1st Sunday in Lent
Homily Lent 1A
February 26, 2023
Today’s three readings, as well as the psalm, reflect the identical emphasis: What we do, matters. And we learn this in the wilderness.
What our ancestor, the first human, which is what “Adam” means, did, matters. And moreover, what Jesus did matters, too.
The question is, which of those three realities matters most?
Which tips the balance one way or another?
Today’s readings make it clear that the earliest Church accepted traditional Jewish thought about why the world is as messed up as it is.
The psalm, and other like it, take for granted that something has gone badly wrong – that God’s good creation has been twisted and distorted into something that does not reflect the generous love of God who created it from love, in love and for love.
The scriptures after Genesis do not much bother with the question of why this is true. There is no attempt to excuse personal or societal evil by saying, “the devil made me do it.” And in fact, the opposite is true.
Even in recounting the story of Adam and Eve, Judaism has not given anyone the right to refuse his or her own responsibility for wrongdoing.
The story is simply this: Sin, with a capital S, came into the world, and that affects everyone else who is ever born into it. It’s a bit like Pandora’s box, if you remember your Greek mythology – Once open, the evil that was in it flew out and could never be recaptured.
Or you might remember the story of an old woman shaking out a feather pillow in the wind and then trying to re-gather every feather.
Or a lesson someone taught, who asked a young teen to squeeze a tube of toothpaste onto a saucer and then told the child to put it back in. There are something that when done – seem to reverberate for ever.
The atmosphere is heavy, one might say. Sin, with a capital letter, is in the air, in the very stuff of human life. It affects us. We live in the midst of a world in which it is a drag on our freedom and on our joy.
But Jews, and most Christians – do not accept that the presence of Sin in the world has wholly corrupted any of us – “total depravity” is not a traditional Christian or Jewish understanding. We are created in the image of God and that is never erased.
It is always possible to do something to stand against the Power of Sin – or evil. Today’s Psalm 32 is a quite wonderful illustration of that, and it’s worth memorizing.
Any sin can be forgiven, obliterated, erased.
This was true long before Jesus – It is the teaching of the entire OT.
Confession, acknowledgment of wrong-doing allow us to escape its power to hurt us, and to set us free to begin again.
And what is sin? It is, at core, the desire to be independent of God, as in today’s story for Genesis, to desire to overthrow the authority of the Love that has created us, and to mistrust God’s intentions, to disobey whatever is required of us, in order to assert our own superior will instead.
We all know that impulse and we have all given in to it more than once.
And yet that kind of disobedience to Love has never made us happy for very long.
How we respond to guilt determines how easily and how fully we can be freed from it ; It always has.
God as Creator understands exactly what we are, and what we are capable of, both of heroism and of utter selfishness.
But we are made of the love of God and we will never be fully human until we align ourselves with God, who is Love.
Now parents are used to this rebellion.
It is a necessary part of growing up to test the boundaries, to try to see where the parent’s authority stops and our own starts.
Two year olds exercise it – so do twelve year olds.
And parents aren’t always right, anyway. We are not God.
For awhile, parents have to share the burden when a child does wrong. If a kid steals something, it is generally the parents who have to pay to replace it. But eventually, children grow up and have to accept responsibility for what they do, for the choices they make, whether for greatness or for foolishness and wrong.
And that is, again Psalm 32.
Jesus had exactly the same capacities that we all have: to choose to do Love and to trust and to exercise faithfulness, or not to. Nothing in Jesus’ full humanity means that he did not challenge his dad or push back against his mother. He had to learn what it meant to be a child of God, as we all do.
Nothing in his nature forced him to do good rather than evil.
Jesus was capable of sin.
It really matters to see that – He was as free as the first man – Adam.
And here is the joy of the Pauline text today in which Paul writes that Sin indeed came into the world through the first man; and death came through sin; and so death spread to all because ALL HAVE SINNED.
But from Paul’s point of view, Jesus’ obedience, which is the Gospel for today, Jesus’ decision NOT to trust the tempter, not to choose to assert himself against God, also has power, and according to Paul Jesus’ choice to obey has far MORE power than Adam’s choice to sin.
Humans may have been “in Adam” so to speak – and “Adam” was also in humans, but NOW that Christ Jesus has been the first man to fully be human, to Love, to fully trust and to obey God who is Love, the world has begun all over again, fresh, as if newly created, Creation reborn.
And the free gift , which is the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, is not like the trespass of Adam. For if the many (which means, “all”) died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely has the grace of God…abounded for the many (for all). 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…(and again, “the many” is a parallel – it means ALL.
So, far from a gospel that suggests that we humans are all depraved, helpless, hopeless sinners bound for death and/or an eternal hell (which is not Jewish at all) unless we do something, what we have is a creation that is set free – ALL OF US.
Far from assuming that Adam’s sin destroyed humanity but only a few , those who accept Jesus Christ as their own personal Savior, will be redeemed, Paul’s gospel is far more glorious. Adam sinned and ALL were hurt and Jesus the Lord did NOT sin, and in him, ALL are set free – ALL are justified and given life.
We were all “in Adam” – but now we are all “in Christ.” That is the good news. The incredible good news.
That is the basis for joy – and also for rethinking, reforming, repenting – beginning again.