by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
Today is our first Sunday of Lent, forty days of preparation between Ash Wednesday – which was observed last Wednesday – and Easter Sunday. Now, I say 40 days between these two dates and some of you number- crunchers may look at the calendar and notice there are actually 45 days! That is because Sundays during Lent don’t count in the 40 days. Sundays were seen as “Sabbath time” – a mini-Easter – and were to be spent enjoying the fruit of the resurrection of Christ – not in penance.
This year, we will be journeying through Lent with a sermon series connecting the story of Jesus’ last days with the faith of his ancestry – connecting the New Testament telling of Jesus’ life, with themes and characters from the Old Testament. And today we begin at the beginning, with the story of Adam and Eve.
Now, if I were to ask you what this story is about, what would you say? How is this Old Testament story used to teach us? What is the point of the story of Adam and Eve? (Responses)
“Don’t listen to snakes.” “Obey God’s instructions.” “Don’t think higher of yourself than you are…” These are all valid lessons the story of Adam and Eve teaches us, but it also is a model of how we – as humans – deal with temptation.
So let’s recap our scripture lesson from Genesis 3: 1-8:
God created Adam and Eve and they were living happily in the Garden… and then they encountered temptation in the form of a crafty snake…. (also a creation of God.) and he was smart, more cleaver than any other creature made by God, and he asked the woman about God’s instructions for them: “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman recounted the words God used: “God told us that 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.’“
The snake poses a question that is both a request for information and a challenge. “What EXACTLY did God tell you? Forget about “the spirit of his instructions” but please detail his exact words….” But the command of God at 2:16 was clear; every tree, save one, is available for food.
4But the serpent said to the woman, “That’s not true. God lied to you. 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.”
The woman is mistaken, says the snake, in two important ways. First, her belief that death will be the result of eating of the forbidden tree is completely wrong. Rather than death, she will experience renewed life; the fruit of that tree will literally be an eye-opening experience. Second, the fruit of that tree holds the promise of divine knowledge; “you will be God” is one possible reading. (1)
So why did God tell them they would die if they ate the fruit, but when they ate it they did not? Did God lie to them? The woman ate and nothing happened – no illness, no heart-attack, no death! So she gave some to the man and he remained healthy as well… But maybe God could see further into the future than the immediate deaths of our ancestral parents. Maybe God saw the death of humanity, the death of our covenant with God, the death of our relationship with God, the death that would happen to us little by little, slowly over time….
When we turn away from God, we may not feel the effects immediately, but like a slow boil, our broken promise will eventually destroy us.
Lent is a time to return to God – to recognize there are promises we’ve broken, ways that we’ve failed in our faithful living, things we want to do better, ways that we want to be closer in our relationships with God and with others. And God will forgive us and welcome us back.
Lent is a time to say, “Okay, I messed up, God.” Or “Okay, I’ve been neglecting our relationship, God.” And to recommit.
Temptation is a challenge for us – a way to test our commitment… do we really mean it when we commit to something. For those first humans in the garden, they had agreed to be the children of God and obey their Creators instructions… then the tempter came to ask, “Do you really mean it?”
It just happens – temptations come soon after we make a decision. Once you’ve become committed to a partner, someone else comes along to make you think twice. Once you’ve committed to a job, another opportunity comes up seeking to lure you away. Once you’ve committed to a Lenten practice of – for example – giving up sweets for Lent, you find yourself at a Sees Candy factory. Temptation comes.
At the beginning of Lent, we find Jesus tempted. After his baptism by John, after he is called Beloved by God, after he has committed to God and God’s people to preach, teach, heal and care for God’s children… the tempter came to ask “Do you really mean it?”
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying 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.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Why does God test people? One reason is given in Deuteronomy 13:3b: “for the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul.” A slightly different reason is given in Deuteronomy 8:16: “to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.”
There is this positive side of TESTING: Generally when teachers or driving instructors or doctors give tests, they are not trying to flunk those taking the test, but to help discover what they know and what they can do, to get a baseline of where we are. This is one way of looking at “being tested by God.” God wants Jesus/us to pass the test — to prove our abilities to God and to ourselves. (2)
TESTING can also have negative connotations: “to tempt” or “to try and cause someone to make a mistake” or “to try and cause someone to sin”
At the same time that God is “testing” to discover the depths of one’s faithfulness, the “Tempter” may be “tempting” someone to sin. God’s purpose is to strengthen faith. Satan’s purpose is to weaken faith.
But really, what was Jesus’ problem with the suggestions the Tempter made? Make some bread to feed yourself? He will do that later with the loaves and the fishes and he will feed the multitude! Have the angels take care of him? As the Son of God, shouldn’t that be okay? Take his rightful place as the King of Kings of the Lord of all the Nations? We are told to put him on that pedestal from the time of his birth! But that is how temptation works; it lures us in by presenting us with things that are not overtly evil – Not that bad – things that look okay, and then the ramifications hit.
In Southern Mexico there is a cave called, Cueva de Villa Luz, or Cave of the Lighted House. As you make your way to the cave you walk through a veritable paradise of tropical birds and lush rain forest. Underwater the cave is fed by 20 underground springs, beautiful watercourses which teem with colorful, tiny fish. The cave itself is home to spectacular rock formations and beautiful ponds. The environment is inviting. But… accept the invitation to enter the cave and you’ll soon be dead. You see, the Cueva de Villa Luz is filled with poisonous gases. (3)
Temptation is just like this. It presents itself to us as something inviting, attractive, life-giving. Yet in reality it’s poisonous and toxic.
In our Christian living, we WILL face temptation. We will face a Tempter that challenges our goals, dreams and intentions. SO, we must prepare for it – what will we do when we are faced with an easy answer to a tough question> What will we do when faced with something seemingly fine that will take us far from where God wants us to be.
Let us return to God this Lent. And when we make mistakes, let us return again. And again. Until we get it right. And God will be with us always.
- Brian Stoffregen found at http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt4x1.htm
- Source: information on the Cave obtained from National Geographic, May 2001.