“Happy Are They” – 03-09-14 – Lent 1 – Cycle A

Listen to the sermon here:

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

Sermon Title: “Happy Are They”

Through one man sin became part of our nature. Through one man our sins are forgiven and canceled by mercy. Between Adam, the person who is blamed for our sins, and Jesus, the person who gets the credit for our reconciliation with God, there is Moses to whom God gave the law.

It would be easy to think that the people, who lived before the Ten Commandments were given, had a good excuse for sinning. However, if we take scripture literally as in word-for-word truth, God passed instructions by speaking to certain people. Adam and Eve were supposedly told not to eat of the fruit of that one tree. Moses received instructions from God to bellow to the Israelites as they left Egypt before the ten commandment, glowing experience on Mount Sinai.

Then there were Joseph and his eleven brothers, children of Jacob – the Jacob of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I don’t recall that God spoke to Joseph to be less arrogant so that his step-brothers would not feel resentment toward him. I don’t recall that God spoke to the step-brothers to tell them not to kill him or not to sell him as a slave. But then, I think of what happened when Joseph was sold as a slave into Egypt. He became a highly prominent person in the Egyptian government, thereby saving his family from death by famine, a long story for sometime later.

Not only was he in a position to save his family. The descendants became the colony of Israelites who grew and grew in Egypt – so great that they needed to leave to save themselves from persecution. Did I say “save themselves?” Let us not believe that for a minute. People cannot save themselves. Enter God. It is God who saves! God positions people and gives these people instructions for how to proceed, including the law at the time God chose. God chose Moses, a descendant of Jacob, to deliver the Ten Commandments. Even then, the sin of those Israelites caused Moses to break the first set of Ten Commandments in anger.

And in the very end, Moses himself was not permitted to enter the promised land after enduring those disturbing, uncommitted Israelites for 40 years! We cannot fathom the wisdom and judgment of God. But, time after time, we see how God took the sin of humans and turned it into a significant feature of God’s earthly kingdom. Or here is a thought – a very provocative thought, maybe even a sinful thought. Would God actually direct the sin to happen as part of God’s plan for the kingdom? Or did God change God’s original plan because of the sin of humans? Or did God pull people back on the original path after they sinned?

Think of Noah. Remember that Noah lived long before Moses, before the Ten Commandments. How would the terribly sinful people in the time of Noah know how to live? And when we read the account of Noah in Genesis, we find that even Noah had his sinful, problematic habits which led to at least one episode which was passed by word of mouth through the years until it was finally recorded in writing for history. Genesis 9 holds these words.

After Noah and the flood-to beat-all-floods, everyone on earth descended from Noah. Of course, Noah had descended from Adam and Eve as scripture tells the story. How were these people to know how to behave? Why did God save one person from a group to carry the line and the message?

Enter Paul in his letter to the Romans. Paul uses the words “one man’s sin” and “the free gift.” The one man is Adam. The free gift is the salvation, the release from sin, that Jesus brought to us. It is said that Adam is a prototype of Jesus. Sometimes the word prototype is shortened to “type.” Several characters in the Old Testament served as “types” for Jesus. The story of the Old Testament cannot be separated from the story of the New Testament. The New Testament serves as the accomplishment of all that went before. Jesus is part of the Old Testament. All roads in the Old Testament lead to Jesus. The most prominent “type” for Jesus in the Old Testament is Adam. There are many references in songs to this connection.

We can swim forward and backward through the Old Testament, sorting and absorbing this marvelous, mysterious puzzle of God’s creation. What is Paul telling the Romans – these people who knew sin as well as we know sin? I read from Romans 5:14-19. “Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

Some religious groups believe that Jesus is not part of God, that there is not a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One explanation for this belief is that Jesus is supposed to be our model and we could never expect to be successful in emulating that model if we are using a Holy Person for our model. There needs to be good odds that we could emulate that model completely.

Of course this does not sway me. I am a Trinity person from young childhood. “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.” Do you recognize that phrase from the end of the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty?” “God in three persons, blessed Trinity!” We can certainly try to be the person God wants us to be; we can use Jesus as our model, knowing that we are actually expected to fall short. The law in the Ten Commandments and the mercy in the death of Jesus on the cross are compatible.

We have the account of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days being tempted to display his holiness and perfectness as part of God. Who is doing the tempting? Yes, we have the name “devil” in Matthew’s account of this big temptation drama (Matthew 4:1-11). The devil by other names is Satan or the evil one. We may not be confronted by a person in red costume, pointy ears, tail, and a pitch fork. We may recognize our evil one who wears a suit and tie and is very handsome or beautiful. You may notice that the evil one is not gender specific. Evil approaches in various disguises including something we always wanted to do or have.

Before we learned about good goals, we were drawn to possessions and/or an outrageously high salary. The truth is that, once we are introduced to Jesus, and learn that pomp and circumstance, that selfish desires, are not part of the essence of Jesus, we need to re-examine all of our past goals and habits and attitudes. Our previous goals and aspirations may be fine. On the other hand, they may be disastrous for us as in our relation ship with God.

It does not work to cling to our previous goals and habits and attitudes once we declare our loyalty to Jesus; once we choose to be baptized if that has not happened previously in our lives; once we say “I do” to the Christian beliefs as interpreted from the Holy Scriptures. We cannot try to ride both paths. I saw a very clear cartoon depicting a person with one foot on one horse and the other foot on another horse riding along the path of life. Along comes Christ into this person’s life and a fork in the road rises to meet him. One horse takes the path of the world with one foot; the other horse takes the holy path with the person’s other foot riding along. You can imagine that trying to stay on two paths will split us in two. We will not function as a good anything. A split person is going into uncertain, unsupported territory.

We don’t need to be indecisive. God gives discernment. It is not something we can buy. It is free for the asking. The trick is that we must ask and then be still. Then we will know. We will know which goals need to be sent scooting, with the evil one, without our foot. We will be able to resist temptations because we will have a clear picture for proceeding and for being blessed. Was Jesus blessed after he resisted those three intense temptations in the wilderness which most gospel writers place immediately after the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. At the end of Matthew’s account in Matthew 4, it is written, “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”

If you have resisted temptation, did you experience a blessing? Perhaps is was not angels, maybe it was. Angels come to us in disguise. The main thing about a blessing is that we can feel it in our souls, in our very beings. Sometimes it is like a sudden knowledge that we have been spared, we have been freed. Sometimes this feeling which accompanies a blessing is a small seed which needs to grow. Gradually knowledge hits us like the quiet dawn of a new day or like the lightning in a thunder storm which hits closely to ourselves to get our attention.

What we do as a result of the blessing is quite important. Enjoyment would be one good reaction. Life is a wonderful experience if we enjoy at least part of it. From Psalm 32, “Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away! … Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart.” Then, and only then, can we do good works to express our thankfulness; our thankfulness for this tremendous freedom of God’s mercy by forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Let us pray.

Lord God, our strength, the struggle between good and evil rages within and around us, and the devil and all the forces that defy you tempt us with empty promises. Keep us steadfast in your word, and when we fall, raise us again and restore us through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, now and forever. Amen