First Sunday of Lent
Deuteronomy 26:4-10 | Romans 10:8-13 | Luke 4:1-13
Grant, almighty God, through this yearly observance of Holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ, by worthy conduct pursue their effects. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
We begin this Sunday with what is considered to be one of the most important times in the liturgy of the church. The liturgy is our way of connecting with God through a ritual, and we listen to his word, and we believe that he becomes present to us and enters into us. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing, ritual. It’s held the church together through all kinds of situations. We long for that which we cannot understand, and ritual somehow makes it real. It doesn’t create it, but it opens us to what is real, what is true, who we are, who God is, what we’re here for.
Now, if you’re like me, you might have fallen into a trap. That is, at least as a child, I was there, and it’s this. I thought about human beings, and I listened to the stories of scripture, especially the beginning of the story in Genesis about Adam and Eve. In some naïve way, I thought, “Well, these people are just like me, just like everyone. These are humans. We’re all the same. We were all made by God. We don’t change that much.” Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Human beings have changed dramatically — dramatically in the short time that we’ve been recording the relationship that God has with them. Maybe one thing that might help you is to think about time and think of the changes that have happened over the last 20 years, 50 years, 100 years, 200 years. It’s like, “My gosh, it’s a different world completely.” And we are having to adapt to this world, and we are changing.
The story of Adam and Eve happened to the human race close to 5,000 years ago. We were just coming out of the Iron Age and into the Bronze Age, making certain weapons more effective. I would have loved to have seen what community life was like then, and it wouldn’t be anything like what we live in. It was supposed to be 1,000 years after that experience of human beings that we end up with the story of God entering into the people of the Israelites. We hear about that in the first reading, a people in slavery brought to freedom by God, who intervenes in their life and guides them and talks to them, not directly but through a prophet, a patriarch. So just remember that that first event of human nature’s response to a God, who created a beautiful world, and then didn’t have the ability to say no to a temptation that came basically out of their human nature, but evil was there, and it played off people’s human nature, which evil always does — and all Adam did was he gave in to a lie that he believed. He didn’t maybe have any kind of real experience to know the lie was a lie, and he bought into it, and his wife bought into it. And then we have our first human being encountering God, and the worst part of that story, in terms of its misinterpretation, is it seems God made us, and then we showed ourselves to who we are, and it disgusted God, and he kicked us out, because we wouldn’t obey him. Somehow sin then, we are told, was invented, caused by this man called Adam, and I remember hearing that and thinking, “That’s not fair. He did that. Maybe I wouldn’t have done that.” But it wasn’t the story about one man’s sin. No, Adam was the symbol, the image of who we were then, a much lower level of consciousness. We liked things being given to us. We could see beauty. We knew we needed a partner, and God was there, and it was wonderful and idyllic, but then human nature came along and seemed to mess it all up.
But I want to say something to you now that I’ve never, ever said before, and I believe it with all my heart. I want you to stop thinking that sin, in the eyes of God, is something that is disgusting and horrible, and whenever we participate in anything that feeds our human nature over what God is asking us to be, don’t ever believe that that is somehow a turnoff or he turns away or he kicks us out. We have to go to an institution to get back in. No. Think about human nature as a thing that God is most attracted to, with all of its goodness and all of its impurity and disobedience. He loves human beings as we are made, not as we are eventually drawn into being through his grace. No, he loves us as we are, as we love a child when they’re messy and out of control, and we look at that human being, knowing what’s in store for them and who they’ll become. And God certainly knew the future of human beings would be something awesome. So stop thinking that our faults are an obstacle. Think of Jesus, of God as a doctor, and we have diseases, and we come to him. What doctor would slam the door and say, “I can’t stand disease”? No, he loves us in our brokenness, completely, thoroughly.
So I want you to look at this first reading or first set of readings in Lent, because Lent is a time when we’re presented with the core of the message of our God. I want you to feel something with me. First of all, we know that the purpose of God entering into our life is to do something for us that we couldn’t do on our own, and so the best way to describe that is he’s come to free us from that which enslaves us. Lies enslave us. Patterns of behavior in humanity, in our lower nature enslave us, and enslaving is somehow being caught in a selfish state that is static and focused only on self. And we think the more we satisfy this self, the happier we’ll be, and that’s not what we’re made for. We’re made for so much more, and he knows that. So we have this story of freedom that is sought for us by God, and what it requires from us is trust and fidelity. And if you just take this group of people, Old Testament people, and let’s say they’re part of the first Adam, they never could do it. They could never, ever be faithful. They tried and tried and tried, and the only thing God could do is lighten the requirement over and over and over again until at the end he said, “All right. You’re never going to follow my rules and laws, so I’ve got to do something mysterious that will put the laws and rules in your heart. And you won’t be needing to be told. You’ll know what to do.” Well, how’s he going to accomplish that? With a new Adam, the second Adam. That’s what Jesus is called in the scriptures, the new Adam, and what’s different? How is the new Adam different than the old Adam? I can’t imagine how to describe in words the change, but we’re going to learn something about what the effects of the change are when we see the devil doing his work, as he always does, trying to convince people that the most important person in the world is themselves and that they’ve got to follow that lower human nature and take care of themselves, because that’s survival. Get something for you. It’s even amazing to me that, when God was working with people as they were, he set up a religion that, in a way, kind of promised that. “Do the rules. Do the laws, and you will get what you want. I will bless you. If you don’t do what you’re told, you’ll be diseased, and you’ll lose your family. You’ll get leprosy.” It was a kind of prosperity story. Do what you’re told, and you’ll get what you want. And that’s about as far as he could take the old Adam. So now we have a new one. His name is Jesus, and what do we know about him? Well, we know one thing. He’s not just an ordinary human being, but he’s also a God. But it’s not that he wanted to be treated like a God. He wanted to be treated like a human being, but what we know is, when he was baptized, God entered into him. And as soon as God entered into him, along comes the devil to test him, but for us, it is a beautiful story about what potential we now have because of what Jesus represents, and that is a redeemed human being. What’s a redeemed human being? A person filled with divinity. It never existed there before. All the old Adams were never able or capable of becoming what God wanted them to be.
One of the ways to understand what redemption is, it’s an influx, an overflowing amount of light and truth and grace that comes into people so that they begin to know what they’re really meant for. They know their destiny, and their destiny is to become like the God that created them. That’s what God so loves and is excited watching, a creation that has free will becoming exactly what God longs for it to be, and it’s not done on their own. That’s the big lesson of the Old Testament. “They can’t do it, so I’ll enter into them. I’ll be one with them. I’m in this figure Jesus.” The devil knew that he had this new power, so he tested him on it. See how selfless he is. So he’s just been 40 days without food. He’s hungry, so any human nature that is hungry, that hungry would do anything to have something to eat, and so he says to Jesus, “Now, look. You have power. I know you have more power than any human being’s ever had. So go ahead and make some bread and have a nice, wonderful hot bread with butter and jam and honey. And put your feet up and say, ‘Well done. I did a good job not eating for 40 days.’” And the shock to the devil, maybe the fear in the devil, is that Jesus didn’t sound like the first Adam. He said, “You know I’m here not to take care of myself and just feed my physical needs. I’m really here because I want one thing. My new life in me, this God in me is drawing me to something, and it’s so beautiful, because all he wants me to see, and he wants to show it to me, is the truth. And you know what he’s saying to me? Yeah, bread’s important. It nourishes people but,” Jesus said, “You know what I’m thinking I’m going to do? I’m going to be bread. I’m going to be the bread for people. I’m going to feed them, give them life. I’m the bread of life.” And the devil tries another angle. “Well, human beings love the wonderful world they were promised in the Old Testament, everything going great. Made your crops, made your farm — everything was successful when they did the law. I know you want that. So I’ll give you all that. It’s my world, that world. I’ll give it all to you if you just trust me over that other voice inside of you.” Jesus said, “Oh, no. I don’t worship you. I know you. I see you. I’ve figured you out. I only worship the God who can bring me life, real life, peace, wholeness.” The last temptation, “Okay, you’re strong, and you’re going to give yourself away. And you’re going to somehow not buy into the things that I’ve always been able to talk people into wanting more than anything else. So what do you think? God’s going to get you through this without you being destroyed? You can’t get up there and say all this. The church won’t like it. Anybody that’s going to go against what everybody’s known forever is going to be in trouble, so he’ll probably — how do you know he’s going to take care of you?” Most interesting response, “He will. He will. No matter how bad it goes, he’ll be there for me.” And what an incredible statement to make when you see how he died, a failure in the eyes of the world, didn’t accomplish what he wanted. As a human being, he had to feel that it didn’t go that well, and he accepted that, even though it looked like it would destroy him. And when he accepted it, he exploded into this awesome creature that came back and did all the work that he longed to do. There’s a mystery in that that you and I have to figure out and learn during this Lenten season.
God, your power within us is beyond what we can imagine, and one of the gifts you give us is a heart open to receiving a truth that the mind has a really hard time comprehending. Open our hearts during this season. Fill us with the faith that is our inheritance and understanding of the gifts you are to us so we’ll stop this craziness of feeling that every time we fail you turn your back, which is not who you are but what we’ve been told you are by those who long for us to do better. But separating us from you is the most dangerous thing that anyone can do, and free us from the thought that our faults do that. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.