Monday, March 14, 2011

Sermon for Lent 1

1st Sunday in Lent, Year A
March 13th, 2011

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7




Temptation is the obvious theme of our readings today. Our Old Testament reading is from Genesis and tells of the temptation of Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden.  Our Gospel reading from Matthew is the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. These stories contrast well to show us what it is like to be human and what we should strive for.

In our story from Genesis, Adam and Eve were in the garden and listened to the serpent’s words rather than God’s. The sin was communal. Eve had the conversation, but note that Adam was there with her during the conversation, he was silent. The serpent doesn't straight-out lie – Eve and Adam do not immediately die from touching and eating the fruit and God later even acknowledges that the humans have become more like God in knowing good and evil. What the serpent does is bring doubt as to the trustworthiness of God, and Adam and Eve decide to trust the serpent and themselves instead. The serpent brings doubt about God’s intention and offers awareness and completion. The serpent points out their incomplete nature – they are not like God, their eyes are closed, they do not know good from evil.

The incomplete nature of humanity has been a common theme in literature and theology. I’m sure you've heard the popular statement that each person has a God-shaped hole in their heart. There is a hole in our hearts, our souls, and we long for something to fill it. We try to fill the hole with all sorts of things – food, entertainment, addictive drugs, sex, power, money – but nothing except God can truly fulfill us.

Blaise Pascal describes this well: "What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in humanity a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This we try in vain to fill with everything around us…though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God alone."
    (Pensee 10.148)

In the garden, Eve and Adam put faith in the words of a serpent and in their own desires – rather than putting their faith in God. This is what it is like to be human – we all put faith in the words of other people and in our own desires instead of putting our faith in God.

This is easily contrasted with Jesus’ experience of temptation in the wilderness, where he shows us the perfected human nature.

The devil tempts Jesus 3 times. During the first two temptations, the devil is questioning Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.  The devil tells Jesus - “If you are the Son of God” then prove it.  Prove it by demonstrating your own divine power by turning stones into bread.  Prove it by demonstrating God’s protective power by jumping down, for surely angels will catch you.

Jesus counters these two temptations by quoting scripture - 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' And 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' God provides life and should not be tested.

Then the devil offers Jesus the whole world if Jesus would worship him, and Jesus counters - "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"

These 3 temptations have to do about identity and power. Who is Jesus? And who does Jesus depend upon – himself, the devil, or God?

Each time the devil questions Jesus about his identity and power Jesus kept referring back to God. Jesus’ relationship with God was what sustained and defined him.

What sustains us?  What defines us? I find myself sustained and strengthened by the relationships that I have with other people, and I am in some way defined by those relationships as well. I am a daughter, sister, cousin, friend, wife, priest, colleague, and so on. These relationships, for the most part, are very positive ones. These relationships help shaped me into the person I am today. But something is still missing, there is still a yearning in my heart for something more. I find that I am restless.

St. Augustine once wrote:
"You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you."
    (St. Augustine, Confessions 1.1.1)

God is where we find our rest.

Our readings today point out another aspect of human nature – the ability to consider new possibilities. The serpent asks – Did God really say that? And Adam and Eve must think – what did God say? What did God mean by saying that? The devil asks Jesus – Are you really the Son of God? And Jesus must think – Who am I? How do I show who I am to the world? What is God’s will and what is this devil’s will?

It is human nature to consider new ideas and to ask questions – this is a wonderful gift from God - but we have to be careful to affirm what is right and true and not be led astray by our own desires. It is easy to affirm what we want to affirm, and disagree with what we want to disagree with – this can be countered by cautiously putting new ideas to the test and by consulting with other people.

It is human nature to put our faith in others and ourselves – but it is perfected human nature to put our faith in God, to realize that that is the ultimate relationship. Human beings are incomplete and insufficient in ourselves; we are created to be in relationship with one another and with God. Our relationship with God sustains us, and healthy relationships with other people can help us to continue asking questions and discover helpful answers.

Lent is the perfect time to contemplate the ways in which we have not lived in right relationship with each other and with God. I have a Lenten exercise for you – I know, you didn’t come to church expecting to get homework. My suggestion is to take some time this week and contemplate your identity – what sustains you, what defines you, and what you put your faith in. Think about your relationship with God and your relationships with other people.

In the back of the church I’ve placed some leaflets with an order of confession and absolution on them. This might be helpful for you to pray on your own, or with your family or another small group. 

A Brief Order of Confession & Absolution by David Lose

God in whom alone we find rest, we confess that we often turn from the gifts of identity, purpose, and meaning that you would give us.
    Instead of serving others, we serve ourselves.
    Instead of being motivated by love, we are motivated by fear.
    Instead of seeking wisdom, we seek possessions.
    Instead of working for peace, we work for security.
    Instead of seeking our good in you, we look to so many other places, trading your abundant and enduring love for the shiny things of this world.
    Draw us back to you, O God, and remind us that all that we have and need we find in relationship with you and with each other. This we pray in the name of Jesus, who came as one of us, tempted as we are, yet without forsaking trust in you.

After contemplating those words, you or another in your group can say the absolution.

In the name of Jesus, who suffered temptation and prevailed, who was crucified on the cross and raised on the third day, hear the word of the Gospel: you are a beloved child of God, forgiven, redeemed, renewed, and called to lives of wholeness and life. Therefore depart this place in peace to serve your neighbor in love. Amen.

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A Brief Order of Confession & Absolution by David Lose
-From the article "Into Temptation" on Working Preacher