(Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11)
Today is the First Sunday in Lent. Lent is a time for reflection and repentance.
During Lent, we are invited to reflect on ourselves, our lives, and our world, and consider the ways in which we have sinned or are sinning. Essentially, sin is separation from God. When we sin, we turn away from God, like distracted children: “Ooh, look at that shiny thing over there!” And, off we go! Reflection allows us to notice the ways in which we have become distracted and turned away from God.
Once we notice the ways we have sinned, we can repent. Essentially, repentance is turning back to God. Like the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32), we wake up, notice those things that distracted us have not fulfilled us, and return home to our Father, seeking forgiveness and reunion: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. Please, forgive me.”
The story of the original sin, done by Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden, describes our separation from God and its consequences. Whether we understand this story to be literal – there were actual people named Adam and Eve who lived in an actual garden called Eden – or figurative – it is a story that tells the spiritual truth of what God intended creation to be and what it became because of our sin – the story is enlightening.
God created a paradise that met all of Adam and Eve’s needs. They had food, drink, and companionship. All the parts of creation – the human, the flora, and the fauna – were in perfect relationship with each other and with God. All was well.
Except, there was one thing Eve and Adam could not do: eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God told them, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gn 2:16-17). Eve and Adam were fine with this; they went about living happily in paradise. They were content. After all, they had all that they needed!
Adam and Eve were fine with this boundary until the serpent came along and planted seeds of doubt and discontent in them. “[T]he serpent said to the woman, ‘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’" (Gn 3:4-5). All of the sudden, they were unhappy! God was keeping something from them! They couldn’t trust God! They wanted more than they needed: They wanted the knowledge of good and evil so that they could be like God! The fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil became the shiny thing that distracted them and turned them away from God. And there we have it: paradise lost. Sin entered the world.
Adam and Eve’s original sin was to not trust God. God gave them paradise, but they longed for something beyond it. God gave them all they needed, but they desired something they didn’t need. God drew a boundary around paradise, and they stepped over it into distraction and desire.
At any moment in our lives, the faithful thing to do is to trust God. It may look like we don’t have what we need, but we are to trust God, anyway. It may feel like we are suffering, but we are to trust God, anyway. It may seem as if there is no hope, but we are to trust God, anyway.
This is what Jesus did in the wilderness. Right after Jesus is baptized and God proclaims him the Beloved, with whom God is well pleased, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. You would think that there would have been rejoicing and celebration, but, no: instead, there is difficulty and deprivation. There had to be difficulty and deprivation because Jesus had to withstand the temptations of the devil even in the worst of circumstances. Jesus had to trust God even in the worst of circumstances.
- He was hungry, so the devil tempted him to create food: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Mt 4:3). Jesus trusted God and replied: “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Mt 4:4).
- Jesus was being tested by God, so the devil tempted him to test God in return: “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’” (Mt 4:6). Jesus trusted God and replied: “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Mt 4:7).
- He was in a powerless situation, so the devil tempted him with power: “[T]he devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’” Jesus trusted God and replied, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him”’ (4:8-10).
At any moment in our lives, the faithful thing to do is to trust God. It may look like we don’t have what we need, but we are to trust God, anyway. It may feel like we are suffering, but we are to trust God, anyway. It may seem as if there is no hope, but we are to trust God, anyway. When we don’t trust God, we look for another solution, turn away from God, and sin. The “wages of sin is death,” so that is not the way to go (Rm 6:23)! Instead, we must trust God in all times, places, and circumstances, for our God is a faithful God. We need only trust in Him for, as Psalm 32 proclaims, “[S]teadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord” (10)! Jesus has showed us the way in the wilderness. Let us be faithful disciples and follow his lead, for he leads us to paradise, both here on Earth and in heaven. Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, March 5, 017, the First Sunday in Lent.