Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 13, 2011. The First Sunday in Lent

© 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

It’s Sin Time again, with a capital ‘S’.   While the Prayer Book provides for us to confess daily, the church calendar devotes 40 full days, most of them delightful spring days in the Northern Hemisphere, to temptation – our need to be on guard against it and our need to confess fully when we have fallen into it.  The church risks coming across as saying to spring, when the ‘young’s fancy turns to, well, love, beware!”

Ironically ads for E.D. medications probably are most effective when they warn, “If your erection lasts for more than four hours, consult your doctor.”   “No,” responds a septuagenarian friend married to an octogenarian with increasing dementia,”  “No,” she responds, “call me!”

Today’s collect offers solace to those with ears to hear:  You are not alone!  We are all right there with you.   We are all “assaulted by many temptations.”

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

Hear God’s voice calling out in the huge garden:   “Eva!  Eva!   Where are you?   Eva!”

“Louie!   Louie!   Where are you?   Louie!”

Been there?  Done that?

“Bow-Back made me do it,” I answered when my parents asked why I had done what they told me not to do.  “I didn’t do it; Bow-Back did.  Don’t blame me!”

“Eva!  Eva!  Where are you?   Eva!”

Of course, males wrote this version.  God does not call out, “Adam!  Adam!  Where are you?  Adam!”

If confronted, Adam could say, “Eve made me do it.   Don’t blame me; blame her!”

“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.”

Before this they were naked but did not see their nakedness.   Now they make loin clothes, and ever since then most people in the world cover principal sexual parts.  

For the writer of Genesis, the misconduct of our first parents explains the presence of death, pain, toil….   You name it:  if it is undesirable, Eve made it happen.

Psalm 32  

It is not uncommon for men to say, “If she had not be so seductive and scantily clad, I would not have done it….  She made me do it!”

The psalmist offers a rejoinder:

Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; *
who must be fitted with bit and bridle,
or else they will not stay near you."

We must grow up.  We must take responsibility for our own actions!

The psalmist imitates the speech of one who has not repented:

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.

Guilt is indeed withering.   Confession offers healing.

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!  

The story is told of two gay young men in Manhattan who on Friday night headed for the Village.  When they passed by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one said to the other, “Wait here for me for 10 minutes.  I need to make my confession.”

“That’s what I don’t understand about you Catholics!” his friend complained.  “You know you are headed to the Village to sin as much as you can yet you stop off beforehand to make your confession.”

“Ah, ever the Presbyterian,” the young man replied.  “You protestants rarely get it right.   A sailor knows that a ship will continue to get barnacles, but when does that ever stop him from removing the barnacles with a good routine scrub down?”

“Well, that does sound convincing,” replied the Presbyterian.

“Why don’t you come in with me and make your own confession.  It will do your heart good.  All you have to do is say, ‘Father, since my last confession I have……’ and name your sins.  Then the priest will give you something specific to do as penance.”

They made their way to adjoining booths.  Ten minutes later the Catholic was done, but he could see his friend’s shoes still in the booth.  Thirty minutes later his friend was still in there.   “This is ridiculous!  I should have explained that he doesn’t have to go on forever.  He must be confessing everything he has ever done.  I’m out of here.”

In the wee hours of the next morning he made his way back to the building where they shared an apartment.  The Presbyterian was not there.   Nor was he there on Sunday, or on Monday….   Finally, on Tuesday evening, the Presbyterian showed up, looking horrible. His clothes were filthy.  But his face shone.

“Thanks for getting me to make my confession,” his friend said.  “But you will never believe what the priest gave me for penance.”

“What?” the Catholic asked.

“He said I had to do all the stations.  Do you have any idea how many there are in Manhattan?!

[On hearing this story, a Monsignor told a friend of mine, "I'll never give the stations as a penance again until I know for sure that the penitent knows what they are!"]

Romans 5:12-19

As one might in a good sermon illustration, Paul compares Jesus with Adam.  Jesus reverses Adam’s mistake.   Sin came into the world through one person, Adam; sin is overcome in the world through one person, Jesus.   Because of Adam’s sin, all human beings had to die.   Because of Jesus’ righteousness, all might be forgiven and be able to live forever.

This is the locus classicus for the Doctrine of Original Sin, but it is possible that Paul was writing a good sermon illustration but not intentionally forming the hard and fast doctrine which many later Christians have made of it.

Jews wrote Genesis and value it still; yet they have not developed a doctrine of Original Sin.  That’s a Christian interpretation of Genesis, and not all Christians believe in Original Sin either.

In its particulars, the Doctrine of Original Sin is hard for many 21st century Christians to take.  Does God demand blood for blood?   Christ’s blood for the blood I would otherwise owe for my own sins?…  That God sounds primitive, even barbaric to many who nevertheless believe Jesus is Lord.

Matthew 4:1-11

The author includes many sexual overtones in Genesis 2.   Most notably, after they have sinned, they “know” that they are naked and make clothes for themselves. Know is a euphemism for sexual intercourse in much of the bible and even today in polite courtroom inquiries:   “Did the defendant ‘know’ his girlfriend?”

After Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, they have children, and one of the specific penalties Eve pays is to have great pain in childbirth.    God created Adam and Eve without pain.

In narrating Jesus’ great temptations, Matthew does not include sexual temptations.   If Jesus was made in all ways as like unto us yet knew no sin, would he not have had sexual temptations the way we all do?   Did Jesus have wet dreams?

Scripture and church tradition are moot on these points.  In fact, many view such questions as sacrilegious.

The three temptations that Matthew records are

  1. A temptation to use a miracle to feed himself.
  2. A temptation to use a miracle to show off his power to the people
  3. A temptation to worship Satan to gain power over all the dominions Satan controls

The first is hardly a challenge from Jenny Craig or Weight-Watchers.  He is seriously hungry.  Try fasting for forty days.

In all three instances Satan tempts Jesus to abuse his power to make his life easier; Jesus rejects all three.

Most Christians still expect Jesus in his next coming to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to get it right, as it were, and put all other gods under his feet.

Might we be as wrong in these expectations as the Israelites were in their expectations when God first came as Jesus?  Might we be looking still in all the wrong places?  Might there still be no room for him in the Inn?  Might we see him more clearly in the smiling eyes of a very hungry child or in the kindness of the Samaritan who takes the orthodox out of the ditch, tends their wounds, and pays the bills?

Matthew assumes that Satan is in control of “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.”  Jesus does not naysay that claim; he merely refuses to worship Satan.  Have we any reason to conclude that Satan has lost this control?

See also

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