5 March 2017
“Take my lips, Oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
What comes to mind when you think about temptation? Let’s listen to that well known but, often enough, misunderstood and misquoted lesson from Genesis. That serpent, who we often see as a kind of cosmic force for evil, tricks Eve into eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then Eve gets Adam to have a bite as well. Let’s think about that for a minute. Understand, that serpent is not so much a cosmic representative of evil, as just another creature created by God, just as the first woman and first man were created by God. Except of course humankind was created in the image and likeness of God. The serpent wasn’t. Listen to the dialogue. The serpent asks a question about what can be eaten from the garden. First woman, we call her Eve, responds saying that God said she, and first man, Adam, should not eat, or even touch, the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden lest they die. The serpent offers this response. “You will not die…your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.” Huh. Have you ever had that thought that, if only you were in charge, things would be different, and better? It’s the original human temptation, to take over for God. Do you remember what happened when Eve and Adam ate the fruit of that tree? First, they saw themselves as exposed, the text says naked, they knew shame. Then they knew fear and tried to hide from the Holy One who created them. It’s so easy to make assumptions that let us off the hook. We didn’t eat that fruit, Adam and Eve did. How unfair that we don’t get to live in the garden! I wonder if we can we put down our assumptions about the text to hear it new again. If we can see Adam and Eve as literary figures who represent all of us, we can begin to see that temptation and sin are part of human nature, the result of God’s gift of freedom. The thing about that gift of freedom is that it comes with the responsibility of choice, and that opens the door to choosing sin. Let’s go a bit deeper and think about the tree in the garden. We hear that it is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not the tree of good or evil. It’s a subtle but important difference. My Old Testament professor, Rev. Dr. Becky Wright, talks about the difference this way. She says that the knowledge referred to goes far beyond simply moral knowledge. It has to do with infinite knowledge, knowing all there is, knowing as God does. It’s not trying to discern between good and evil that’s the problem, it’s our wanting to be God. We could call it pride or self-sufficiency. When we think that we know so much that we don’t need one another, or worse yet, when we think we know so much that we don’t need God, then our knowledge become an occasion for sin. That’s not particularly good news so let’s turn to the gospel.
In all four gospels it is clear that a big part of what we experience as good news is found in the incarnation. Jesus, whom we experience as part of God, came as lived as one of us, fully human. Jesus gives us at least two things here. On one hand in how Jesus lived his life we have a model, or guide, to how we can resist temptation. But there is more of course, Ultimately Jesus, again and again, gives us a chance to repent when we do sin.
We have that promise of forgiveness and the opportunity to begin again. So, what about the gospel lesson today? Can you picture the desert and Jesus almost at a point of collapse after 40 days of fasting in that hot dry place? The evil one tempts Jesus to turn stones to bread. What a great thing. No more personal hunger. No more world hunger. Can you imagine Jesus weak and vulnerable, poised on the highest point on the temple?
Did you notice? Jesus doesn’t give in to fear. Instead he reminds the evil one that only God is the ultimate authority. Can you see Jesus there, alone, and powerless as we all are really? The evil one offers great power. But Jesus says only God is worthy of our human worship. After all, what the tempter offers isn’t really the evil one’s to offer anyway. That power belongs only to God. Looking back at Genesis we see the consequence of sinfulness, of desiring to be God, was that Adam and Eve knew their weakness, their humanity. They knew themselves to be naked, vulnerable, entirely dependent on God.
Isn’t that what happens for us too? When we own up to our sinfulness we can see so much more clearly our vulnerability, our weakness, our dependence on God. And that’s, paradoxically, a very good thing. When we lose our peace of mind, we also lose the false ease and comfort, of thinking we can make ourselves right with God. Jesus knew that he could do nothing, not even breathe, without God. Are any of us better than Jesus? What’s your first priority in life? For Jesus, it was God. And that made all the difference. Lent calls us back to faithfulness. In Jesus, we see how much God loves us. You know, you’ve heard it before. God loves us enough to become one of us, to live and die and rise again in order to bring us back to God’s self. The Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve lost was just that, the ease, the deep comfort, of living in right relationship with God. Take the time this Lent to grown in faith and understanding. Read the scripture stories that shape us. Pray for that change of heart and life captured in the word repentance. Let Jesus lead you into renewed faithfulness that is deeper and fuller than anything you’ve known before. Let Jesus bring you away from the temptation to stand on your own balanced on the pinnacle of the temple. Let Jesus draw you into a relationship with God that is more than you can imagine. Amen.
(my thanks to Rev Dr Susanna Metz and her sermon on these lessons found in Sermons that work, 2-10-08)