Share In His Story... Mind, Spirit, & Body - Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent (February 26, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Genesis 2:15–17, 3:1–7 | Psalm 32 | Romans 5:12–19 | Matthew 4:1–11
“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” (Romans 5:18)
Today we mark the first Sunday of the season of Lent: A time of preparation for the unfolding of Holy Week, and the story of Christ’s betrayal, death, and resurrection. Lent invites us all to slow down, to take stock, and turn back to the LORD with all that we are. And for many, Lent is a time to take up the spiritual practice of fasting… deciding not to eat, or to avoid certain behaviours for a time.
I have a bit of a confession to make: this year, I’ve struggled to come up with something to give up for Lent. Since I was introduced to the practice of Lenten fasts some years ago, I’ve often looked forward to this season, giving up things like: drinks with sugar in them, caffeine, meat, screentime in the evenings… all sorts of things that I might enjoy, but which I can choose to give up if it opens me more up to God. But this year, for some reason, I’ve really had a hard time getting a Lenten fast of the ground.
Preparing for today’s sermon, I spent some time reflecting on why this was… what was going on inside of me. And to be honest, I think I’d sort of forgotten what fasting is really all about. I think I had fallen into the trend of treating fasting like some sort of spiritual workout… some way to challenge and improve myself when it comes to the Christian life.
But there’s much more to fasting than this. There’s much more spiritual nourishment, and fulfillment that Christian fasting can help us receive… not as a technique or a method of making something happen… inside us, or out in the world… but as a way to say “yes” with all that we are to all that God has for us.
I’m deeply indebted to the New Testament scholar Scot McKnight, who literally wrote the book on Fasting, and who I think defines it very well: “Fasting is a person’s whole-body, natural response to life’s sacred moments.”
McKnight goes on to unpack how this ancient practice fits into the story of Scripture, which then calls us to re-imagine what fasting might mean for us today.
McKnight claims “Because Israel’s perception of the person was unified, repentance often expressed itself in the physical act of fasting. The moment of turning from sin and back to God, of turning from a false path onto the path of light, of empathizing with God’s grief over Israel’s sin, was so sacred and so filled with the potential of the grace-giving God that Israelites chose not to eat.” There is a deep sense of ones whole life, body, mind, and spirit, as being all wrapped up together, all integrated, so that any major events in ones life would call for a bodily response, just as much as one of the heart or mind.
So as we think about the season of Lent, and all it entails… the turning, or returning to the Living God… the practice of fasting, and so on, the question before us is: how are we turning to God with all of our heart, and mind, and body? With all that we are? Thankfully, our Scripture readings today point us towards the answer.
They hold up for us two stories… two paths, to approaches to life… to ways to be human… one rooted in the ancient depiction of the first humans, Adam & Eve, and the other arising from the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.
So, this morning, I want to invite us to compare these two paths, these two stories side-by-side, and see what light they might be able to shine on our own lives today:
In our first reading from Genesis Chapter 3, we find Adam and Eve in the garden paradise of God: Created to bear and be the image of God, serving as His representatives and agents on earth… charged with caring for His good world, with tending and keeping His garden.
And in our reading today from St. Matthew’s Gospel we find a very different picture: we see Jesus being led up by the Spirit of God into the desolate wilderness. Into a dry and desolate land, wild and waste, and empty of life.
Now right before being led into the desert, Jesus had just been baptized in the Jordan River by John… which was the first moment when His unique identity was affirmed: Matthew 3:16-17, “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Armed only with this divine declaration of love, Jesus goes out to the desert and fasts, deprived of even the basic necessities for forty days and nights, until He was famished. While in the garden, Adam and Eve had everything they could have wanted.
But despite these differences, these stories do have a few things in common. For instance, both the first humans in the garden, who were created in the image of God, and Jesus of Nazareth, who St. Matthew tells us is the beloved Son of God, would have their identities challenged and called into question by the voice of a deceiver.
In Genesis, a cunning serpent, who comes to signify dark spiritual forces opposed to God’s will, deliberately twists the words of the LORD to Adam and Eve, convincing them to doubt the LORD’s love for them, and that instead of giving them good limits that will lead them to abundant life, God was really just withholding something really good for them that they could simply seize for themselves: that is, the wisdom to discern good from bad on their own apart from God.
The serpent insists that they shouldn’t trust God’s word to them, and that instead, if they eat the forbidden fruit,
they “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.” (Genesis 3:4-5).
The irony is, of course, they were already made to be like God: created as His image-bearers, they were made to reflect His divine character, and care for creation as His co-rulers, under His loving lordship. But the serpent offered them a path to being “like God” without this essential relationship. And they took the bait. They saw the fruit, they ate of it, and brought the power of death into God’s good world.
In a similar way, when the tempter comes after Jesus in the wilderness, famished after his long fast, the devil goes right for the stomach. But importantly, just like with Adam and Eve, this temptation was also a hidden jab at Jesus’ identity, seeking to plant the seeds of doubt in His relationship with the Living God. “If you are the Son of God,” the devil says, “command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3). But unlike Eve and Adam, Jesus does not doubt His Father’s word, or His loving care, trusting Him to graciously provide all the nourishment and strength required in His hour of need. Jesus answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4).
Back to the Garden, after they take and eat the fruit, we can see how the tempter had cut off the first couple’s confidence in God to care for them… and now, instead of serving as His images on earth, reflecting His goodness and glory with their lives for all the world to see, the humans, now full of shame, seek to hide themselves from the LORD, and one another. They were no longer free to be fearless… able to trust God to preserve them from harm.
Turning back to the Gospel, we find the devil leading Jesus to Jerusalem, to the very top of the Holy Temple… the pinnacle of God’s sacred place, where he dares Jesus to make the most public display of His faith imaginable: “If you are the Son of God,” the devil says, “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.’” (Matthew 4:6).
Twisting the Scriptures to suit his own purposes, the devil prompts Jesus: “Don’t you trust God? If you really are His Son, won’t He rescue you? Prove You have nothing to fear. Prove that You really trust Him! Prove You’re really who You think You are!”
And Jesus does prove He trusts God… just not at all in the way the devil demanded. Jesus responds by simply saying no. I trust My Father. I do not have to prove anything. I will “not put the Lord God to the test.” Unlike Adam and Eve, who had lost their faith in their relationship to the Living God, Jesus was able to place His complete confidence in His Father without any spectacle at all… just simple, quiet obedience and faithfulness was needed, not a dramatic show of so-called devotion. Faithfulness is how we can live fearlessly before the Lord.
So now the gloves come off. The time for subtly is over, and the devil lays all his cards on the table. He shows Jesus all of the kingdoms of the earth… all their glory, and splendour… and says: “It’s all Yours. All of it can be Yours. Just worship me, and I will give you the world. Everything!”
This is, of course, at the heart of the temptation that Adam and Eve were offered as well: ‘become like God, knowing good and bad for yourselves, and you can rule the world without Him. You can have everything you want, whenever you want it. You don’t need God, trust me.’
And of course, that’s what we did. Not just Adam and Eve in the Garden, but all of humanity… all through the ages… all over today’s headlines… this is the story of our world. Our story. Whether we’re talking about whole nations invading and seeking to dominate or destroy their neighbours… or people in positions of power, exploiting and abusing the vulnerable… or even the simple, self-centered lifestyles we just take for granted, that revolve around our desires for comfort, security, recognition, and success, whatever.
We see with our own eyes what we want. We reach out and take it for ourselves… and we re-introduce death into God’s good world… again and again and again.
Adam and Eve embody our story. Our path. Our way of life, apart from the Living God. Where we fearfully search for fulfillment, and only find ourselves famished instead.
But the Good News is, there is another story. Another path. Another way to live. One embodied in none other than Jesus of Nazareth.
To the tempter’s best offer, Jesus replies: “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Matthew 4:10).
Jesus flat out refuses to serve the devil, or become a slave to His own desires, but radically reaffirms His devotion to His Heavenly Father alone. Where Adam and Eve were deceived, and led astray by doubting God’s love for them, Jesus completely passes the test by placing His trust, His life completely in God’s hands.
At this point, there’s nothing more that the devil can do to Him, and so this time of temptation comes to an end… but all through His life, Jesus will remain just as devoted, just as committed to His Father, which will require this same steady faithfulness every step of the way. The same way, the same path that Jesus calls you and I to follow.
And here, we too face a temptation: the temptation to reduce all that Jesus has done here to merely an example to emulate… showing us that faithfulness is possible, and then sending us out on our own to go, and do likewise.
This is one of the great temptations that plagues the religious life: the temptation to believe that all we need is to figure out what we need to do to make ourselves better… more spiritual… more godly… more like God, if you will… If that rings a bell.
This impulse can be deceptive, preying on our desires to do good, and be good, but offering us our own path to self-improvement and spiritual growth on our own terms. So then, even sacred seasons like Lent, and practices like fasting can become just one more forbidden fruit… good things, twisted to make us trust in ourselves and what we can achieve, instead of in God’s great love for us.
But the Good News is that Jesus did far more than just show us how to become good, or how to pass our own temptation tests… on our own. He passed the test for us! He faithfully faced every temptation in order to undo their fierce power over us, and now He shares His victory and New Life with us as well.
In other words, Jesus restarted and rescued the story of humanity once and for all.
This is the wonderful message that St. Paul was working through in his letter to the Romans, showing how what Jesus alone has done has changed everything.
Looking back to Genesis, St. Paul says “sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
He then goes on, “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many” (Romans 5:15).
“Free gift”, “grace”… these are the words St. Paul uses to describe how we now receive the New Life of God. A free gift, that has its source in one man: Jesus Christ.
He goes on to explore the differences between the works of Adam and Christ: through the first came condemnation, the domination of death for all through disobedience. But through the second comes justification, abundant grace, the free gift of righteousness, and new life for all “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:21).
Jesus Himself has opened up another story for humanity… not to pursue or fulfill on their own, but to receive as a gift in Him. He took on Himself all the consequences for our failed story… taking up His cross and bearing the full brunt of the death that Adam and Eve earned for us all in the garden, and which we all keep on embracing in our own ways… and He did this to bring God’s New Life to those who place their faith, their trust not in themselves and what they can achieve… but in Jesus God’s Beloved Son, and what He has done.
And so we can commemorate Lent, and practice fasting, not to make ourselves better somehow, but to turn wholeheartedly to our Saviour. To step out of our old stories, and receive the free gift of His story… all that He is, all that He’s done for us, all that He will do in and through us. We can fast to entrust ourselves, our whole selves, mind, spirit, and body, into the nail-pierced hands of Jesus, who rest completely in the faithful, loving hands of our Father in Heaven. We fast to say no to ourselves, so we can say yes to Jesus, and in our weakness our emptiness, to find that He is our strength. That He is our sustenance, He is our bread from heaven, and the Word that comes from the Living God.
So then, whether or not we take up a fast, or other Lenten practice this year, let us wholeheartedly entrust ourselves, our minds, our souls, and bodies, to Jesus, our loving Saviour, and step into His life-giving story. Amen.
 Scot McKnight, Fasting (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009), xiv.
 Scot McKnight, Fasting (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 24-25.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School