First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11
A sermon offered March 9, 2014
St. Nathaniel’s Episcopal Church, North Port, FL
For many of us, Lent began here last Wednesday with a sooty cross on our forehead – we knelt or stood before the altar for the Ash Wednesday reminder that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. This is not meant to be depressing – or frightening – it simply reminds us who we are: human beings … mortals … made by God, in some sense made in his image. But Ash Wednesday definitely reminds us that we are not God…
Wednesday’s dust was a way of taking us back to our beginnings: a little pile of dust in the garden of Eden. God breathed life into that dust and man became a living being. And this sets the stage for the first reading this morning from Genesis. In the garden Adam, was “every man,” and Eve, was “every woman,” They walked along the paths of the garden – totally happy – totally satisfied. And they might have stayed in that paradise forever — but before they totally figured out what it means to be human, their curiosity got the best of them.
God had warned them that they would die if they ate the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden. But you know how the story goes. The evil one tempted Eve: “Of course you won’t die! God knows very well that the moment you eat that fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” Now, how much better can it get than that — to be as powerful as God … as wise as God?! The temptation was too much to resist! And Adam and Eve decided to trust their own logic and their desire for power over God’s command.
God watched that temptation happen, he allowed that test to happen – and Adam and Eve failed the test. They didn’t die immediately, but the pronouncement was made: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
We have inherited their fate along with their curiosity and their vulnerability. Sometimes temptation is too much to resist.
But Adam and Eve are not our only ancestors. Jesus has also claimed us as his kin, his family – sons and daughters by adoption. And we hear his story today as well in the Gospel reading . . .
The Gospel of Matthew offers us an insiders view. Jesus has emerged from the waters of baptism and the very voice of God has said “This is my Son . . .“
Then the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness – forty days, six weeks in the desert, praying and fasting and listening to the Spirit. For forty days Jesus was formed and prepped to set out on God’s mission of reconciliation and healing . . . mercy and forgiveness.
And then, after the forty days came the test. Like Adam and Eve, Jesus was tempted by the evil one, not just once but three times. Jesus was tempted to call on his divine powers to overcome his human vulnerability, his human hunger and his human dependency. The line was drawn in this story as surely as it was for Adam and Eve. Jesus could choose to play God and escape the price of humanity — or he could remain human. Three times he was tempted and three times he said no. He refused to cross over the line God had drawn – he passed the test. For the time being, the devil was defeated.
So we can begin to see how the core temptation of these two stories is the same: it’s a matter of identity – relational identity. The same temptation faces us, you and me. Will we embrace our true identity as human beings, mortals . . . made by and for God and not self-made? Will we be ourselves . . . our true selves? Or will we overstep our human bounds?
The two scripture stories tell a tale of two choices.
Adam and Eve, for their part, refused to be who they were: humans and not gods. Their falsehood could only lead to chaos and struggle . . . unhappiness . . . and alienation from their authentic selves.
Jesus, on the other hand, resisted the temptation to act solely out of his divine identity and so deny his humanity. He accepted the poverty of his humanity, accepted his human identity.
Jesus was sent to be the human face of God. He came to bridge the human and divine so that we can experience – and in some way understand God’s way of loving us, God’s way of saving us . . . saving us in our humanity!
Because Jesus was human, he had to grow into the understanding of his true self just as we do. That’s part of what was happening in the wilderness for those forty days. And then when he was tempted, Jesus was obedient to the core of his true self, his identity as fully human as well as fully God. By claiming his humanity, he actually released the power of God to live out his mission.
The Good News is this: While Jesus will suffer human rejection, misunderstanding, and ultimately death – at the same time he also holds the victory of life over death, truth over falsehood, and hope over despair.
Today’s second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, pulls these two stories together and points to the choices we must make – the temptations that threaten our staying in right relationship with God. Paul writes: “Brothers and sisters: sin came into the world through one man . . . and death came through sin . . . and so death spread to all because all have sinned.”
He continues: “If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
Both Adam and Jesus are alive and well in us. We can feel the internal tug of war most every day of our lives. But if Adam’s story is our story, Jesus’ story is ours as well. When the Adam in us is tempted to play God, the Jesus in us is more powerful to able to resist the temptation and remain true to the search for our human identity.
Embracing this search is the most important thing we can do. And when with God’s grace, we find the courage and honesty to stay with the search, we will know that great gift of being at home in our own skins, of being at peace. This is the secret of living in faithful relationship with God and with ourselves – This is also the source of the energy we need to share in Jesus’ mission in the world.
This is our Lenten call:
— to live the life we have been given with integrity,
— to be we who are made to be . . . and
— to live fully into our human lives
— as the God who made us from the dust of the earth offers to breathe new life into us again and again.