A beautiful garden. Full of plants and animals. Plenty of warmth and sunshine. Plenty of shade when it gets too warm. Gentle rain when needed. God creates and places two people there, to enjoy it, to tend it, to eat of its fruit. They spend their evenings walking in the garden with God. There’s just one rule: don’t eat the fruit from that tree in the middle of the garden. Don’t even touch the tree! The couple are naive. Innocent. Like small children. They don’t know much. They don’t need to know. They don’t know what they don’t know.
Into the garden comes a snake. He’s cunning and more worldly wise than the man and woman. What a lovely garden! Can you eat absolutely any fruit?
No, says the woman, we mustn’t eat from that tree in the middle, or we’ll die.
Die? says the serpent. Oh, no, you won’t die! God doesn’t want you eating from that tree because otherwise you’ll become like him – it’s the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Don’t you want to be like God? Don’t you want that knowledge? Look at how lovely and tasty that fruit is!
And so the woman tries the fruit. So does the man. And suddenly they begin to know! The first thing they know is that they are naked and so they rush to cover themselves. Their knowledge makes them feel shame.
Their knowledge comes at a cost. They have tried to become like God. But instead, they have distanced themselves from him. No longer can they stay in the garden. They must go out into the wide world, a world of hard work, sweat and pain. A world in which eventually they will die.
The wilderness. Burning hot by day. Bitterly cold at night. A place where little grows. A place where few animals can survive. A place of desolation. A place of need.
God leads a man there.
This man is worldly-wise. He comes from a humble family. He’s been a refugee. He’s grown up in a world where the differences between rich and poor, between powerful and powerless, between those who loved God and those who don’t, are all too obvious. He knows the world is full of evil and hardship. He knows. And because of this, God has called him.
When this man hears God calling, he goes to the wilderness, a place of even greater hardship than his usual world, to pray and meditate over what his calling might mean.
There’s no food in the desert. He’s hungry. He’s alone….Or is he?
Into the wilderness comes the devil. He comes at the point the man is feeling his hunger most acutely. “Turn these stones into bread” he says. The man refuses, quoting scripture “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.
The devil tries again. “OK, so you’re not going to give into your hunger, but I know what you’ve been pondering about here in the wilderness – you believe you might be God’s Son. Ha! Well if that’s so, jump off the top of the temple!” Oh, and as you’re so keen on scripture, here’s a verse from me to back it up!
Again, the man resists. “Don’t put the Lord your God to the test!”
The devil tries a third time – “You think God wants you to be king? Come up this mountain! Look at all those kingdoms down there. All yours if you just fall down and worship me now!
And Jesus resists Satan a third time “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him”
Two stories of temptation. One set in a garden of plenty. The other in a harsh wild place. You want to become like God, said the tempter! Take the easy route. Eat that fruit. Turn the stones into bread! Jump off the temple! Bow down and worship me!
Two different responses.
Adam and Eve succumbed. They were seduced by the beautiful juicy fruit. They thought “We wouldn’t mind being like God” And, like a small child being told “Don’t touch that!”, they couldn’t resist seeing for themselves what would happen if they did. And they discovered that their choice had consequences. Suddenly life would be full of danger, hardship and responsibility. Suddenly they were no longer close to God.
Jesus said NO! He knew that choices had consequences. He knew that taking up his calling from God meant taking the tougher course of action. There was no quick, flashy route to kingship. God’s idea of kingship was different. No mighty power, but life as a servant, healer and friend. No riches, but a life on the road, relying on what food could be found on the way, or on the generosity of others. No mighty army to thrash the enemy, but hatred from his own people, desertion by his friends and then death on a cross. But his choice led him closer to God. No sooner had Satan gone, than angels were by him, offering him strength and support.
The world is full of temptations inviting us to do all sorts of things, promising this if only we just do that! Jesus invites us to follow him. He invites us to love God as he did and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Whose invitation are you and I tempted to accept?
Reader Catherine Burchell
Readings for the sermon and links: