We have started our journey into Lent so this is our first Sunday of a season of self-examination, repentance and prayer. So the set readings which we have today are very apt. They ask us to reflect on falleness, and sin and choice and salvation!
Our first reading is from the book of Romans and it deals with the idea that there is sin in our world. What do we mean by this? Well this morning I would like to suggest that the concept of sin is related to choice. Sin is the idea that a human has free choice and that with this choice can make decisions which are contrary to the Divine Will. It is the idea that the Divine has a purpose for the Creation and that humans have the capacity to choose contrary to that purpose.
The idea is set up in the story of Adam and Eve, which some Christians believe is literal and some allegorical, but whatever view one has the message is the same … (which is why I don’t think it is too important). The message is that the Divine created the world, and as part of it man and woman, for a particular purpose which included the sharing of Love respect between Creator and creation and indeed between one and another. We believe this to be the stated purpose for Creation because scripture and Jesus tell us the most important thing is to Love God and to Love one another. So the purpose of Creation is Love and respect. But man and woman make a choice to disrespect the Divine purpose by choosing to satisfy their own desires above, and at the cost of, their Creator.
What is clear is that the account of Adam and Eve is not suggesting it was all their fault. This is what St Paul is arguing in his teaching in the book of Romans. St Paul writes ‘sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned’. He is saying we cannot tell ourselves a story that due to the actions of 2 people all of humanity are condemned. This is not what the account of Adam and Eve is telling us. St Paul says this story shows us what happens when we chose actions outside the Divine Will. But it is because we follow the same path that we stand condemned. When we choose to put our own purpose before that of the original purpose we sin. This is sin, to have an alternative purpose to God’s. And we are all guilty of it. Just as Eve listens to the voice of reason represented by the serpent and so convinces herself to pursue her own purpose .. so each of us face that same temptation to choose a purpose for our lives other than that which our Creator intended. And indeed each of us in doing so often seek to encourage others to do the same. Whether literal or not the account of Adam and Eve lays bare the state of the human heart.
The only example we have of perfect human choice to follow the Divine Will and not His own is Jesus of Nazareth. Whether in the passage that we have read this morning which highlights Jesus choice not to give in to temptation, or in the Passion of Jesus which we will celebrate later in Lent in Holy Week .. we see a man intent on following the purpose of Creation .. to Love God and to Love others. In His encounter with Satan in the wilderness Jesus chooses the Divine purposes and not His own. In being led to the cross Jesus prays ‘not my will but yours be done Father’. Throughout His life and ministry the Man of Nazareth chooses the Divine purpose over His own and .. as Eve in the opposite scenario .. encourages others to do the same. In the face of temptation to react otherwise Jesus offers words of forgiveness and obedience and love. Not my will he prays. An example of human freedom used to follow God.
In Lent we are called to face the truth square on. To say, yes, I like Eve and like Adam have made choices which do not show Love and respect for God and for Creation. I have chosen badly. We have sinned and fallen short of the purposes of God.
So what will we do. Will we run and hide like they did. Will we let our shame prevent us from standing in the presence of the Divine and therefore further disrupt the true purpose of our lives? St Paul tells us no … for the gift of God cannot be compared with the result of man’s sin’.
The gift of God is reconciliation. In the decision and example of Christ we are shown a better way. A way of return to the purposes for which we are made. St Paul writes ‘how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many’. The grace of reconciliation is revealed in the person of Jesus. The new Adam as St Paul puts it. Another to whom we can turn to reflect on what human life could and should be. Adam and Eve are no longer our model. Their story does not reveal the modus operandi of human life. Instead we have another model .. another pattern of what life can look like. It is the pattern of Christ and so ‘through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous’.
This Lent let us acknowledge we have followed the pattern of Adam and Eve .. but that we in this season can fix our eyes on that which is to come .. the passion and resurrection of Jesus at Easter through which we are presented with a different pattern for human life. I pray we will choose Life this Lent.