Free To Sin

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Matthew 4:1-11

 

Our passage from Genesis is the story of the Fall from grace. God had placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and provided for them. Everything they needed was in the Garden. They could partake of anything in the Garden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They wanted for nothing.

But that wasn’t enough for Eve. The Serpent seduced her so she would want the one forbidden thing in the Garden: the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. She succumbed to the temptation and ate of the Tree. But she didn’t stop there. She seduced Adam and he ate of the Tree. And there eyes were opened … they now knew the difference between good and evil, right and wrong.

No longer were they innocent children. Now they were adults. And they had to deal with the consequences of their acts. But they didn’t want to step up to their sin. When God confronts them, Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the Serpent. Of course, God has none of this. God casts them out of their childhood garden and into the real world. Maybe God was harsh because of their unwillingness to take responsibility for what they had done.

This is a very short story, very terse and tells us just essentials. We assume that the Serpent targeted Eve for seduction because the ancient writers thought women were less than men and she was an easy mark. But I think Eve knew exactly what she was doing and I like to think that Adam was there all along egging Eve on to break the rules. The scripture personifies the Serpent and we associate the Serpent with Satan. But that old Serpent was really their immature egos and desires. Like children … like teenagers … the forbidden fruit was just too much to resist. Adam wanted to try it, but didn’t have the nerve. So the Serpent of their unbounded desires and childish naiveté was now driving Adam to egg Eve on. The fruit was tasting and wonderful. Now Eve had her way and Adam succumbed to her egging on and there they were in trouble with God. And out they went …

But at a deeper level, it was their faith that failed them. Adam and Eve are like children in their faith. A child’s faith is innocent and naïve. Children’s faith is molded by their adult caregivers. In what we would call a functional family, children rightfully have faith in the authority of their parents. The parents provide for them, care for them, love them and in return expect good behavior. And usually infractions are disciplined but forgiven. Love is unconditional and faith is unconditional … and unproven. When a child learns about God he or she transfers that unconditional faith to God expecting the same simple, unconditional care.

As a child matures, he or she encounters the world around them… and discovers love is not unconditional. Faith is not a certainty any longer. At some point your parents can no longer  care for you … or as is common the child decides the parents are behind the times or too restrictive and wants to break out into forbidden territory … that’s the point that Adam and Eve had reached.

Now they come face to face with the harsh world of greed and power and hate. It seems that God is no longer a loving parent. Where was God when I was cheated? Where was God when I loss my job and couldn’t feed my family? Where was God when mom died? And so begins the long, indeed life-long, journey back to mature faith … a faith that is free, but whose consequences can be costly.

The Serpent returns in our passage from Matthew. Jesus has gone into the desert to clarify what God wants of him. And like prophets of old, he fasted hoping that by emptying his body he will empty his mind of selfishness and self-aggrandizement. And there in the desert his faith is put on trial. His Serpent emerges from his famished mind:

He’s hungry. If he sets out on the journey God has laid out for him, he can count on being hungry again and more than once. Is that really the life he wants? And so he calls upon God for food. His faith in God returns him to the day of his Transfiguration: Does he want to sacrifice that glorious event for a fleeting meal?

But again his Serpent speaks. If he follows God, really follows the teachings of God, not the teachings of humans who say they speak for God, then early, violent, horrid death is waiting for him. Who wants that kind of life? So he calls upon God that if God really cared for him, God would keep him from all evil and keep his life. But his faith takes him back to the purpose of his journey: to show without a doubt the love of God and the hope of the Kingdom of God.

Yet again his Serpent speaks. If he takes this journey he will be a lowly impoverished prophet struggling everyday of life, homeless, and without the love of wife and children. He could do better. He could be anything he wanted. He could have anything he wanted: wealth and a good family. But one more time his faith pulls him back: all the wealth and all the earthly power and respect is nothing without God and the call of God… what meaning would his life have without his call?

And so Jesus cast out his Serpent … for now. Later, closer to the end, Jesus will also be in a garden and the tempter, the Serpent, will return in those last hours. And once again he will fall back on his faith … his faith would be literally all that he had and all that he ever had.

As Adam and Eve sought freedom from Eden, so Jesus sought freedom from his doubts and hopes.

 

Faith is a partnership between an individual and God. God gave us free will. God expects us to exercise that free will in our lives in partnership with God. But there are many temptations in our lives that encourage us to believe we really don’t need God … after all where is God? I can’t see God. I can’t smell God. I can’t point to God and say to people “here is God” without a doubt.

I wonder what would have happened if Jesus in the desert succumbed to his Serpent. For example, what if Jesus decided to accept the Serpent’s offer of all the kingdoms? Jesus had a clear choice to make: He was charismatic and he was a genius. Before him had been many revolutionaries who tried to overthrow the Romans. Very likely if Jesus accepted the Serpent’s gift he could make it happen. Peter and the disciples actually expected him to be such a revolutionary leader. He would have more than enough support.

With his abilities he could gain popularity quickly. His parables and his miracles would increase his notoriety and his power. And when the time came he could move into Jerusalem at Passover. Passover is a freedom holiday. It would be an ideal time to rise up against the Romans.

With his insight and charisma, the people would rise with his disciples and they had a likely chance to chase the Romans out of Judea. Indeed some 35 years after the Resurrection, the Jews did just that and for almost three years held off the Romans before they were annihilated.

Jesus knew he could cast out the Romans. And with his growing vision of a Kingdom of God, he could set up a society and an army that could resist any future attempts by the Romans to retake Judea.

Eventually he could move beyond Judea into neighboring countries and eventually restore David’s Kingdom. Indeed he would be the Messiah for whom the people have been waiting all of these decades.

Just as his Serpent said, he didn’t need God for this. His power and the allegiance of the people would do nicely.

There were uncertainties. But they could be anticipated. He could do it!

If he rebuffed his Serpent and refused to be a great freedom fighter, then he had to entirely rely on God. He would pin his life on faith in God. The uncertainties with this choice could not be anticipated … not even Jesus could be sure what God was up to.

Jesus resisted this temptation… He came out of the desert a poor and wondering prophet, destined to rely entirely on God … not even his disciples could be fully trusted.

 

Having faith in God in our ordinary lives can seem just as scary. We go through life dealing with all the temptations around us. Some we resist. Some we succumb to. But maybe one of the most common ones is the belief we can solve our problems alone, without God and often without help from someone else. We are brought up in this country to be independent. We are subtly taught that it is a shame to need help. For example, I read an article that described Social Security as welfare for the middle class … a nice way in this country to beat up on Social Security. After all who wants to be on welfare? We are taught to pick ourselves up and carry on. We are taught that when we fail, it is our doing … not because we were cheated or defrauded, for example … we should have known better.

So we try … sometimes desperately  … to pull ourselves up. It’s everyone for themselves! And many times, maybe most times, we can do it. But life is uncertain. As much as we try we can never be certain about any outcome.

Without God, though, we narrow our options down to just those we can imagine and fit into our planning perspective.

Having faith in God is by no means a life without uncertainty. Rather having faith opens up more possibilities and therefore more uncertainties. But we are no longer going it alone. We are in partnership with God and will never be alone.

What does it mean to be in partnership with God and thereby have faith? It is walking with Jesus. It is living the Kingdom of God. It is letting go of trying to control the future. It is accepting our own mortality and limitations. It is not overreaching. It is being in dialog with God constantly in prayer and in the way we see the world.

Having faith in God is intentionally living in God’s space and not being blinded by mortal, earthly temptations of power and control.

Having faith in God is not a panacea. It is not an antidote to struggle and worry. Having faith in God is a way of working our way through life without being alone in our dark times. It is a way of living that is fundamentally optimistic and hopeful. It is believing that if we work with God along with our own resources, somehow we will always come out of the tunnel. We may be amazed at where we end up … but wherever it is it will be a place occupied by the Divine.

 

Think about it …

God’s grace and love be with you …

Amen.