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1st Sunday in Lent, Year A, March 13, 2011
Genesis 2.15-17; 3.1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5.12-19; Matthew 4.1-11
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

When Jesus says, “Ones does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” he is saying that we need to be fed with words that give us life and hope. These words are as important, or even more important than food. God’s Word tells us that God will never abandon us and this is what we live by.

Grace to you and peace from our Creator, who continues to breathe life into us each day. Amen.

Temptation. We all know this word and what it is like to be tempted. We can hear the figure on one side of our shoulder whispering, “You know you want one (or 10) more of those delicious cookies.” And then we can hear the faint echo from the other shoulder, “Now you know if you eat that cookie your blood sugar will go up. It’s not good for you.”

Today we get to hear about two temptation stories. The first is with the first human beings, Adam and Eve, in the garden with the crafty serpent. God gives to them everything they need to live with all the trees with good fruit, and gives them purpose in caring for the earth and other creatures. Life is pretty good and then along comes a temptation: to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree. One might certainly ask the question: “Why did God even create a tree and then forbid humans to eat from it? Why would God tempt people like that?”

Well, sure. And we can wonder all we want whether or not Adam and Eve existed and if this story is quote unquote, “real.” But if we get hung up on these things we will miss the deeper meaning of the story and will fail to recognize the truth behind why we are tempted.

The reality is that the forbidden tree establishes a relationship of trust between God and human beings. When I was growing up, I would always ask, “Why?” when I didn’t understand why my parents laid down a law I thought was unfair. More often than not, I heard the response, “Because I said so.” They didn’t need to give me a reason. Was I going to trust that my parents knew what was best for me or not? Were Adam and Eve going to trust and obey God when God said, “Don’t eat of this tree.”

What we know from the story is that the serpent didn’t make Adam and Eve eat the fruit, and it wasn’t that the fruit of the forbidden tree was any better than any other trees’ fruit. Adam and Eve decided to eat the fruit and disobey God when they were told that they will be like God. Their temptation was to want to know what God knows and to ultimately be like God. It was the temptation to be something other than what they were created to be, which was to be a human being, a creature. They trusted the serpent’s word over God’s Word. They were not satisfied with simply being human.

The story of Adam and Eve, as well as the story of Jesus, gets at the heart of the matter of what it means to be human. One of the most interesting things I have heard as of late is this: God came to earth in Jesus not so that we could become more like God, but so that we could become more human as humans were intended to be. I believe this means a few things, but its primary meaning is understanding what it means to trust God and to be satisfied with what it means to be a creature.

To help us better understand this, we have our second temptation story in which Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days and nights. The tempter, or better known as the devil, comes to Jesus when he is tired, hungry, and vulnerable. Each of the three temptations have the same root of the temptation of Adam and Eve: Does Jesus trust God or not, and will Jesus try and become more like God? Each time the devil tries to get Jesus to be more than human. “Turn these stones into bread, Jesus, I know you’re hungry. If you really trusted God, Jesus, you would throw yourself off this tower because God says he’ll send angels to catch you. Worship me, Jesus and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.”

“The” devil “attempts to mislead Jesus into using his power for himself rather than trusting” God “to satisfy his need (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 2, pp. 47-49).” Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus does not use his power and privilege for personal gain. He sticks with it and then angels come and care for him.

Later in the Gospel of Matthew towards the end of the season of Lent, we will hear a similar temptation for Jesus when he is even more vulnerable. It comes in chapter 27 after he has been flogged, beaten, and hung on a cross to die. “Those who passed by derided Jesus, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross (Matt. 27.39-40).” The temptations throughout life never stop. And I cannot think of a tougher temptation than to save oneself from death, especially an incredibly painful one. Even this temptation, Jesus resists. He was not interested in saving himself. He was interested in saving us.

Now here is where our temptations have a tendency to come in…

There are things that happen to us in life to make us think that Jesus dying for us doesn’t have any relevance or meaning for our lives today. We are constantly tempted to believe that God doesn’t really love us as much as we are told. We are tempted to believe that we are not forgiven, because how could God possibly forgive someone like me and what I have done? It is so easy to listen to the voice that says, “God has abandoned you.” Jesus also experienced the deep emptiness of the feeling of abandonment. We know this because of what he cried out on the cross right before he died: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Matt. 27.46)?”

I think many of us have asked this question in our lives for various reasons. We ask it when someone we love dies; when we have no more money in the bank account; when we have no energy to get up in the morning and face the day. I would imagine this question is running through the minds of the people of Japan who have recently been devastated by an earthquake and tsunami. I saw one picture of some Japanese nurses sitting and staring blankly and I knew the emptiness, abandonment, and disbelief I saw in their eyes. The look on their faces transported me back to how I felt after being in the earthquake in Haiti 14 months ago.

Many of you know that my husband Ben’s cousin, Jonathan, and I traveled back to Haiti 2 weeks ago for the first time since the earthquake. While we were there, we coincidentally ran into a Haitian man named Ronald. Our story with Ronald is that the day after the earthquake, Jon and I knew we needed help to dig out Ben who was buried in the rubble, and decided to travel the seven miles to the American embassy in Port-au-Prince. Unsure of the way and unable to speak the language, we were accompanied by Ronald. He was the reason we made it safely to the embassy that day and eventually back home to our families.

When we saw him a couple weeks ago, Jon said to him, “Ronald, you were our angel that day.” He responded, through a translator, “We are all called to be angels at times in our lives. That was my opportunity to be an angel for you.”

I don’t know what the angels were like who waited on Jesus after being tempted in the desert, but I can think of helpers who have come along beside me in very difficult times. Sometimes when we are in the midst of feeling abandoned, it is hard to recognize God’s presence with us and the ways God steadily walks beside us in our pain and through our temptations.
Throughout Jesus’ temptations, Jesus responds to the devil’s trickery by quoting Scripture. Reading Scripture, for us, is one accessible way to be reminded of the promises of God.

When you are tempted to think that God has abandoned you, hear these words: “…it is the Lord your God who goes with you; God will not fail or forsake you (Deu. 31.6).”

When you are tempted to think that God won’t forgive you, God says: “I will hear…and will forgive… (2 Chron.7.14).”

When you are tempted to think that Jesus death and resurrection has no relevance for you, hear these words again from our reading in Romans (5.18) today: “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one m
an’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”

When Jesus says, “Ones does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” he is saying that we need to be fed with words that give us life and hope. These words are as important, or even more important than food. God’s Word tells us that God will never abandon us and this is what we live by.

It is now the season of Lent. It is 40 days, equal to the time Jesus spent in the desert. We reflect on who we are and how we face our temptations. God gives us Scripture to remind us of the promises of God and gives to us each other as companions along the way. This season of Lent, focus on what is means to be human…it means to trust God, knowing that we are a created being. We are human and we know we will die and we cannot escape it, but we can face life, death, and our temptations with courage as we live by the promises of God that we will have life. The journey of Lent ends with the empty tomb of Easter morning, Jesus resurrection.

I don’t know how much God cares whether or not you eat another cookie, but I know God cares about where and what you put your trust in. Trust in the One who has died for you, who feeds you with words of forgiveness and love.