many miraculous healings that San Pedro prayed for during in his life and for all the healings that continue to occur, helped along by prayers to San Pedro.