Sunday, March 9, 2014

First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

From earliest childhood we have been taught that we are sinners; we are not perfect; we are less than. Even after salvation, we still remain focused on sin. The tale of Adam and Eve establishes the first separation of humankind from God. We were created for perfect fellowship with God. Through the grace of Christ we return to a state for perfect fellowship with God, yet our minds, once introduced to sin cannot completely forget that experience. Adam and Eve were permanently changed by the knowledge they gained. We, too, at least as long as we live are permanently shaped by our experiences.

In Romans, the author seeks to help us put the difference between the power of sin and grace and convince us of the superiority of grace. Sin came through the behavior of one. Grace came through the behavior of One. The behavior of one caused every death recorded in history. The behavior of One overcame every sin in history and ended the inevitability of death.

Mathematically speaking:

One > one.

Grace > sin.

Modern Christianity generally does not involve fasting to the extent as other religions, so the idea of abstaining from food seems quite foreign to most from the protestant faiths. Biblically, abstaining from food is only one form of fast, and fasting served many purposes. Through the history of Israel, fasting evolved from being an act of penance for a wrong to an act of focus for bringing one closer to God. The progression of the fast as a means of coming closer to God came through the prophets as they sought to help the people understand that right (legal) behavior came from being in the relationship with God for which he created us; it did not come from legalistically adhering to every mark in the Torah.

The Gospel passage in Matthew takes us to the end of Jesus’s forty day and forty night fast as he communed with God, drawing closer to him and preparing for his earthly ministry. Satan, the tempter, saw Jesus’s hunger as a weakness to be exploited. Given the nature of the fast, Satan’s timing could not have been more wrong. I had never read the passage with that idea in mind, but after some recent reading on fasts, I found the attempted temptation to be a comedy of errors on Satan’s part. He saw Jesus as gaunt, unshaven, and tired. He heard his stomach growling. He missed the aura, determination, and purpose. He ignored the power of his heartbeat.

As the incarnate Son of God, Jesus may have never been closer to God than he was in these moments at the completion of the fast. What Satan perceived as a moment of vulnerability was perhaps Jesus’s moment of invincibility. In Lent we follow his example for the same purpose. We open ourselves, by whatever means work best for us, to draw closer to God, and prepare ourselves for the work to which he calls us.

One > one.

Grace > sin.

Christ worked it out for us; we just need to accept it. That is part of the purpose of Lent and when we get close enough to him we will understand it.