I came across something this week that really spoke to me about this text. And I wanted to share it with you. It is a commercial that really isn’t selling anything. It comes from an organization in India called the NAIK foundation. I don’t know much about them, except that they are a charitable group working in community development among India’s poor. The commercial tells a story of a boy who finds some money. Now, I can’t really tell you how much he finds, the bill says 50 on it. 50 Rupees, maybe. If that is the case, it would be worth about .80 cents in the US. But in a country where about 1/3 of the population makes about a dollar a day, what he finds is a lot. This kid feels rich…and tempted. It might be compared to finding somewhere between $25 and $50 on the ground while out on a walk. Let’s watch and see what happens.
I was kind of nervous about showing you that ad at the beginning of sermon. That little boy is a lot cuter than me and your mind might stick with him. But I love his story and how it is the perfect entrance into these first passages about Lent. These are texts that we might at first think temptation is the main topic. But it’s not. Yes, the serpent or the devil are in both, and yes, something tempting is offered in both, and one story is what happens when Adam and Eve give into those temptations, and the other one is a story of what happens when Jesus doesn’t give into the temptations he is faced with. But that’s just part of the story, and to get the whole picture, we have to go to the beginning.
God spoke, and the Spirit moved over the chaos and creation was: the earth, the oceans and waters, the sun, the moon, the stars, the trees, the grass, the birds, and the fish. And the sixth day, God created Adam, the first human, and declared “it was very good.” Now, God didn’t say this because Adam was the most perfect thing God had made and it took him 6 days to figure it out, after all God also made the creeping things that day. We rank right up there with the worms. But God said it because he looked out over all of creation, all of it, and declared it very good because it was complete. Now everything could live in relationship with each other as God intended. That’s very good.
God created so that a relationship could exist between the Creator and creation. The creation story first and foremost is a story about God. And that is good. But it is when we make it a story about us, when we move God to the sideline, that’s when the story becomes not so good. That’s what happens to Adam and Eve. They attempt to make the story about them. God puts Adam in the garden to till and keep it, to be a part of it, to literally be a slave to it. “Adam, I’ve surrounded you with everything that is good for your needs. I will even walk with you in garden, I will give you a partner as you name the animals and do the work of the master gardener I created you for. But, do not eat of tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
What happens next opens up lots of theological questions, like “Who created the serpent?” or “How do animals talk?” I don’t want to go there, not today anyway. But what I want to look at is what the serpent tempts Eve and Adam with. Adam was right there, so the fall isn’t all her fault, guys. He tempts them with the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Even though they are surrounded by everything God has declared good, the serpent says that they can have the power to declare what is good and evil, too. Just like God. And they bite. And suddenly all the good things they are surrounded by don’t look so good anymore. They look upon their own bodies as something that must be hidden by the plants that were once food. Even being in the presence of God is something that is no longer good, but something to be feared and hide from.
What happened? What’s this story about? What does it tell us that when surrounded by the good gifts of God, Adam and Eve choose to turn from those gifts and the one who provided them? This story is about trust and control. The serpent convinces them that God can no longer be trusted, that God just might be holding back on the really good stuff. And if trust in God is eroded, then the relationship with God is broken. Adam and Eve’s story shows that when that trust is gone, they attempt to control and define what is good for their lives. But when Adam and Eve aspire for that control, they damage their relationship with God, they spoil the bond that exists between the two of them, and they even mar how they live in and with the creation. What they have done is attempt to play the role of creator, because they can’t trust the Creator, the one and only one who has authority to define what is good. Maybe lack of trust in the Creator is the commonality of all of temptation, because lack of trust seems to be the basic root in desire for control.
So, what could be so wrong with an ice cream cone (or four of them) as we saw in the video we watched? Maybe that young boy only tasted a cone once before and the sweet taste has lingered on his thoughts since then. And what could be so wrong with bread? Jesus was famished. The thought of his mother’s homemade bread probably crossed his mind a thousand times since he went off into the desert. What’s so bad about showing the religious leaders and the people of Jerusalem that Jesus was truly the Son of God by throwing himself off the temple? Angels would surely catch him and set him safely on the ground. Then all the people would turn their hearts and minds and praise to God, no more divisions, no more religious fights. All would be united behind Jesus. And look who was on the throne when the tempter unrolled the maps of the world before Jesus on that mountain: Caesar. He ruled with an iron fist and thousands across the empire had been enslaved, imprisoned, crucified or thrown into the arena for entertainment. Who wouldn’t want Jesus, who Matthew calls the Messiah early in his gospel, on the throne, replacing the Pax Romana with the Kingdom of God on earth? All these things the tempter offers up to Jesus looks not only good from our perspective, but very good.
So, what is good? Can we discern the good? First I have to say it cannot be done outside of a trusting relationship with God and trusting who God is. Then it gets harder. Temptations of materialism, security, and prestige are not foreign to us, and I mean us as individuals and as a church and society. Whatever form temptation we may experience, we can pass through it only when we trust God to provide what we need and what is truly good. It starts with understanding that God is a God who creates in love for the sake of relationship, and since the fall, a God who acts in love as a relationship restorer. As you go through scripture, everything God does is to restore the broken relationship that exists between the Creator and creation. He sent the prophets, he gave the law. And God even gives up control, when he sends his Son, himself, Godself, in Jesus, the Word made flesh living with us. But that doesn’t mean he was temptation-proof. He was fully human, and I think fully capable of giving into the temptations before him. But his humanity lived in perfect relationship with his divinity, and in that relationship, humanity embraced and trusted the divine.
Maybe that is how we start trusting. We first recognize that we aren’t God and by the grace of the Spirit, we also recognize that the One who is God is worthy of our trust. We start depending on him for what we need. And then we give up control, trust God, and become relationship restorers, too. Jesus knew the path to a restored relationship with God wasn’t through satisfying his own hunger at the snap of his fingers. But he did feed the thousands on the shores of Galilee so that they could come to a deeper understanding of the love of God. He didn’t throw himself from the heights of the temple to prove who he was, but he did overturn the tables of the moneychangers and said they had made his Father’s house into a den of robbers when it should be a place where all are welcome. He didn’t take a throne. He took up a cross.
And it is there he faced his final temptation that came at him echoed in the words of the tempter in the desert. “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” And in a way that I wouldn’t have chosen, because in so many ways it makes no sense to me, Jesus died. What looked like the end was the new beginning to something very good. My relationship, your relationship, creation’s relationship with its Creator was restored by means of an empty tomb. The ultimate relationship destroyer, death, was overcome. Who would have seen it coming? Not me.
That little boy we watched in the video was a relationship restorer. He gave up what control he held in that 50 rupees so another could be lifted up and restored. And my call to you, friends in Christ, is that during Lent, you give up control and trust the one who is in control, too. During these forty days, look around. Ask yourself, how can you use the good gifts that God has given you not to build up your own security or your own prestige, but to be a relationship restorer as well? When you do, you just might hear a whisper from God, “Now that is very good.”