Lent 1A

208: March 5, 2017

Psalm 32Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Voice in the Wilderness: Romans 5:12-19, Rev. Sarah Renfro

Featured Musician - Red Molly, “May I Suggest” from their album Love and Other Tragedies. Back from a 18 month break! Check out their great music:

Tasty Wafer of the Week:

53:March 9, 2014


Matthew 4:1-11 - Temptation

Initial Thoughts

  • Week one of Lenten series “Jesus and Pals.” How Jesus interacts with each of these reveals to us something of Jesus. This is about Jesus, not about Satan.

    • Lent 1A - Satan, “Worship and serve only God”

    • Lent 2A - Nicodemus “[Jesus was not sent] to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”

    • Lent 3A - Woman at the well, “I am [the Messiah]”

    • Lent 4A - Blind man, “I am the light of the world”

    • Lent 5A - Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life”

  • Greek tip (from preachingtip.com):
    • the Greek word usually translated “tempted” as in Jesus “to be tempted” (Matthew 4:1) can also be translated “test,” “try,” or “attempt.”
    • The word translated “devil” (Matthew 4:1) literally means “slanderer, accuser.”  
    • The word translated “Satan” (Matthew 4:10) literally means “adversary.” Satan was their term for the prosecuting attorney in a court of law.

Bible Study

  • Connected to Baptism

    • “This passage is not to be reckoned a historical narrative in the strict sense. Its intent is not to convey objective, biographical data. This we understand by comparing it with similar rabbinic stories. It constitutes a piece of haggadic midrash, that is, it is a fanciful story whose purpose is to interpret Scripture.” (Douglas Hare, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Matthew, p. 22-23)

      • Will that preach in your context?

      • Can you treat this is a story - not historical fact?

      • Regardless of historicity of the story, this ultimately a story about Jesus’ identity.

      • “In its present form, however, the story is less involved with the vanquishing of Satan than with the meaning of Jesus’ divine Sonship. It is, in effect, a theological meditation on the baptismal narrative, addressing the question: [what did God mean by] “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased?”

  • Ill-placed in the lectionary. This is a commentary on Baptism Narrative, not as introduction to his ministry.

    • if“Then the Spirit led him”

      • Comes directly after “he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.”

      • The same Spirit that descended upon him, has now led him into the Wilderness

      • After being declared “Son of God,” Devil now addresses him as such.

  • “Since you are the Son of God” or “If you are the Son of God.”?

    • NRSV - If

    • CEB - Since

    • Douglas Hare, Rob Myallis (Lectionary Greek blog), and Common English agree that it should be “Since”

      • “ In this sentence, it seems odd that the devil would wonder if Jesus is the son of God.  The devil is saying, more likely, "As the son of God, do X, Y and Z."  Not only does this make more sense in the narrative, but grammatically, the fact that the verb [ει] is in the indicative and not subjunctive mood, also suggests this.” (Rob Myalis)

      • It does not seem like Satan is trying to find out if Jesus is the Son of God, but what is the nature of such a position.

      • What does a Son of God look like?

  • A second Exodus (Douglas Hare)

    • Jesus’ 40 days in wilderness = Israel’s 40 years.

    • Temptations are the same

      • Bread in face of extreme hunger - like Israelites in Ex. 16:3.

        • Israelites complained about hunger, and betrays trust. Jesus shows complete faith and appeals to higher calling than hunger.

      • “Throw yourself down.” Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, referring to when the Israelites questioned of The Lord was in their midst.

      • Idolatry. Despite many warnings to the contrary, the Israelites worship idols and graven images - from the very start of the covenant. Jesus, on the other hand, refuses to worship anyone but God.

        • Idolatry was an incredible temptation to early Christians, who were kept from regular Roman culture - everything before them - if they did not participate in Emperor worship.

  • Pride, power, possession.

    • “‘The tradition teaches that these temptations stand for pride, power, and possession,’ And all of the suddenly my soul - not my mind, but my soul -said ‘Aha!’ as a puzzle piece clicked into place.  I didn’t know much about Jesus, the devil, or that desert, but I knew pride. I knew the desire for power; I knew the wish for possessions. I was familiar with all of them, from painful experience… All of the sudden the story wasn’t about Jesus; it was about me, too. And not just me; it was about all humanity.” (Nurya Love Parish, The Christian Century, “Living by the Word” Feb. 15, 2017. Vol 134, no 4)

  • Fulfill physical desire
    • Fasting during Lent is often reduced to “giving something up.”  Self-denial is a good practice, as long as it is a spiritual practice, and not a fad diet.
    • Temptation of hunger parallels Israel’s temptation of wandering in the desert, a temptation that Israel failed when they complained.
  • Testing God’s promise
    • David Lose says the pernicious ‘if’ is the heart of these questions “If you are the Son of God,” is the fundamental faith question of Christianity.
      • At the heart, this question is of Jesus’ presence, and God’s promise
      • No need to put God’s promise to the test, because Jesus has a clear sense of vocation and identity.  Reaffirms what was declared at his baptism.
      • Faith in God comes from God’s promise, not displays of power.
    • Worship another power - What might we worship?
      • Capitalism
      • Cultural norms or comfort
      • Political power
      • Celebrity and fame
    • Warning against idolatry is important theme in OT
      • “Amid the numerous options open to people to which they can orient their lives and from which they can find meaning, Jesus alone has proven worthy of trust” (Ceasar Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year A, p. 191).

Sermon Thoughts and Questions:

  • What does the Son of God look like? What does it look like to have that kind of power and status?

    • Similar to what happens in Ch. 27 when the Chief priests “led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.”

    • Pilate’s question: “Are you the King of the Jews?”

      • What is the nature of Jesus’ Kingship?

    • Pilate would expect a king to have wealth, political clout, and military strength.

      • Satan’s questions are about wealth and power.

    • Jesus is a disappointing Son of God to Satan, just as he is a disappointing King to Pilate.

  • Satan is well versed in Scripture, and tries to use it against Jesus, but ultimately, Jesus’ command of Scripture is stronger. Simply knowing the Scripture is not enough. Like Jesus, who declares “You have heard it said… But I say to you.” The Word of God is more than the words on the page. It is the way of God, which does not include giving in to easy paths of surface-level victories.

  • Jesus’ temptations are our temptations still. Though none of us are tempted to turn stone to bread, and hopefully none expect to survive jumping off a building, we are still tempted to pursue other paths to wealth, influence, and power. We are still tempted to seek short cuts, ignore God’s will, and pursue goals that promise fulfillment, but only lead to emptiness.

  • The overall question is “What kind of Son of God is this?”  
    • The follow-up question then is, “What does it mean to follow this kind of Son of God?”
  • The temptations we face are not so supernatural, but they are no less tempting or dangerous.  (Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew, p. 26)
    • We may not be tempted to turn stones to bread, but we are offered to satisfy every desire.
    • We may not be magically whisked to the top of a cliff, “but we are frequently  tempted to question God’s helpfulness when things go awry,” and we forget God’s grace is available.
      • We do not face the same Pagan idolatry, but compromise to the world’s value is no less a temptation than it was 2000 years ago.
    • “The secret in keeping the tempter at bay is out: it is in being faithful to one’s vocation to be God’s child, clinging tenaciously to the divine calling” (Ceasar Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year A, p. 191).

Psalm 32

Initial thoughts

  • Remember this is a Jewish text
  • Forgiveness is a central theme of faith
  • The judgement of God comes from not confessing, but from trying to hide from God - self imposed judgement
    • Those who confess are “saved”

Bible Study

  • One of the seven Penitential Psalms of the Christian tradition (also Pss. 6; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143),
    • Confession
      • Result of the awareness of God’s presence v. 4
    • Process of confession is much more difficult than simple admitting our faults (is this true or do we make it harder?)

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 - Snakes and Fruit

Initial Thoughts

  • Original sin? Whether you agree or disagree- this must be address as it is the prevailing theology

Bible Study

  • Background

    • Part of the older story of creation (Genesis 2 predates Genesis 1) - J or Yahwist

    • “Eden” means “delight”, “luxury” or “dainty”

    • The earth creature (ha adam) is placed in the garden to help God “till” (to serve and keep the garden)

  • Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil

    • Unknown exactly what it symbolizes- few parallels in ancient literature

    • Only time it appears in scripture

    • God offered incredible - but not boundless - freedom

  • Breaking the relationship

    • Trust, Obedience and Intimacy with God are broken and  devolve into distrust (3:5), disobedience and temptation (3:6) and finally a broken relationship and estrangement between humanity and God and humanity with itself.

  • Good and Evil

    • To know Good and Evil is not about ethical discernment or rational choice, but rather “the desire to make ourselves the arbiters of good and evil, assuming for ourselves the role of God.” Allen Mcsween Jr, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.

    • Humanity falls to temptation and immediately begins to justify the choice:

      • She touches the tree and doesn’t die (3:2-3, although Eve adds this, God doesn’t claim touching the tree will kill them- the first mistranslation)

      • “good” , “a delight”, “to be desired to make one wise” (3:6) - all seemingly good reasons to eat the fruit

    • Arbitrary rules?

      • Seems like it to the child, but not to the parent

      • God grants us freedom within boundaries - the boundaries are not there for God’s well-being but for ours

        • You may eat anything but not the chemicals under the sink

        • You may play anywhere, but not in the middle of the street

      • God’s torah, law and will are there for our benefit and the benefit of creation

      • Does God lie?

        • Humanity did not die the the day they ate from the tree (2:17)

        • The consequences of their actions introduces death, pain and suffering into the world

        • God threatens but chooses not to kill humanity

  • Theological interpretation

    • Classical interpretation: Adam’s disobedience (by taking from the tree) invited sin and evil into the world and condemns humanity to death. This is countered by Christ’s obedience and sacrifice (by offering himself upon the “tree”) redeems us and allows us to once again live in full relationship with God

      • The original sin of Adam in cleansed in the baptismal waters as we participate in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

    • Mythical allegory describing theodicy (why is there evil in the world?)

      • Sin, evil and even death are introduced into the world by humanity’s free will choosing not-God.

      • Jesus shows us the way to choose God (even unto death on the cross)

      • We are condemned and redeemed by the choices we make

  • Important things to remember

    • Sin is NEVER mentioned in this story

    • Satan and the devil are never mentioned

    • What is the consequence of humanity’s disobedience? Fear and shame - both unnatural in the garden

    • 365 times - do not fear

    • No need to feel shame

      • Guilt (for doing something wrong)? Yes

      • Shame (for being something wrong)? Never

Sermon Thoughts and Questions:

  • Humanity’s disobedience leads to fear and shame (either self imposed or imposed upon us by others). Perhaps the kingdom of God is moving toward a place where none feel fear or shame again.

  • Churches can quickly become “Jesus-optional” ethical societies. The call to follow Christ is not a call to be an ethical Christian, but a Christ centered Christian. Being a follower of Christ may lead us to make unethical decisions (Abraham and Isaac, Bonhoeffer and the attempted assassination of Hitler).

  • Lent is a time of repentance - turning our hearts and minds to God, not a season of shame and guilt. How can we reclaim repentance which pulls us closer to God and get rid of the fear and shame which separate us from God and one another?

Thank you  and get in touch:

Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com, @pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”, "Real Ride" and “Summertime”) and The Steel Wheels for our transition music(“Nola’s First Dance” from their album Lay Down, Lay Low) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).