First Sunday in Lent 

Service Date: 5 March, 2017

Worship was planned and led by St. Andrew’s Worship Group. The theme was conflicting voices. The congregation was also encouraged to support the Water Aid Lent appeal by placing a coin in a jar either every time they used water or every time they saved water.

There was no sermon but two comments. The first drew together the readings. In the reading from Genesis, Adam and Eve obey the voice of the serpent, not that of God. In the Matthew reading, Jesus resists the tempting voice of the Devil while in the wilderness and remembers the words of God which he had heard at his baptism.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us how Christ’s sacrifice reconciled human kind to  God again.

The second comment  spoke about our abundance of fresh water and the lack of it in some parts of the world; the words of a child living in such deprivation were shared. We were asked to add our voices to those of charities which say ‘this isn’t right – everyone should have access to fresh, clean water – and it is possible.’

Hymns:

Rejoice and Sing 543  Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us

Rejoice and Sing 103  Praise to the Holiest in the height

Rejoice and Sing 613  Lord, speak to me

Common Ground 50  I, the Lord of sea and sky

Sermon:

Readings

Genesis chapter 2 verses 15 – 17 and chapter 3 verses 1 – 7

Psalm 32

Romans chapter 5 verses 12 – 19

Matthew chapter 4 verses 1 – 11

Comment 1:

The Old Testament and Gospel readings for today may at first sight seem not to have very much in common. The passage from Genesis has its setting in the well-watered luxuriance of the Garden of Eden, whereas that from Matthew is set in the barren and empty wilderness. Yet when we look at them more closely, we see that amid the contrasts there is something of a common theme. Both passages are about being confronted by conflicting voices, and finding one’s identity through having to choose between them.

The man, that is to say Adam, was placed in the primeval paradise of the Garden of Eden, with the purpose of tilling it and keeping it. There he had everything that he could possibly need: beautiful surroundings, an abundant supply of food and the companionship of a wife, when the woman, that is to say Eve, was formed to be his helper and to share with him in his work. God, who created him, did not make any great demands of him or burden him with a complex set of laws, but gave him only one simple commandment: he could freely eat of any tree in the garden, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day in which he ate of that tree, he would die.

But the woman heard a different voice, that of the serpent, who since before NT times has been identified with the devil, but who in Genesis is presented only as one of the creatures of the garden, albeit the most subtle of the creatures that God had made. The serpent disputed that they would die, if they ate of the fruit of the tree that had been forbidden them, and added: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So they had to make a choice: Would they listen to God, and continue to live their blissful life in paradise, without that knowledge of good and evil?

Or would they listen to the serpent, in the belief that they could have the delightful and delicious fruit which came from that tree, together with the special knowledge which would make them like God? The chose the latter. They indeed gained the knowledge and wisdom which came from the fruit of that tree; and the serpent was right that they did not die, at least not in the day when they ate of it. But they also lost a lot.

They lost their state of blissful innocence in which they had hitherto lived – for evermore they would have this “knowledge of good and evil”, and would have to live with it for better or for worse. They lost their state of sinlessness, because they had broken the only commandment which God had given them. And they lost the possibility of gaining everlasting life. For they were expelled from the garden, thereby losing access to the tree of life in the midst of it. The temptations of Jesus immediately followed his baptism.

As Jesus emerged from the water, a voice from heaven declared his identity: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” Straightaway we read: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus now hears a very different voice from the one which declared him to be God’s son at his baptism. The voice which he now hears opens with the words, “If you are the Son of God …” This is a challenge for him to prove his identity to himself. Jesus had now fasted forty days and forty nights, and was hungry.

The voice says that if he is the son of God, he should be able to turn the stones into bread and feed himself. Jesus counters this with a quotation from Deuteronomy: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” The second temptation also opens, “If you are the Son of God …” If he is the son of God, he should be able to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple and remain uninjured. Again he counters this temptation with a quotation from Deuteronomy: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”

The final temptation is perhaps the greatest one. The devil offers him all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory, if only he will fall down and worship him. For a third time Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Jesus has heard the voice of the devil questioning who he is, but he has chosen to listen to the competing voice of God in scripture. He has allowed this voice of God to shape him as he grows in his understanding of who is and what he has been sent to do.

St Paul in Romans 5 teaches us that Adam and Jesus were each representative of humanity, in very different ways. The very name Adam means a human being or human beings collectively. In Genesis 2 and 3 the name Adam might be used in 2:20 (though some Bible translations have “man” here), but is otherwise not used until 3:17, quite late in the account of the Garden of Eden. Throughout the passage which was read to us earlier Adam is not named, but referred to as “the man”.

In the account of the Garden of Eden the man or Adam (and properly speaking, the woman too) was always intended in some sense to represent humanity. Adam committed sin, something which is characteristic of all humanity — none of us are perfect, and Adam’s sin was in some sense related to his failure to attain everlasting life. It is not necessary to take the story of the Fall in the Garden of Eden literally, as some theologians have in the past, and have thought that subsequent humanity became tainted by Adam’s sin.

It is sufficient to say that in some ways all humanity was somehow identified with Adam and what happened in the Garden of Eden, just as all humanity is somehow identified with Christ. He was tempted at the beginning of his ministry, but did not yield to those temptations, and throughout his life he followed a righteous path. His greatest act of righteousness was to give himself up to death upon the cross, and this was followed by a victory even over death itself. Thus St Paul in Romans 5 thinks of Jesus as a second Adam, the very opposite of the first Adam, and the Christian Gospel promises us that we shall share in his victory.

In the words of St Paul, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned … If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. 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.”

Comment 2:

For anyone who has not watched it, I shall give a brief background to the television drama Call the Midwife. It is inspired by the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, a real life qualified nurse and midwife who worked in the east end of London in the 1950s and 60s. She worked with team based at an Anglican religious nursing order so some of the midwives were also ordained nuns. It’s probably true to say that now that we are in the 6th series there is a high fiction content in the episodes and they are not dramatisations of Jennifer’s actual  experiences but they are strong stories which highlight real social and moral issues and the joys and dark times of being human.  They are very moving – at times, harrowing, and with a spiritual dimension.

In the Christmas episode, several of the midwives along with Patrick, the local doctor, Fred, the indispensable handyman who can fix anything from bicycles to boilers and Tom, the local Curate, respond to a call to support an understaffed and struggling clinic in rural Africa.

The clinic provides a wide range of services including delivering babies, antenatal and post-natal care and vaccination programmes. The clinic is facing a crisis; the spring which provides its water is drying up; water has to be strictly rationed, conserving it for the most essential aspects of hygiene and patient care; laundry piles up; personal washing is restricted; adults limit the amount they drink; new babies aren’t bathed properly but wiped with a moist cloth.

A good story line but not something we identify with. We take fresh, pure water for granted. Every drop of water we draw from our taps is of drinking quality, yet we use it to water our lawns, wash our cars, even flush our toilets.  We use this precious resource liberally. Our waste water is recycled using sophisticated engineering procedures and technology. There are huge reservoirs on the edges of our city. And don’t we feel inconvenienced when our water supply is interrupted or discoloured even briefly through a fault or essential maintenance work.

But, we should listen to the Call the Midwife  story because it is not entirely the work of imagination. Nearly 1.2 billion people live in areas of water scarcity. Charities such as WaterAid, Oxfam, Christian Aid and the Catholic Agency for Oversees Development, tell us about adults and children risking fatal waterborne disease every time they wash in, cook with or drink, dirty, stagnant water – the only water available to them. Often children are walking miles each day to collect the water instead of attending school, or playing – enjoying a normal childhood.

Listen to the voice of Nenya……

‘I am eight years old and live in a small village on Madagascar. Around 6am each morning I fetch water which takes about an hour because the water source is quite far away. It is down a steep, muddy path and is surrounded by ferns. There are mosquitoes; the water is covered in algae and there are leeches in it. I am used to carrying the bucket of water on my head but it hurts my head and makes my teeth ache. I do this three times a day and twice on Sunday, before and after church, because we need the water to cook with. When I drink dirty water I get sick. In school when we get thirsty we go down to the rice field to drink some water. It is dirty too.

When we get sick our parents take us to a health centre, an hour and a half walk from here, to get medicine. When I get too sick to walk my dad or my older brother have to carry me on their back. If we can’t get medicine at the health centre we have to go to the big hospital which is about 40 kilometres away. ‘

The charities which ask us to listen to these voices are also acting – digging wells, laying pipelines, installing water filters, training local people to maintain the infrastructure. They are a voice saying ‘ this isn’t right – everyone should have access to clean, fresh water – and it is possible.’

Let’s return to ‘Call the Midwife’ and that African clinic. There was another source of clean water but a long way away. The materials and the skills and strong hands needed to lay a pipeline were available but it would take months, and time was running out. The route of the pipeline and the time taken to lay it could be hugely reduced if it came across a large neighbouring farm. However, the wealthy landowner was no friend of the clinic; his young wife and baby son had died there many years before. He resolutely refused permission for the pipeline to cross his land. A voice in his head said   ‘they killed my wife and child – I will not help them.’

However, the equally resolute Sister Julienne was another voice. She felt for his grief and loneliness, and gently planted the idea in his mind that the pipeline would prevent further tragedies and be a fitting memorial to his wife and son. The episode finished with joyful faces, including that of the landowner, watching crystal clear water flowing into the clinic’s water tanks.

To-day we have the opportunity to add our voices to the voice which says’ this isn’t right – everyone should have access to clean, fresh water – and it is possible.’ During Lent, could you put a coin – even a small one- in a jar every time you fill the kettle, switch on the washing machine, take a shower? Or every time you save water – spending a minute less in the shower, only putting the water you need in the kettle? Digging a well, laying pipelines, installing filters do cost money but when set beside the benefits they bring they are beyond price. Our coins could mount up over Lent and transform the health and life of a community.

 

If you would like to be part of this voice, find a jar, drop your coins in it and help give hope.

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