Sermon–March 9, 2014


Lent 1–A

March 9, 2014

William Bradbury

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11
Psalm 32

You know the quote, maybe from Mark Twain: “Everybody complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it”

After the last big snow my Facebook page just lit up with people giving up against this hard winter.

Often we clergy get asked to do something about it, but our standard reply is: “I’m in sales, not management!”

 I want to suggest this statement points to the fundamental confusion at the center of what it means to be human.

 Start with the story of Adam and Eve—living in peace in the Garden, with God at the center, yet they get pulled off center by the serpent who puts them in touch with the desire to move from the sales office into top management—into the corner office with a view from which we’ll be able to determine good and evil. From there we can fix things to suit us.

We think: I’m a leader, not a follower. My gifts are being wasted downstairs with the other drones; I need this promotion to fulfill my destiny to help the world.

And this one single thought—I am in charge—destroys the sacred order of creation.


We only wanted to help, but we are not smart enough, good enough, or standing in a place high enough from which to see the whole picture.

Whenever we take God’s place disaster happens.

It’s like putting a buck private in charge of the Army, letting Gomer Pyle run the Pentagon.

 Of course we aren’t smart enough to know how stupid this plan is, so we eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil and start making judgments about ourselves, others, and God—and these judgments are profoundly misguided.

Just look at what happens right away: Adam and Eve judge that being naked is shameful—so we get out the fig leaves.

God doesn’t create the shame, we do.

We judge God is now an enemy so in verse 8 we hide from the Lord. We’d never done that before.

 Our eyes have been opened—but not to the truth.

We are too busy trusting ourselves to trust the One at the center of ourselves.

Instead of, as the hymn recommends, taking it to God in prayer, we look inside ourselves to see what feels right and we do that.

That would be fine if we have perfectly formed hearts and minds centered in God, but we don’t.

 In that moment our judgments are just stories we make up and then believe are true. [if interested see Steve Chandler’s book The Story of You—it is also on audio CDs at the Chelmsford library and see Gregory Boyd’s book,  Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God

To take a small but real example: Consider the stories we tell ourselves about how our appearance is wrong—too thin, too fat, too tall, too old, nose too big, not enough hair…all these judgments come from the perceptions we make and turn into negative stories that hurt us and others.

Some people tell themselves the story that they are “too short”. The say they have proof that they’re short—they went to the doctor who measured them and said they were 4’ 10’’.

 So Joe says it is a fact that he is 58” in height, but then he goes on to tell the story of how being short is ruining his life. He’ll have to wear lifts in his shoes and develop an attitude so no one will push him around.

He’s taken a measurement and turned it into a negative story—rather than letting God tell him who he is—which is a beloved child of God with gifts and skills he can use to serve the world.

Does a hungry person care about the height of the one serving the food?

Does a child care? Does a grandparent?

This all sounds silly until we look at the damage others stories cause: The negative stories about the Jews, or the Irish, or Gays, or women, or people of color, or Russians, or Chinese, or the Poor or the Rich.

 These negative stories release death into the world

Our stories kill and then we tell ourselves the story that violence is the only way to protect ourselves from the stories of others.

All our stories are like the antique jewelry we inherited from our grandmothers that we hang on to because we think it tells us who we are.

Through Moses God gives the Law to be a mirror in which we can see what we’re doing wrong. The Law shows us that we are worshipping ourselves but as long as we’re usurping God’s corner office our perceptions of the “facts” always fall short, always lead us into death.

Moses takes the people through the desert for 40 years to teach them to abandon their idolatry and to find their true place as servants.

But Law and trying harder cannot set us free. In fact nothing we can think of can set us free. Only God can.

So, in the fullness of time, Humanity is given a second chance to pass the test.

This time our champion is Jesus Christ, the New Being who is for us.

 At his baptism Jesus has a special revelation of his relationship with God.  See R. T. France commentary on Matthew page 97

The Spirit leads him to the testing ground where in order to clarify his perceptions Jesus fasts, so he will not believe the illusion that he is strong enough to fight without God.

The only reason to give up something for Lent is not to prove how strong we are, but to practice depending on the strength of God.

Satan challenges Jesus like he challenges the Old Being: Did God say you are the Son of God? Well, then, turn rocks into bread and take care of your hunger.

Another test around food.

 The Old Being thinks about the suggestion: Hmmm, the fruit does look good to eat and it will make us wise.

Notice what they don’t do: they don’t ask their Heavenly Father for fresh guidance.

Notice what Jesus does: he seeks help with the test, not by trusting his own perceptions, but by trusting his Father.

So Jesus says, “I’m in sales not management, I’m trusting the boss on this one. In God’s time and place I may multiply loaves to feed the hungry, but not now for myself.

 Scene 2: Pinnacle of the Temple—180 feet in the air. The Accuser, quoting Scripture, says, “You’re the Boss’s son, right, throw yourself off so the angels will catch you to prove to yourself how special you are.

Jesus continues to hold to his relationship with God quoting Deuteronomy: “You shall not test the Lord your God.” The angels will come when God sends them, not when Jesus demands them.

 Scene 3: I’ll make you CEO of the whole world if you’ll worship me.  

Here it is in its baldest turns. Satan’s deepest desire is that we stop believing God’s story, and start believing the world’s story of self-sufficiency.

Jesus turns to the Word of God again: “I’m in sales not management. I’m staying with worshipping and serving God alone.”

 The Old Being, Adam and Eve, is still in us as long as we keep swallowing the poisoned juice of the fruit that tells us the story about how we can save the world if we just get more information.

After all, why do you need God when you’ve got Google?

 Ash Wednesday tells us: Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Dust has no chance against the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.

All the self-help books in the world cannot separate us from the delusion that we don’t need God.

So Jesus Christ, the dynamic unity, at once God and human, does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Only God’s story can set us free. On the cross the Old Being is judged as the New Being bears the wreckage of our sins, so that we might be healed and restored to life where God is at the center.

We access its power by believing it to be true and thereby gaining the power to spit out the poison instead of swallowing it.

 We are in sales, not management. We now have no need to judge because that’s the Boss’ job. Our job is to show and tell everyone that God in Christ has saved them too.