Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent
5th Mar 2017
Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent Year A
“Then the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him”. Matthew 4.11
Some time ago Muslim parents from Argyle School came and visited this church. There was one man who asked lots of questions. He looked at all the statues in this church and then with some indignation, asked me why there was no statue to the first man, Adam? The question took me by surprise. For him Adam was of huge importance from the point of view of our human origins; the one to whom we are all related. The first man…From a Christian point of view this still stands but it is incomplete. For Christians, Adam represents original Man but also Man in his fallen state. Even though Eve bites the apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, both are banished from the Garden of Eden. And this is the banishment from a world imagined originally to be free from human frailty.
Adam and Eve might have been the first two beings, but they appear to as victims of circumstance. Their lives are lived in a flat line. They are emotional children. Their predicament does not represent a mature or real humanity as we know it. Their world, after all, is an enclosed garden. One writer described Eden as ‘a whitewashed sanatorium’ of semi-human being. If it is true that life on earth has been pictured as an exile not from the whitewashed sanatorium but from the Creator’s love, then banishment from the Garden was a necessary tragedy and one which best describes Man in his fallen state. The Old Testament begins in a garden and ends in the new city redeemed by a loving God. For, as Newman put it, “A Second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came”. In Jesus our common humanity is found transformed in the one reconciliation with the Father which Eden could not hold.
The Christian response draws human history on a large canvas which doesn’t only contain the broad and spreading human family tree with Adam as our forefather. It transforms this view of our origins as it provides for a deep reflection not only on the being but also on the very nature of Man. It is from the state of alienation from God that God out of his love for his own brings forth Jesus to rescue Man from a state of alienation from the source of God’s love.
The core of Christian interest in the Genesis Creation text, and the reason for its place in early Christian education, lies in the fact that in these passages are established, once and for all, the foundations of biblical and Christian spirituality. These are the sign-posts, the basic terms and principles, of the spirit's pilgrimage. That is why this teaching was expounded to the early Christians under instruction; the catechumens. It was these lessons which decisively marked the border which they had crossed as they moved from paganism to Christianity. And it was a crossing over into a realm in which for the first time, Christians would speak of ‘the divine compassion’ and of the sacrifice of Christ, the beloved Son of God as showing and leading humankind in what was simple called ‘The Way’. New and lasting compass bearings were established from the point of view of a Christian Faith established in and through the agency of the human conscience and its heart. What is opened up is a Christian faith in the love of God can steadily “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things’ 1 Corinthians 13.7) Christ has brought us a long way from Eden! The human being is reinstated in all his real depth, and in the urgency of our longing.
Christ is the one who comes to act decisively - to come and bring humankind into a proper understanding and a proper relationship in God. The means by which this is achieved is invested in the struggle with human sin and temptation. Jesus, the Second Adam, is to work this through not in a garden of paradise but in the desert. Not present this time the fabled tree of the knowledge of good and evil but the devil himself. Jesus receives and holds for us the knowledge of good and evil as he resists the temptation by the evil one to subvert that knowledge for selfish ends. In his deliverance in the desert from the devil, Jesus offers to the world what the Orthodox have termed ‘The Harrowing of Hell’ in which Jesus grabs fallen humanity strongly by the arm and leads us across a rickety bridge which is our frailty and into that place of communion with him who has become the gateway to the knowledge and the fullness of life which comes from the Father…
It is in Jesus and Jesus alone in whom we can ‘perceive and know what it is we must do and have grace and power to finish the same’. The Christian Faith does not compose a religion of countless rules and regulations, of dos and don’ts, even though we it contains an instruction in ‘The Way’. . No, the importance of the practice of Christian Faith is our own acknowledgement and experience of our spiritual and actual freedom and of its vulnerability to misuse and to the subversion of our deeper and truer intentions. A ‘gap’ exists between them, and in Lent it is as though we are saying ‘Mind the Gap!’ But Jesus has come to us, and he offers us in the harrowing of hell that which Adam never could. It is what we have called ‘the means of grace and the hope of glory’. He is divine mercy. He takes us gently by the arm and gently beckons in the Way which leads to the Father’s love for us as his creatures. We respond in worship of him, our Maker, who spoke Creation into being and even now speaks to us and calls us into his own being, where he remains in Jesus Christ One God, world without end. Amen.
Philippians 2:12b-13: "...work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you,
both to will and to work for His good pleasure".
The God of all grace,
The Blessing from the Baptism and Confirmation Rites.