Date: February 26, 2023 (First Sunday in Advent)
Scripture: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Scripture Reader: Suzanne Hevelone
Sermon Title: “Lead Us Not into Temptation”
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When I was doing my internship as a seminarian, I was scheduled to preach for one Sunday. As a seminarian, I was not expected to preach on a regular basis. But we were expected to preach twice per year at the church where we were doing our internship. Sunday was coming. And the text from the Bible I chose, which I do not even remember which text now, was so tough. I was pulling my hair until Saturday night, and my sermon was not even half done. So, I prayed to God, “Please God help me. Give me your wisdom. Please help me to preach your words tomorrow morning.” And God indeed intervened for me. The next morning, it snowed so much that I got a call from the church that the Sunday service was canceled.
Now, I shared at the staff meeting this past Tuesday that I was going to preach from Genesis 2 and 3. I told the staff that I had always preached from the text that tells us how Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. And as I was preparing for Sunday, I wrestled to the point that I even regretted choosing this text. There are just many enigmatic questions in this story. Why did God place both the tree of life and that of knowledge in the first place? Wouldn’t it be better if God did not create the tree of knowledge so that we would not be tempted in the first place? So, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit wanting to be like God knowing good and evil. Why is this a bad thing? Lastly, why did the devil take the form of a serpent? By the way, if we catch a talking snake, we all can be rich.
The creation story in the Bible often causes some conflict with science leading to creation vs evolution. Biblical scholars notice that there were some other similar stories found in other ancient cultures. Besides, some churches still teach that women need to subordinate to men because Eve was deceived first, not Adam as argued by Paul in 1 Timothy 2. So, the creation story in Genesis could be confusing, controversial, or even messy. However, Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar, notices how the church has doxologically interpreted the creation story in a coherent way to testify that “God is the One who created and blessed the world with abundance, created the human creatures to care for the world, and how the evil inherent in creature came to exist.”
Here is what Genesis tells us. When God created Adam out of dust, God put him in the garden and gave him a job which was to till it and keep it. One of my joys coming to Aldersgate last year was to arrive at the church and see people like Jim, Lee, Wendy, Deana, and Chris working at the vegetable garden. Touching and watering the ground, spreading the seeds, and harvesting. Living in harmony with the creation, not to exploit or dominate. That was the job of the first human being. And God gave so much freedom to both Adam Eve, as God allowed them to eat the fruits from every tree in the garden. But the only restraint was this. “But do not eat the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you do you will die” (v.17).
But one day, the serpent came. The Bible tells us that the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal. John Wesley interprets that it was the tempter, the devil taking the form of a serpent who came and attacked our “first parents.” Here is what the serpent says. “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’” Do you hear the question? The serpent does not say, “Did God say You shall not eat from the tree of knowledge?” But it asks a question that is not a simple yes or no, drawing Eve to reflect more on the command of God. And Eve answers wisely, “We can eat the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God told us not to eat the tree in the middle of the garden because if we do, God said that we will die.”
And the serpent says, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God. You will know what is good and evil.” When the woman saw the tree, it looked good for food, and it was a delight to the eyes. So she took it and ate it. And Eve also gave some to her husband, Adam. For those who blame women for being deceived by the serpent, here is a thing. It seems clear that when Eve was speaking with the serpent, Adam was with her the whole time, as the Bible says, “she gave the fruit to her husband who was with her. Besides, their eyes were opened, and they recognized that they were naked only after Adam also ate the fruit. So, the Book of Genesis shows how the first human beings communally failed to trust in the words of God.
But I want us to pay attention to the temptation here. God told both Adam and Eve that when they ate the tree of knowledge, they would surely die. We do not know why and how. We might not fully understand why God even placed such a tree in the middle of the garden in the first place. But God still gave a choice to the first human beings. One would lead to the path of life, the other would lead to the path of death. The choice is ours. And as Paul says in Romans that there is a conflict in his heart. He says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:15-19). Therefore, we are created in the image of God who is good, our nature is also corrupted and inclined to evil.
Let me share with you my testimony from this past week. This past Friday, I was scheduled to bring my SUV to a car repair shop in Nashua, NH. I had to be there by 9:30 am, and I was already running late. As you can remember, we had some pretty bad weather on Thursday with heavy snow. I had already cleaned the snow from the car on Thursday. But it still had some leftovers on the top. By Friday morning, the layer of snow had been frozen. Again, I was running against time. And I thought that it would be ok to drive to Nashua. When I entered the highway, however, I felt something wrong. I felt a big chunk of snow flying off the roof of my car. Suddenly, the truck behind me started honking at me, signaling me to pull over to the side of the road.
I got out of my car and saw that the snow layer turned ice hit the windshield on the passenger’s side and smashed it completely. For a second, I could not believe what had happened. I asked the truck driver if he was injured. He said that he was ok, but he could not drive the truck anymore because he would be pulled over by the police. He also said that he had a delivery schedule, and this accident was going to affect his work. As I was wrestling with the question of whether to call the insurance company or not, the truck driver said, “Ok. I will call a car glass company and get the estimate later and call you.” As I got back into my car and drove toward Nashua, I noticed other cars with snow on their top and complained, “Why did this happen to me? Those cars are not clean either.”
Here is how Adam and Eve answered God when God held them accountable. Adam answered to God, “Well, the woman you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” When God asked Eve, she also blamed the serpent, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” In the same way, I was grumbling a little bit Friday morning, being frustrated, and upset about myself, at the same time being relieved that there were no other cars or people who got injured by my stupidity. I was sitting in the car repair shop wondering how much this truck driver would ask me to compensate. This was going to be a liability for the delay in transporting whatever items he was delivering. What if he would hold me accountable and make me pay for it?
It still gives me a chill to the bone to think that my listening to the inner voice that morning could have led to a major accident or even casualty that morning. And that is what both Adam and Eve did in the beginning. They knew that it was wrong to eat the tree of knowledge. They could eat any trees in the garden including the tree of life. God gave everything to them generously. However, they listened to the whisper of the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit. With sins coming into the world, shame and guilt came and captivated people. Adam and Eve realized that they were naked and hid from God. Because of their disobedience, they were reminded of their mortality, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” They were also driven out of the garden of Eden.
But the good news here is that as Adam and Eve were sent from the garden, they still had each other. This might be the first implicit story of what it means to forgive. Yes, they are punished for disobeying the commands of God. They are driven out of their home. But they also go to the world hand in hand. They love each other. They rely on each other. They complete each other. Furthermore, although God drove them out of Eden, God is still present with Adam and Eve in the world, blessing their children, setting up a covenant to be their God, and showing a way to prosperity and abundance. Although God told them that the consequence of their sin and disobedience would be death, God sent God’s only Son Christ to die for us so that we may have life in him, conquering death.
And here is what happened. He called in a couple of hours and said, “Look, I spoke with the auto glass company. To be honest, I could have charged you more because you caused this accident. But I decided not to. I am just going to ask you to pay $300 to replace the glass. That is all.” I felt so touched by his graciousness, so I asked him, “Are you a Christian?” He said, “Yes, I am a Christian and go to a Seventh Adventist Church.” And I said, “Wow. I am a Methodist pastor serving a church in Chelmsford.” He said, “Really? You know. I am just glad that God was there to protect us today.” Suddenly, our conversation turned to giving thanks to God for not causing a major accident or casualty. I thanked him for being generous with me and ended our phone calls blessing each other.
In Matthew 6, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray to God, he said. “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” Indeed, we should pray for God to help us not to be put into a situation where we can be tempted in the first place. As Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, being tempted to turn a stone into bread, we will also face our own temptations. There will be times when we might be confused trying to distinguish what is right and what is wrong. There will be times when we try to ignore the consequences that may come with our decision. But as the Holy Spirit assisted Jesus right after the temptation, God is not done with us. Even after we fail to love God as we should, fail to love our neighbors as we should, God still goes with us until the end, protecting us and blessing us.
 Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 31-32.