Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sermon, Lent 1A, Gen. 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Matt. 4:1-11


What comes to mind when I say that word? Murder? Adultery? Theft? Other people? (That, by the way, would be the sin of pride). The fact is we are all sinners. We all have sinned. We all will sin again.

This is the first Sunday in Lent. Most of you here did not attend Ash Wednesday service, so this is a good time to start thinking about sin and its impact on your life. Lent is a time of self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and a time of reading and meditating on God's holy Word. Lent is a time to reflect and get right with God and those around you.

Let's look at this thing called sin. Sin has been around for a long time; ever since Adam and Eve and that snake. When we hear that story, there are usually three answers for what happened: 1) Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God; 2) the real sin was in not taking responsibility for their own actions and repenting; and, 3) it was the woman who messed everything up.

Here's a side note: If you ever run into anybody who claims that women are inferior because it was Eve who messed up, tell them to read that story again and point out that Adam was standing right next to her and didn't say a word. You can also point out today's Epistle and note that Paul blames Adam, not Eve.

So anyway . . . we eliminate #3 and focus on the first two answers. Yes, they disobeyed God; and, yes, they attempted to pass their sin off onto someone else. But I think too often we focus on the sin and neglect to examine the cause. In other words, it's more complicated than that.

In the Genesis story we heard today, we have humans in the Garden who have been told not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. For the most part they obey this commandment. We don't ever read about Adam and Eve disobeying God directly. And then comes the snake.

The snake, we are told, is crafty. Crafty is not necessarily a negative thing here. Crafty, cunning, clever, wise -- these all have positive interpretations in people like Joseph, David, Solomon and Daniel, as well as in the books of Psalms and Proverbs.

So here we have a wise and clever snake who is, for all practical purposes, the first theologian in creation. This theologian initiates the first theological conversation with Eve. And it is during the course of that conversation that she was persuaded to eat the fruit. "Eat it," says the the snake. "You won't die; in fact, you'll be like God."

Sometimes we can be too clever. Sometimes we can use our cleverness and craftiness for the wrong reasons, or to reach the wrong conclusions. One of the sarcastic sayings around seminary was that it gave us the language to justify anything. "Eat it. You won't die. You'll be like God."

So Adam and Eve at the fruit, satisfying a physical hunger that would return again and again. They did die. Not immediately, of course; but once their eyes were opened, their innocence died. To understand this, think about a child who has lost her innocence through abandonment or abuse and you'll understand that this is what dies. And their eyes were opened and they knew good from evil, but they weren't like God. God creates; we can only participate in that creation. God saves; we can only call out for help.

Now contrast this story with today's gospel. In this story we have Jesus going out into the wilderness where he fasted (and probably prayed) for 40 days before being tempted by the devil. Knowing Jesus is hungry, the devil tempts him to turn the stones into bread. "Make bread and eat it. It's good, really." But the bread would only satisfy a physical hunger that would return again and again.

Then the devil tries to get Jesus to throw himself from the top of the temple. "Jump," says the devil, "you won't die." Maybe not. Maybe Jesus would have been protected by angels. What would have died, though, would have been his trust in God. Jumping from a building and saying, "I'm trusting in God to save me," is not the same thing as living a life of faith. In the first, you put yourself in charge. In the second, you trust God to lead you in the right direction.

Finally the devil says, "I will give you all these kingdoms of the world. You can do with them what you will. In fact, you'll be like God." The fact is, nobody can be like God. Only God is like God. Jesus recognized this and chose not to attempt equality, but rather obedience.

Adam and Eve were tempted to disobey God, followed their desires, and lost the paradise of the Garden. Jesus was tempted to disobey God, followed God's desire, and gained victory over the wilderness.

Eat. You won't die. You'll be like God. Where Adam and Eve failed, Jesus succeeded; and that should give us hope. As John Chrysostom points out, just because we are baptized doesn't mean we won't be tempted or have periods of wandering in the wilderness. Because Adam and Eve are our ancestors, we will fail and sin again. Because Jesus is our hope and our example, we know we are saved.

Sin. It's ever-present in the world. This Lent, like all others, we have the opportunity to pray, fast, meditate and repent. We also have the opportunity to choose. We can choose to follow Adam and Eve and pick the easy fruit that ultimately leads to death; or we can choose to follow Jesus through the wilderness and temptations on a path that eventually leads to life.

Where will your Lenten journey take you?


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