Sermon for Lent 1A, Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11, for March 5, 2017
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 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.”
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’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 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.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
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. 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.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “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.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
We are reading Diana Butler Bass’ book “Grounded: finding God in the World” this Lent. We are discussing the book on Wednesday nights. To get us started, last Wednesday, we watched a video of Diana being interviewed. In the interview she discussed the Pew Trust’s survey about religions affiliation.
There has been a growing trend that has grabbed the headlines: the rapid rise of “the nones.” The nones are not Catholic women, but NONES, mean those people who are asked, in surveys, “Which religious group do you identify with?” – given the standard options: Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, etc. answer “None of the above.” That makes the headlines and scares church leaders.
But Diana said that towards the back of the survey was another statistic that she found fascinating, that has been largely overlooked; the rapid rise of people who say that they have had an experience of awe or wonder, or a mystical experience that has changed their lives.
Nearly half of all All Americans say that they have experienced awe or wonder, or have had a mystical experience of the divine. This is double the number of people who could say that back in 1960 – an amazing shift.
People are finding God everywhere: in gardens, in relationships, on river banks and in groups working for common causes. In other words, people are finding God in nature and in neighbor.
But then the question comes up: if people are finding God in nature and in neighbor, then what is the future role of the church? Do people need this?
Diana identified two things that the church has, that people who are finding God in nature and in neighbor still need: a language, and a place.
We need a language that we can share so that we can talk together about our experiences of God. We need vocabulary that helps us name the different facts of our experiences and to map them up to the wisdom of people in the past and their recorded experiences.
We also need a place. We need a safe place to come together to share our experiences, where we know we will be accepted and valued; where we will be listened to and respected. We need a place with a table to gather around, to break bread at, to share the Lord’s Supper, and to eat common meals together; a place in which to form a community; in fact, a family. Families need houses with tables. This is ours.
A Language of Faith
Let’s talk about our language first. Where do we get the language of our faith? We get our language from our stories, our narratives, or what some like to call our “wisdom tradition.” That is why we read the bible together when we gather.
A perfect example is this morning’s texts. First, from the Genesis text we get a word that makes all the difference for us: creation. We do not pretend that Genesis is a scientific account of how the world began. It is abundantly clear to me that it is not that at all. Rather it is a story from the Iron Age, in Hebrew, some of it, in fact, poetry, that tells us who we are at the depth level.
From the story of creation, we get the language of personal dignity and worth. You and I are made “in the image and likeness of God, male and female.” We are flesh and blood, but we are so much more that chemicals and atoms. We are of inestimable value to God, and also to each other.
We saw a beautiful demonstration of how a whole community comes together to affirm the dignity and value of each person this past week in the response to the tragic accident at the Mardi Gras parade. People rushed to help the injured band members at the scene, they showed up at the hospitals, they prayed, and they set up fund raising websites – because we all share this belief that these lives are precious.
We have a language that expresses this belief: we can talk about “creation in the image and likeness of God.” That is our Christian language, descended from our roots in Judaism.
The creation story begins in a garden. It begins with an original blessing. Blessing is another part of our language of faith. We receive this world as a precious gift. We experience our lives as gifts.
We feel a powerful urge to be grateful when we look at azaleas blooming as they are now, or at sunsets, or at the sound of cooing doves like the ones I hear outside my window at home. Our language of creation gives us language of gratitude. We call that worship. We give thanks because we are so blessed.
The Language of Creation and Temptation
Our creation story is not a sappy, unrealistic tale of happily ever after. Our creation story also gives us language for evil. We can use words like temptation. We recognize that there is something within us all that chooses wrongly.
The story of the temptation of Adam, or as his name literally means in Hebrew, “the earthling” or “groundling”, and of Eve whose name comes from the word for life itself, since life comes though the mother, is the story of every Adam and every Eve who ever lived. It is my story. It is your story.
So, in this Christian community we can use words like temptation and sin. We have a language to express that we are often not our best selves. We have a dark side. We can be selfish and self-serving. We can be arrogant and rude. We can be violent and abusive.
We have a language to talk about our brokenness and stories that allow us to admit that we are all broken people. We are created in God’s image, and we are blessed, but we are also broken.
Not of Shame
Our story also has the language of shame. Now I want us to think about this story carefully. I believe the language of shame has been misread by many people over a long time. In our story, Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden. Original union with God is how it starts.
Then comes the temptation, and the violation of the one rule they were supposed to keep, and then came the shame. Their eyes were opened and they discovered their nakedness.
But notice that God did not shame them. God did not point out their nakedness. God did not wag his finger. The shame they felt was from their own self-accusations. They tried to hide from God. But what did God do? God went looking for them. And when God found them, in the beautifully pictured ancient story, God made clothing for them so that they would not have to live in shame. That is an act of grace; another part of our language. God’s goodness, even after we have failed.
There were consequences for Adam and Eve, yes, but no shaming came from God. Shaming is a human invention. It has no positive place in our story, nor in our lives.
Probably all of us have been shamed. Some of us were shamed by our parents. Some have been shamed by authority figures, even by religious figures. That too is part of our brokenness – our desire to shame and humiliate people. But shaming is wrong.
We are not perfect, but we are made in the image and likeness of God. We are precious to God, not disdained by God. We believe that God is good, and that God is love. We believe we are forgiven. Not perfect, but forgiven.
As Christians we are followers of Jesus. We look to Jesus for guidance. We see, in the stories of Jesus, exactly the intimacy of original union with God that Adam and Eve had in the garden. We hear Jesus call God his Abba, his father.
But even Jesus was not beyond temptation. We read the story of his temptations. He is tempted to be self serving; to make bread from stones – for himself, of course.
He is tempted make his faith all about whether he gets saved from the damaging way life hurts everybody else – jump and see if God catches you.
He is tempted to self- aggrandizement – all the kingdoms of the world, or we might say, all of God’s money – if he would sell his soul first. Jesus, just like all of us, felt the pull of the dark side.
We have more language that helps us here. Jesus was not abandoned by God in that wilderness experience. In fact it was the Spirit that led him into the wilderness. And afterwards, God’s agents of blessing ministered to him.
He was never alone. Neither are we. There is more going on than meets the eyes. There is a spiritual world that we inhabit. God is with us. God’s Spirit is in us and around us, in neighbor and in nature.
Special Spiritual Seasons
We also have the language of significant times, set apart for spiritual purposes. Jesus spent forty days in silent retreat from the life of carpentry and the fishing business of his friends. He set aside time for his spiritual life.
Now, we begin the season of lent. This has been a time that has been set aside for intentional spiritual work. I hope you will get the book Grounded and read it with us this lent. In the back of the paper back version or online is a forty day devotional, perfect for Lent.
Traditionally people give up something during lent. I would like to ask you to consider giving up anything you would need to stop doing, so that you would have time to read the book, and use the daily devotional.
Maybe giving up a TV show, or not watching again the news you have already seen. Whatever you need to remove from your life so that you will have the time you need. Let us make this lenten season count as a significant part of our spiritual journey.
Let us use our language and our place this lent. Let us talk about how precious we are, and how blessed we are to be a part of this awesome creation. And let us talk about our brokenness, our temptations and struggles to follow Jesus’ path of compassion and communion. And let us come together to this place, to break bread together as we will today, and to celebrate this amazing community that God has given us.