Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, March 9, 2014

Distracted or Devoted?
[Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Mt. 4:1-11; Rom. 5:12-19]

                       The Season of Lent began on Wednesday, March 5th.  A number of us met here in the sanctuary for worship and reflection on our own mortality: “From dust we came and to dust we shall return.” (Genesis 3:9)

             I cannot explain why, but I love the Season of Lent more than any other. It is somewhat like “Basic Training” for a soldier or August Football Practice, when we put our bodies, minds and spirits to the test.  We must exercise discipline.  It tightens up our spiritual muscles. 

            The three Scriptures we are meditating upon this morning are pivotal ones.  We look at Adam and Eve, the first human beings, created and loved by God. They enjoy intimate communion with God from the beginning.  God dug in the dirt and created human beings by breathing life into their nostrils.  Whether we take this story literally or figuratively, Genesis explains the origins of human beings from a theological perspective, not a scientific one.  God provided a soul mate for Adam in Eve and together they show us what it means to be created in the image of God.

            They were expected to tend the garden and to create new human beings; however, in the midst of that paradise, God gave them only one limit: you may eat anything in the garden except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because when you eat the fruit from that tree you will die.

            Then a serpent, created by God, and in no way equal in power or authority to God, challenged Eve and questioned God’s words to her. She explained the limit God had created, but the serpent cynically questioned her, saying:  “Ah, Eve, you are so naïve; you will not die, you’ll just become equal to God and know what God knows.”  He focused on the attractiveness of the forbidden fruit and she ate it.  When she offered it to Adam, he ate, but later blamed both Eve and God, saying: “The woman YOU gave me Lord, made me eat it.”

            Harmony was disrupted.  They lost their innocence.  All of a sudden Adam and Eve felt shame for the first time.  God, with a broken heart, put them out of the Garden. Although being human always involves working and tilling the garden, outside of Eden, the results of that labor and effort were not predictable and more exhausting. That free and beautiful relationship with their Creator was interrupted.

            Adam and Eve hid from God rather than coming when God called them.  Even their own relationship was broken, because they blamed each other and looked for excuses.  What a costly loss!  All human beings since have fallen prey to the same kinds of sin:  listening to other voices besides God’s voice & not trusting that God has our best interests in mind. 

            LISTENING for and to God’s voice – that’s the real business of Lent!  Nothing else matters.  The world around us is so full of CHATTER that it can be extraordinarily difficult to hear God, who speaks with a still, small voice.  We must nurture silence, allowing God space to speak. We must be quiet and attentive.

            Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, according to Matthew, the Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness.  Why in the world would God’s Spirit take Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days?  If Jesus was God’s Son, why did he need to be tested? Why was he tempted?

            If God’s own Son was given basic training in the wilderness, why would it be any different for us?  Spiritual muscle must be exercised. I talked about Jesus’ temptations a few weeks back.  The temptations Satan offered to Jesus were mostly about showing off his “divine power” – which could have been a very enjoyable distraction for Jesus.  Hey, Jesus – won’t you turn these stones into bread?  That would be cool! We could even feed the hungry with them; doesn’t that fit in your job description as Son of God?

            Jesus calmly refused… despite the fact he was fasting for 40 days.  You know he was physically hungry, but the purpose for Jesus’ fast was to be “tuned in” to God’s will for his life. Jesus quoted Scripture to Satan:  “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God.” 

            Imagine ourselves in this position.  Forty days without food… an offer of food… and we refuse, saying:  “We live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Are we honestly hungering and thirsting for God’s words… God’s wisdom… God’s will… as Jesus was?

            The second Scripture Jesus uses in his dialogue with Satan, who also quoted Scripture, was this: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”  Isn’t that what the serpent did when he told Eve:  “Did God say you would die?  Oh he didn’t mean that.  God knows you would just gain knowledge… and be like God.”

            God tests us, but we do not test God.  Lent is a time when we allow God to be our spiritual coach… our mentor… and we follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We do not lead, we follow.  We ride in the backseat, not the front.  And God does this in LOVE.  Because those whom God loves, God disciplines.

            The third temptation Satan threw at Jesus was pretty outrageous…he offered Jesus what already belongs to God… the kingdoms of the world.  Satan would give them to Jesus if only Jesus would fall down and worship him.  Jesus had had enough:  “Away with you, Satan!  For it is written:  Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”  The devil left and the angels ministered to Jesus.

            Jesus did what Adam and Eve failed to do.  Even in his weakened physical state of fasting in the wilderness for 40 days, he was wise and discerning.  Satan always approaches us when we are in a weakened state. Satan always approaches us through our Achilles heel & our vulnerabilities.  His first temptation was for Jesus to satisfy his physical hunger, and if Jesus had gone along with him, Satan would have had his first hook in Jesus.

            Lent is a time to sharpen our spiritual focus and not give in to physical temptations, whatever they are.  Physical temptations are different for every person.  It is whatever you cannot say “no” to, for whatever reason.  It is whatever distracts you from God’s will and keeps you from saying “YES” to God in every area of your life.
           
            Jesus showed in the wilderness that God was enough. That God supplies ALL our needs, not just some of them. We cannot serve two masters genuinely.  If anyone is on the throne of our lives, including our own egos… we cannot truly love and serve God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength.

            Paul’s theology in Romans 5 is unique.  He argues that Jesus is the second Adam.  Just as Adam was the representative of fallen human nature… Jesus is the representative of the “new creation” God is bringing into the world.  In fact, Paul writes that Adam was the “type” of the one who was to come, who is Jesus.  However, the free gift of life that we receive through Jesus is much different than the trespass of Adam.  The sins of Adam and Eve brought condemnation to the world.  The righteousness of Jesus Christ brings abundant life and there is absolutely no comparison between the two.  Jesus’ ability to remain utterly devoted to God made all the difference. Jesus NEVER got distracted. I cannot imagine it, because I get distracted easily, by good things, as well as bad.  Jesus NEVER lost his focus, because he LISTENED FOR GOD in all circumstances.  Yes, Jesus was sinless, which we can never be, but even more important – he never got distracted, not once, but was utterly devoted to the Father and the Father’s will.

            We are a new creation, when we let God write God’s story on our hearts. That’s what it means to be committed and devoted to Jesus Christ. Francesca Battistelli has written a new song called:  “Write Your Story.”  It caught my attention as I was listening to K-LOVE radio.  The black cross of ashes on our foreheads is our way of identifying with the story of Jesus.  We are not expected to live righteous lives in our own strength. Generations long gone have proven how impossible it is to live a perfect life. However, God DOES want us to live our lives IN CHRIST, for we are baptized INTO Christ, and Christ’s story becomes our story.  As we live our lives in “synch” with God’s voice, we identify more and more with Jesus and walk ever more closely in his footsteps. Listen to the lyrics of Francesca’s song:

"Write Your Story"
They say
You're the King of everything
The One who taught the wind to sing
The Source of the rhythm my heart keeps beating
They say
You can give the blind their sight
And You can bring the dead to life
You can be the hope my soul's been seekin'
I wanna tell You now that I believe it
I wanna tell You now that I believe it
I do, that You can make me new, oh
I'm an empty page
I'm an open book
Write Your story on my heart
Come on and make Your mark
Author of my hope
Maker of the stars
Let me be Your work of art
Won't You write Your story on my heart
Write Your story, write Your story
Come on and write Your story, write Your story
Won't You write Your story on my heart
My life
I know it's never really been mine
So do with it whatever You like
I don't know what Your plan is
But I know it's good, yeah
I wanna tell You now that I believe in
I wanna tell You now that I believe in
In You, so do what You do, oh
I'm an empty page
I'm an open book
Write Your story on my heart
Come on and make Your mark
Author of my hope
Let me be Your work of art
Won't You write Your story on my heart
Write Your story, write Your story
Come on and write Your story, write Your story
Won't You write Your story on my heart
I want my history
To be Your legacy
Go ahead and show this world
What You've done in me
And when the music fades
I want my life to say
I let You write Your story, write Your story
Write Your story, write Your story
I'm an empty page
I'm an open book
Write Your story on my heart
Come on and make Your mark
Author of my hope
Maker of the stars
Let me be Your work of art
Won't You write Your story on my heart?...

I don’t know about you, but I want to be God’s work of art in this world, which can be pretty dreary without a splash of color and a ray of God’s light and hope.

  Let us pray.  Patient and Long-suffering God, you don’t coerce anyone into a relationship with you. You never even get “off-task” as we do every day. You invite us to stop & listen for Your still small voice, which woos us into an intimate relationship of love and partnership. You long to re-create us. You long for us to join you in the dance of re-creating the world. Please write your story on our hearts as we clear out space in this season of Lent for your words, your will and your wisdom in our lives. Please do your soul-cleaning in our lives, so that we may share your joy forever!  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.