Lent 1 A Sermon Rev. John Sovereign
Let us pray,
Heavenly Father, you designed the human race to be the crown of all your creation. You made us gifted beings, to inhabit space and time and worlds. You created us to inhabit eternity with you. Our bodies allow us to touch, and feel, and love, as we might when we give each other hugs. On the other hand, you call us to exercise ourselves spiritually too, and to seek you with all our heart. Help us to be the people we are called to be. And may your blessing be added to my words today. Amen.
Models help us to get a grip. They are never perfectly the real thing, but designed to help us understand how real things go together. That is why what I am about to say may be very helpful to our understanding, but must be countered and balanced by the many other models of the fall from glory, and the redemption that is in Christ – that are out and about.
God gives humans a spirit similar to that of the angels, and a body and soul similar to that of animals. We have perfect freedom within the limits placed by this material world. We are not robotic, and our decisions are real. We choose whether to obey God or not, whether to know God or not, whether to love truth or not. This is very important. In our spiritual life, even now, God never deprives us of our freedom to choose. Nor does God force us do anything.
Satan, or the devil as we know him, does not have the right to make us do anything unless we are somehow willing, somehow in his power, somehow given over to him. We are not always victims of circumstances, running with the wrong crowd, indoctrination, and other things, but nevertheless the world is free. Even for those who do evil as if possessed. The role of our free will in good and evil is a matter of a great debate, but I have presented a simple model.
When we were created, God intended us to be embodied spiritual beings living in a physical universe. We were built to follow the leading of our own spirits within us. Our souls and bodies were designed as instruments of our spirits. Our bodies were to be subordinate in the chain of command, but not without some say. Our spirits were made to be in touch with God, and to be the seat of freedom.
God forbade Adam to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. God was not testing Adam and Eve. Deep in their own human spirits lay a great fear of the fruit. They already sensed good and evil, but it was on their spiritual side, and out of their spiritual nature. God’s prohibition to them was just as instinctive on Adam and Eve’s part, as it was deliberate and caring on the part of God. They sensed danger.
The tree offered to bring good and evil up close, and within reach of their eyes, their ears, and their hearts, and under the influence of their bodies, feelings, and thoughts. No more would Adam and Eve be so easily hear the quiet voice of the spiritual within. No more would God’s wisdom prevail. Adam and Eve ate of the tree because it satisfied their need to know, their need for control, and their need to do as they pleased. They ate, that is, they did what they wanted, but as a consequence they lost touch with God. They destroyed the subtle balance and hierarchy between their bodies, their souls and their spirits. The spirit side of them went almost dead. They no longer saw anything past what was right before their eyes. Adam and Eve now found it difficult to wait in silence for the rustle of God.
Satan did his work by tempting Eve with a question. He knew his question would start her thinking. If she were listening to her spirit, which sat at the feet of God, she would quickly reject Satan’s questions. Instead, she tried to answer off the top by herself. Satan’s initial attack worked. It drew her in. Eve began to exert her self apart from spiritual faith. She followed Satan’s twisted logic, until she ate it. Genesis tells us, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”
Why was temptation so powerful?
Satan used physical need against Eve. She was hungry, and the fruit looked good to eat.
Satan enticed her soul, appealing to her selfishness. The fruit would make her smart, beautiful and attractive.
Finally, Satan actually appealed to her spirit, by using the word wise. True wisdom comes from God alone. But Satan tempted Eve, inviting her to think that wisdom might be found apart from God, and apart from the spiritual. She was tempted to go on alone, no more seeking God. Eve succumbed to the pride of life.
So it is. Eve wrestled leadership out of the hands of her spirit within her, and gave it to her more earthy self. No longer would she easily bask in God’s presence day and night. She once walked through the black night which is this world, without lamp or sun to guide her, because by her spiritual eyes God was both lamp and sun. Eve had chosen to rely on her native instinct, on her own wits, and on the incoherent leadings of her own heart. Her spiritual side, created for communion with God, was become muted and damaged. Genesis 3:6 adds, “She also gave some to her husband.”
As we begin Lent, I want all of us to reflect on our great loss. Following the leading of God is not an easy task for anyone. It should be, but we no longer hear God’s voice as we once did. We no longer follow the inclination and leading of our own spirits within us as we once did. Many people today hardly recognize the spiritual at all. Some are spiritually awake, yet not awake to God. There is a whole unseen world in which we were created to dwell, just as much as we dwell in the visible world, but as a race of beings we have abandoned the spiritual in favour of the fleeting pleasure of the temporal.
The Garden of Eden represents a great loss. We have been turned bottoms up. We now follow all the leadings of the world. Our bodies which were to serve our spirits have now become servants of our world – and we have experienced harsh and destructive abrasions. But there is hope. In Jesus, God reversed Adam and Eve’s selfishness. In Jesus there is a way to regain our lost spiritual life.
Picture Jesus on the mountain, and the devil offering him all the kingdoms of the world, challenging him to turn stones to bread, and chiding him because he will not test God’s love by jumping to his death. All the temptations of Eve are restated. Wealth, power, freedom, a world at his beck and call.
Jesus defeated Satan, not merely by his refusal to chase after these things. He did not give evil a foothold in his heart, and not for a moment was the love of God removed from the centre of His being.
In God’s time, Jesus fed thousands on a hillside by turning little into much. When he returns in glory, in the Power of God’s Spirit, all the kings of the world will worship at his feet. And when he finally closed his eyes in trust and death, he fell into an abyss far greater than the drop from the pinnacle of the Temple – into a forbidden space, Jesus plummeted, falling where no One but his Father could catch him.
In the most difficult of circumstances, when everything in my life seems hopeless and my heart is breaking, I will cling to God – just as Jesus did on the mountain. That is our only hope. To go our way without God in our lives is to court disaster in the end – that is the way of rebellion. To seek God’s way may bring us pain in the short run, but in the long run, what other hope do we have?
Let us set our faith in God, and see our love and our lives prosper in the land of the living!
Let us pray,
Lord Jesus, there is much more to this story. The presence of your Spirit in our hearts gives us hope because the curse of Adam is reversed by your Holiness. Speak to us, Lord, in words we can hear, and patiently work with us – because we are so, so hard of hearing. May we listen to you – just as Jesus did. Amen.