Sermon for Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sermon for Lent 1, Year A

March 5, 2017

Genesis 1:15-17; 3:1-7                 Psalm 32                     Romans 5:12-19                Matthew 4:1-11

This Sunday we start(ed) our Lenten Bible Study on the Lectionary and I must say the author of our study guide provides some wonderful insights into our readings for today.  I suspect you will hear me quoting her throughout Lent if the rest of the guide is as well written as this first chapter.  The guide’s author, the Rev. April Yamasaki, is a Mennonite pastor from British Columbia, and my new favorite theologian.

In her book, Christ is for Us:  Lent 2017, she highlights how today’s reading are about sin and grace.  Genesis speaks of what many theologians refer to as original sin.  Adam and Eve give into the temptation of the serpent and eat the forbidden fruit.  In Romans, Paul contrasts their sin to the grace Jesus offers.  First he writes of Adam, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin . . .”  Then he writes:

Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

This is the broad overview today’s message, Adam brought death, through sin, into the world, Jesus brings life.

Yamasaki, though, asks a very important question: “what was the first sin?”  The answer is not so obvious as Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.  Sin is more complex than a simple act.  It needs to be understood by how it affects relationships.  Adam and Eve yield to temptation and their eyes are indeed opened as the serpent promised.  The knowledge they gain is of their own sinfulness.  So they hide in shame.

When we sin, Yamasaki suggests, we feel naked and want to cover up.  So, rather than admit our failures, we hide what we have done.  This hurts our relationships with others and can even destroy some relationships.  The original sin, as presented to us in Genesis, began with the desire to be like God – and I don’t mean that in a good way.  As Christians we seek to follow Jesus, to love and care for others like Jesus did – but that is not the same as the original sin.  No, in Genesis, the serpent tempts Adam and Eve by suggesting they will be God’s equal.

Contrast this, then, to the temptations of Jesus.  In the wilderness Jesus is tempted three times.  The first temptation is to use his gifts, his power, for himself by changing the stones into loaves of bread. Jesus has been fasting for forty days and nights, so the mere suggestion to use his gifts to create food is tempting.  Yet, Jesus knows his gifts are not to be used for himself, but for others.  Adam and Eve are selfishly living in the moment, Jesus is living for the future – for our future.

The second temptation is like the first in that Jesus is asked to prove that he is the Son of God, the devil says:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”

Here, the devil is using, or misusing, the scriptures to test Jesus, but he does not fall for it.  Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus values his relationship with the Father above all else and does not feel a need to test God’s love, or to prove anything to the devil.

The third temptation is to take control over all the kingdoms of the world.  All he has to do is worship Satan.  Yamasaki says the real temptation here is to skip the rejection, the suffering, and the crucifixion Jesus will face, and go directly to ruling over us.  No doubt Jesus could make this a more peaceful world and eliminate pain and suffering – if he controlled us.  Yet, we know the consequence of sin is a broken relationship and we know that control does not foster a loving relationship.  Adam and Eve are seeking to be in control when they eat from the tree of knowledge.  They will know all that God knows.  So they do not need to depend upon God for answers.  Jesus, though, does not seek to control us, he wants us to choose to be in a relationship with him.  Only then, when love is freely given, can love flourish.

So, the story from Genesis speaks of disobedience, failure and judgment, and sin and death.  This is what Adam represents to Paul.  Jesus, on the other hand, is the one who is coming, and represents obedience, righteousness and life, and God’s grace and forgiveness.  In Matthew, Jesus, like Adam and Eve, is tempted, but unlike them, he does not sin.

Our temptations today are similar to the ones that Adam and Eve, and Jesus experienced.  I know that I am often tempted to use what I have for myself rather than use it to help others.  We have all been given gifts, the question is, how and for what will we use them.  Sometimes we work to find a way to justify being selfish; most of us are pretty good at that.  Some of us can even quote scriptures to justify our actions.  And, the desire to be in control comes naturally for many of us.  There are so many ways we can control others, most of which have our own self interests at heart.  All three of these temptations:  to keep what we have for ourselves, to justify doing what we want to do, and to control others – have one thing in common. If we do any of them, our relationships with others and with God are damaged.

In Lent, many of us have been taught that examining what we have done and what we have left undone is important because it helps us realize how great a gift God’s forgiveness is for us.  Our list of our wrong doings can go on and on – and it is only in remembering them that we can fully appreciate that by God’s grace we are forgiven.  The danger here is on focusing on specific actions and avoiding the deeper questions.  Yamasaki was right  to suggest that a sin should not be viewed as a single act – sin is much more complex and should be viewed in terms of how it affects our relationships.

We must also remember that relationships are not healed by hiding.  It did not work for Adam and Eve and it will not work for us.  Relationships are healed by a change of heart, a willingness to share (gifts and burdens), and by respecting the choices of others.  I like what today’s Psalm says:

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.

6 I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

7 Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not     reach them.

It is absurd to think that we can conceal our guilt.  Here the palmist confesses his transgressions and experiences forgiveness.  As a result, he says to God, “You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.”

Our deliverance comes not from hiding and not from listing our sins.  Instead, I believe it comes from accepting our past, asking for forgiveness, and seeking to do God’s will – which is to love God and one another.  Forgiveness is not the same as pardon which suggests we have been freed from our debts.   Instead, forgiveness is experienced as the love which restores our broken relationships.  Forgiveness is not a transaction – it is an act of love.

Let us pray.

Incline our hearts, O Lord, that we might resist the temptation to replace your will with our own, to hide what you already know, and to control others.  Restore us to wholeness through your love, that having been forgiven we might have the strength to do what you would have us do.   We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.