Fasting and Feasting
Our gospel reading today takes us with Jesus
As he is led into the wilderness and is confronted by the devil
And faces temptation.
As Episcopalians we don’t focus much on the devil or Satan--
but we must not fool ourselves that we have drawn
some kind of special “get out of jail free” card
that protects us from temptation.
Without a doubt, temptation is alive and well in 2008
even in our little corner of the world here in Western North Carolina.
What does temptation look like?
Let me tell you a story.
I have an older sister and a younger brother.
I am the middle child.
We each had our own interests and certainly our own friends
and we certainly had our share of spats and disagreements,
growing up and occasionally even fully grown.
But even as children, occasionally we were able to function as a team.
to rally and work together.
for better or worse I might add.
This is the true story of a chocolate cake.
My mother—as was my grandmother—was a great cook.
She made a chocolate cake that was to die for.
Now my mother worked full time once we were all in upper elementary school.
So we would get home from school
and were on our own for a few hours
until our mother got home
(she only worked ½ block away so she could be home FAST!)
One afternoon the three of us kids
were scrounging about the kitchen after school
looking for something to eat.
At the same moment,
all our eyes—simultaneously—caught sight of
the shiny aluminum cake box—
sitting way, way up on top of the high kitchen cabinet.
What that meant was DO NOT EAT what is in this cake box for a snack.
But there it was.
Calling all our names.
I think it would be okay to just have a sliver of cake, one of us said.
Sure, a sliver would be okay.
Mother wouldn’t care if we each just take a sliver. Just a taste.
So my brother and I held the chair as my sister, the tallest,
climbed up and brought the cake box down to the counter.
We lifted the lid and there it was—
exactly HALF of a chocolate cake.
How do you eat a sliver that won’t be missed
when there is exactly half a cake left?
I don’t know who came up with it,
but it was suggested that if we just cut the sliver
all the way across the cake, it would never be missed.
So my sister took the knife and cut just a tiny sliver
all the way across and divided it into three pieces.
Oh, it was so delicious!
As with all temptations,
if we could have just stopped with that one sliver…
but we didn’t.
We cut another sliver cut all the way across.
Until all that stood on the cake plate
was a tiny half moon piece of that cake.
There was only one thing to do.
Eat the rest.
The cake box—the EMPTY cake box-- was carefully replaced
to the top of the cabinet
and the three of us all left the kitchen
and immediately became very busy with our chores and homework.
Oh yes! We were such GOOD children!!
After supper that night my mother says,
So who would like some cake?
Oh, not me, said my sister, I have a ton of homework.
Nope, I’ll pass on cake tonight, said my brother.
I’m completely full. Dinner was delicious, Mommy, I piped in.
But then my father said, I’d love a piece of cake.
So my mother reaches up, grabs the now quite light cake box
and brings it down--
only to discover, there is no cake.
My mother was surprised, puzzled.
That’s strange she said. I was sure we had cake.
I thought we had at least half of a cake left.
We were quiet. Absolutely silent.
Then off we rushed to do homework and to disappear.
It was only a few years ago, about 3 years before our mother died,
that we told her the truth about the cake.
Of course we were adults by the time we confessed,
making a big joke about it.
But my mother remembered that empty cake box and she said,
I knew I had half a cake in that cake box!
Just as God knows the truth about each of us.
We may be able to fool our neighbors, our friends, our families,
even our mothers on occasion,
that we are without sin, that we are blameless.
But that is a joke my friends
and the joke is on us.
Because God knows what we have done
and God knows what we have left undone.
Indeed there are sins far more serious than scheming with your brother and sister
to eat cake and then through silence, lie.
But most of our sins do start with just a “sliver”—
A harmless little sliver.
That brings us to Lent.
This time of year when we are called to self-examination—
to honest, thorough, truthful self-examination.
We are called to look at ourselves and our lives,
our relationship with God
and our relationship with others--
and there is nothing easy about it.
Lent calls us to line up those “slivers” that seem so minor to us,
and to see them for what they really are.
And to change.
Temptation for us in the 21st century
does not come in the form of being asked to turn stones into bread
or to jump off the Temple walls to prove that angels will catch us.
We are not the Son of God.
Temptation for us is likely to come in the shape of a sliver—
a little, tiny lie—
Aalittle lie just lying in wait to grow and build and spread
into a much larger lie.
Temptation comes in the shape of “taking care of number one”—
which is the antithesis of everything Jesus teaches us about
loving one another
and caring first for those who are the least and the last.
All we have to do is examine our checkbooks
and we can see a vast disproportion
in what we spend to take care of ourselves
and what we spend to take care of the widows, the orphans,
the poor and the needy.
Temptation comes in the shape of gossip, criticism, complaining—
a deadly boomerang that is guaranteed to hurt and wound
and then come back and knock us to the ground in the end.
Years ago I came across something in my church newsletter
that remains for me the essence of Lent.
It is my map in the wilderness.
It is my touch stone to lead me away from temptation.
Even though I have carried it in my wallet for years,
I still need to return to this short piece of writing every year in Lent.
In truth, I need to turn to it every day.
Lent is a season of fasting and feasting.
Fast from discontent—
Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger—
Feast on patience.
Fast from bitterness—
Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern—
Feast on compassion for others.
Fast from discouragement—
Feast on hope.
Fast from laziness—
Feast on commitment.
Fast from suspicion—
Feast on truth.
Fast from guilt—
Feast on the mercy of God.
Lent is a time for such feasting and fasting.
Lent is a time.
The time is now.
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Note: I used this story about the chocolate cake (it really is true) in another sermon I preached years ago at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church during a summer internship. The context of the sermon was different but obviously this story from my childhood must be an important one for me since I have used it again. I guess gluttony AND lying to one's mother tends to be something you don't forget! I think it's interesting how some of our sins come back to haunt us--and transform us.