Sunday, March 13, 2011

1st Sunday of Lent - March 13, 2011

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.  It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness.  It was the epoch of belief; it was the epoch of incredulity.  It was the season of Light; it was the season of Darkness.  It was the spring of hope; it was the winter of despair.  We had everything before us; we had nothing before us.  We were all going direct to heaven; we were all going direct the other way." 

Today, we plunge not into the world of Charles Dickens and his Tale of Two Cities, but into Adam and Eve’s world, the world of darkness and sin, selfishness and self-reliance,  on the one hand.  And on the other, the world in which some glimmers of redemption are beginning to shine, the world of Jesus Christ.  We plunge into both worlds, which are linked by a common experience, temptation.  We plunge into these worlds which are our own.  For these are both worlds in which we reside.

First, in the garden, we hear about Adam and Eve, living in a paradise where God has provided everything for them.  They do not know any of the cares of our life.  They do not know hunger, biting cold nor sweltering heat, hatred nor uncertainty.  They do not know sickness.  They do not know death.  And yet into this paradise comes temptation.  The serpent comes and tempts them with the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  He entices them.  "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'"  Eve replies, "We may eat of the fruits 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, neither shall you touch it lest you die."  The serpent continues his temptation, “ You shall 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.”  Well then, there are Adam and Eve, facing a choice, right?  "What do we do?"  The prospect of being like God and knowing good and evil wins the day.  They eat the fruit.  Then they realize that they are naked.  They try to cover up their sin, but it is too late.  They chose the evil over the good.  So there is the temptation of the first lesson.  Adam and Eve fail the test and sin and death enters the world.  It was the worst of times indeed.

So what about the temptation in our gospel lesson?  Here we've got a much different situation.  Instead of taking place in a beautiful garden, where there is plentiful food and companionship, where there is no sin and no death, it takes place in the wilderness, in a wasteland, where there is no food and very little water.  It is a wasteland where no one goes at all because it is so inhospitable to life.  And Jesus is led there by the Spirit.  After forty days of fasting and being baked by the heat, the Devil appears to him with a temptation.  "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loves of bread."  Unlike Adam and Eve, who had a garden full of food to eat when they were tempted, Jesus has nothing.  He is starving.  It would be understandable if he were to use his power to provide for himself.  But he doesn't.  The Devil tries again two times, taking Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and to a very high mountain.  The Devil even quotes scripture to Jesus to try to convince him to give in to temptation.  But Jesus stands firm.  Choices are set before him, just like they were set before Adam and Eve and he makes the right choices.

So then, we can see clearly enough the moral of the lessons this morning.  Adam and Eve were tempted and made a lousy choice.  Jesus Christ was tempted and made good choices.   Yes, the moral is clear enough for us: Make good choices!  Well, if you buy that, I've got a Minnesota Vikings Super Bowl ring that I can sell to you cheap.  

That is not the point!!!

Let's take a quick look at those stories again.  First, Adam and Eve.  They didn't trust God and so because they did not trust him they were faced with a decision.  ... The problem with Adam and Eve isn't that they made a lousy choice.  The problem came before that.  The problem is that they didn't trust God.  Imagine, for a moment, that Adam and Eve actually trusted God.  Some snake comes up to them and starts badmouthing their creator, their father.  If they trusted God, what would they have done?  “Push off you stupid snake!  Our God wants good things for us and we trust him.  We don’t even know you!”  But no, that isn’t what happens.  They do not trust God and so the words of the serpent find willing ears.  This lack of trust in God has a name.  It is called sin.

Jesus too is faced with temptations.  But unlike Adam and Eve, he isn't led astray because he trusts his father.  He trusts that his Father will do what is best, no matter what anyone else may say.  Because he trusts, he isn't relying on himself.  He doesn't have to worry about doing something miraculous to feed himself, because he knows God will provide.  He doesn't have to worry about proving himself with some fancy miracle, because God's plan for him will work just fine without unnecessary bells and whistles that some other yahoo comes up with.  This trust has a name.  It is called faith.  Faith in his father will  lead Jesus all the way to the cross.  

I have something to tell you today.  You have got a foot in both of these worlds.  You are Adam.  And you are Christ.  Here is how.  You were born into the sin of Adam, the sin of unbelief.  But in baptism God chose you for his own.  There was no decision there for you to make.  God drowned your old Adam in the waters of baptism and made you like Jesus Christ, a new creation who lives by faith.  But, as Martin Luther once wrote, the old Adam is a good swimmer.  And so we die daily to sin by repenting, by confessing our sin to God. 

Confusing?  Well, the long and the short of it is that we go through life, living as both an old sinful creature like Adam, incapable of choosing or doing the right thing, incapable of living by faith.  And we also go through life living as a faithful child of God like Jesus Christ, incapable of doing anything but trusting our Father. The good news that I have for you this morning is that when God looks at you, he does not see the old sinner.  He doesn’t see the old Adam or Eve that just can’t trust.  No, God doesn't see a sinner; he sees his Son.  He looks at you and he sees his son.  To return to our opening quotation from Dickens: God is pleased with you.  Amen
"It was the best of times.  It was the age of wisdom.  It was the epoch of belief.  It was the season of Light.  It was the spring of hope.  We had everything before us.  We were all going direct to heaven."  It is the best of times, indeed, for

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