Old Testament: Genesis (2:15-17, 3:1-7)
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
The Response: Psalm 32
1 Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD
does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.
3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity. I said,
“I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”–
and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
6 Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you
while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise,
they will not reach him.
7 You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the LORD’s unfailing love surrounds
the man who trusts in him.
11 Rejoice in the LORD and be glad,
you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!
The Epistle: Romans (5: 12-19)
Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
The Gospel: Matthew (4:1-11)
After Jesus was baptized, he was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
During our Sunday morning Adult Forum, one question that I regularly receive from one of our regular attendees is, “So, what does all of this have to do with us?” That’s an important question. And when we ask it of today’s gospel reading, our first response might well be, “Not much.”
After all, we are not in the same situation as Jesus was, having fasted forty days in the wilderness. We are not locked in a debate with a visible devil. And, even if we were, we are certainly not going to face the same temptations that he is said to have faced. We will never have to decide, for example, whether we are going to turn stones into bread, or throw ourselves off the pinnacle of a temple in order to be miraculously rescued, or gain power over the entire world and all its riches by worshiping some idol. I think it’s safe to say that these are problems that none of us will ever have to face. So what does this gospel reading have to do with us anyway?
Maybe by rejecting their applicability to our lives, we are looking at these three temptations too narrowly. Maybe we are not seeing the fundamental human tendencies that they represent and the background from which they were created. The gospel’s early audience, who seem to have been more attuned to the stories told in Exodus than we are, would have realized that whoever wrote this account is presenting us with an imaginative portrait of Jesus, facing the same three temptations in the wilderness that Israel once faced in the wilderness. The difference is that, in each case, they failed the test, but he passed it and remained faithful to God.
Maybe these three enticements are not as unique to Jesus as they first appear to be. If we consider what the basic temptations are, I think we find that they tend to be universal: applicable to all times and places, including our own. Essentially, they are enticements to focus our time, our efforts, and our lives on building up our own egos, on obtaining power, and on accumulating wealth. By throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple and being miraculously rescued at the last moment, Jesus would have won the admiration of everyone and would have become the greatest celebrity of his time and place: a huge boost to his ego. By using whatever ability that he had to turn stones into bread, he would have been demonstrating and forming a basis for many other uses of power. And by worshipping the devil, he would have accumulated the wealth of the world.
There are people, including some prominent figures in many places in our world today, whose entire lives have been focused on building up and promoting their own egos, and on accumulating as much power and wealth as they could, without regard for serving the needs of others. Ultimately, their focus is always on themselves.
But in today’s gospel story, Jesus emphatically rejects that way of life. He chooses to do just the opposite. He chooses to live a life that is focused on serving others, not on building up his own ego or on accumulating power and wealth. He both lived and died in accordance with that alternate set of values. And later (Mt. 20:25-28), he would teach anyone who wanted to be his follower to do the same: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Living life for ourselves or living life for others: that is the fundamental choice that Jesus faced in the wilderness; and that is the fundamental choice that we face in our lives today.
The season of Lent, which we have just begun, is a time of year in which God calls us to reexamine, in a very intentional way, the fundamental orientation of our lives. Or maybe more accurately, the season of Lent, which we have just begun, is a time of year in which God calls us to reexamine, in a very intentional way, what we say the fundamental orientation of our lives is; and then to ask ourselves honestly how our actions match up with that supposed fundamental orientation.
The gospel readings that we will be hearing over the next four Sundays each tell a story of one person’s encounter with Jesus and of his or her grappling with that question of what the fundamental orientation of his or her life will be in response to that encounter.
These stories challenge us to ask and attempt to answer once again that same question about our fundamental orientation. And they challenge us to ask that same question about how our actions match up or fail to match up with what we say is our fundamental orientation in life.
We ask these questions over and over again, at least at this time of year, because the life to which we are called is one in which we need continuing renewal. Unlike Jesus in today’s reading, we are going to fail; we are going to give in to temptations to compromise what supposedly is our fundamental set of values. That is why we pray at the end of today’s Prayers of the People, “Keep us steadfast in your word, and when we fall” – notice, the word is “when” not “if” – “and when we fall, raise us again and restore us through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.”
That continuing renewal is what the season of Lent is all about. That is what all this has to do with us.