Sunday 13 March 2011
Ashgrove West Uniting Church
Year A Lent 1
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Call to Worship
Psalm 13:1-5, 11 Responsive, from Uniting in Worship
Hymn Together in Song 658 Here I am, Lord.
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
as we once more begin the journey to Jerusalem and the cross
we remember that this journey was not for your benefit but ours
and we are awed that this should be so
that you should give so much
even your own son
It's easier to give up coffee than it is to give up complaining
It's easier to give up lollies than it is to love our enemies
It's easier to give money than it is to give ourselves
It's easier to give up some small external thing than it is to look at ourselves clearly and make the changes that would show true repentance.
As we look at our lives in this season of Lent
help us to not take the easy path
to not make a sacrifice that costs us nothing
because something that costs nothing
is worthless to us and to you.
Help us to make the sacrifice that will be of value to you
help us to give up our pettiness, our complaining,
help us to give up our selfishness, our wanting more and more,
help us to give up our prejudices, our preconceived ideas,
help us to give up our defensiveness, our shifting the blame elsewhere,
help us to give up all that takes us away from you.
Give us a clean heart O God,
put a new and right spirit within us.
In Jesus' name. Amen.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Kid's time - Bec
Hymn Together in Song 229 Jesus Loves Me
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.
On Wednesday, Lent began with Ash Wednesday. In Lent, more than any other time in the church year, we are confronted with our own sinfulness. With our failing to live up to the way human beings are created to be.
Our readings today give us a picture of the nature of human temptation and sin. I want to take a closer look at these two stories.
In the Bible, stories about the beginning of things are often really stories about how things have always been and still are. So the story of Adam and Eve isn't in the Bible just to tell us an interesting story about our ancestors – its real importance is to tell us about ourselves.
Adam and Eve had “everything”. They'd been placed in a garden where everything they needed was provided. The story makes it clear they had access to the tree of life – that it was not necessary that they would die. They had face to face contact with God. And they had only one limitation placed on them: they were not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. One rule, one limitation; no more – it makes the ten commandments look tough, huh? Surely if we only had one rule to live by we could handle it, right?
There's a bit of a sneaky trick here, actually. At this point there really was no evil to know. God had created all things good. Everything in the world Adam and Eve lived in was good – no evil existed. The only way there would be some evil to know would be if someone did something stupid like, say, disobeying the only rule God had given them. As long as they didn't eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil – there would be no evil for them to know.
Then, they had a theological conversation with a snake. I don't know about that. If a talking snake approaches you what do you do? Scream and run away, very fast? Grab a camera and record it all for youtube or the news? Ask your doctor to change your medication? Decide you really shouldn't have eaten that chilli last night? Catch the snake and call a theatrical agent?
Would you really engage it in a conversation, and trust its advice? It must have been a very convincing snake.
Apparently, the snake addressed both Adam and Eve, we know this because the word “you” in Hebrew is plural. (We have to note this, because so many people do exactly what Adam would do later, and dump all the blame on Eve - the original text of the Bible tells us Adam was there. He mightn't have said anything, but he knew what was going on, and didn't argue against it.) When the snake starts asking questions about what they can and cannot eat, Eve acts as spokesperson for the couple, explaining the prohibition about the one tree, embellishing it to the point of not even being able to touch the tree. (She hadn't been present for God's instruction to Adam, and we don't know if she embellished it or Adam did in passing the instruction on: word of mouth has been known to do that.)
The snake added some information, that they did not already have; that they would gain wisdom by eating the fruit; they would know the difference between good and evil. The snake didn't point out that until the fruit was eaten – until God had been disobeyed, there would be no evil to know.
The knowledge of good and evil they gained by eating the fruit was the guilty knowledge of their own conscience. Suddenly, they felt exposed. They had been naked before this, and not worried about it; they had not needed clothing. Now, they tried to cover themselves. But it wasn't their bare bodies which needed covering – it was their action in defying God which they were really trying to hid. They were trying to cover up for the shame they felt when they realised they had disobeyed their creator. In trying to cover-
up, they actually created more, very obvious evidence of their guilt.
God hadn't made the puppets, but had given them the freedom to choose what they would do with their lives. Suddenly, they were facing the logical consequences of their actions; having disobeyed God, they were being alienated from God. As they went on to blame each other and the snake, they would become more alienated from each other, and from the other elements of creation. Cut off from the tree of life – they would no longer live forever, but humanity would need to procreate, would be born and would die.
As I said, this is as at least as much a story about us as it is about our ancestors. We too are faced with choices about how we will act, what we will do. God has given us exactly the same freedom of choice. We too, hear voices other than God's: the voices of our peers, of our culture, of advertising, of politicians, of pop stars. Sometimes these voices suggest to us things we might not have thought of for ourselves. Sometimes these voices give us extra information, and things to think about. We may listen to all of these things. But we are responsible for the decisions we make, and how we act on the information we receive from any source.
Sometimes,we find ourselves in situations in which we feel self-conscious, caught out. Sometimes, we are suddenly aware of our own guilt and feel exposed, as if everyone can see what we have done, and we want to hide, to cover-up, to try to make things appear right. And when we do try to cover-up, we often make things worse.
This could be described as the human condition. Human beings do make bad choices, do get caught out and have to face the consequences of our choices, and do blame others and try to cover-up. We all make wrong choices. We are all shamed. We all feel guilt. That's part of who we are; and it would take a remarkable person to be any different.
But then we come to our story from the Gospel. Jesus comes face to face with the same situation. He's not offered knowledge, but something far more basic: bread. For most of us, to turn stones into bread is not temptation: it's not in the realm of possibility, But if we were hungry and did have the power, what then? After all it wouldn't hurt anyone. We know from the feeding of the 5000 that Jesus did have the power to produce food when it was needed. Yet Jesus saw beyond the offer of meeting his immediate needs. He recognised the suggestion as being opposed to God's will. It was not in God's plan for him to use his power in this way. He wasn't going to “buy” people's faith with food, and he wasn't going to avoid the discomforts of being fully human. If a human goes into the wilderness to fast, that person gets hungry.
Similarly, the other temptations were about the way Jesus would be who he is Should he attract attention with strange stunts? Should he give definite proof of who he was and leave no-one with any doubt. Should he do things which would gain him power quickly?
Jesus listened to each suggestion, weighed it up, and countered it with words of Scripture. This is where Jesus' story is different from Adam and Eve's. They listened, Eve gave God's instruction on the matter, and then went against it. Jesus listened, weighed up the matter, gave the Scriptural instruction and stuck by it.
For us, it is important that Jesus really faced these temptations, that he gave them serious consideration. If he hadn't he wouldn't have been fully human: he never would have understood our lives from the “inside”. If he had succumbed to the temptation, however, he would have shared our problem and not been able to provide a solution.
In Jesus something remarkable happened. Jesus is the one person who didn't make the wrong choices; in technical terms, the one person who hasn't sinned. Yet Jesus suffered our human death – the ultimate consequence for our sinfulness. He carried the penalty for our actions, on our behalf, and he overcame it: a thing we couldn't do for yourselves. That we all die is not the end of our story now – we all die because like Adam and Eve, we do the wrong thing – we can all have eternal life, because Jesus did the right thing for us.
Today, as the first Sunday of Lent, we are left to ponder our response to temptation, the choices we make; and on Jesus' response and the promise that in him, our wrongs have been forgiven, and we are able to change.
Hymn Together in Song 538 Feed us now, Bread of Life
(Including what's happening with Lent Event this week?)
Prayers of the People
For the world
Loving God, this world you created has suffered so much
the ravages of nature
the ravages of human violence
So many people have lost so much
and are trying to rebuild families, cities, even countries.
God be with the recovery work
in Australia, in New Zealand
in the Arab states when the fighting ends.
Help everyone who must start over
Give them hope
give them confidence and courage
help them to help themselves
and show the rest of us how we might help.
For our church
We look at our church today and pray for those of our number who aren't here
You know them all
You know who is away for family celebrations or times of joy
you know who is away because of sickness or other pain
Be with each person who is away from us
keep them safe,
let them know your presence with them.
We look at our church today, and pray for those of our number who are here
You know us all
You know who here is happy
You know who is hurting
You know our dreams and aspirations
You know our secret guilt and shame
You know us better than we know ourselves
Be with each person who is here today
keep us safe
let us know your presence with us
and help us day by day
week by week
to grow as your people, as a sign of your love in this place.
Service of Holy Communion (Uniting in Worship P162 &ff)
Hymn Together in Song 684 Love will be our Lenten calling.