Filed under: Sermons | Tags: Ash Wednesday, Baptism, Fall, Lent, Sin, Temptation
Genesis 2:15–17; 3:1–7
Grace and Peace to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Or perhaps, in keeping with the season, I should say, “Return to the Lord!”.
This is the clarion call of Lent, the church season which began Wednesday.
Remember Wednesday? That was the day I spent watching snow pelting down at a 45 degree angle, swirling through our trees and over our road until no one would have guessed there’s a road between our yard and the field we overlook.
It wasn’t the Wednesday I had spent Tuesdays anticipating! Tuesday afternoon, Pr. Denver and I burned some of last year’s palm branches, dodging the smoke of our mini-bonfire in a pot. Pastor taught me to sift the ashes and carefully mix them with oil for the perfect consistency. The office staff and volunteers had carefully crafted two sets of bulletins; they were neatly folded and ready for the next day. We at Zion had done what we could to prepare for Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. We each would have been marked with ashes in the sign of the cross and told, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”. With these words we open a season of repentance. We’re reminded of our own mortality. We are reminded that we are not God.
So it’s ironic that we had to cancel Ash Wednesday services due to the weather. We didn’t want bring the presence of death that close, so it was better that everyone stayed safe and warm in their homes. All our preparation didn’t really mean a whole lot. We had no control over the weather at all.
Today, the first Sunday in Lent, we’re met with two stories of temptation and an interpretation of them from Paul. In the first, we’re transported back to the Garden of Eden for the scene we usually call “The Fall”. The first two humans God has created are living an idyllic life, enjoying the abundance of the trees and plants around them, spending that perfect time of the evening strolling in the gentle breeze with God. There are many trees producing good things to eat. But there is one tree of which they cannot eat.
In Matthew, we meet a hungry Jesus. He’s been fasting for 40 days in the wilderness. Now Satan has come to test him. Quickly Satan identifies Jesus’ empty belly and tells him to do something about it- create bread and be filled.
It is traditional in Lent to give up some of those good things to eat. It is as if we need to recreate that Eden temptation, and prove we can say “no!” to that delectable fruit the serpent points out. Or maybe we think we can be like Jesus and say “I don’t live by chocolate alone”.
But if our interpretation of these passages leaves us with a need to prove our strength by resisting a luxury for 40 days, I think we’re really missing something.
Let’s look again to what’s going on in these texts. The serpent’s engaging Eve in a bunch of questions about what God did and did not say she could do. Eve’s been listening well, she tells the serpent what God has told them, that the abundance of the trees of the garden is for them to eat and enjoy, but the one tree in the middle will lead to death. And so, she’s stayed away. But the serpent doesn’t just walk away here, realizing that Eve has listened and trusted God. Rather the serpent twists around to cast doubt on God, declaring that God won’t let them eat of this tree because it would give them knowledge and make them as God themselves. This is the irresistible temptation.
They want to be God. They’re not. They are human. God alone is God.
But what about Jesus? In the words of the Nicene Creed, we confess Jesus Christ is fully human and fully God. We enter Matthew today, just after Jesus has been baptized by John and named God’s Son. So when Satan comes to test Jesus, what is the test really about? The temptation for Adam and Eve is to be God. But Jesus is God, Jesus is God incarnate, here on earth, and even for being so fully human, he is not without his identity as God and the power that comes from that.
When Satan says, “change these solid rocks into food that will satisfy your hunger”, or “cast yourself off this cliff but don’t get hurt”, or “claim your authority and rule over all these people” what is the test really about? Jesus has been named the Son of God, surely doing these miraculous deeds of power would prove that he is God! Jesus has the power, why not use it?
Here our sin is made clear. Our concept of God is of one with infinite power and knowledge. As the story of Adam and Eve makes clear, we aren’t even satisfied to leave that power to God. We crave that power and knowledge for ourselves.
Jesus reveals who God is. Jesus has the ability to claim power over matter, people, and even death. But using power to control is not who God is. Jesus doesn’t need to prove he is God through a great show of power. Jesus doesn’t take on the role of a master chessplayer, moving his pawns around the board.
Jesus is named the Son of God, Satan taunts him to prove it. Satan equates being the Son of God with using power. But Jesus doesn’t buy that. Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is proven through his reliance on God. No triple-dog-dare-you will convince Jesus he needs to prove himself through acts of power. Satan’s final challenge reveals what he is really after, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me”.
At this point, Jesus is sure of his identity as the Son of God. God alone is the source of life. Anything else is an idol, not worthy of worship, not able to give life. Jesus can say, “enough, Satan, you have nothing to offer me, leave me”.
Jesus is so very different than us. We crave control over our lives. We want knowledge, we want power, we want to be gods. We track weather patterns, make plans for our lives, expect to have the ability to make our dreams come true. Perhaps we think we can prove that God loves us or that we are faithful by our success in life or our ability to do good things.
We are people only worthy to be marked with ashes. We are only dust. We will return to dust. We don’t have the power to change that. But we are not smeared with ashes only to despair. We are marked so that we remember who we are. We are mortal human beings. But just as God breathed life into the first human creature God molded from mud, God breathes life into us. We are marked the in sign of the cross, tracing the sign that was marked there in our baptism, the sign in which we are claimed sons and daughters of God. Not so that we could claim power over the things of this world, or over death. But so that we would be claimed, claimed by God to be free from struggling for power over others, and to be freed from death. We are marked so that when we turn to each other, it isn’t only ashes that we see. Rather, we see the cross. We know each other as forgiven and loved by God, and are able to love each other on that account.
You are forgiven and loved by God, my sisters and brothers in Christ.
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