Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent 2011

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV) (KJV)

Marianne and I were talking yesterday about how quickly things can change. In our case it had to do with illness—me with a recurrence of sinus infection and Marianne with the flu. Suddenly, all the plans of the week were shelved and we concentrated on getting better and recovering our strength.

In the case of the Japanese, the fiercest earthquake ever recorded brought untold hardship and death to the population of Honshu, the main island. This death and destruction in a country that lives with earthquakes every year and the buildings are all designed to handle earthquakes.

For generations the Japanese have prepared for the big one and yet the forces unleashed by the quake and the tsunami have brought the normal activities of life to a standstill in all of Japan.

The story of the event in the Garden which results in a total change of lifestyle and prospects for Adam and Eve and their putative heirs is equally dramatic. Things would never be the same but people got used to the spiritual prospects that confronted them. Although Jewish theological thought changed over time, there was no life after death just residency in the place of the dead.

About the time of the Babylonian captivity, Jewish thought began to articulate the idea of resurrection. It was at that time that the idea of angels comes strongly into their belief system.

But the Jews had no idea about when resurrection would occur. They continued the sacrificial system developed in former times maintaining it even when their societal norms were angering God. Exploitation of the poor, inequities in wealth, and general immorality were hallmarks of the decay in society.

After a period of expansion and prosperity, they were quickly conquered by the Romans and lived under Roman domination. While Temple worship continued, the inequities in society continued in one form or another. Human existence in Palestine was as grinding as the Jews believed that God had destined for them.

Into this situation Jesus came. He is the incarnate God, and his agenda is to return his fellow countrymen to a primary focus on God and secondarily to approach all persons as neighbors in the best sense.

He did not take the easy way as the story of the temptations in the wilderness explore. He could bring food enough for all and win the allegiance of the people. He chose not to.

He could wow people with feats that proved that God would take care of him. He chose not to.

He was offered temporal success with a view that all the world would be at his feet. He chose not to.

But as Paul points out to the Romans, he chose instead to break the cycle established by Adam and Eve’s disobedience by becoming the conduit through which God’s grace poured out and pours out still.

By his resurrection God proved that there was life after mortal death wherever those who have died live on. By his way of death he proved his consistency because he did not call upon God’s power to relieve him from the pain of the cross.

And as fundamental as his take on life and the challenges we encounter is, he has chosen not to impose it through the actions of heavenly armies of angels.

The gospel will not spread unless human beings spread it. The world will not be fed until it turns corn into food rather than ‘bio-fuel.’ Our part of the world will continue to demonstrate greed, acceptance of the conditions of poverty for some of our people unless human beings like us chose to live the lives that Jesus has made possible.

Yet we continue to live lives that are less. We make plans as if things will go on as before. We come to believe that the precautions we take will be enough or that nothing untoward will happen to us.

The world doesn’t work that way, and much of the responsibility for that lies with our predecessors and ourselves. I was quite taken by the comment made by one of those whose documentary about Wall Street activities which brought on the worse recession many of us have seen that not a single person responsible has been brought to trial.

One way to look at the Adam and Eve story is to realize that they did it to themselves and many of the woes that afflict the world we’ve done ourselves or people just like us did.

However, in Christ that calculus has changed for anyone who wants to change—not for the better necessarily but more into the image God has for us.

It should not take the sudden strike of illness or the terrible devastation that Japan has experienced to cause us to pause and ponder how we live out this part of our lives.