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Welcome to Lent. During these next weeks, we will walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem. This is a time in our church year to examine our lives and make amends. We can use these 40 days to make a right beginning.
We begin with two familiar stories about temptation. One story is set in a beautiful garden, the other in the wilderness. They have very different endings.
We all fall into temptation. After all, part of the prayer we most often pray says: “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil…”.
Temptation is anything that pulls us away from the heart of God. We know as clearly as Adam and Eve did what God wants from us. The last time I preached it was on Micah (do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God) and the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. And yet, knowing all the right things to do we choose our own desires too often. When we give into temptation, we are separating ourselves from God.
Adam and Eve had the perfect place to live. They were given dominion over everything except that one tree. God required but one thing. ‘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.
So many choices and they only needed to resist one thing. God gave them free will so that they could choose, or not, to obey God’s authority over them. From the beginning of time, we have not wanted to deny ourselves. We have a very difficult time submitting to God’s will rather than our own. We can forget that we are to love all others and to live in that love with mercy putting God’s justice first.
The Genesis story of Adam and Eve may or may not be true. After all, there was nobody to write it down. What is true about the story is it still describes where the human family is. We still face the challenges that Adam and Eve faced. The story is about us. They chose self-satisfaction, feeling the need to be like God rather than relying on God. So, they were forced out of the garden that had been given. Their immortality was gone. Their lives were changed, and they understood good and evil.
Adam and Eve did not physically die so the serpent was right. What they had instead was life away from paradise. Even in this, God did not abandon them. So began humanity with all the good and evil that comes with it.
Looking forward in the gospel of Matthew we know wherever Jesus was and whatever Jesus was doing at some point he knew his time had come. He left his world behind and began the journey that led him first to the River Jordan and John the Baptizer.
Jesus was baptized by John. “As Jesus was coming out of the river the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said: This is my son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.”
In contrast to our Genesis reading let’s look at today’s Gospel. It picks up right after Jesus’s baptism by John with the Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness where he will be for 40 days. 40 symbolizes a span of time, not an actual 40-day period. We hear of many 40-day, 40-year periods in the Bible and they show a period of time in which an event takes place.
While Adam and Eve, living in a beautiful garden, had only to abstain from one tree, Jesus, by contrast was led by the Spirit, not the tempter, alone into the wilderness without food or water. Matthew, in describing the temptations of Jesus connects Hebrew Scripture’s beginning of salvation to our salvation through Jesus. The only thing Jesus had with him was his relationship with God. At the end of his time in the wilderness, when he was physically exhausted and starved, then he was tempted. His strength was gone, he was empty and all he could respond to the tempter with were passages he’d grown up with from the Hebrew Bible.
‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Jesus knew how important bread was, after all, he told us to feed the hungry. ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. As Christians, Jesus is our Bread of Life. He offers us bread each time we come to the altar: ‘This is my body given for you’.
Following the second temptation, Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” This phrase, found in both Hebrew scripture and the New Testament reminds us to trust in God without asking for or requiring proof of God’s existence, God’s faithfulness, God’s grace.
And, following the 3rd temptation ‘Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ Jesus knew he had not come to save the world by giving into the false securities offered by the tempter. Jesus reminds us of the importance of always keeping our faith, relying on God, no matter the situation. Jesus was so secure in his relationship with God that he was able to let God speak through him when he had no other words.
During this Lent we might spend time recognizing the emptiness we feel. Our separateness from God. The pull of power in our lives. When we give into our temptations we lose sight of God, we feel empty, we lose our balance and a sense of peace we might otherwise have. We learn from looking at Jesus’ life and teachings. We need to connect to Jesus in our hearts so that we can follow Jesus’ example.
Last week we heard the story of change in the Transfiguration. A story about a mountaintop experience that became real for the 3 who witnessed it. Peter, James & John took this revelation into their hearts and with that experience they were changed, and their faith was strengthened. That can also become our Lenten story if we choose it.
Our Collect today reminds us to ask for help: ‘Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save;’
When we find ourselves in the presence of temptation as Jesus did it’s helpful to have some tools to deal with the experiences. If we develop a spiritual practice before the trials and temptations, we are better able to make wise decisions. Today, on this first Sunday in Lent we will begin a series of forums following coffee hour talking about some of those tools which help us to develop and deepen our spiritual practices. A kind of refresher if you will. We all need help and practice so that we can find our way out of the wilderness and into the heart of God. Our journey in these next weeks can be for us a change of heart and a renewal of our faith if we work at it.
Together as people of faith we can learn and support each other in and through the wilderness. We can learn together during this time of penitence, the way through temptations of systemic racism, economic inequality, injustice, and our sense of entitlement to instant gratification. We hear many differing voices telling us what’s the ‘right’ thing and yet we know we are to listen only to one voice. When we listen to the one voice, we can resist compromising the values we hold.
As you come forward today and kneel at the communion rail know that Jesus is there waiting for you with loving arms. Know that Jesus will give you all the tools you need if you but ask.