Sermon delivered on Lent 1A, Sunday, March 9, 2014, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.
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Lectionary texts: Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7; Psalm 32.1-12; Romans 5.12-19; Matthew 4.1-11.
In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In our first reading from Genesis we are introduced to Adam and Eve who were created to be companions with God. The were put in the Garden of Eden to till and keep it. In other words they were called to be God’s caretakers of this place of paradise. They had just begun to undertake this duty or way of life. They had practically no limits upon them except that they were not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Along comes the serpent who entices Eve to eat of the fruit. In this story, the serpent represents not only Satan but all of those things which bring us temptation. — among them the world, the flesh and, of course, the devil. Eve having given into temptation gives some of the fruit to her husband Adam and he too gives into the Temptation. Lest we feel bad for Adam, we should remember that in this recounting, Eve is not alone when she goes to eat from the Tree, but she is accompanied by Adam who does nothing to discourage or stop her, he is just as guilty, perhaps more so, than Eve. As a consequence of Adams and Eve’s sin, they lose their right to remain in paradise, but more importantly are subject now to death. The term used implies not only the act of dying, but also implies that cutting off any relationship with God. This original sin of Adam then taints the whole of humanity. Death – both human mortality and the separation from God now effects all mankind. A breach that will continue until Jesus the Christ comes and as the Epistle reading assures us that just as Sin entered into the world thru one man – Adam so it is that through the one man – Jesus that who through his perfect righteousness and obedience, brings righteousness to the many and restores mankind in its relationship with God.
But even as Jesus came into the world, and through his life and death, reconciled us with God, we still experience Temptation. Perhaps today the types and sources of temptation are more numerous that ever before and if we are to account the Serpent as a crafty evil creature, we can see even more craft and sly ways in which our society and in some cases our churches have been convinced to embrace the various temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The media be it television, radio, or music portrays sinful lifestyles in ways that not only imply that they are acceptable but are desirable. Often, perhaps almost always the consequences of such sin are ignored or denied.
Jesus is the true Son of God and fully divine. Yet Jesus choose to come into our world who would be also fully human. He had all the same needs and desires that we all have as human beings. He knew hunger and thirst. He enjoyed the companionship of others. He felt the sting of betrayal. So it is not surprising that Jesus would undergo Temptation and in our Gospel story we have a dramatic example set before us.
Jesus has just completed a period of time in the desert presumably in preparation for the beginning of his ministry. He is tired, hungry, and thirsty. Satan comes to Jesus and sets forth three temptations. The first looks innocent enough. Prove you are the Son of God by turning stones to loaves of bread. Jesus was hungry — his fasting was over. He was and is the Son of God. He did have the power to make those rocks bread. But for Jesus, to use his power in such a way would be to reject the role that the Father had asked him to follow. Jesus strengthened by his time in the desert rejects this temptation and tells Satan that it is the word of God that is needed to feed the hearts of man. Then Satan slyly tries to use Scripture to entice Jesus to be a show-off. Throw yourself of the top of the Temple and let the angels catch you, says Satan.
Jesus responds that one should not put the Lord God to the test. Finally, in this set of temptations, Satan shows Jesus all the Kingdoms of the world, and offers them to Jesus. if only Jesus will fall down and worship Satan. Jesus could have everything — he need not suffer and die. Jesus again responds — ”Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him”.
If Jesus was fully human at the time of these temptations, and he was, then these were really challenges that pulled on Jesus’ being. He was hungry. He was in need of feeling the Father’s support and he, like any of us, would love to have achieved his goals without suffering especially the suffering that would lead to his death. Yet he was able to resist these temptations. What was it about Jesus that allowed him to do this. The answer in part may be in how he prepared himself not only for dealing with temptation but in preparing for his life’s work.
Before Jesus started preparing others for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven to this world and reconciliation with the Father, He took time to prepare. That preparation occurred at we also learn from the Gospel reading as he spent 40 days fasting in the desert. Going out into the desert at times of deep spiritual need or before starting a ministry was not unusual. Both Moses and Elijah spent 40 days in the desert. The people is Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years prior to entering into the promises land. The number 40 by the way is not meant to mean a literal 40 days but rather a long period of time. John the Baptizer not only spent time in the desert but his ministry was based in the desert.
Why the desert? Let us look at the characteristics of the Judean desert. It is a place of apartness, that is , it is a place away from the every day activities of community life. No shopping, no neighbors, no politics. It is a place of limited resources. There is food but not a lot of it and some of it not the most appealing. Have any you eaten a locust with or without wild honey? There is water but not in great supply and often one needs to take on a prickly cactus to quench one’s thirst. There is extreme heat during the day and cold at night. There are wild animals. Why then go to the desert? It is a place where a person can focus for time on matters of importance without distraction. It is a place of great beauty where one can appreciate God’s magnificent creation. It is a place where one can experience loneliness or the solitude that allows us to listed to God speaking to the heart. It is a place where the body, the mind, and the heart can be disciplined through the scarcity of things. It is a place where one can find that only in trusting is God can they experience true peace. This is the place in which the very human and yet very divine Jesus would through prayer, fasting and study prepare Himself to undertake the greatest ministry — that of reconciling humanity with their heavenly Father. It was also the place where he could learn to bring His human nature under such control that He was able to resist the very attractive Temptations of Satan.
Last year I shared with you a little of the history of how Lent came to be. In brief the early Church had no season of Lent, but did practice occasional periods of fasting and prayer for specific feast and purposes. During the time when the Church prepared for the Celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, it also prepared for the baptism of those seeking membership into the Church. These catechumens as there were called went through a period of training, fasting and other disciplines to determine their fitness and to prepare them to live out the life of a Christian and to resist temptation especially the temptation to fall back into their earlier lives. Often members of the faith, especially sponsors would join with those seeking admittance in their prayer and fasting. It was also at this times that those who had publicly embarrassed the Church by their lives but who now sought reconciliation, would do public penance, not to receive forgiveness, but to give witness of their true repentance. Over time the emphasis grew more and more on the idea of penance, the discipline originally applied only to the catechumens was applied to all the faithful and following the practices of Jesus, Moses and Elijah was established at 40 days.
While the Church still describes the season of Lent as a penitential time, it is slowly recovering the sense that Lent is a time not only for acts of penitence — and which one of us has not sinned so as to be an embarrassment not only of the Church but of our Lord Jesus but a time of preparation. It is during the Ester Vigil or on Easter Sunday that many churches admit new members and celebrate Baptism with the preparation for these occurring during Lent with large parts of the congregation sharing in such preparation. Likewise the Church is again emphasizing that the purpose of Lenten disciplines are not that we can earn forgiveness through them but that they helps us to prepare for the celebration of the Resurrection but even more it prepares us, it strengthens us, to resist the temptations that so abound in our lives and to live out in our lives the Life of Christ.
Lent is a time for us to go into the desert. We can endure Lent. We can suffer through periods of denial. We can fast because the Church requires it. We can find it a time of great discomfort.
Or we can embrace it. We can find during this season in giving up some things the opportunity to embrace that which brings us closer to Christ. It can be a time when we are able to limit the distractions of daily living, to quiet ourselves and to listen to the Lord of all creation.
A week ago someone asked me how was that Peter who had experienced the Transfiguration could then deny the Lord. After some thought, I find that Peter had enjoyed the Mountain Top experience, but at the time he denied Jesus, he had not yet gone through his desert experience. Mountain Top may be great and may be encouraging, but it is our times in the desert that prepare us for the difficult challenges and temptations. Let us take this time of Lent to prepare ourselves. Let us not be afraid of the difficulties and burdens of this season, but let us embrace this time to grow closer to the Lord that we might worship the Lord our God and serve Him only.
In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.