— Rev. Phil Hobson

March 9, 2014

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Matthew 4:1-11

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

One of the verses we skipped in our reading of Genesis is helpful here:

And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

So these two mortal beings were in the garden, naked and unashamed. There is an innocence here. There is a lack of self-awareness. Three year olds have this kind of innocence.

But what happens if you put a three year old in a room full of toys and say, “You can play with any of the toys in this room, except for that fire truck over there.” What is a three year old going to do the moment you turn your back? On the other hand, if there is a danger in the room, you warn the child about it and try to keep them away from it. It is remarkable how people are surprised when someone goes after some forbidden fruit. We have had this problem for a long, long time.

But the serpent in this story is subtle indeed.

Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?

Like a good salesman, the serpent asks a leading question that helps frame the rest of the conversation. It is the beginning of undermining their trust in God.

You will not 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.

And there is the temptation. To disregard what God says and go down a path of less resistance so that we get what we want. To secure for ourselves that which does not belong to us.

David Lose describes Biblical notions of identity as deeply relational. But even our own identities are caught up in all our relationships. When asked “Who are you?” how often do we answer with our name, and then a relationship that the asker might know?

Oh I’m Phil. You know, Mira’s dad; Patrick’s dad; Mary’s husband; Laura’s brother; David and Martha’s son, depending on where I am or who I am talking to. And if I say, “I am a pastor in Charlotte,” the next question is, “Oh, do you know so-and-so?”

Who we are is a deeply relational idea. David Lose goes on to say:

Having undermined Adam and Eve’s confidence in God, the serpent then invites them to establish themselves — that is, craft their own identity — independent of their relationship with God: “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Who needs God, after all, when you can be “like God” all on your own? And just insecure enough to fall for the serpent’s ploy, they do indeed attempt to define themselves apart from God but end up only defining themselves over and against each other in scene that is as tragic as it is ubiquitous. (end quote)

“It’s not my fault, she gave it to me!” “It’s not my fault, the serpent tricked me!”

I was once told the story of a man driving in California. He had been sober for six months, going to groups, calling his sponsor when things got rough. He was turning his life around.

As he was driving, he had the thought, “You know, I have never been to Nevada.” So he turned and went to Nevada. “You know, I have never been to Reno.” So he took the Reno exit. “You know, I have never been to a casino.” So he pulls in to valet parking. “You know, I have never played poker.” So he sits down at a table. And when the waitress comes around, without thinking about it, he orders a beer.

When did he make a bad decision, which decision led to his drinking again? When he fooled himself into thinking going to Nevada was a good idea. From then on, each decision got harder and harder to say no to.

The devil in the wilderness is not simply offering Jesus stuff he gave up for Lent. He is trying to undermine Jesus’ identity. Having just heard the voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” the temptations are to make that identity null and void.

If you are REALLY the Son of God, then use that majesty, that power, that identity to care for yourself! Make bread.

There will be bread later, but Jesus does not to undermine his trust in God just to feed his hunger.

If you are REALLY the Son of God, make God dance to your tune! Cast yourself down and make God catch you to prove who you are.

Jesus says, “That’s not the way this works.”

If you are REALLY the Son of God, I will give you every kingdom on earth! (Because after all, the devil owns every empire.) All you have to do is be my child, not God’s, bow down to me, not God.

“Get out of here, you Tempter. Only God is God.”

If our worst temptations are the subtle ones, the church’s temptation is to worry about survival. We do this in so many ways. We say, “You have to run a church like a business.” We start watching numbers and seek out what mega-churches are doing. (Did you know people are leaving mega-churches in droves? Many of them, when asked, say they are looking for intimacy and authenticity…)

The identity of the church is not found in its own survival. The identity of the church is found when we, like Jesus, give ourselves away on behalf of neighbors. The identity of the church is not to sell Good News so more people show up, but to BE Good News so that people are loved, people are welcomed, people are healed, people are saved.

The problem with the question “How will we survive?” is that it is the wrong question. The identity of the church is found when we ask the question over and over again, “How can we be faithful?”

How can we show up not to be served, but to serve? How can we show up to listen, to help, to feed, to clothe, to love?

If we are faithful, it is because we follow the one who is faithful. If we are servants, it is because we follow the servant. If we are loving, it is because we follow Jesus.

Thanks be to God.