Tom's Sermon: March 13, 2011

Tom Sawyer’s Sermon Notes Grace United Church, Lloydminster March 13, 2011 First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 2:15–17; 3:1–7
Psalm 32
Matthew 4:1–11

“Tempted or Disobedient?”
When Luther and the Protestant movement broke with the Roman Church in the early 16th Century, they were faced with overcoming the notion of the Pope being infallible when speaking officially on doctrine. Luther looked at the seven sacraments practiced by the church of his day, and decided that only two of them, baptism and communion, were scripturally based. The rest were added by practice and experience in the fifteen hundred years since Christ. The Protestant movement soon went beyond Luther to look at scriptures in the same way as the Catholic Church had looked at the Pope, as being infallible. This has led to a concept that neither Luther nor the New Testament Church intended. People began to look upon the words of Scripture as the Words of God.

That is what Islam believes, that Allah dictated the words of the Koran to Mohamed, which is why Islam looks to the original Arabic versions for worship rather than translations. They believe they are dealing with the words of God.

We know that our New Testament was written in Greek by fallible human writers. That is why it does not matter when Mark, Matthew and Luke disagree about some details, or that John Gospel, written much later, gives a totally different chronology for Jesus covering about three years of ministry rather than the nine months or so covered by the other three Gospels. They were like different reporters taking about something a generation after it happened with all the variations of memory that can happen in that time. That is also why we seek translations into our own language to understand what our Christian forbearers thought and taught.

Another problem has arisen if we think of the words of the Bible as being infallible. We are tempted to treat the Bible as a book of science instead of as a book of faith and our relationship to God. We actually have people demanding that so called “creation science” be taught along with actual science in our schools. I wonder which creation story they want teachers to use: Genesis 1, or Genesis 2 & 3, Psalm 8, John Chapter 1, and the list goes on. These stories were not by western minds trying to explain how God made the world, but were rather statement of faith that God made the world.

There is a similarity between Genesis 1 and John 1. Genesis 1 declares that God decided there should be something, so there was: “Let there be light, and there was light”. John’s gospel, leaning on the Plato concept of the idea being necessary before the physical reality could happen, speaks of the “Logos” or word through which everything came into being. John states that the “Logos” was God, and that the “Logos” became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.

The trouble with treating these stories as science rather than statements of faith is that we miss the great faith insights they contain when we try to make them fit a scientific perspective. Our Old Testament lesson from Genesis 2 & 3 for example places man and woman in the garden where they are free to do anything or eat anything except eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil. The Hebrew words used are something like the Yin and Yang, the high and low, the joy and sorrow. In Hebrew thought the emphasis on knowledge was not a mind thing as much as an experiential thing. When we are told that Adam knew Eve, it did not mean he could identify her in a line-up, but rather that he knew her in the most intimate ways a man and woman can know each other. Knowing the high and low of life, the good and evil, does not mean being able to write a paper about good and evil, but rather having experienced good and evil. I can know about child-birth in a Greek or western way, but only a mother can know childbirth in the Hebrew sense. As we declared in the Call to Worship,

Only those who have not lived can be innocent.
When we begin to experience the joys and sorrows of life, the highs and lows, the good and the bad, our innocence disappears.

We have all experienced life with its good and bad. None of us can inhabit the garden of innocence. This insight has absolutely nothing to do with how God created us. It has great insight into our human condition. There is a rich vein of insight in this second creation story that we can explore another time.

There is a difference between disobedience and temptation. Disobedience is knowing something is wrong and doing it anyway. A married person having affairs,someone cheating on Income Tax, embezzling someone else’s money, bullying somebody over whom you have power, are all examples of disobedience. Doing something that you think is right while actually being wrong is temptation. Jesus was being tempted on ways to bring about God’s reign. He had just been baptised by John and had gone out into the wilderness to contemplate what it meant to be God’s special anointed one, the Messiah. Jesus had a real challenge. Think, if God somehow revealed to you that you had the power to bring about the reign of God on earth, how would you do it?

One of the great evils on earth is starvation and hunger. How many children never make it beyond infancy? How many grow up never being able to concentrate on learning because they are malnourished, never developing mentally and physically? I’m sure as Jesus was fasting and looking at the stones lying on the ground in the wilderness, they reminded him of the loaves of bread that Mary used to bake when he was a boy. Could he bring about God’s reign by turning the stones into bread, making sure that was enough food for everyone to eat?
Few of us have ever known true hunger where our body fails us because it is living off of our body protein. We might miss a meal or two, but more of us have problems with too much food rather than not enough. We – in our society -- know that we need more than bread to have full lives. Jesus was right to dismiss that temptation.

According to Matthew’s Gospel, the second temptation was to some spectacular act that would demonstrate he had special powers that could only be given by What if he did something to gather a great crowd while he climbed to the highest point then jumped off. Because of his special powers, he could land unhurt. Although such an act would gather a great deal of temptation, Jesus knew it would not change people’s hearts. So the second temptation was rejected.

Finally, Matthew reports, the Devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and declared that Jesus could rule them all. We are often tempted to think we can bring about God’s will through the right legislation. Laws may affect some actions, but they cannot control the heart. Jesus rejected the temptation to change the world by taking over the law making and administration of the nations.

Intead he headed out and chose twelve people to live and work with him for a period of time until they came to recognize God in him. Then he demonstrated God’s love and power through the events of passion week. We too bring about the reign of God by living and working with others day by day. Even Jesus lost Judas, so we should not be surprised when not everyone stays the course with us, but we can change hearts and minds, and bring the reign of God, one heart at a time.

Thanks be to God.