By Bishop Todd Townshend
For three weeks in a row, the Sunday lectionary epistle readings are from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter 8. There, Paul turns from his discussion of how we’re stuck in our sinful ways and he begins to speak about the power that saves us from those ways—and the promise of God’s final victory over the powers of evil.
He speaks of this as a contrast between living in the flesh or living in the spirit. “In the flesh” means the we are living according to the impulse that Adam and Eve gave in to . . . the desire to rebel against God and eat the fruit that will let us be the god of our own lives. Living “in the Spirit” means that we live in a positive, trusting, relationship with God and God’s creation, letting God be God.
This living in the Spirit brings constant but positive transformation. It is like the transformation from slave… to child… to heir, he says.
And this transformation that the Spirit of God is doing will not only save us from doing over and over again what Adam and Eve did, it is a transformation of the whole creation, back into its original “good-ness”. The whole creation yearns to be free again—it “groans” in its yearning, says Paul, like a mother in the pain of childbirth yearns for the delivery of her child.
There is a future glory on the way, for the whole of creation, including human beings. That’s St. Paul in Romans 8.
It’s good to be reminded of the good news that, in Christ, God has given the whole creation a future. Knowing this allows to go back and look at an important aspect of Genesis chapter 3 that helps us to see why the birth of Jesus, the child born of Mary, is such good news.
What was God the Creator’s desire in sending Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, our hope?
As we have seen, the story of Adam, Even, and the Serpent in God’s garden of Eden is a story of human temptation to a forbidden desire. A distorted, unhealthy, unhelpful, desire.
This can shed light on how the spiritual life, the Christian life, is a constant reorientation of our desires.
Desires are powerful—much more powerful than reason, thinking, decision, intention—desire tends to run our lives, under the surface. Desire. It is a good thing that often goes bad.
Rene Girard writes about “mimesis” and how our desires are contagious. We tend to pick up on what other people want and it makes us want that “thing” more and more. Sometimes is makes us want something even when we didn’t know we wanted it. This can work out well—when the desire is a healthy one. It can also work out badly when it’s not.
I don’t really like this idea. “I don’t get my desires from anyone else! I’m my own man! I have complete control over my own interests and impulses!” – And the advertisers snicker at my naivete.
It starts when we are little. Imagine a room full of toys—I’m three years old, alone in the room, and I get to play with any toy I want.
I’m playing with this one, then that one, none of them really capturing my attention. Until another child wobbles into the playroom and picks up that toy over there. Now, THAT toy is the most interesting and desirable toy in the room. And I want to see it. And I go over to the other kid and take it. . . just to look at it.
He didn’t really care about that toy until I took it from him. Now, I’ve got a bloody nose and we’re both crying. In a room full of toys.
You’ve seen it happen.
Get a little older and it’s a bit different but it’s the same. I cannot reveal any of the names and places associated with my youthful adulthood . . . but we’ve all seen the Bachelor and Bachelorette on TV, right? You won’t admit it, but you have.
As soon as all of the young women arrive on the set of the Bachelor, the plain-looking, gym-busting, dim-witted guy at the centre of it all turns into Mr. Right and Mr. Dreamy all at once.
Why? Because all of the other women desire him. They’re supposed to. It’s all in the set up. The serpent host, and crafty producers, have set up a temptation island!
Break the spell… distance them from the whole thing… and they wonder aloud – “what was I thinking?”
Simply following your desires, your passions, can be the perfectly right and authentic thing to do. But when it’s distorted by other desires floating in the atmosphere, it can also get you into a lot trouble.
Back to Genesis 3, The apple. The Garden.
The bite of fruit that said
I want to be god of my own life
I want to consume that tree, it’s such a “delight to the eyes”, (vs. 6)
that tree that is “to be desired to make one wise…”
so they bit into the fruit… and the hook sunk into their flesh…
and God escorted them out of paradise.
The warning was that they would die, but God took mercy, and clothed them, and led the to a new place. A place of consequences… and new promises.
And there it is, if you’re an Apple user—a reminder, every time with pick up your iPhone, iPad, iPod, there it is. These gadgets look so shiny and tasty – got to have it.
What do we desire? Not just the shiny objects but the really deep stuff.
It’s good to know this, because your desires will rule your life—for good or ill.
Our deeper desire always wins out. Unless we confront it, come face to face with it, interrogate it.
What is the point of all this?
I believe that the church, life in a Christian community,
is a place that can shape our desires… toward wisdom, toward faith, towards love, towards proper care and cultivation of life and of God’s creation.
God put “desire” in you and me. It’s not a bad thing. It just needs to be constantly reoriented to God.
God destines us for glory – and Christ’s wisdom is within our reach, continually being offered to us. It’s just that, the glory is God’s, and it is God who gives it.
This glory is here already, and it is heaven-sent.
The glory was there in the garden, with them, they didn’t need to bite into something else.
This society is constantly inviting us into “the Good Life” through this thing and that experience.
Usually the promise is more happiness, more money, more success, more… more
The goal is to be a winner in the game.
But life isn’t a game.
And Jesus picked fools…
He chose fools, to receive and to offer his gift of wisdom and glory.
Do you know what that looks like? Can you picture the Glory and Wisdom of God?
Well… picture a very badly beaten man, nailed to a post, outside the city of Jerusalem. He’s up there so that everyone can “see what happens to you when you’re foolish enough to destabilize our system here…”
And that’s what most people saw… a battered fool.
Except one guy, who says, “surely… this man was God’s Son.”
Only God could love… like that. Only God’s Son could let go… of all desire… except the desire to be faithful… And die, and three days later, know the joy of resurrection.
A joy he promises for us, his loved ones, who desire only to be like him, with him, in him and he in us. Amen.
Blessing to you and see you next week.