Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent - Invocabit - Gen 3:1-21

                                                                                                Lent 1
                                                                                                Gen 3:1-21

            In the 1976 Oscar winning movie Rocky, the down and out fighter Rocky Balboa receives the break of a lifetime as he is selected to fight heavyweight world champion Apollo Creed. Near the end of the movie prior to the fight, Rocky confides to his girlfriend Adrian that he can’t beat Creed.  However, no one has ever gone the distance with Creed, and Rocky says that if he can just do that he will have proven himself.
            Rocky takes a terrible beating in the fight, but surprisingly, he is also able to hurt Creed.  The fight does go the distance – all fifteen rounds – at the end of which Rocky loses on a split decision.  When the fight is over, the two exhausted fighters meet in the ring as Creed mumbles, “Ain’t gonna be no rematch,” and Rocky responds, “Don’t want one.”  Of course the surprising success of the movie Rocky meant that there was a rematch. Rocky II tells of how later Creed feels compelled to have a rematch and seeks to goad Rocky into it, while Rocky’s circumstances eventually prompt him to accept.
            Our Old Testament lesson for the First Sunday in Lent – Invocabit – tells of how Adam and Eve are deceived by the devil into committing the first sin. They are tempted and sin, and in doing so the Fall occurs.  But unlike the movie Rocky, right from the start, Genesis tells us that there will be a rematch between man and the devil.
            The first two chapters of Genesis tell us about how God created the world and the crown of his creation, man.  By the power of his word alone God calls into being a material world and all that lives in it.  He creates man in his own image, as male and female. We get a “close up” of this action in chapter two when we learn that God created Eve from Adam as the helper who corresponded to him.  They were perfect complement for one another – their differences provided what the other needed. 
            This complementary character is seen in the fact that they were created for the one flesh union that produces children.  Neither could do this on their own.  It required a man and a woman. This truth continues today, even if our world deludes itself into thinking otherwise.  Only in the union of man and woman is this possible.  Producing children was the God intended outcome of the one flesh union.  God commanded, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  And incidentally that truth continues today as well.
            God planted the Garden of Eden as the place where Adam and Eve lived.  He gave Adam the vocation of caring for the garden.  The Garden of Eden was an abundant source of food.  God told Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
            Adam and Eve had the use of every tree … except for one. They were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  This one tree located in their midst became the means by which they demonstrated that they feared, loved and trusted in God above all things. God had held one thing back from them, and by honoring this fact they confessed that God was God, and they were not.
            In our text we learn that the devil approached Eve.  His first sentence tells us everything we need to know about who he is and how he works.  He is a liar.  He says things that are not true in ways that are intended to raise doubt in God.  He says things that have the goal of disobedience.  The devil said, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
            Eve corrected the devil and said that no, in fact they could eat of every tree in the garden … except for one. They had been warned that if they ate of it they would die. Yet the devil responded to Eve, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
            The devil said that God was holding out on them. They could be more, if they would just ignore what God had said. And the devil has been using this on us ever since.  He uses the world to tell us that we don’t need to be limited by God’s Word.  We are free to decide whether he is God or whether any god exists.  In fact, the coolest approach is agnosticism - to say that you know so much that you know you don’t know whether God exists at all.
            The devil says that God is holding out on us if we believe his line that the one flesh union of sexual intercourse is meant only for husband and wife.  He says that God is holding out on us if we believe money and possessions can’t provide the abundant life for which we were created.  He says that God is holding out on us if we believe that we shouldn’t seek the satisfaction of getting revenge on another person.
            Eve believed the devil instead of trusting God.  She ate of the tree when she saw that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise. She gave it to Adam, and he ate too. In that moment they did learn something.  Their eyes were opened, but all they learned was that now things were very wrong.  They were no longer very good.
            Things have not been very good ever since. In the first sin the image of God was lost and so all conceived and born since the Fall have been sinful enemies of God.  Sin brought pain in childbirth and disordered relationships.  It brought work that is hard. And it brought death, for as God says in our text, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
            In the midst of all this bad news there is one single note of hope.  The devil had defeated Adam and Eve.  He had caused them to disobey God.  He had brought the things he loves: sin, pain, and death.  But God cursed the devil and said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God announced that there would be a rematch.  The seed of the woman would battle the devil.  This would be no easy win.  Eve’s offspring would bruise or crush the devil’s head.  Yet the devil would bruise or crush his heal – the offspring would be harmed.
            In the Gospel lesson for today we hear about Jesus’ temptation by the devil. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness and is tempted.  Anointed by the Spirit, at his baptism Jesus took on the role of being the Suffering Servant. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, he is the offspring of Eve.  He is true man.  He is true man – the truest man – because he is man as we were meant to be.  He is man without sin.  He is true man and yet he is also true God.  He is the Son of God.
            In the temptation, Jesus defeats the devil.  He remains obedient to the Father.  He won’t use his power to serve himself. But the victory in the temptation is just round one.  Luke tells us, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” The devil wasn’t done.  In our Gospel lesson the devil says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” We find that he attacked Jesus as he hung on the cross, for we hear him in the words of those mocking Christ: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
            Jesus Christ did not.  Instead he suffered and died in your place.  As the seed of Eve his heel was crushed.  But by his sinless death he crushed the devil’s head. He redeemed you – he freed you from sin and the devil’s power.  He was the second Adam who was victorious.  St. Paul told the Romans, “For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
            Adam failed.  But in the rematch, Jesus Christ did not.  He won the victory for you. And the victory that he won allows for no more rematches.  Paul went on to say in the next chapter of Romans, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.”
            By his death for us Jesus Christ has removed your sin forever.  And by his resurrection he has defeated death forever. Because of Jesus, the devil is beaten. Paul told the Corinthians, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Because of Christ, forgiveness and resurrection is yours.
            The devil can’t win, and he knows it.  He is like the Japanese military in the latter years of World War II. Their objective was no longer to win.  In defending islands like Iwo Jima, Kwajalein, and Okinawa their goals was not to repulse the Americans.  Instead their only goal was to take as many Americans as possible with them as they were killed.  They hoped to make the battles so costly for the Americans that they would settle for a negotiated peace – even though this meant that each Japanese garrison was annihilated to the last man.
            The devil can’t win.  He has already lost in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And so his goal is to take as many people with him as he can.  That is why he continues to whisper through our world, “Did God really say...?” He wants to lead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame, and vice.
            As Christians, we must therefore listen to God’s Word.  That means we need to be here to hear it.  We need to be here to learn about it.  We need to be reading Scripture in our devotions.  We need to follow the Spirit’s guiding by walking in the ways of the Lord – ways that are true to his Word and will.
            And we need to return to our baptism in faith every day. Paul told the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
            Through baptism we have shared in the saving death of the Lord. The Holy Spirit has worked regeneration and is now at work in us.  By daily contrition and repentance we drown the old Adam.  We turn in faith to the means by which we have died with Christ and received the Spirit, for that baptismal connection continues to provide the means by which the Holy Spirit strengthens us to arise and live before God in righteousness and purity each day.

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