Lent 1

February 26, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Genesis 2. 15-17, 3.1-7. Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil—not the tree of life.

Psalm 32. When we hide our sin it eats away at us; but when we confess it, God forgives us.

Romans 5. 12-19. Paul says that death rules over us because of our sin (since we are cut off from God, who is the source of life). But in Christ we are reconnected to God, and so we are given the gift of life. So just as our sin began with Adam, our salvation begins in Christ.

Matthew 4. 1-11. Jesus, in solitude in the desert, faces his temptations.

Preaching Thoughts

Genesis
The traditional interpretation is: “Adam and Eve disobeyed God and the punishment is death. Everyone inherits Original Sin and its death sentence—from which Jesus saves us.” That’s nice and neat but runs a little shallow for me. I’m wary of that story for a few reasons. One is that it characterizes our relationship with God in terms of God’s laws and our obedience or disobedience, rather than God’s grace despite our inconsistent trust of it. Another is that what’s “original” about sin is not, despite what Paul says, that it’s Adam’s fault (oh, wait; he blamed it on Eve, so it’s her fault); no, we can’t blame it on anybody. It’s not Adam, or Satan, but our own distrust of God’s grace. Another problem is that the story as presented, especially at the beginning of Lent, makes it sound like sin is the problem that Jesus came to solve. (He came to show us how to love, not destroy sin. “The lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world doesn’t eliminate sin: he engenders trust.) That story easily slides into the idea that Christianity completes Judaism, which is false and hurtful. (And also non Jesus-like. He was a Jew, remember.) Blaming Adam too easily leads to blaming Jews, and blaming women—and if anything, blaming is our sin. So I look for other meaning in the story than pinning original sin on Adam & Eve.

Notice there’s actually nothing about a “Fall” in the text. It describes a rift in our relationship with God, but it does not denote an “original sin” or a change in human nature, or a change in the relationship between God and us. (The story is never referred to again in the Hebrew Bible.) It is about our distrust of God, but even that is a mixed bag. In good Jewish rabbinic style Eve questioned the law. That’s not a bad thing. In fact she exercises discernment in seeing “that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (3.6). Good on you, Eve!

But obviously the story is also about a failure, a breakage. I think the mistake is eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (and instead of the tree of life!). Rather than receive life from God, we imagine we are able to judge good and evil on our own. We think we’re as wise as God. We don’t need God. We sever our relationship: it’s not just that we break a rule, but that we break trust. That’s where the trouble is. The Serpent is not some sneaky devil slithering around trying to make us do bad things. It’s all the voices that urge us to distrust God, and to think we can do this without grace, and that there’s ever anything more important than love. Where are the serpents in your life?

Still, God is gracious, providing clothing for the people who are now ashamed. The results of Adam & Eve’s offense is not exactly punishment but the outcome of their broken relationship with God and Creation: birth and life will involve pain and hard physical labor. We will live always in the throes of trying to both realize and ignore the truth that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

God drives Adam and Eve from the garden not as punishment, but so they won’t try to eat of the tree of life (that’s what the angel guards in v. 24). We can’t just get life from a vending machine. We have to receive it daily, moment by moment, breath by breath, from God, in relationship with God, in the world, not in some Eden-bubble. And that’s what Lent is about: not beating ourselves up for being disobedient, but learning to trust.

Romans
Paul, who was trained as a religious lawyer, uses legal language of “trespass, judgment, condemnation and justification” to talk about our relationship with God. These are metaphors, not a literal reality. God is not enforcing laws and administering punishment. God is Love. Love, as Paul himself reminds us, makes no demands; it “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor. 13.5). Paul is getting at how in fact God’s grace sets us free from the legal restraints of demand-and-punishment; By God’s grace and forgiveness we are free to simply be God’s Beloved. Adam symbolizes the old way of thinking and living; Jesus offers us a new way of being. The key to Paul’s legal metaphor is the “free gift” of God’s grace. It doesn’t fit a legal framework, but springs us free!

When Paul says “sin came into the world through one man” this is metaphorical language. It doesn’t mean we inherit sin like a genetic disease. Sin is an aspect of human nature: a consequence of self-consciousness is the illusion of being an independent “self,” rather than part of God. This illusion of separateness is sin. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the downside of having an ego. But even as we cut ourselves off from God, God still stays connected. We are kids who run away and end up in jail; God is the parent who comes and rescues us and brings us home. Jesus is the one who shows up at the jail, who leads us out, who walks with us into our freedom, back into our belovedness.

Matthew
Jesus is not being tricked by some sneaky guy in a red suit. He’s facing his own inner temptations. And they’re the basic wants of the human ego: power, security, possessions, belonging, superiority—things we all crave. The temptations are graphic representations of the desires of the human ego—that part of our consciousness (that’s actually mostly subconscious) that keeps track of SELF. “Who am I? What’s me and what’s not-me? Where’s the boundary, and how do I keep it safe? What’s safe? How do I do what I need to do in the world? What power do I have? How do I belong in the world? Where do I fit in?” Each of us in our own way desire power: to affect the world around us, to turn stones into bread, to make things turn out the way we want. We desire security: safety, protection from harm, avoidance of pain, the fantasy of being able to make it through life unhurt, to fall off a cliff and be unharmed. We desire belonging: to fit in, to “own” our place, to be admired, to “possess” everything, to have all the kingdoms of the world.

These desires are not bad or evil. They’re part of the natural functioning of our egoic mind. Jesus experienced these things. Jesus’ triumph is not that he isn’t tempted, but that he knows he can only find security, power and belonging in God. Any effort to secure these for himself lead him away from God and away from authentic life. It’s as if he is back in the Garden and the serpent (within himself) says “You don’t need God,” and Jesus says, “Well, sometimes I sure feel that way, but it’s an illusion. I’m choosing God.” His replies to the devil say nothing about rules or “good and evil,” but about absolute trust and devotion to God, The victory is in choosing to trust God rather than blindly follow our egoic desires.

Lent is a season to confront how our desires for power, security, comfort, safety and belonging mislead us. And to continually practice turning again to God— turning now, in this moment, and again, and again, and again….

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Creator God, maker of earth and provider of life,
All: You are our bread, and our strength.
Loving Christ, willing to love at the cost of your life,
you are our courage and our hope.
Holy Spirit, you give us a world to serve for you.
You are our love, our belonging, and our calling. We worship you.

2.
Leader: God of life, we do not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from your mouth
All: Feed us the Bread of Life, O God.
We do not need to test you; we only need to receive.
Help us God, to trust you deeply.
The things of this world and their splendor,
the pride and belonging promised by its kingdoms, are illusions.
We come to be shaped by your Word,
that we may serve you and you alone, in the name of Christ.
We thank you. We trust you. We worship you.


3.
Leader: Gentle God, we are searching.
All: We come out into the wilderness with Jesus to find you.
Loving Christ, we are tempted.
We come out into the wilderness with you to find our way.
Holy Spirit, we are yearning for life.
You lead us out into the wilderness to find life.
We come to worship, to be filled with your Spirit, and to be changed.
Grant us your blessing. Grant us your mercy. Grant us your grace. Amen.


4.
Leader: Eternal God, Fountain of Life, River of Blessing, we worship you.
All: We go with Jesus into the desert, and learn to thirst for you.
Humble Christ, Bread of Life, you journey toward the cross, steadfast in love and self-giving.
We walk with you in the shadows, and seek your hunger for justice.
Holy Spirit, Breath of Life, you sustain us in the wilderness as we journey toward freedom.
We walk in your strength, and draw our courage from you.
God of grace, receive us as we worship. Loving Christ, accompany us.
Holy Spirit, burn in us, and transform us by your grace. Amen.

5.
Leader: God is merciful and gracious,
        slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
All: God does not deal with us according tour sins,
        but forgives us and receives us as God’s beloved.
Come, let us walk in the light of God,
        that God may teach us God’s ways,
        and lead us in God’s paths.
Create a new heart in us, O God,
        and put within us a new and right spirit.
Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of mercy, as Jesus was led out into the desert in solitude for self-examination, lead us into a place of clarity and simplicity, that in this Lenten season we might see ourselves as you see us and open ourselves to your loving transformation. Speak to us, that we may hear, repent, and be changed. Amen.

2.
God of love, we are tempted by many things, many urges and voices and powers. Help us listen to you, trust you and serve you. As we hear your Word we return to you. Help us always to return to you, in the Spirit and the company of Christ. Amen.

3.
Loving God, Jesus went out into the wilderness to face his temptations. Help us go with him, to see ourselves clearly, to know your love for us, and to let ourselves be changed by your Spirit at work in us. We enter the desert silence to hear your grace. Jesus, help us listen. Amen.

4.
O God, our deliverer, you led Jesus in the wilderness, where he fasted and faced his temptations. Lead us now through the wild places in our own souls. Help us to know and to claim our deepest hunger for you. In the desert of silence, in the wilderness of our solitude, speak to us, God, for we are hungry for your Word and thirsty for your Spirit. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

1.
Pastor: The grace of God is with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, we open ourselves in honesty to God.
God of love, help us to see ourselves with the eyes of love,
to see what is in us that is loving,
and what is not loving.

God, we recall when we have been in harmony with you, or with life, and we give thanks. [silent prayer…]
We recall when we have been out of harmony, and we seek your grace. [silent prayer…]
God of mercy, in Christ you have shown us your grace.
Forgive us, heal us, and perfect your love in us.
…(Silent prayer … The word of grace)

2.
Pastor: The grace of God is with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God of love, help us to see ourselves with the eyes of love,
to see all that is in us that is loving,
and all that is not loving.
We have failed to love, in what we have done and what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with all our heart, mind, soul and strength,
nor have we loved our neighbors as ourselves.
By the grace you show us in Christ,
gather us in your loving arms and have mercy on us;
heal us, forgive us, and perfect your love in us.

…(Silent prayer … The word of grace)

3.
Gracious God,
you love us so much more than we know,
more than our sin, which itself is more than we know.
Trusting in your grace,
we open our heart to you,
that we may see our self-centeredness,
and know your forgiveness.
Hold us in your gentle embrace,
that we may die and be reborn
in your perfect love.
Set us free by your grace
for we are broken, and we are beloved.

4.
…Gracious God, we confess our sin,
for our fears have overcome us,
and our desires have misled us,
and we have tried to live without you.
But you, and you alone, are our life.
Forgive our sin,
heal the desperation in our hearts,
and feed us with your Bread of Life,
that we may walk in your ways forever. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Into the dry places,
to the empty places,
to the fearful places
we come.
By your grace
we face where we are faint,
where we are broken,
and find there—there
in the wilderness
your grace,
our absolute belovedness.
Amen.

Readings

Psalm 32 — A Paraphrase
How blessed we are, that you forgive us so completely!
           When we’re honest, we know our sin,
           yet you treat us as if we have none.
When I tried to deny my brokenness
           the wound ate me up from within.
Then I got honest with myself.
           stopped trying to hide.
I confessed my waywardness to you,
           and you forgave me— you forgave me!
Therefore we have come to trust you deeply,
           and we offer prayer to you.
Even in this anxious flood
           the seething waters won’t reach us.
You are our hiding place, our safe place.
           You surround us with songs of deliverance.
Be glad in the Holy One and rejoice!
           Oh, sing for joy, you whose hearts have been saved!

Poetry

Temptations

What are your temptations?
Not sex and chocolate, OK?
Not beauty, not pleasure.

I mean the things that ruin you,
things that get in your way,
that lead you away from deep life.

What gets in the way of your perfect love?
What distorts your wisdom and vision?
What inhibits your kindness and courage?

Now. Remember when you fell in love?
You didn’t work at it, did you? It was a gift.
You bring the gift with you to the desert.

You’ll never vanquish your temptations.
You just have to remember the gift:
you already love God more than those things.

Eucharistic Prayer

1.
[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

God, we give you thanks, for we live not by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from your mouth.

You create us in your image, claim us as your children,
and covenant with us to be our God.
In our hunger for life we stray, and seek blessing in fruitless places,
but you set us free from our inner demons and lead us back to life.
In our greed for power and yearning to belong we use other people,
but you judge the forces of injustice
and set all your children free from all that oppresses.
In hunger for your grace we turn to you, dependent,
and trusting in your grace we come, singing your praise with all Creation:

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
With courage he looked within; with clarity he saw himself;
with compassion he saw others, and loved them.

He fed and taught them; he gathered a community of grace and kinship;
and he established an empire of justice and mercy.
For resisting injustice he was crucified; but you raised him from the dead.


[The Blessing and Covenant…]

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
As often as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection until he comes again.
Remembering these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a living and holy sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                     —or—
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
made clean by your Word, filled with your grace,
and set free to love, in the name of Christ.

     [Spoken or sung]
Amen
.
______________

2.
[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Creator God, you provide abundantly for us:
earth and all living things, food and beauty,
love and forgiveness and life without cost.
You judge the forces of injustice,
set us free from all that oppresses,
and walk with us toward your new world.
Yet we are tempted to go away from you.
Jesus was tempted: “If you are the Son of God,
command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But he relied on you alone, and proclaimed,
“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
And so with all Creation we thank you for the Bread of Life.

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He loved and taught, healed the broken and fed the hungry.
For such love he was opposed, and was tempted to seek security:
“Throw yourself down and angels will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”
But he relied on you alone, and proclaimed,
“Do not put God to the test.”
And so he was crucified for the sake of love;
but on the third day you raised him from the dead.

[The Blessing and Covenant…]

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
As often as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection until he comes again.
Remembering these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a living and holy sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be the Body of Christ, dead and raised
for service to you and to the world.
We are tempted to serve ourselves, as Jesus was tempted:
“The kingdoms of the world and their splendor I will give you.”
But he relied on you alone and proclaimed,
“Worship Yahweh your God, and serve only God.”

May this meal strengthen us to resist all temptation,
to repent and return to you, to rely on you alone,
and to proclaim your good news.
Bless us in this meal that we may serve you,
and serve the world for your sake.
All glory and honor is yours, loving and mighty God,
now and forever.

     [Spoken or sung]
Amen
.

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
1.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) We live not by bread alone but by your grace. Send us into the world, fed by your presence, to love all in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) May we trust in your abundant grace, and turn aside from every temptation, to serve you and serve the world in the name and Spirit of Christ.

3.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have fed our deepest hunger; you have saved us and brought us to new life. Send us into the world now, to share the Bread of Life with all who are hungry, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Into the Darkness(Original song)

Only the seed that has died and is buried lives to bear fruit, Jesus said.
Lead me then into the darkness and dying, so you can raise me up from the dead.
Jesus, help me die and rise.

All of my living, my loves and desires, all of the things that I cling to,
now I surrender to die and be buried. Raise me in following, serving you.
Jesus, help me die and rise.

Lead me to truth, and have mercy, and wash me dep in the dark of my being.
A spirit like bread that is taken and broken: this is the death that is freeing.
Jesus, help me die and rise.

Give me a clean heart, a heart poor in spirit, willing and steadfast and made new.
My life I lose; let your cross lift me up now. One joy restore to me: life in you.
Jesus, help me die and rise.


Return, My Soul (Tune: Finlandia)

Return, my soul, from all your hungry wandering,
your fearful search for comfort and control.
Let go my grasp of things apart from God,
for God alone can heal and hold my soul.
Return to God, for God alone will love me,
and give me life, and bless and make me whole.

Return, my soul, from all the things that dull me,
that soothe my sense, but leave my sin in place.
My broken heart, return from tricks and bargains;
turn to the One who meets me face to face.
Return to God. Each moment turn again;
receive unending love and life and grace.