4th Sunday of Lent (B) – March 14, 2021
St. Mary – Derby, KS
2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalm 137:1-6; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21
Infidelity to Infidelity
As I’ve mentioned before, as we journey through this Lenten season, we read about the great covenants God has made with his people. And a covenant is just a committed relationship—think of marriage. It’s a relationship between two parties where there are promises and commitments. So, God’s plan is that by establishing a covenant with certain people (a smaller group of people) He would begin to establish this covenant with more and more people. And through them, through this “covenant people,” He would bring about the renewal of all of creation. It’s a grassroots movement.
God begins with a family, then moves to a tribe, then a nation, then an international kingdom. He began with the family of Noah, continued with the tribe of Abraham, then the nation of Israel with Moses, and (as we hear in our reading today) the kingdom of David.
But there is a classic problem. Classic! Unfaithfulness, infidelity. People are classically unfaithful. The covenant with Abraham is a covenant based on faith, on covenant loyalty. With Moses, the people are supposed to remain faithful, loyal to the commandments God gave them. And with David and the Davidic Kingdom, the people are supposed to remain faithful and loyal to the one true God, the God of Israel; the God that had proven time and time again that He was the true God, that He was the Lord.
People would take time to remember, year after year, the great Exodus event, during their celebration of the Passover. It was like, “Look! Our God was able to pull us out of four hundred years of slavery in Egypt! He parted the Red Sea! Destroyed Pharaoh’s chariots and charioteers!” Wow. This must be the true God! So the Davidic Kingdom, they must have it all together, right?
Our first reading begins: “In those days…the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations” (2 Chronicles 36:14). Woof. The people weren’t just “unfaithful,” they “added infidelity to infidelity”! They just wouldn’t stop.The king Jehoiakim is the best example (because we’re not talking about how the people were impatient, and had arguments with their spouse, no). King Jehoiakim is best described as a godless tyrant, and he did atrocious things, committed terrible crimes. He had an on-again-off-again relationship with his own mother; also with his step-mother and daughter-in-law. Another thing he loved to do was kill men so he could take their wife. And if that wasn’t enough, he also led people in the worship of other gods.
What ultimately happens to him? Well he gets killed. But then his sons keep it up. And again, as the reading says, “the people (not just the king) added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations.” Then Babylon comes, “Sin” comes and carries them away.
Sin As Forgetfulness
Why are the people so unfaithful? Because they are so forgetful. The great sin of the people is forgetfulness. Time and again, the sin that drives the people into terrible things is forgetfulness. That’s what our Psalm is referring to, “Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you” (Psalm 137:6). The people’s problem is not a lack of energy, it’s not a lack of willpower, and it’s not even that they don’t think these laws make sense. It’s forgetfulness; forgetfulness of the God who has been faithful to them.
When you aren’t conscious of God, the true God, the scope of living is reduced. Life becomes purely about self-affirmation, it becomes turned-in on yourself, and it’s all about you. Everything starts to be done for fleeting goals, and so everything starts to become fleeting and meaningless. But this is almost like the new “great American pastime”: trying to forget everything. We love spending our days trying not to remember.
I was in the middle school this past week, and they wanted to talk about the seven deadly sins—their call, not mine. So we did. And time and again, I kept trying to point out that the seven deadly sins aren’t deadly because they’re going to send you to hell or something. They’re deadly because they start to do just this: they turn us in on ourselves, we start to treat others like objects, we start to see people and things as mere means to an end. And they kill.
The one that really got the kids—and it was incredible, because you could see the lightbulb turn on in their head—the one that got kids? Gluttony. Because I pointed out that gluttony, yeah, is primarily about food, but gluttony is about anything we consume. And in this day and age, everything is about consumption.
Our Favorite Thing to Consume In Order to “Forget”
The number one thing we like to consume? Screens. We love them. The average tween spend six hours a day on a screen. For teens, it’s nine hours a day—and that’s excluding time spent on screens for school or homework. Nine hours.
Statistically (these are facts, and they’re a little old, so they’re a little low)—statistically, almost all of your children have access to a tablet or smartphone, somewhere somehow. Over eighty percent of your kids sleep with their phone or tablet in their room. Fifty percent of kids will admit that they are “addicted” to their smartphone or tablet. And guess what? They’re right. It’s a real, physical, chemical addiction. When we engage with cell phones and social media and—the very taboo topic of pornography—when we engage with these, there is a release of a chemical in the brain called Dopamine. Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink, when we gamble, and when we do drugs. In other words, it is highly, highly addictive. We have age restrictions on smoking, drinking, and gambling, drugs are illegal—but we have no age restrictions on social media, cell phones, or pornography. So what you need to know is that when you hand your child a device, you are handing them
an addictive, numbing chemical substance through cell phones, social media, and pornography.
When I was talking with the middle school kids—obviously none of them were about to throw their phone away, but do you want to know what freaked them out? When I pointed out that the reason we “love” to go home and binge-watch Netflix, the reason we find it so easy to spend three straight hours on Tik Tok, spend this entire Spring break playing video games—the reason we “love” to do that is because then we don’t have to feel our own feelings. We can numb-out, and not feel what we’re feeling. We can turn something on, and just forget. When I told them that, they literally asked, “What’s wrong with that?”
My favorite way to drive the point home is that if you saw your 10 year old son on the back porch drinking a beer, what would you do? If your five year old was smoking a cigarette, what would you do? If your 15 year old daughter was gambling in Mulvane at the casino, what would you do? If your twelve year old was smoking a doobie in a van down by the river?
But why do we hand our children a cell phone or tablet? “Well, Father, everyone else does it. I don’t want my kid to be left out.” And that’s the point: “everyone else does it” is not a great idea. Because you know who is just fine with not doing “what everyone else is doing”? The CEO’s of Apple, Microsoft, and major technology companies. The people who make this technology will not let their own children anywhere near it! Why? Because they know exactly what it does.
Biblical Stories = The Stories of Our Common Humanity
These stories we read in scripture are not just history lessons. They provide a distilled look into human nature. They reveal us to ourselves. And so what happens when you are “forgetful,” when your forgetfulness becomes “adding infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations,” “doing what everyone else is doing”? Sure, we may not literally be killing guys so we can have their wife, but pornography is a nice way around that. Sure, we don’t literally worship false gods, but the amount of time we spend on our smartphones would sure seem to indicate that that is what’s most important, what rules our life.
What’s the point? When we become forgetful of the Lord, when we begin to add infidelity to infidelity, when we do things because “everyone else is doing it”—how does the story go? “Those who escaped [literal death] were carried captive to Babylon, where they became slaves of that king” (2 Chronicles 36:20). What happens? Babylon comes. The consequences for our forgetfulness and infidelity come. And we find ourselves enslaved, stuck in these things.
The good news, the message of the Gospel, the summary of the Gospel, is our Gospel today: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.…God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). God’s not trying to condemn us. He’s trying to save us.
And what is our job? To believe, to have faith, to trust in Him. The invitation is to step out of the darkness, to come to the light. God remains faithful to us, he is rich in mercy. Our job is to turn back to him, to remember him, and allow Him to pull us out of our darkness.