Tuesday, March 11, 2014

1st Sunday in Lent

In the current young people's confirmation class, we have been studying the opening chapters of Genesis to see how they lay out the framework for the entire narrative of the Bible. This past week we looked at Genesis 3, the story of the Fall, in which the serpent tempts Eve to break God's commandments. The serpent cunningly asks Eve, "did God really say, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" The implication of the question is that somehow God is depriving Adam and Eve of something they rightfully should enjoy. The serpent hints that God is capricious in his commands, in the way that a child might be tyrannical if suddenly he were given unlimited power. Eve's and Adam's decision to break God's commandments indicates that they want to live apart from God. In the narrative, that is precisely the result of their decision, as they are cast out of the Garden of Eden. It is not surprising that in the succeeding chapter of Genesis, someone implies by his actions that he wants to live apart from his fellow-man: Cain murders Abel. You see, in sin there is a desire for autonomy and self-sufficiency, a desire to live apart from God and others, a will to live by one's own light rather than the light of God. Americans have always prided themselves on autonomy and self-sufficiency but neither is a particularly biblical value.

In the Gospel lesson this morning, we have the account of our Lord's temptation in the wilderness. St. Paul and the early church fathers spoke of Jesus as a new Adam. The old Adam, sought to live by his own light; he desired to be autonomous and self-sufficient, and every child of this Adam has followed in his footsteps. The story needed to be rewritten. Genesis 3 needed to have a different decision and a different outcome. We needed a new Adam.

In the first temptation, our Lord is tempted to turn stones into bread. The narrative relates that our Lord had been fasting for forty days; undoubtedly, he was hungry. The body requires food and sustenance to live, but in our fallen condition, we desire more than we can handle. Ironically we desire that which will ultimately hurt us, because we desire inordinately and excessively. Such is the deception of the flesh. Such inordinate and excessive desires indicate that we are hungering for something more, something deeper and more profound. Think of the person who eats not because he is hungry but because he is sad or lonely. Or of the person who sleeps around because she is looking for love. Our Lord understands all of this, but he rejects such empty searching. There is a hunger in us that can only be filled by God. The bread of this world will not suffice. That is why there is a kind of emptiness evident in the lives of those who only seek the things of this world. If the things of this world could satisfy, the wealthy and the famous would be the most joyful and loving people around, but it is, I think, fairly obvious to the casual observer that there is just as much misery in Hollywood as every else, and perhaps a little more.

In the second temptation, our Lord is placed on the highest point of the temple and exhorted to cast himself down, confident that the angels would catch him. The temple, of course, was a public place, a place where many observant Jews could have observed first-hand this extraordinary miracle. Who could doubt that this man was the Messiah, once they had seen this miracle? Certainly not Jesus nor those religious folks standing by. In our fallen nature, we want proof. We want to know for certain that God exists, and we would like to hear him tell us exactly what to do.  We do not like ambiguity or uncertainty. The way God has made us, however, is that we are built for faith and trust. He did not whisper over Adam and Eve's shoulders, "don't do that." Rather, he gave them the freedom to obey his command without restraint or coercion. Occasionally, we will try to bargain with God: give me some sign that you are real or that I am supposed to do a particular action; such bargaining does not succeed because we are built for faith, and proof would destroy this faith. Consider the fact that every human relationship is built on trust. You open yourself up to someone by degrees, trusting that they will not harm you. Our relationship with God is similar. We will not ever get "the proof" that we, in our fallen nature, desire. Rather we have to walk and live by faith, handing our lives over to God trusting that he will work out his good purposes.

In the third temptation, our Lord is tempted to gain worldly power by worshiping Satan. "All the kingdoms of the world will I give thee, if thou wilt worship me," Satan bids our Lord. We say that Jesus was born a king. He was born of the family and lineage of David, the kings of Israel and Judah. But Jesus is a different type of king from every earthly power and authority. In our fallen nature, we believe that might is right. To have power is to control and to dominate. The tools of such power are fear and coercion and intimidation. Our Lord rejects this type of power in rejecting this temptation. True power, he shows us by his life and ministry, is to serve and to love. The tools of such power are humility and kindness and love.

In overcoming these temptation, our Lord becomes for us a new Adam: An Adam that does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God; An Adam who does not live by proof but by faith, not by sight but by trust; an Adam who rejects the power of tyranny and oppression in favor of the power of love and service. St. Paul tells the Church that we belong to this new Adam by virtue of baptism and faith in him. The story has been rewritten, and we do not have to live according to that fallen Adam. Now we may live according to this new Adam, our Lord Jesus, who renews and transforms us into the image of his glory.

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