Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
March 5, 2017
“Let’s Live a Life that’s a Little More Pointless”
Matthew 17: 1-9 – The Message
The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it. 16 The Lord God commanded the human, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; 17 but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!”
The snake was the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. It said to the woman, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?”
2 The woman said to the snake, “We may eat the fruit of the garden’s trees 3 but not the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, ‘Don’t eat from it, and don’t touch it, or you will die.’” 4 The snake said to the woman, “You won’t die! 5 God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 The woman saw that the tree was beautiful with delicious food and that the tree would provide wisdom, so she took some of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then they both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made garments for themselves.
The Book of Genesis is full of attempts to answer such questions as, “Where do we come from?” “How did the world begin?” “Why is life so difficult?” “Why do we blame women for everything?”
Here’s a story that didn’t make it into the Bible.
In the beginning, God created lots of people – not just one or two. Lots of us. And we spent all of our time playing. All day and into the night.
We splashed in rivers.
We rolled down hillsides.
We ran with the wind.
And then we’d lie down and eat from this beautiful garden to refresh our bodies and stay up late to watch the stars fly by in the night sky. It was good. It was very good.
Until one day when a snake came by. At least they said it was a snake. It might have been a guy in the three piece suit on his iPhone. Or it could have been a theologian with a big fat book. In any case, this thing called a snake told everyone who was rolling on the hillside and splashing in the water, and playing and frolicking and tumbling: “That’s foolish. You’re wasting your time. At least, unless you’re keeping score.”
We had no idea what the snake meant. What’s keeping “score?”
He told us, “Whoever gets the most points will win and get this apple.” But we had no idea what “points” were. Yet, we were curious. So the snake offered, “I’ll teach you.”
The snake taught us how to keep points for our running and our jumping and our climbing, so that whoever climbed the highest got points, and whoever ran fastest got points, and whoever could roll down the hill farthest got more points.
That wasn’t so bad, but some things, like frolicking, were too hard to score. So we stopped doing that.
Soon we were keeping score for everything we did. We started to keep points for who sang the “best;” for the best whistling and humming and even who was best at beating sticks on a rock.
We kept track so that we would know who had the most points because, surely, we all wanted to win that apple. Even though all the oranges and bananas and kiwis and raspberries and watermelon and… literally, everything else we wanted to eat was free.
Soon we were spending so much time keeping score that nothing was for the sake of simple play anymore. And that made the Creator very sad. Very disappointed. And very concerned.
So God said, “Please, at least take one day, a Sabbath day to rest, to play, and to pray. If you don’t, you’re going to die of exhaustion.”
We hadn’t heard anything about this thing called “dying” before so we tried to pay attention. It sounded pretty serious.
But we just couldn’t stop thinking about that shiny red apple. The snake had done such a good job convincing us how much we wanted it. More than anything else. So we kept trying to win more points.
God kept trying to get through to us that we didn’t need any points. But by this time, I was up to 12,263. And I wanted my children to get even more, so I used every hour of every day, every day of every week, teaching them how to accumulate points, learning strategies to get more points than anyone else. Because that way you’ll, you know, “win!”
We wrote pages and pages and pages and pages and pages of rules. That way it was much easier to keep track of who had more points. We could even write rules so that we could earn more points than other people.
And then we came up with another brilliant idea. Whoever broke the rules we wrote – we could take away their points. And then eject them from the game.
We came up with another idea using points to keep score. Keeping points against other people – lists of slights and flubs and irritations that grew ever longer.
But we even better, we came up with something we named hell. Soon it became more important to stay out of hell than it was to rack up more points. It was working out wonderfully for us.
So God said, “At least don’t forget those without any points.” But the snake said all those people were “pointless.” They’re just losers.
Over and over again our Creator tried to get our attention. Keep it simple, God told us. There are only two rules in, if you must call it that, the “Game of Life:” “Love me and love your neighbor. You can have a lot of fun just doing that.”
But, we said, “Who on earth wants to play a game with only two rules?” It’s too hard to score.
And yet, I started to get tired. We all got tired. We yelled at each other a lot more. The points we held against each other kept growing almost as fast as the original point of keeping points. Instead of yelling for each other, shouts of enthusiasm and encouragement, we yelled each other. We argued over silly, arbitrary rules. We devolved into groups of us vs. them. I’m right. You’re wrong. Friendships became fractured. Families didn’t know what to do – because we had never considered such an idea before. That anything could come between the love God first implanted in us at creation.
By the time we started to question whether all those points were really worth it, I wasn’t about to just walk away from 12,263 points. Nobody was. I wanted to get to at least 15,000.
I just hoped I didn’t die first.
What if I die before I can win that apple?
What would have been the point?
What did you hear in that story? How did it speak to you?
There are lots of snakes trying to get us to think we need something better, or we need more, or we need something else… anything that keeps us striving to get “it.” Whatever that “it” may be. Cunning, seductive, conniving... there are a lot of snakes out there wearing three-piece suits working overtime to get us to “need” something. Plus snakes that will convince us it’s someone else’s fault, egging us on to remain stubbornly certain that “I am right.” Find someone you can blame – whether it be the generals or the fake news or the judges or even the weather. Rather than look inward. Rather than take responsibility for our own faults and failings. And that’s one of the gifts of Lent.
One of the lines in our prayer of confession later in the service says: “It’s not so much that we have chosen evil but that we have often pursued little goods and lesser gods, until we have lost our way.”
In Lent we can pause to ask such questions: Am I too quick to blame or find fault with others? What has been my own part? Have I been seduced, not by some snake, but by my own ego? Am I keeping points – who has done what to me? A list we can pull out anytime we need to score points in an argument.
Lent is a time to pause, to be honest. And to return. Confessing when what we have done or not done has taken us from the path of peace and compassion and justice. Sometimes so far that we have completely lost our way and even betrayed our own values. Whether intentionally or unintentionally.
After all, if there is to be peace in the world and the nations and the cities and the home – there must be peace in my heart. Peace that at least in part comes from being honest with ourselves. Truth. Those with privilege are not without responsibility.
Lent is one of those attempts by God to get us to slow down and breathe and remember what is important. To reconnect; recommit to that which is really important. To ask, is this what I want to be doing with the life God gave me?
Because the ultimate purpose in Lent, more than anything else, is to reclaim that the grace of God is always greater than our sin. Lent may have a dour reputation, but its goal is that we are able receive and sustain real and lasting joy. And to spread that joy through our acts of mercy – just like God’s mercy upon us. Therefore, that’s why we pray to cast aside every weight and heavy burden. It is to receive with gratitude the invitation to start again – not from the beginning, but from the spot where we are today.
We don’t need a “do-over.” We just need a “start-again.” Wherever it is that we left off. Maybe to tell a hard truth we have been avoiding. Or accept one. Maybe to offer long-delayed forgiveness – or receive it. Might we have to ask, who wrote the rules that told me I have keep separate from…(fill in the blank). Perhaps it is to listen more carefully. Or speak more carefully. Maybe it is re-commitment to keep Sabbath again.
Always it is to ask: am I on the path I would choose? Or God would choose. And if not, to begin practicing again those two rules in the “Game of Life:” the love of God and the love of my neighbor – those with points and especially those with fewer or none.
This Lent, I suggest that perhaps we all try to live a life, in our relationships, in our striving and through our choices… that we all try to live a life that is a little more “pointless.”
 Adapted from Barbara Lundblad’s “You Don’t Need Points: The Creation;” which she adapted from Dan Erlander’s “The Pointless People;” who was inspired by Ann Herbert’s retelling of the creation story.