Sermon – Lent 1

The gospel reading that we have just heard is an important one. Like the reading from the book of Genesis that we heard earlier in the service, it takes us straight into a deep strange place.

For these readings take us into the strange world of myth and mystery.

And if you doubt that, can I ask you who else was there in the gospel reading to know exactly what happened? Did Jesus return from the desert and describe to people his experience? It seems unlikely somehow. Or is this going on the sphere of Matthew’s imagination? Is this an authentic version of events or is it the author’s literary attempt to tell us something which is at once profound and utterly true.

It won’t surprise you to learn that I think it is the latter.
However, before I look at the temptations that Jesus is said to have rejected, let me turn to the reading from Genesis and resist some temptations there for myself.

The reading that we have had this morning is part of one of several attempts to build a cosmology – a way of viewing the world.

Sometimes people call these stories of creation, but they are really far more than that. They are ways of seeing the world. Ways of understanding our place in the cosmos.

And the Bible, comprehensive collection of books that it is, has several attempts to build cosmologies.

There is the first chapter of Genesis, written by a different hand completely to the story we have heard today. In the first version, the cosmological story is about God’s creative hand in nature – building up a picture of all the created things – starting from chaos and ending up with human beings.

Or think of Psalm 8 with its poetic rendering of a creation story. It is a version which attempts to show us a sense of perspective and place. “Look at the heavens and the stars ? what are human beings that you are mindful of them, O Lord.”

Or think of the story of the creation at the beginning of John’s gospel – we read it at Christmas – in the beginning was the Word. It puts Jesus at the centre of the picture and relates the whole universe to the coming of Christ the Word of God.

So what of this version, this second version of creation cosmology in Genesis? What is it all about? And what are the temptations that I am going to resist?

Well, the story of the creation in Genesis 2 and 3 puts human beings very much at the centre of the picture. More that that, human relationships are at the centre of the scene. Adam and Eve. The archetypes of so very much that affects us in our own lives.

There are different readings of God’s place in this garden of Eden. (By the way, Eden means bliss, and you might like to think of this little scene happening in your own imagined bliss whilst I am talking). Either God is the great landlord putting Adam and Eve into the garden to tend and keep it just the way God wants it. I’m not sure I feel altogether comfortable with that. Perhaps there is an alternative. Is it that God is himself part of the scene. Yes, God is there, in the garden playing hide and seek with the naked lovers, just as God sometimes plays hide and seek with us.

Anyway, what are the temptations to avoid here?

1. The temptation to see this as all happening in the past. These stories were always told to explain the present. The truth that is contained in these myths depend on being able to see their truth in real lives in the present. They did when they were written and they work the same way now. Gweneth Leech’s saw that very clearly in the murals she painted around this church. If I look up, I see Adam and Eve being cast out of Eden which somehow has a powerstation in it. This seems exactly the way in which we are to read these stories.

2. The temptation to get into cycles of blame in human relationships. Was it Eve’s fault for picking the fruit, Adam’s for eating it, the serpent’s for egging them on or God’s fault for setting it all up in the first place. – Don’t fall for this. Blame is part of what tears bliss apart.

3. The temptation not to listen to our own experience of human relationship. What truths do we know? What do we know about the ways that women and men behave with one another that we need to hear and acknowledge and deal with? What do we need to do with the truths that God is teaching us though he relationships that we ourselves have and have had in the past. No doubt not everything brings us comfort.

Now, onto the Gospel, just quickly.

What were the three things that Jesus himself rejected as temptations, which we are reminded of at the start of Lent?

1. To command stones to turn to bread

2. To throw himself from the top of the city and expect angels to catch him

3. To fall down and worship that which was evil for personal gain.

And we must recognise these as things that we too have to face and then reject.

1. We must reject the false promises that materialism brings. Bread was wealth. Jesus rejected a shortcut to financial gain. There is no magic amount of money or commodities which will make us happy.

2. We must reject with Jesus the promises of false religion. We cannot command the angels to do things which God himself has failed to offer us. We get above ourselves if we expect the miraculous when we put ourselves in danger.

3. We must reject the worship of anything other than the one true God and with Jesus, turn our hearts to him and him alone.

Three temptations. One saviour. Three rejected temptations. One God. Three chances to choose life and reject what will harm us.

One God who loves us utterly. Utterly to the end. Amen

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