Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent + March 13, 2011
This time every year the season of Lent invites Christians around the world to re-visit, re-connect, and re-live the story whose ending we already know.
- We know we are both sinful people who want to be in control, and children of God created in God’s image.
- We know God loves us unconditionally and pursues us, no chases us to be with us in relationship, even when we ignore God, turning or running away.
Adam and Eve knew these things as did the Israelites and people throughout time. We know and yet we test. We say to God in a way, prove it. And God has again and again in the face of our collective pouting and foot stomping. We want to be in control, do what we want and we ignore God like our fellow people of the promise did in the garden, in the wilderness, and in the Promised Land.
Adam and Eve had their time of testing God in the Garden of Eden knowing who God was, but testing the relationship. They knew but they just wanted to really know who was “truly” in charge? Was the promise, presence and relationship with God the same? And in the face of their own knowing… they tested, and they were put to the test.
The Israelites also had their time of testing God, forty years of wandering, knowing who God was, but still testing the relationship. They knew but they just wanted to really know who was “truly” in charge? Was the promise, presence and relationship with God the same? And in the face of their own knowing… they tested, and they were put to the test.
And we are in a perpetual state of testing… We push the limits. We put others and ourselves to the test. Pushing and testing… Testing and pushing… Who is really in charge? What can we get away with? Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?
- The new babysitter, trying desperately to please you and your parents, offering you and your siblings a chance to stretch “house rules and bedtimes,”
- The frazzled substitute teacher, so overwhelmed that you and your peers are tempted by “opportunity” and the “freedom” of anonymity,
- The new boss who isn’t up to speed with operational expectations and organizational politics, allowing you to “suck-up” or “slack-off,”
- The God we know and yet we choose to… sleep in on Sunday mornings, skip Bible Study with others or by ourselves, ignore our neighbor and the need that surrounds us, look forward to Lent for the pot-lucks and not for the walk with Jesus.
The reality is we are all in bondage to sin, yet in the face of our selfishness is our knowing…
- That the forty days of Lent end in a whirlwind of palms, and passion on a cross.
- That God so loved the world that God became flesh and dwelled with us to love and save us from the devil in each of us.
We continue test and we too are put to the test, as we walk toward the cross these forty days of Lent:
- A the season for all the baptized to repent from our lives of sin, and seek to know our Lord Jesus more intimately, as we journey together with God.
- A season to reflect honestly about how we live out our baptism, and to increase our discipline of trusting more, sharing more, and proclaiming more.
- A season of traditional Lenten disciplines… to give time and resources for the sake of our neighbor, to spend more time in prayer, and to fast from the excesses of our selfish and indulgent lifestyles.
- A season to help us be more open to God’s presence and grace that surround us.
+ + +
Today we begin this season in the beginning, grounding our Lent with recognizing our sinful nature. We do this because if we are honest with ourselves, we want to be like God, knowing not only what is good and what is evil, but wanting to know it all… and control over it all. We are as Adam and Eve, more than tempted to put ourselves in God’s place. We see ourselves as godlike, treating others as subordinate, resenting anything that limits our freedom, steps on our toes, and we feel entitled—wanting it all without any responsibility or strings attached.
We see the world as if we were creator and king. And it is this godlike selfishness that messes up our relationship with God and everyone else who loves us. We wander away from our little gardens of Eden off into the wilderness of thinking that the world revolves around us. And when we realize that we are lost, alone, and weary… we are left with nothing but our inner demons, addictive temptations, and sinful behavior mocking us as an emperor with no clothes, an empty god head of a self-destructing kingdom of our own creation.
Matthew’s Gospel today describes Jesus’ temptations following his baptism in a way to remind his Jewish Christian audience of their Exodus experience, God’s love, presence, and promise of the first covenant with God. Jesus had a baptism and temptation experience that paralleled Israel. The Israelites had a baptismal experience in the Red Sea. They had their own temptation in the wilderness and were led to its testing by God, just as Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ temptation by the devil is full of empty promises. Like all forces of evil and sinful options that tempt us, there is an empty center to whatever is offered, whatever we do to try and fill or satisfy our deepest hunger, take away our deepest pain, or cover-up our deepest sin…
- The devil offers the bread without the life.
- The devil offers the answers without the test.
- The devil offers the kingdom without the cross.
But Jesus’ tempting that begins in the wilderness will not end there. He will be tempted again by the Pharisees (16:1; 19:3; 22:18) and by a lawyer (22:35), who all plot and hope for him to use his human nature in the form of free-will to give in to temptation.
Henri Nouwen in his book In the Name of Jesus, points out that Jesus faced temptations in his wilderness experience which we too face:
- The temptation to be relevant,
- The temptation to be spectacular,
- And the temptation to be powerful or influential.
All of these temptations draw us away from God, the only One who can satisfy our deepest hunger, take away our deepest pain, and cover-up our deepest sin.
+ + +
In Genesis God created the world, but for God what was created is a relationship of abundance for all creation, Adam and Eve, you and me. And what do we create with the gifts God gave in Genesis, not a relationship of trust and sharing abundantly, but a relationship of deceit and sinful selfishness.
- We see God’s goodness as a gift only given for us.
- We ignore God’s presence and pursuit of relationship.
- We abuse God’s abundance consuming it for ourselves alone.
We even see temptation as applied only to our lives, but the Gospel this day is not about the earthly battle, it is about the heavenly one. Today first and foremost, the temptations that are central are those offered by the Devil to Jesus. If Jesus had given in to those three temptations, God’s pursuit of us, God love for us, God’s incarnational mission in the flesh and blood of Jesus the Christ would have been destroyed. Evil would have had its final say over good.
In the wilderness temptation of Jesus, Gods-self was being tested. The devil saw God in human form and thought that God’s gift of free-will could be God’s own downfall. For if Jesus could give-in to temptation, all good would be lost. God’s righteousness, love and mercy would be nothing more than a fake facade. God’s forgiveness, reconciliation and grace would be in reality cheap and empty shells. The Gospel would be a tragedy, the Good News—no news at all.
Thankfully goodness is stronger than evil and the divine triumphs over the devil. Evil and all its empty promises are left, as you and I know at the end of the story, as empty as the tomb itself. And that fellow journeyers, is the Good News this and every day!