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Rooted Growing Branching

Mar 5, 2017

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LEST A SEED DIE

Jodie Hatlem, preaching

Today is the first Sunday of Lent and the first Sunday in which we will—through word, song, and image—explore our Lenten theme: Dying to Live; Living to Die.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday with the reminder that we were made from dust and that to dust we will return, and it ends on Maundy Thursday with Jesus’ betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane and with his own anguish as he faces his impending death.   So, Lent is clearly about death.

But, our word Lent derives from an Anglo-Saxon word that simply means “Spring.”

In the tradition, Lent is the time when we are   prepare to fully embrace the great festival of the Christian year—Easter. The feast of Christ’s resurrection, the definitive victory of life over death. So, Lent is also clearly about life.

In other languages the name for this period of time is drawn from the number “40,” a scriptural number loaded with images of life and death. 40 days and nights is the length of time the world stood under flood waters. It is the length of time the Ninevites were asked to fast and pray to save their city. It is the amount of years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness depending on manna from heaven.   And, lest we forget. 40 weeks is the amount of time it takes to fully gestate a human baby. I suspect that it is this juxtaposition of life and death that makes Lent so painful. Like a seed being burst open. Or roots coming to live after being dormant. Confronting the chill of the early spring ground.

In our passage for today—40 days is the amount of time Jesus spends in the wilderness fasting and praying. Jesus’ 40 days of temptation immediately follows his baptism by John the Baptist. At his Baptism the heavens had opened and the Spirit of God had descended like a dove.

And God the Father said: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

I would like to explore, today, the temptation of Jesus in light of this baptismal account.

At his baptism Jesus has been definitively named God’s “beloved one.” And to some degree, I think, Satan is tempting Jesus in the wilderness with various misconstrual of what being “God’s beloved” might mean. If you were really God’s beloved than you would not hunger, or you would be powerful, Or you would be protected.

During Lent like Jesus we are confronted with the fact that our own belovedness will not protect us from fear, or hunger, death, disorder, sin, temptation. And yet there are all around us witnesses to a mystery. Love is stronger than death. Those that cling to their lives will lose it, but those who lose their lives—will regain it. They don’t have any tricks to convince others. They can’t produce bread from stone. They cannot force belief through political power. What they have instead is the fragility of their witness. Someone like Steven Zwerg [brutally beaten during the US Civil Rights movement and discussed earlier in the sermon], or someone like Corrie Ten Boom who went to a concentration camp for hiding Jews, losing her Father and her Sister, but discovering there that there is no hell that human beings can create that God’s love is not greater still. Or Julian of Norwich who in the midst of the ravages of the plague could write

“Is there anywhere on earth a lover of God   is always kept safe. I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me.   But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.”

Such people offer the fragility of their witness. They do not offer a simple spiritual formula.   They do not offer the simple cause and effect that Satan tempts Jesus with.

I suspect that if you are in this building this morning it is in part because you have encountered people whose lives gave evidence to the truth of this mystery,

Or, you have experienced this mystery yourself: Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed, but if it dies it bears much fruit.

John 12:23-26
Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’ Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’ Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’ Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘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.’ So when the woman saw 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, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

(NRSV)