March 9, 2014 (The First Sunday of Lent)
Service for the Lord’s Day
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11
Reverend Stephen Caine
2:15 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
3:1 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, NRSV)
Let us pray: God of wilderness and water, your Son was baptized and tempted as we are. Guide us through this season of Lent that we may not avoid struggle, but open ourselves to blessing, through the cleansing depths of repentance and the life-giving words of your Spirit. Amen.
Today is the first Sunday of the Journey of Lent. The season of Lent is the forty day period of the Christian year that began on Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) and runs until Easter Sunday (April 20). During these forty days we are asked to reflect on our humanity and renew our commitments to living as people who belong to God in Jesus Christ. We enter this season with a brutal reminder of our humanness. It is the story of the fall, the story of Adam, Eve, the Snake, Sin and God. It is a reminder that we are more than just biologically related to Adam and Eve but we are also heirs of their sin and brokenness, even today. We, like them are tempted by the serpent and we too are guilty of eating forbidden fruit. So, it is my hope this Lenten Season that we will also learn that we are also heirs of Jesus and his grace.
We begin with the first step of the journey of Lent by starting at the beginning, Genesis. It takes place in the Garden of Eden soon after God created the world. The story – “The fall,” you see, didn’t happen just once. It happens again and again and it still happens today, as you and I continue to repeat its vicious cycle as we stumble through life. It is a story of disobedience and rebellion against God, it is not a story of the woman who alone was tempted.
It is a story of Adam and Eve who were not satisfied. They were not content living with God in paradise. They were created in God’s image, with all the gifts, privileges and potential that God could give them, but they wanted more. They wanted to be like God. That was the temptation that the wily serpent offered them. The serpent gift wrapped the temptation, to eat of the one tree that God told them not to eat from, in a lie that they really shouldn’t trust God and that he the serpent knew better. So he played on their sense of trust or their lack of trust and they were all in, apple, sin and the fall.
Adam and Eve believed the serpent because they wanted more. They wanted to forge their own identities “over against,” God. It is like a child who is desperate to break away from her parents and become her own person, with her own identity. This story tells us so much about God, the snake (tempter), Sin and humanity.
This story tells us so much about God. God is generous and creative, loving, and genuinely interested in being in relationship with Adam and Eve, but they just couldn’t see it. God is creative. God makes the world and everything in it. God is generous. God creates Adam and gives him everything he needs; food, drink and a lush garden to live in. God is caring – when God commands Adam, “Eat freely of all this beauty, except that one tree.” God is relational and does not want to be alone, and thinks Adam shouldn’t be alone either. The animals were nice but they aren’t really companions for Adam. So God uses one of Adam’s ribs and creates Eve.
This story also tells us so much about the snake, the tempter. First, the serpent is the craftiest creature and there is no way to outsmart him. The serpent is a very clever and talkative animal “that the LORD God had made,” who simply asks some questions concerning God’s motivations in creation for Adam and Eve to consider. At any point in the conversation, the humans could have told the serpent that he was full of it and to please slither off to someplace else. Never try to outwit temptation because you end up making a “deal with the Devil” that can truly cost you your life! Second, the serpent lies. Jesus calls him “the father of lies.” But, the serpent tells lies we want to hear—why else would they be so tempting! “You will not die; you will become like God, knowing good and evil.” The serpent tells lies we want to hear and want to believe! It is part of his diabolical plot. Third, the temper’s lie always plays to our desire to be more than we were created to be.
This story also tells about sin. Sin is a mysterious force that arises from within God’s “good” creation. The serpent, the embodiment of sin, is simply one of God’s creatures. And the yearnings and suspicions of the humans about God and his motivations are somehow already in Adam and Eve’s DNA and only needed to be teased out by the serpent to be put into action. Sadly, as we all know all too well, this trait has been passed down throughout human history, to every one of our fore mothers and fathers of the faith. There is no doubt that we are their off-spring because we have inherited the same wants, desires, and sin that we are not content to be with God.
This story also tells us about ourselves: it reveals that since the beginning of time we are competitive by nature, we look at the other and we want to beat them. So when the snake comes along and tells Adam and Eve the lie that God is not who God is portraying himself to be, Adam and Eve took the bait because they wanted to be like God. From the very beginning Adam and Eve have been given work to do and responsibilities to tend too, when God places them in the garden “to till it and to keep it.” The Garden of Eden is no Caribbean vacation in Paradise! From the beginning, humans are made for a regular rhythm of doing meaningful work for the good of creation. Along with the meaningful work they are to do they are also to take regular periods of Sabbath rest and enjoyment.
Finally, this story describes the reality of what it is to be human and our mysterious human tendencies to rebel against God, to resist God’s gracious boundaries and the limitations that God has placed around us for our own good. Our sinful nature arises from our desire to be like God rather than thankful, trusting and faithful creatures of God.
Sin is our problem, what should we do about it? We start by owning up to it, naming it, confessing it. That is why we confess our sin each Sunday in worship even if we did not do those things we pray.
After we acknowledge and confess our sin, that which separates us from God we don’t resolve to try harder, to do more good; instead we throw ourselves at the feet of God and beg his mercy and forgiveness. That is our hope; God’s grace and forgiveness. Only with God can we hope to turn our lives around.
Our hope begins with the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Whatever or however we define sin, it begins and ends for us Christians with the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
People come to church on Sunday with disappointments in their hearts—in life itself, disappointed in government, disappointed in our health care system, disappointed in our sports teams, disappointed in our role models, disappointed in ourselves, some of us come with an acute sense of failure and inadequacy. Some are ready to give up. We come to church with fresh memories of wounds in our hearts, our emotions, and our spirits that each of us has experienced. We also come aware of the wounds that we have inflicted on others. People come—we all come—in spite of our confidence and can-do attitudes we come questioning, wondering, and unsure of our standing with God. What we do is read this story and remind ourselves that, yes we have all sinned, we have all fallen short of the glory of God, we confess, we repent, God forgives us, God loves us, God wants to be in relationship with us, God wants us to live fully, and to leave behind the load of guilt we are all carrying. God has forgiven us! God wants us to move on and live as the faithful stewards of creation that he created us to be.
It begins not by working harder, being better or trying harder to be good – instead it starts in your heart and in mine when you and I allow ourselves to be loved and forgiven by God, washed clean, healed, refreshed and claimed by him.
Let us pray:
Lord God, our strength, as the battle of good and evil rages within and around us, and our ancient foe tempts us with his lies, deceit and empty promises. Keep us steadfast in Your Word and, when we fall, raise us again and restore us through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN.