Fulcrum sermon thoughts for 9th March 2014


Sunday 9th March 2014

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11

Matthew’s Gospel takes us on the journey from Jesus’ baptism to his testing in the desert.  We read after fasting forty days and forty nights ‘he was hungry’. This is not just stating the physically obvious - but we see that Jesus is empty and vulnerable. The desert is the place where we see Jesus goes from hearing the Father’s affirmation and public recognition in baptism to a place of isolation, threat, vulnerability and an assault of identity.

The devil brings the three temptations of which two begin with  “If you are the Son of God” - to prove who you are by doing. The first temptation represents for us the way in which we can fill our own lives with achievements, with trophies which feed our own ego and hunger for acceptance. Jesus reply is this - only God’s word can reach the deepest hunger within us. Only God can claim to satisfy every need we experience.

The second speaks of importance and fame. In a society such as ours where these things go to the heart of what we value as identity, being somebody in the eyes of others, having fame and recognition. The pressure of Facebook and Twitter to constantly update exciting and full lives can drive some people to think that not having one means they are not as important or leading such fulfilling lives. Jesus’ reply is this ‘Don’t forget what God has said  - don’t test his wisdom, his truth-” Life in God is not based on how other people see you or perceive you - life in God is about how he sees you.

The third temptation is about desire and where the centre of our hearts lie. What or who do we worship? Where is our focus and energy directed? Jesus will later teach that we must seek first God’s Kingdom, that we can not serve two masters, that we must be wary of the dangers and lure of wealth. “Worship the Lord you God and serve him only”. (v10.)

Lent is that time where we take these questions to our own hearts. Where have we been reshaped by the values of this world? Where do we need to reshape what we think is important? It is of course only a beginning, this type of journey is a life long one as we seek to be people in this world but not of this world.

The Genesis story of Adam and Eve comes into play where the command in 2.17 becomes an option in 3.6 - and in the deciding factors, God is not involved in the decision process. He is an outside party in the conversation and deliberation. God is not spoken to but about. The questioning seems to be a precursor in the same style spoken to Jesus - about God not to God - but Jesus turned it around.

Adam and Eve hear a misquote, enough to make them think that what God said was not necessarily so. The freedom to explore and play within the boundaries of creation now become the prison from which to break free. And in discovering who they are outside of the freedom that God was promising actually leads to shame not security. What God had created beautiful there now is a sense of nakedness. Where there had been a provision now they make do themselves.

Where have we used language about God to diminish his work and creation? Where have  we sought to find ourselves but lose God?

1 thought on “Fulcrum sermon thoughts for 9th March 2014”

  1. Whilst trying to define ‘perspicuity’ on the ‘How do we know…?’ thread, I had both of these readings in mind. Both show characters, the serpent and Satan, quoting God’s words in ways not rightly aligned with his will. Lacking this alignment, the tempters’ words about God’s words do not presence the Word, though they seem to do so. They– or at least their words– lack the perspicuity of scripture.

    The old Adam could not see this and falls; with greater perspicuity, the new Adam recites words in due season that displace Satan’s misleading citations. In a pauline mood, or a chalcedonian one, we could compare these two verbal duels at some length. Perhaps on some thread we will.

    But first the texts call us to attend to the battles in the minds that have heard God’s words, albeit in misrepresentations. Above, John has given us an account of Christ rejecting three temptations in ways that we do well to imitate. What then of the three temptations of Eve? Readers of Genesis have often traced their moments–

    (1) First the situation. So immense are the divine intentions behind God’s word that perplexity about that will is inevitable for the reasoning human being. In Genesis, that created the opening through which “the shrewdest of all the wild beasts that the Lord God had made” tempted his ontological superior, Eve.

    (2) The First Temptation. The tempter implicitly denied the veracity of God’s words about his will (“You are not going to die”).

    (3) The Second Temptation. God’s loving motivation in that will was impugned (“God knows… good and bad.” But cf 1:26-28). Interestingly, the serpent’s words to Eve, like Satan’s words to Jesus, are temptations to a lesser dominion than the one that God has planned for the one tempted.

    (4) The Third Temptation. Hearing this, Eve’s mind moves from the physical, to the aesthetic, to the mental, to the act of eating (“When the woman saw… she took of its fruit and ate.”).

    Jesus repelled the temptations of Satan with insight. Thinking counterfactually, what would Eve have had to know to repel the similar assaults of the serpent?

    (1*) If she had known her limitations in understanding the will of the Creator, she might have ignored words of the serpent that implied that her thoughts could not only compass that will, but maneuver around it.

    (2*) If she had understood that God’s nature is to be faithful, she could have relied on his words without doubt.

    (3*) If she had understood that his nature was love, she could have relied on that love without restlessness about his ultimate intentions.

    (4*) If she had known that her relation to God was of another order than her considerations of goodness, beauty, and truth, then she could have disregarded them and rejected the impulse to eat.

    In short, Eve may have understood that her share in God’s image and likeness (1:26a) gave her viceregal dominion over the serpent (1:26b, 1:28b), but not that this representation of God is also her inner life’s dependence on God and just so her defense against evil. Therefore, like Job, she is faced with a dilemma that cannot be resolved in terms of what she knows or can calculate or can do; like Job, she must have her upward relation to God shown to her from God’s heights to understand her created life-world and her created self. If she had conversed with Wisdom (Proverbs 8) before she reached for the forbidden fruit, she might have followed Mark Twain’s advice and eaten the serpent instead.

    As it is, we must imitate the Eve-who-might-have-been to imitate the Christ who was. Believers can cultivate a prudent downward dominion if they know their upward relation to God. In that relation we must be modest in our estimation of our understanding, reliant on God’s faithfulness, and confident that his purposes reflect his love. There will be voices reciting sacred words that test our resolve, of course. But about any interpretation of the words of God it is faithful and reasonable for us to ask– how are they aligned with the creative and reparative purposes that God has revealed?

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