It’s just a joke now, but at least once I bet you took it seriously, if only for a moment.
I remember being in my college dorm room and sitting in front of my gigantic desktop computer when I read the email. Then I read it a second time and I tried to understand.
My roommate, Cory, had his nose in a textbook on the couch. I said, “Dude, you are never gonna believe this. I just got this email from a Nigerian king. He says that all I have to do is send his family some confidential financial information and he has all this money from the Kingdom of Nigeria that he wants to give to me… and it’s like, millions of dollars.”
We thought about it for a second.
I’m not sure if we even had a bank account, but it didn’t matter anyway. It just sounded too good to be true. And of course, now we just laugh.
But if this crazy scheme isn’t 100% true, its not 100% false either —
There is someone, maybe not a king, but someone who really sent that email and really does want your money. There really is an account set up for you to wire to. It’s just that this is about where the truth ends and you are not gonna get what was promised to you!
When these schemes work – and they do work sometimes apparently – they do so by playing on a person’s desire to make a lazy buck and a person’s willingness to convince themselves against their (probably) better judgment, that there’s such an easy way to make so much money… so quickly… by doing so little.
Hanging out in my dorm room, that was the first time I had heard of such a thing, and it’s been a long time since the internet was newish and such a scam could go viral so fast, but there are still an awful lot of empty promises in the world –
There are empty promises we hear – we’re told every day that there are products we can buy to make us happy.
And we make our own. We make empty promises any time we say we’re going to do something knowing we’re not going to do it. And anytime we say we’re going to do something – with the best intentions – and just never get around to it.
We’re surrounded by broken, empty promises.
We’ve been hearing these empty promises so long, and making them ourselves so long, it’s hard to think back to a time when they weren’t a part of our life.
But today we hear the story that takes us way back to the first empty promise.
God created humankind in his image, called humankind good, and set us up with all that we needed to live in holy communion with the creation, with each other, and with God, but the serpent was craftier than any other wild animal that God had made.
The serpent comes to Eve, my guess is because he knows she’s the one who’s really in charge, and begins to sow doubt. “Did God really say you shouldn’t eat the fruit of the trees in this garden?”
…which of course is not at all what God said.
And so, Eve says, “No. There’s just the one. The tree in the middle of the garden is off limits and if we eat of that tree, we will die.”
She knows what she heard and she states the truth.
But the serpent gives this empty promise:
“Oh, you will not die but your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing the difference between good and evil.”
The achingly terrible irony is that Adam and Eve were already like God, they had been made in the very image of God!
And the terrible realization is that what the serpent says is not 100% true…but it’s not 100% false either.
It is true that now they will know the difference between good and evil, but the implication that this is a thing to be desired is false, because they already knew what good was!
With each of God’s creations – sun, moon, earth, water, beasts, vegetation, God said: “This is good!” And upon completing humankind, God said, “this is VERY good!”
So, yes…now they are going to know the difference between good and evil, but they do so by learning what evil is,
which God had previously sheltered them from, and now, having believed the empty promise, Adam and Eve take a bite.
They realize they are naked and they are ashamed.
They hide from God, and when God asks where they are, they hold their tongue, their bones are withered away and they are groaning all day long, estranged from the One who loved them into being.
Ahead for God’s people now, instead of endless days of holy communion with God, in trusting relationships with one another and at peace with creation…
Now instead there will be heartache, now there will be slavery, wandering in the wilderness, exile far from home, defeat at the hands of merciless adversaries,
Emails trying to trick each other out of their livelihood, online bots that try to steal our identity and break into our financial accounts, sinister operations that try to steal elections, politicians that knowingly deceive,
Companies that try to make us feel empty so they can sell us something, a culture of shame, a lack of trust in our institutions and governments, and an ever-increasing sense that we should shrink back from public places and spaces,
Because we come to believe that, you know what, we can’t trust what anyone says, and we should just sew fig leaves, make loincloths, and hide from the danger of being vulnerable and open with one another.
But that would be the easy way out.
It is tempting, and it is absolutely the way the larger culture is going.
The culture around us is ever more individualized and offers us shinier and better ways to dull the wildness of life, to distract ourselves, to make ourselves comfortably oblivious to the suffering of others,and to hide ourselves away from one another.
To interact with one another and to take part in one another’s lives means to open ourselves to each other’s suffering and make it our own.
It is easier to bypass suffering – to find a way to avoid the messy details of other people’s lives – to just focus on taking care of ourselves, which is exactly the nature of the devil’s temptation of Jesus.
Jesus has been in the wilderness 40 days and nights in solidarity with Israel in their failed attempt to be faithful in the desert and the devil approaches him, saying,
“if you are the Son of God, make bread from stones, turn away from your hunger and the suffering that awaits down the road of being obedient to God.”
Or, the devil suggests, Jesus can take the easy way out and announce his messiahship from the pinnacle of the temple where the priests would blow the shofar or rams horn and make religious announcements, rather than announcing his Sonship of God from the pinnacle of the cross, lifted up in agony, and in obedience to God’s desire to rescue humankind.
But the devil sees that Jesus won’t take the easy way out, and so he comes to Jesus with something else.
This time he comes with an empty promise.
If Jesus will only worship him, Satan says, the devil will give him all the kingdoms of the world and all they have to offer.
The only thing is – the world doesn’t belong to the devil
The world belongs to God –
But Jesus is tempted
And Jesus could have decided to go for it.
But the devil’s power and wealth are an illusion and Jesus pushes the delete button on the devil and his empty promise, sending them to the trash folder with the junk of all his other lies, because while you and I set our hearts on ourselves, what we want, and, often, on what we think will be the easiest path to get what we want, Jesus’ heart is set on God’s desire to save you and me.
Here, already, in the wilderness Jesus takes the hard path and accepts his destiny.
Here already, Jesus accepts the cross.
Here already, Jesus accepts his terrible death.
Here, Jesus is remaking the garden episode and the wilderness episode, but with victory rather than defeat.
Because of Jesus, the story of God’s people doesn’t end the same this time.
Jesus is the New Adam who brings justification, life, and righteousness instead of shame, defeat, and estrangement.
Jesus is the New Israel who won’t worship false gods but is faithful to the real and true God of Israel.
We are surrounded by illusions and empty promises…
We live in a hyper-individualized society that tells us that only people with lots of personal accolades and the wealth of the nations can be happy…
that encourages us to believe personal morality is primarily a private matter and we’re all on our own…
that community is best seen as just a collection of individuals who all have something to gain for themselves…
The world is full of EMPTY PROMISES… but our crucified Lord Jesus steps from an EMPTY TOMB
to bring the promise of God that is rock solid.
Jesus is God’s promise that reveals he loves you so much,
his obedience to God is so unshakable,
his solidarity with sinners like you and me is so unwavering,
that no temptations or tests can derail his determination to love God and to love us with all of his heart and soul and mind.
We belong to the Risen Lord and because we belong to Jesus, we are people of the promise.
We are people who have been given the promise of God and who are able to speak the promise of God.
Here Jesus is with us and among us to create a community that can SPEAK promises that last and BELIEVE promises that last.
Here we are given the courage to be a part of God’s crazy scheme to share the riches of the Kingdom of God.
This King’s scheme is to give away his endless mercy as a free gift.
On Wednesday, many of us received an ash cross as a sign of our mortality and the eternal promise of God
One young child, received her ash on Wednesday night. And at home announced she wanted to sleep with it rather than wash it off and wear it to school the next day. And her parents told me that they decided an ashy pillow would be okay.
What a witness!
And God sends you out as witnesses to a divided, lonely world that is captivated by empty promises.
You are a witness to Jesus Christ who is creating a community where we can trust one another,
where we can be vulnerable with one another without shame,
where we can begin again when our trust does falter because we live together in Christ, where all our best intentions find their home in Jesus’ promise to always choose the hard way, the faithful way, the humble way, the victorious way of unshakable obedience to God.
And at this table we truly receive what God has promised to us.
In this meal, God takes us back into true holy communion with himself,
with one another, and with all creation.
So come to the table and be glad, rejoice in the lord, and shout for joy.