Monday, March 14, 2011

Just How Hungry Are We?

Morning Worship for the First Sunday of Lent
March 13, 2011
“Just How Hungry Are We?”
Lectionary for the Second Sunday of Lent: Genesis 12:1-4a;
Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17
Organ Prelude
Greeting by Pastor
Invocation (in unison):
Great and holy God, awe and reverence, fear and trembling do not come easily to us, but we come before you this morning, the first Sunday in Lent, knowing that your eyes are upon us and that your love surrounds us. It is you, Lord, who teach us and guide us. Help us to hunger after you. Help us to want what we need. Help us to rejoice in the gift of your unfailing love. Amen.
The Entrance
*Introit #269 “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days” (vs. 1 & 2)
*Call to Worship: Cesar Chavez (1927-1993)
Show me the suffering of the most miserable;
So I will know my people’s plight.
Free me to pray for others;
For you are present in every person.
Help me to take responsibility for my own life;
So that I can be free at last.
Give me honesty and patience;
So that I can work with other workers.
Bring forth song and celebration;
So that the Spirit will be alive among us.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow;
So that we will never tire of the struggle.
Let us remember those who have died for justice;
For they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us;
So we can change the world. Amen.
*Opening Hymn #402 “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian”
*Greeting One Another with the Peace of Christ
Anthem by Our Choir
A Time for Children of All Ages
(Children 3 and older may proceed to Children’s Church.)
Proclamation of the Word
Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 (New Living Translation)
Musical Interlude
New Testament Lesson: Romans 5:12-19 (The Message)
Musical Interlude
The Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11 (The Message)
Sermon: “Just How Hungry Are We?” Pastor Dora J. Odarenko
Response to the Word
*Sermon Hymn #397 “I Need Thee Every Hour”
Prayer of Confession (in unison):
Dearest Lord, we are afraid to face the reality of our mortality and of our sins. Turning to you seems like too great a burden or we are ashamed to begin to admit our misdeeds. Instead we busy our minds with all manner of self-important distractions and worries. Forgive us for hiding from you or simply thinking we can turn our backs. Forgive us for tiptoeing into your presence with little expectation. Forgive us for finding it so hard to turn fully to you. In your steadfast love, cleanse us. In your Holy Spirit, restore us. In the name of our Savior, we pray. Amen.
(A period of silence for reflection and prayer will follow.)
Words of Assurance and Hope
Sharing of Joys and Concerns
Silent Prayer followed by Pastoral Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer
The Offering of Our Gifts
*Prayer of Thanksgiving
Sending Forth
*Sending Hymn #398 “Jesus Calls Us” (vs. 1, 3-5)
*Dismissal with Blessing
Organ Postlude

Sermon for 3.13.11, first Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:15-17, 3.1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Please pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

From today’s Gospel: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

I have to start this morning with my goats. In this season of self-examination and repentance, it’s not bad to see ourselves through an outrageous comparison. Goats are so determined: determined to find a way to push down the fence, to get into the garden, to whip around me and get into the grain bin. It’s not only about eating. It’s about independence and being what they please, over and over again. It’s about their understanding of freedom, which they love.

Our love of these same traits may help us look at our first story from Scripture: Adam and Eve in the Garden. We’ve heard it described so often as a tale about sin and sex. We all know the terrible rap that Eve and women have had to take because of this way of reading it. But the words “sin” and “punishment” do not appear. Maybe we should think about this account as a way to talk about God’s purposes for us.

Into this garden of original blessings, God placed the first humans, giving them clear instructions. The Hebrew tells us they were “to serve and to preserve or protect” this garden, not simply till and keep it. God is giving the man and the woman a vocation.1 This vocation is not to lord it over the garden or see what they can get out of it. It is to be responsible for what had been placed in it, and watch over it. In other early creation stories, the gods often created people as a by-product or a mistake. It was the most earnest belief of these first writers of Scripture that our God created us for a holy purpose, to care for what God had made and loved.

In doing so, God gave us a great deal of freedom, but the freedom was not total. God asked for trust and intimacy. And so this vocation and its freedom had limits, constraints considered appropriate by God, and consequences if these constraints were ignored. These limits are made real for us by that famous tree with its apple.

When the serpent asks the woman whether God really gave them such a command, he’s trying to redirect the way Eve thinks of her vocation. He also wants to erode her trust in God. “Think about what you can gain for yourself. You’ll have a whole new kind of seeing,” he argues, “You’ll know so much more.” Trying out his suggestion, Eve looks at the tree again: it certainly seems to have good fruit; it’s beautiful—and therefore can’t be all that bad for her; and she will have a whole new and broad range of experiences. So she decides to go her own way and eat.

The result of her hunger and that of her husband is to estrange them from God and, as we hear them quarreling, from one another. God didn’t simply want them to behave,2 to fall into line. God wanted fullness of life for them in that fertile garden, through a balanced relationship with God and all that God had placed there with them. But their desire to put their own personal knowledge ahead of God’s guidance means that they tried to become like God. They were no longer simply and wonderfully in God; they acted against God.3 Actions against God’s creation must follow.

Such willful breaking of their relationship with God is what we must call sin. It is a pattern for a whole list of sins—many of them horrible. Cain’s murder of Abel will follow. But we may take more from this story if we think about how subtlely the problem starts and repeats itself: with lack of trust in God, lack of relationship with God, with turning away from what God is calling us to do, with forgetting God’s gracious limits on our own self-centeredness. This is the human condition without grace.

God wants so much more for us and with us than that. And so we are given a second story from Scripture this morning, the story of Jesus in the wilderness. Just as we know that Eve will say yes, we know that Jesus will say no. But Matthew wanted us to hear Jesus say no, wanted us to hear the way he refused to act against God. Matthew also wanted us to realize that even for the beloved son there was testing. Just as the serpent wanted Eve to question God’s loving instructions, so that voice in Jesus’ ear wanted to mislead Jesus about sonship with God.

Each of the temptations is a variation on the desire for power or control. Each would separate Jesus from God and lead to self-destruction. These temptations continue to haunt us. Can stones become bread? Should we demand miracles? Should the laws of nature be pushed aside? As we increasingly learn to do so, should we abandon or mistreat the natural world that we have been given? What about spectacle, outward show, and risk taking? Should we long for such abilities in our leaders, our entertainers, and in our culture? How high have we turned the volume of our own lives? Who and what suffers because of such priorities? What about the sheer drive for power, political or otherwise? What models shape our decision-making, our conversations and our meetings: in our churches, school boards, and assemblies? How hungry are we for authority and esteem? How far do we allow jealousy and the desire for privilege to drive us? Who and what do we overlook and abandon?

As Jesus rejects each temptation, he prepares himself for the cross. He prepares us, as we begin this season of Lent, to understand the cost of the cross that we are approaching with him. Jesus last temptation will come as he hangs “despised and rejected” and is mocked by those who pass by, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40).

But Jesus is not yet there. In the wilderness, he drives Satan away with his final great assertion: “Serve the Lord your God with absolute single-heartedness.” Then angels come and bring him the food and drink his body must have longed for. I love the tenderness of the older translations here: “Angels came and waited on him,” angels “ministered unto him.”

In his systematic rebuke of Satan, Jesus shows, despite fatigue and hunger, that we do have incredible freedom, the freedom to be obedient and to trust the relationship and the vocation for which God created us. This is the freedom to which Lent invites us. This is the hunger that Lent helps us discover and promises to fill. Most of us are recovering sinners,4 needing over and over again to speak our misdeeds to God. But God’s grace and God’s vocation call us by name. Every day and every Lent.

Let us pray: Dearest Lord, Give us the grace to trust you even when it is hard for us to believe that you are near enough to help. Even when it is hard for us to realize how deeply you love us. In this time of Lent, help us to turn our sins over to you. Help us to stop thinking so much about ourselves and to come closer to you and the creation in which you have placed us. Through our care of what you have given us and through mindfulness of your Word, let us return your love. We pray in your dear name. Amen.

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