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Lent 1A March 1, 2020

Genesis 2:15-17
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Our first reading today is the story of Adam and Eve. God put them in a beautiful garden. Their job was to be good stewards of the garden, “to till it and keep it.” They could eat the fruit of any tree in the garden except one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

God gives us the whole creation and calls us to be stewards of that creation. But then there is that snake. When we are told that there is one thing we cannot do, there is something that makes us want to do that very thing.

We are all familiar with the Ten Commandments and we will be reciting them every Sunday in Advent, but I want to refresh our memories about some other guidelines that I find very helpful, and Christopher Martin mentions some of these in his book “The Restoration Project,” which some of us are reading this Lent.

 On the positive side, we have the cardinal virtues—Prudence, which the great moral theologian Kenneth Kirk defines as “the habit of referring all questions to God”;  justice, treating all persons fairly, honoring the dignity of every person; temperance—balance, flexibility, humor. The quality that comes from going through fire and ice and coming out the other side stronger for the experience. Fortitude—the ability to hang in there for the long haul. Prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude. The cardinal virtues. 

Then we have the theological virtues—faith, complete trust in God; hope, the ability to look at a situation in all of its complexity and brokenness and sin and to see the possibility of wholeness through the grace of God. And love. One of my beloved mentors, David Brown, defines love as “taking God and other persons seriously,”

On the other side the ledger, we have the famous seven root sins sometimes called the Seven Deadly Sins. Pride—not referring all questions to God, but rather the attitude of,”I’m going to do this my own way.” Leaving no room for God. Wrath, ira, not healthy anger which tells us that something is wrong in a situation but nursing hurts until they fester inside us and get in the way of compassion. Envy, the inability to rejoice in the good fortune or the blessings of others. Greed—wanting more than we need.  Gluttony—taking more than we need. Lust—using other people as objects. Sloth—acedie—giving in to despair, losing hope. This is not the same as clinical depression which is a serious illness, not a sin.

Adam and Eve miss the boat on the first of the virtues—prudence—the habit of referring all questions to God. They totally forget about God, and the snake leads them down the garden path, so to speak. The snake could be a representative of the forces of brokenness in the world or, if we want to be more psychological about it, the snake could represent our ability to be extremely creative in our rationalizations when we want to lead ourselves down the garden path. All of us humans have the tendency to want to do things our way—pride —and to throw prudence out the window and neglect to ask God’s guidance. This is one way to define sin—doing it our way and leaving God out of the picture.

God loves us unconditionally. Nothing can get in the way of that love. And God wants us to return that love. But God does an extraordinary thing. Rather than making us puppets who will always do God’s will,  God gives us free will, the capacity to choose our own course of action.

In our gospel for today, our Lord gives us an example of how to deal with temptation and how to practice prudence—the habit of referring all questions to God. Jesus is constantly seeking God’s guidance in clarifying his vocation. He is hungry. Of course, he is entirely capable of making a loaf of bread and satisfying his very real physical hunger, Or he can start the world’s biggest bakery and soup kitchen and feed everybody. After all, God calls us to feed the hungry. But that isn’t what our Lord is called to do. He is here to help us with our spiritual hunger. He has come to help us to learn how to listen to every word that comes from the mouth of God—that is, to practice prudence—referring all questions to God. Asking God, what are you calling me to do and be in this moment?

Then the devil takes him to the pinnacle of the temple and asks him to jump off and have the angels come and rescue him. That would prove that he was the Son of God, all right. But Jesus is not called to create a public relations spectacle to prove who he is.

And then, the most ironic and prideful test. The devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offers to give them to Jesus! Jesus is the eternal Word who called the world into being. How presumptuous to offer him the centers of earthly human power! At this point, Jesus commands Satan to leave him and makes the central point: “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”

Our first reading is about sin. Our gospel about the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness is about grace. Everything Jesus does in this gospel is rooted in his choice to seek and do God’s will. Grace is the God-given gift to seek and do the divine will. The attitude and actions of our Lord in this gospel are an example of grace lived out in his life. We can follow his example because of God’s gift of grace to all of us. We can follow his example because he is here with us to give us his grace. He is alive. He is leading us. He is showing us the way that God would have us go.

Walter Brueggemann writes of  our first reading, “Lent is a time to sort out the voice of of life and the counter voices of death. The serpent has no real gift to give and no real acts to perform.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 185.)

May we listen carefully for the voice of life, the voice of  Jesus. He is our Good Shepherd, who knows us and calls each of us by name. May we listen for his voice, May we listen to the voice of life. May we follow him. Amen.

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