Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent

An elderly couple were on a cruise and it was pretty stormy. They were standing on the back of the ship watching the moon, when a wave came up and washed the old man overboard. They searched for days and couldn’t find him. So the captain sent the old woman back to shore with the promise that he would notify her as soon as they found something.

Three weeks went by and finally the old woman got a fax from the ship. It read: “Ma’am, sorry to inform you, we found your husband dead at the bottom of the ocean. We hauled him up to the deck and attached to his back end was an oyster and inside the oyster was a pearl worth $50,000….please advise.”

The old woman faxed back: “Send me the pearl and re-bait the trap.”

 

First Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 22

Reading Genesis

The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground
and blew into his nostrils the breath of life,
and so man became a living being.

Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east,
and placed there the man whom he had formed.
Out of the ground the LORD God made various trees grow
that were delightful to look at and good for food,
with the tree of life in the middle of the garden
and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals
that the LORD God had made.
The serpent asked the woman,
“Did God really tell you not to eat
from any of the trees in the garden?”
The woman answered the serpent:
“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
it is only about the fruit of the tree
in the middle of the garden that God said,
‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’”
But the serpent said to the woman:
“You certainly will not die!
No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it
your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods
who know what is good and what is evil.”
The woman saw that the tree was good for food,
pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.
So she took some of its fruit and ate it;
and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her,
and he ate it.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened,
and they realized that they were naked;
so they sewed fig leaves together
and made loincloths for themselves.

 Reading 2ROM 5:12-19

Brothers and sisters:
Through one man sin entered the world,
and through sin, death,
and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned—
for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world,
though sin is not accounted when there is no law.
But death reigned from Adam to Moses,
even over those who did not sin
after the pattern of the trespass of Adam,
who is the type of the one who was to come.
But the gift is not like the transgression.
For if by the transgression of the one, the many died,
how much more did the grace of God
and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ
overflow for the many.
And the gift is not like the result of the one who sinned.
For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation;
but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal.
For if, by the transgression of the one,
death came to reign through that one,
how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace
and of the gift of justification
come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, just as through one transgression
condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act,
acquittal and life came to all.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one,
the many will be made righteous.

GospelMT 4:1-11

At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert
to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted for forty days and forty nights,
and afterwards he was hungry.
The tempter approached and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
He said in reply,
“It is written:
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth
from the mouth of God.”

Then the devil took him to the holy city,
and made him stand on the parapet of the temple,
and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.
For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you
and with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”

Jesus answered him,
“Again it is written,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain,
and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,
and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you,
if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
At this, Jesus said to him,
“Get away, Satan!
It is written:
The Lord, your God, shall you worship
and him alone shall you serve.”

Then the devil left him and, behold,
angels came and ministered to him.

I would say that that the topic most often talked about in conversation is what’s wrong with our world.
We talk about the death of someone we know,
violence somewhere around the world,
a volcano or earthquake that has left many people homeless,
a sudden death through accident or disease,
sickness and disability,
violence and war, robberies, sex crimes,
child abuse, a broken marriage, the bugs in the flower garden, the bad health we are experiencing, the surgery we need to have,
even the weather that seems all messed up.
Isn’t it true that a large percentage of our conversation consists of talking about the bad things that are happening to others and to us? I’m not saying that it’s wrong to talk about these things.

Rather I’m trying to point out that our conversation reflects an awareness of all the evil, sin and sadness in our world. Not only do our conversations focus on the wickedness and immorality found in our world but also a large part of what is contained in news broadcasts is bad news.

If an alien came from somewhere in outer space and sat down to watch a news broadcast to find out what kind of place Earth is, he would be so shocked that he would immediately board his spacecraft and head straight back home.

This isn’t what God had planned for the world. Somehow, his beautiful creation has been all messed up. Somehow, the perfect world made by a perfect God has become what it is today. We aren’t the first people to wonder at what has happened.
I’m sure Noah must have talked to his wife about the evil in the world of his time. Abraham must have talked to Sarah about the wicked things that were happening in the nearby cities.
Moses must have wondered how the people of Israel could be so idolatrous and thankless after all that God had done for them.
John the Baptist shook his head in disgust, reprimanded the people, and called them to turn away from their sin.
Sin is nothing new. You might say, it’s as old as Adam and Eve.

And so, we come to the First Reading for today from the book of Genesis. Everything was going well in the Garden of Eden. We are told why Adam is in the garden. He is there because God put him there. Like all the creation stories of the Bible, it is God who is in charge! “Then the Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and guard it.” Adam is given a specific job – he is the gardener, the grounds man, the manager. Humans were created to work! Adam wasn’t in the garden for fun but to look after it!

Work wasn’t a drudgery or unpleasant. It was just the normal life of a creature in communion with God and in harmony with the world around him. Work was a source of joy and fulfilment! In the garden, there is security and freedom. Adam is safe – there is no threat to his existence. He is free to work and do whatever he pleases – with one exception. He is not to eat the fruit of one particular tree – the tree that gives knowledge of what is good and what is bad. If Adam eats this fruit, then God warns, he will die.

That all sounds fair enough. Adam is happy, he is even happier when God gives him Eve. He enjoys his work. He has plenty to eat. Everything that a person could ever need or want was supplied in the garden. So, what went wrong?

The snake, we are told, was the most cunning animal that God had made. In other words, he was a smart talker. It starts the conversation with a completely harmless question, “Did God really tell you not to eat any of the fruit in the garden?” Eve quickly replies, “We can eat from any tree except the one in the middle of the garden. Even if we touch it, we will die.”

The serpent throws suspicion back on God. It claims to know God better than she did, and understand his will and motives better than she did. “You won’t die”, it says. “God knows that when you eat that fruit your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing everything, both good and evil.” She is tempted to believe that there is more to this matter than God is letting on about.

Having achieved his goal, the snake disappears. Adam and Eve were presented with a choice – to follow God’s will or to give in to the temptations of the snake.

From that moment, humanity no longer accepted the wisdom of God as true wisdom. It no longer accepted the goodness of God as truly good. It no longer accepted the freedom God gave as true freedom. From that moment humanity decided to bear the responsibility for its own choices, whatever they may be. Humanity wanted this experience of right and wrong, good and evil, and look what has happened in our world.

Humanity can choose between good and evil, but because of its corrupted nature, chooses evil more often than good. In fact, we can say that even the good that is chosen is stained with some kind of evil.

Adam and Eve had never hidden from God, but now when they heard him coming, they went and hid among the trees. They even hid from one another because they saw something bad about their nakedness.

They had sinned; they had disobeyed God. They had broken their relationship with God. The beautiful harmony that God had created was suddenly shattered.

They had walked with God; they had talked with him. He had given them a good song to sing in the opening chorus of the song of creation and they had joyfully played this role. They had known God as no one has since.

Things would never be the same. They had messed things up and they knew it. Instead of running to meet God, they fled from God like frightened mice.

They could no longer stand in the presence of the holy God without feeling shame and guilt for their disobedience.

Things haven’t change today. All people from that day in the Garden of Eden onwards would be stained with the same disobedience and sin. Every person born into this world will find it impossible to live in the same perfect harmony with God and fellow human beings as Adam and Eve had experienced in the Garden of Eden. We see the effects of sin in our own lives and in the world. That’s why we talk so much about the problems and strife in our lives and in the world about us. Sin has taken hold and Satan is having a field day.

It’s significant that the Genesis account about the fall into sin is one of the readings for the First Sunday in Lent. We are reminded at the outset of this season before Easter that sin and death have gripped every individual. We could offer up all kinds of excuses but that in no way wipes away the fact that we have
done evil, disobeyed God,
brought about hurt and disharmony,
broken relationships between God and us and others and us.
St Paul sums it nicely when he talks about his own problem with sin, saying, “I know that my selfish desires won’t let me do anything that is good. Even when I want to do right, I cannot.  Instead of doing what I know is right, I do wrong” (Rom 7:18,19 CEV).
“All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Rom 3:23 CEV).
“Adam sinned, and that sin brought death into the world. Now everyone has sinned, and so everyone must die” (Rom 5:12 CEV).

And so, as we begin this Lenten season, we are reminded why there had to be a Good Friday and Easter morning in the first place. It is our sin that caused God to send his only Son into the world, to become a human, and then to suffer and die, even though he himself was completely innocent and did not sin like we do. Jesus forgives and replaces death with eternal life. The Apostle Paul says, “Everyone was going to be punished because Adam sinned. But because of the good thing that Christ has done, God accepts us and gives us the gift of life” (Rom 5:18 CEV).

As we gather today for worship and receive the Holy Communion, as we receive forgiveness for all of our sin, and reminded once again that God still loves us even though we don’t deserve it, and as we worship together over the coming weeks of this Lenten season and recall with thanks what God has done for us through his Son, may we be strengthened in our faith, renewed in our calling as his disciples and refreshed in the knowledge that we are his children.

May this Lenten season be a time when we look closely at our own lives and take responsibility for the mess we have created in our world and in our relationships.

Because sadly, we will pass. And what will be left.  What is our legacy?

Our legacy lies in the deeds we do for others.  It’s that simple.  But yet many go to the grave without ever experiencing it and knowing that God’s perfect grace follows it.

We fail, and fail, and fail, but God keeps on loving, protecting and forgiving, even though we don’t deserve it.

We join with Paul’s triumphant shout in the face of his own weakness and sin, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:25).

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