Sunday, 5 March 2017

Is it true?

Gen 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Matthew 4:1-11

We just heard two readings from The Bible, one from Genesis and one from Matthew.  Then we sung that song “Ancient Words”.  Ancient words ever true, changing me changing you.

The song implies that the words of the scriptures can change the way we view ourselves and the world in which we live and in this we are also transformed.  It is certainly true for me that the words of the scriptures shape how I live and how I understand the world.  They shape my life.

But there can be no doubt that there are significant questions about the Bible and how we use the words of the Bible to shape our lives.  Each week as part of our gathering we spend time reflecting in some depth on passages from the Bible trying to listen for God speaking to us and making sense of these ancient words.

The story that we heard from Genesis today is great story to begin to introduce both the complexity of the Bible but also its relevance to us.  Most people can probably tell you who Adam and Eve are, and many can tell you the story, but how do we deal with it?

Over the past 5 years I have had the privilege of teaching Religious Instruction across the road at Ironside State School.  I always choose to teach the senior group grade 6, or before the change in education grade 7.  The story of Creation from Genesis, and of Adam and Eve is often one of the first stories we deal with.

Every year when we are discussing the story of Adam and Eve a student will put their hand up and ask this question.  “But is it true?”  Is it true? Often I respond by asking, “What do you mean by true?”

I ask this question because often what is student is asking is “Did it really happen?”  “Were Adam and Eve real people?”  They are trying to apply a pseudo-scientific or pseudo-historical approach to a spiritual story.

Did Adam and Eve really exist is not the most important question that this story raises for us?  It raises questions about personal responsibility and accountability, it raises questions about temptation and evil, it raises questions about God’s place in our lives. 

To help the students understand this I often do the following and I am going to ask you to participate as I do with them.

Can I ask you to put your hand up if you have a brother or sister?  Now think about that person and consider this.  Has there ever been a time - any point in your life - that you blamed them for something that you did wrong or at least were part of? 

I know that I have sought to deflect responsibility for my actions on to my siblings.  I have also experienced the same in other settings.  Has there been a time at school that you blamed a friend?  At work when you diverted responsibility to a colleague? 

Is the story of Adam and Eve true?  If this is one of its teachings then yes it is true.  It is true in all of us that we are all like Adam and Eve.

But let’s take this a little deeper and look at the serpent.  What was the serpent?  Where did it come from?  There is a tradition within the church that suggests that the serpent is the devil although Biblical the case for this is not really that strong.  What we are told in the story is this “the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made.”

The Bible does not really explain the origins of evil and temptation beyond this but if we ask the questions that arise they are found to be true.  Do we encounter inexplicable times of temptation in our own lives?  Temptation to seek something for ourselves ignoring the possible consequences this might have for others?  Temptation to deliberately put others down so we look better?  Temptation to seek to be above God and others?  And do we encounter inexplicable evil in the world?  When we look upon the behaviour of people around the globe are there times you simply cannot fathom the evil that is perpetrated?

Is it true?  Does the story confront us with the mystery of evil and temptation that we encounter in our own existence?  Yes it does, it is true.

And this temptation leads us into the biggest temptation of the story.  Do we seek to be like God?  Do we as humans seek to be God?  We supplant God with ourselves?  The history of the last 500 years of human thought in the West, and possibly even longer, has been the sustained attack on the concept of God.  There has been a shift of God from the centre of human life to humanity as the centre of existence.  It is all about us, or even more scarily in this individualistic era, it is all about me.

Such is the impact that this has had on the world that a geologist and chemist have defined the era in which we now live as the Anthropocene.  Our obsession as humans with our place at the centre of existence has moved us from being stewards of God’s garden of creation to its exploiters.

Did Adam and Eve really exist as individuals, for me this does not seem to be an important question because Adam and Eve exist in each one of us!  The story is true.

But this is only part of the bigger story of God’s love for us.  When I prayed the prayer of confession I shared with you a reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans which reminded us that Jesus came to set things right between us as human beings and God.

The reading from Matthew is just one glimpse of how Jesus did this.  Instead of succumbing to the serpent as Adam and Eve do Jesus says no to Satan.  He resists temptation.  This is part of Jesus mysterious and gracious journey through life restoring us in our relationship with God.

He lives, he dies and he is raised from among the dead as a sign of God’s love for us despite our faults, our foibles and our failings.

This is the good news not that we love God as we should but that God loves us even when we fail to love God.

As people who gather each week to hear the scriptures and reflect on them we come to listen for this good news but also to think about how we might live in response to this good news.

In Jesus’ resistance of temptation he says three things that can shape our imperfect response.

One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
Worship the Lord your God and serve only him

Each of these statements can become an invitation for us to live our lives again with God at the centre.  Recognising that though we fail like Adam and Eve by the free gift of God’s love we are drawn into Jesus’ life and we are drawn into being his followers.

Is the story of Jesus temptation true?  My sense is that it is true that Jesus resists Satan and that through him we rediscover whose we truly are and who truly are.

Ancient words ever true, changing me changing you.

Can we be changed by the words?  Possibly not on their own.  But can we be changed by the God who speaks to us through them?  Can we be transformed by Jesus who walked amongst us?  Can we become followers of Jesus and be shaped by his love for us?

For me the answer is yes, and for many of you no doubt the answer is the same.  For anyone here who is still searching my invitation to you is to remain open minded and join in the journey of faith and discover that God is already with you. Amen

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