Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, February 26, 2023

YEAR A 2023 lent 1

Lent 1, 2023
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11
Psalm 32

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I love how all three readings come together this morning in an act of solidarity.  And their combined message is a summary of our faith:  God’s grace is for everyone, because of Jesus.  Now I could just say “amen” and move on to the Creed.  But you’re probably expecting a little more detail than that.  But if you hear nothing else of what I say today, hold onto that: God’s grace is for everyone, because of Jesus.

So let’s start with the first reading, from Genesis.  You’ve heard this little story countless times by now, I’m sure.  Although Christians often call it “the Fall,” I personally don’t support that name for it.  Chiefly, because there is no Jewish view of anything like “the Fall,” and it’s not clear that this little snippet puts into motion our inclination to do bad things.  In fact, blaming my own sinful nature on the first man and woman is continuing the cycle of the man blaming the woman and the woman blaming the serpent.  Sometimes called kicking the dog, in family narratives.

Now, far be it from me to treat the first three chapters of Genesis as literal historical newspaper accounts, but let’s look at the text we have in front of us.  God says to the man that he will die on the day he eats of the fruit of one particular tree in the garden.  The serpent asks the woman if there are any restrictions on what they can eat.  And she says they can’t eat of this one tree or they’ll die, but she adds that if they even touch it they will die.  Interesting.

But we have God saying that on the day they eat they will die.  And we have the serpent saying, on the day you eat of it you will not die.  God says you’ll die; serpent says you won’t die.  They eat of the tree.  And on that day . . . did they die?  No they did not.  Nor did they die the next day.  You see the quandary here, right?  Turns out, the one who was telling the truth was . . . the serpent.

Could the serpent see the future?  Was God bluffing?  Are we missing something in the story?  Hard to say.  But I’ll tell you what I think.  As best I can see, this story is about God showing grace.  In fact, it’s the prototype of God’s Grace.  Grace 1.0, if you like.  The first story of the very first humans ends with God’s unmerited forgiveness.  It is like blueprint for how God will deal with human beings throughout the scriptures.  God sets up rules for our own good, we disobey those rules, and God’s grace appears and saves the day.  Saves lives, come to think of it, because on that day they did not die!

And, I hate to break it to us, but this is not how we run our society.  The existence of mandatory minimum sentencing is your first clue.  When we say people will be punished for breaking the law, we expect them to be punished.  All the parenting books tell us the same thing.  Don’t make threats you aren’t going to keep.  God said the people would die if they did the thing.  The people did the thing.  The people did not die.  That is pure undeserved grace.  And I dare say that we don’t like it, at least not when it happens to other people.  

And then let’s look at the second lesson, from Paul’s letter to the Romans, the “for everyone” part of my opening statement.  Now, in classic Paul style, he uses way too many words to make a simple point, which threatens to make us miss the simple point he’s trying to make.  Back in my seminary Greek classes, when we struggled to translate Paul’s letters, my professor would say, “Sometimes the problem isn’t you; sometimes the problem is Paul.”  So let’s boil Paul’s words down to the point he is making . . .

Paul is suggesting here that death is a result of Adam eating that fruit we heard about in Genesis.  And, since Adam dies, everyone dies.  However, in this same way, the righteousness of Jesus is passed down to everyone as well.  And here’s the key phrase:  “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.”  Note that he says, “for all.”  Justification and life for all.  God’s grace is for everyone, because of Jesus.

And now we come to the “because of Jesus part,”--the reading from Matthew.  From the start, I want you to imagine yourself being really hungry.  I mean really hungry.  Like haven’t eaten for over a month hungry.  And then along comes this guy, The Tester, and he says, “Hey, wanna turn these stones into some bread?”  I confess to you, people of God, that my answer would be “Heck yeah I do!”  If I’m that hungry, and there’s the possibility of instant bread, I am all over it.  And so, in this way, I would clearly fail the very first test from The Tester.  

And don’t every get me started on giving in to the temptation to jump off the roof of the temple and have angels catch me in their arms!  How awesome would that be?!?  But thankfully—for everyone’s sake—this story is not called, “The Temptation of Fr. George.”  This is the temptation of Jesus.  It is not a story about me; it is not a story about you.  It is about Jesus.

And it’s important to note that these temptations of Jesus start with a word that is closer to “since” than it is to “if.”  Not if, but since.  The temptation is not to prove that Jesus is the Son of God.  No, each one is a temptation to misuse the power of the role, to reject the calling on Jesus’ life.  You know, since you’re the Son of God, why not make these stones into bread and feed all those hungry people you’re always so worried about?  That’s very different from a challenge to prove who Jesus is.

The test is not to get Jesus to prove that he is the Son of God.  The Tester knows full well that Jesus is the Son of God.  That’s why he’s there, tempting him in the first place.  The temptation is to use his identity to do something to show off, to glory and revel in being God incarnate.

And—don’t take this personally, but—you are not Jesus.  This is a story about Jesus, not you, remember?  It is easy—and dare I say tempting—to put ourselves in the place of Jesus here.  To make this into a story about how best to avoid Satan when he comes to tempt us into doing wrong.  And we can even build up lengthy explanations about how Jesus is calling us to stand tough against giving people free bread or food stamps, or not to tempt God’s willingness to save us when we hurl ourselves into dangerous situations.  But today's theme is, God’s grace is for everyone, because of Jesus.

I would encourage you to see this for what it is: the Temptation of Jesus.  This is not the temptation of you and me.  We have our own temptations, to be sure.  And one of those temptations is to try to make ourselves into Jesus.  To think of ourselves as the ones who are going to save ourselves by our proper actions and the good behavior . . . of ourselves.  The temptations Jesus faced are completely different from the ones you and I face.  But knowing that Jesus did not give in, that he did not stray from his actual mission of saving you and me from the power of death . . . well, maybe that can encourage us to trust enough not to take it personally when we hear that it’s not about us.

Perhaps the biggest temptation you and I face is exactly that:  The temptation to take it personally.  And by that I mean, the temptation to think it’s all up to us, that it’s all about us, that we somehow have to work at getting God to love us.  We all face this temptation to be good enough every day.  And we get constant messages that we’re not good enough, that we’re not rich enough, thin enough, smart enough, blah blah blah.  And when we take in those messages for too long, we start to believe those things about ourselves, because we start taking that personally.

So let me remind you of one place where it is personal.  A time when it really is all about you.  You’ll see it again this morning, when you are invited to this Altar to share in the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus, given FOR YOU.  Jesus comes to meet you here this morning in the Sacrament.  God shows up in your own two hands saying, “I can work with that.”  

God’s grace is for everyone because of Jesus.  No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, God’s forgiveness is given freely, with no strings attached.  God loves you more than you could possibly ask or imagine, and I hope you will take that personally.

God’s grace is for everyone, because of Jesus.


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