Sermons and Prayers

Sermon Lent 1 – 5th March 2017  by Eleanor Zuercher

 

Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11

Temptation in the Garden and Temptation in the Wilderness

 

It struck me as both interesting and hugely satisfying to put these two stories together – as soon as you do, you see that they are mirror images of each other.  It is no accident that Milton tackled both events, the first, of course, in “Paradise Lost”, and his later and shorter poem on the Temptations in the Wilderness which he tellingly entitled “Paradise Regained” – if you’re after a good long poetic soak, I can highly recommend both.  The modern view is to accept both stories generally not as literal truth, but as important stories, perhaps as parables, illustrating a more important spiritual truth than the story itself might suggest.  And that seems to me to be fair enough.

 

Let’s look at the similarities first.  Both are stories about temptation and both feature the devil as the tempter; both feature a dialogue between tempter and temptees (and contrasting the two sets of dialogue is most revealing); and both result in a very profound change for the persons tempted. 

 

It is the differences between the two stories, though, that are most revealing.  First of all you could hardly pick more diametrically opposed settings Eden is a paradise, green, abundant, fresh, unspoiled and full of a luscious creation – a place of plenty - while the Wilderness is hard, dry and sparse, difficult to live in, and Jesus finds himself famished after his 40 days.  I suppose the setting for Jesus’ story could be regarded as a direct consequence of Adam’s – man fallen out of grace now inhabits a desert (literal and figurative) instead of a paradise.

 

Then there are the main characters – the people who are tempted -  Adam is a god-like man.  He and Eve as the only humans must have loomed large over all creation, entrusted as they were with free run of Eden and dominion over it on condition that they obeyed one tiny little rule.  Jesus, on the other hand, although he is Man and God together in one person, seems dwarfed by the vastness of the wilderness – just a man on his own in a hostile environment.  Indeed instead of seeming all-powerful, he is determined to refuse any such dominion as Adam has or desires.  Adam fails the test; Jesus passes.

 

At first glance the temptations seem similar only in respect of Jesus first temptation – I suppose the devil only needs to offer Adam and Eve one little push and they’re gonners – maybe he had some extra ones lined up in case he needed something tougher.  But in fact, that one temptation and the reasons Adam and Eve fell so spectacularly encompasses all the temptations Jesus resisted.  Consider why Adam and Eve might have succumbed.  The temptation to eat the fruit was gastronomic – they didn’t eat because they were hungry, as Jesus was tempted to, but perhaps to see what it tasted like – after all, they’d had a taste of everything else in the garden – we might label this as gluttony.  Jesus’ corresponding temptation was to eat at need – much harder to resist – but he just turns the need away by focusing on a greater need – God’s word. 

 

Adam and Eve were also tempted by the possibility of equality with God if they ate the fruit – they had ideas above their station.  Perhaps they wanted praise for or recognition of their status as the crowning glory of God’s creation.  This is what Jesus rejects when he turns down Satan’s suggestion that he leap from the temple.  This is a traditional interpretation, but I wonder if mixed in with this there might also be the suggestion that Adam, in particular, took the fruit as a gesture of solidarity with Eve – to bind himself to her and prove that he stood alongside her.  His mistake was in choosing obedience to Eve rather than God – love of Eve rather than love of God.  Jesus on the other hand chooses adherence to God’s will rather than what his followers, desperate for the overthrow of Roman occupation, and the conviction that this was where salvation lay, at times urged on Jesus.  A vainglorious display such as the devil suggests would have bound an army to him which could have achieved what seekers of the Messiah dreamed of.   But I think his refusal also expresses a solidarity with humankind – instead of revealing himself as God Almighty, He elects to walk the human path, to do the work that He can as a man rather than throwing thunderbolts around as a god.

 

Finally Adam and Eve ate the fruit out of a desire for the power of knowledge – this is avarice.  They have already been given everything they could possibly want, but they still want more.  All the devil needs to do is to insinuate that there is something they lack, and they immediately want it.  They are told that they lack a knowledge which would give them God-like power.  This is echoed by Jesus being tempted with power over the kingdoms of the world – he might have gained an empire – and the Roman emperors of the time were worshiped as gods - but it would have been a flimsy imitation of God’s power.  Jesus could see past its attractiveness and understand that it was just a temptation to want something which was not part of God’s plan.

 

The consequences of the stories are also interesting to contrast.  Adam and Eve’s fall results in them running away and trying to hide from God.  They seem to have suddenly become painfully self-aware and start to cover up parts of their bodies which somehow seemed more shameful than others.  However perhaps we can infer a similar revelatory effect on Jesus.  Just as Adam and Eve begin to understand who and what they are, (as well as to be able to contrast it with what they were) so perhaps Jesus, after his encounter in the wilderness, is also able to begin to make sense of and understand who he is.  With Adam and Eve there is a sense of loss when, a little after this extract, God comes looking for them – he walks through the garden calling out “where are you?” not so much with anger as with longing.   It seems to me that the failed tempting of Christ in the wilderness results in a sort of homecoming.  In Adam, humanity runs away and hides from God; in Jesus humanity is welcomed back to God.

 

This commentary is all very fascinating of course, but we can’t stop there – we need to consider what it means – what we should learn from these stories.

 

I suppose, in seeing Adam and Christ as parallels, we learn not just that human beings are inherently faulty, but that they also have the potential to overcome faults.  Adam is indeed in all of us, but so too can Christ be. 

 

We can understand that we all have our moments of temptation, after all Christ himself could not avoid it, and we all have our moments of choice.  Adam, Eve and Jesus all chose freely – and we choose freely too.

 

This notwithstanding, we can also be reassured that even if we take Adam’s route, our mistake is not irredeemable.  Although Adam opens the way to sin, Christ signposts our journey back to God.

 

These two moments in the Bible seem to be highly significant pivots.  Adam’s story starts us on a journey away from God; Christ’s re-orientates us towards God.  And I suppose we journey all our lives in the tension between these two pivots.

 

Before the apple-eating activities in Eden, God and Adam and Eve kept company together – they freely spoke to and saw each other – they delighted in one another.  The knowledge which Adam and Eve were so keen to gain and which they thought would make them like God, instead showed them how much they were not like God.  I suppose it was the knowledge of how great the gap was between themselves and God which made them unable to look at him, made those terms of easy intimacy untenable.  It made them seek the shadows away from the brilliance of his presence.  Perhaps because humanity had realised how far it was from God, God in the person of Jesus needed to show how close he was to humanity.  In the person of Jesus, we can, once again look at God, we can speak to him, we can include him in our everyday lives, we can live alongside him.

 

I specifically asked for the Genesis reading this morning instead of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, but that Romans reading (5:12-19) is worth perusal.  In it Paul contrasts the effects of Adam’s sin and Jesus’ righteousness – so I shall conclude with Paul’s words:

 

18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

 

 

 

 

 

Consequences

 

In Adam’s disobedience his eyes

Opened to myriad possibilities,

And must have flit around the fresh new garden

Bewildered at such complex baffling potential.

But a broader vision, resulted in focus lost

At the final, fatally echoing clang of the gate.

 

But when, in his obedience, the Christ

Closed his eyes in that crimson pain,

And later lay so still, eyes bandaged shut

In the deep chill darkness, the gate swung open

And light dawned again in the reciprocal,

Chiming of glorious, re-creation.

 

 

 

 

Intercessions

 

Sentence:                  As you know our weakness

Response:               May we know your power to save

 

Father, you understand the power of temptation and you see with sorrow the divisions and quarrels within your church, both between its denominations, and the splits within our Anglican communion also.  Look on our failings with mercy and fill our hearts with respectful compassion for our fellow Christians.

 

Sentence:                  As you know our weakness

Response:               May we know your power to save

 

Father, you understand the power of temptation and you see with compassion all those anxieties, pleasures, or distractions which keep us from full acceptance and rejoicing in the gift of your love.  Look on our failings with mercy and open our eyes to the wonder of your creation, and our hearts to the recognition of your love.

 

Sentence:                  As you know our weakness

Response:               May we know your power to save

 

Father, you understand the power of temptation and you see with sorrow the ideologies, politics and operation of wealth which divide the peoples of your world.  You see clearly how the little prejudices and minor greed of small, ordinary people like us shape larger forces which do so much damage.  Look on our failings with mercy; open our hands with generosity and enlighten our understanding of our fellow human beings who share both our failings and our hopes.

 

Sentence:                  As you know our weakness

Response:               May we know your power to save

 

Father, you understand the power of temptation and you look with mercy on our communities of the West Buckingham Benefice; we thank you for the many blessings you pour out upon us, in our homes, our families and friends, our places of work and leisure and rest.  We acknowledge that we often fail in our gratitude.  Look on our failings with mercy and open our eyes and hearts and arms to welcome and comfort those in our midst who are in need of our care.

 

Sentence:                  As you know our weakness

Response:               May we know your power to save

 

Father, you understand the power of temptation and you look with weeping on those who suffer.  We remember refugees driven from their homes searching for welcome and acceptance; those trapped in areas of the world where violence has become normal who long for safety; the starving who gaze on their children with despair as they cannot feed them.  Nearer to home we remember prisoners hoping to be granted a second chance; addicts unable to escape from the cycle of their addiction; the homeless seeking the shelter of a roof they can afford.  We often fail in our responsibilities to those who suffer, and find it easier to ignore the plight of those in need.  Look on our failings with mercy, prompt our compassion and desire to make a difference to someone else’s life.

 

Sentence:                  As you know our weakness

Response:               May we know your power to save

 

Father, you understand temptation and you look with loving kindness on all your children.  We sometimes forget that you love us, and we may feel hard done by, or neglected.  Help us to look kindly upon ourselves, to find what you love within us and to value what is of worth in ourselves.  Look on our failings with gentle loving kindness, and inspire us to look on our own and others failings with your compassion.

 

Sentence:                  As you know our weakness

Response:               May we know your power to save

 

 

 

We ask all this in Jesus’ name

 

Amen

Lent 1 (5/3)

 

Romans 5:12-19New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

Adam and Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

 

Genesis 2:15-17New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 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.’

Genesis 3:1-7New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

The First Sin and Its Punishment

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ 2 The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 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.”’ 4 But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.’ 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

 

Matthew 4:1-11New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

The Temptation of Jesus

4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ 4 But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying 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.”’

7 Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9 and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.”’

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

 


Sermons and Prayers
Webpage icon Sermons and Prayers
Webpage icon Sermons and Prayers
Webpage icon Sermons and Prayers