As I was preparing to write this week’s sermon, I was looking out into my backyard and feeling “blessed” that I am now the owner of lakefront property. For those who know MN, my backyard looks like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The ground has become a spongy marshland and, while canoeing may be possible, you would need to portage through some drier patches. I could almost hear the echoes of the nesting blue heron and the quiet paddle of a canoe lapping at the lake as I prepared my sermon. But the soft cries were not that of a nesting bird. It was a 5 year old. Stuck in the mud. Little cute pink shoes sunk down deep, getting more and more stuck as she pulled against the dirt, a small body wobbling, but cemented to the ground, unable to fall. The cries grew loud enough to be heard inside the house. As I put down my computer and the scripture to rescue this helpless little one, I watched as the nesting Canadian Geese, that sought refuge in this new wildlife preserve, flew off, honking in disgust. “Mommy, why did it do that? Why did I get stuck?” She cried. And, because I was well into my sermon writing, thinking deep, theological thoughts, I had to stop myself from saying “My child, we are stuck because sin entered the world. Like Adam and Eve, we feast on what God has forbidden. Dear little one, we are not like Christ in the desert. We cannot resist the devil and his empty promises.” Instead, pastor sermon writing mommy had a much deeper answer for the 5 year old who maliciously interrupted my sermon preparations. “Because you keep playing in the mud. Knock it off.”
In my self-righteous pastor mommy glory, I was left thinking, I’m trying to do real, important stuff and SHE gets stuck in the mud. See, I too was stuck, suffering from a case of sermon writer’s block. I pondered a question provided to us from you, our congregation, for our “Why, Jesus” sermon series. The person had asked, “Why do we just keep spinning our wheels?” Ironically, it was my stuck 5 year old that provided me with an answer. We keep going in the mud.
Our Old Testament reading is the first example of humanity getting stuck, spinning their wheels. Adam and Eve are in the garden of Eden, surrounded by beauty and God’s presence. But they were tempted, like we all are. Though they knew the danger, they still take the fruit, and eat of it. They think they’re alone. God is not watching. He’s not walking through the garden right now. They’re alone, and it won’t cause too much harm, they rationalize. They eat. They get stuck. Spinning their wheels, trying to cover themselves up, we leave the story with them sewing together clothing to hide their exposed selves.
What’s changed since the dawn of humanity? Not much. Like Adam and Eve, we spin our wheels when we think we’re alone. We dig ourselves deep into the mud of life when we think no one is watching. This can come in a couple forms—first, from our sin, that causes us, like Adam and Eve, to do what we should not, thinking we’re alone. God’s not watching. It’s just a little thing. And we get stuck, spinning our wheels, trying to cover ourselves up again. But, we can also get stuck when we THINK we’re alone. We humans are social creatures, we need to be in relationship with God and with one another. We are left spinning the wheels of loneliness and sadness, in a state of despair, thinking no one around is willing or able to help. We keep trying to do more and more, to get things right on our own, and to earn the respect and love of others, of ourselves...even of God. We spin our wheels because, no matter how hard we try, we can’t do enough. We can’t be enough. And often it’s too painful to admit that we went back in the mud and we need God’s help. We’re spinning our wheels due to the sin that first entered the world through Adam and Eve, because the brokenness of humanity leads us to experience pain and suffering. We’re spinning our wheels because we said “Yes” to our earthly desires and “No” to God’s desire to be in relationship with us.
But, through Christ, we can stop spinning our wheels, stop getting stuck in the mud of life. We have freedom, knowing that we are not alone. From his first temptation in the wilderness to his death on the cross, Christ fully immersed Himself into the mud of human life and sin and defeated it so we may never be alone again. And He’ll continue to get down into the mud with us, lifting us out, time and time again when we trample through creation, when our frail bodies wobble, unable to fall, cemented to the ground.
In addition to His presence and grace, God gives us THIS community to lift each other out of the mud and stop our spinning wheels. Several weeks ago, the Sunday that 5 inches of snow fell on top of our 4 inches of ice, I pulled into the church lot. As I pulled my car in and parked, the wheels dropped through the ice. I tried to back the car out with no success. I was stuck, left spinning my wheels. After the service I went back out, and several of you joined me. As we observed my car spinning its wheels on the ice, one person got some rock salt. Another found a metal shovel. Someone grabbed a pair of old jeans out of their car and put it under the tires for traction. You rocked the car back and forth, even as the wheels were spinning, until, finally, God’s people pushed the car free. When we’re alone, we keep spinning our wheels. But when we’re in community, we are able to lift one another out of our stuck lives, knowing Christ first lifted us.
I invite you to stop spinning your wheels, to be lifted up, to find release from the mud and ice of life. And when you get stuck, as we all will, again and again, know that Christ’s forgiveness and the power of His community will set you free.