Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Narrative Lectionary: Forgiveness, Matthew 18:15-35 (Psalm 32:1-2)
On this first Sunday in Lent, we read the story of God’s allowance to eat any fruit in the garden of creation, except for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 2:15-17. The first human being was given that command, but in 3:1-7, the serpent tempts the woman and man to eat of the fruit, so that their eyes are opened to the knowledge of good and evil. This creation story centers on the knowledge that God has given us everything, yet when we desire what we do not have, we can be led into sin.
Psalm 32 is a psalm of confession sin before God. The psalmist acknowledges that in trying to hide what was wrong, their entire body suffered and they felt the weight of what they’d done upon them in the form of God’s hand. However, when they turned to God and confessed, God forgave “the guilt of their sin.” The guilt of sin often weighs on us more than the wrongdoing itself, that can only be released when confessed. The psalmist encourages those who are faithful to pray and to follow God’s instructions and counsel. Those who put their trust in God will know God’s faithfulness and steadfast love.
The Epistle readings in Lent are in Romans for weeks 1-3 and week 5. Paul juxtaposes Adam with Christ in 5:12-19, with Adam’s sin bringing death into the world and Christ’s death bringing life back into the world. Adam’s actions condemned all and lead to death, but Christ’s actions justify all and lead to life. Paul concludes this section with juxtaposing sin with grace. Sin had dominion through death, but grace has dominion through Christ’s death, giving us eternal life.
Matthew’s account of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness occurs in 4:1-11. Unlike Mark, Matthew lists three temptations that Jesus faced, which are the same in Luke but the last two are reversed. In all three temptations, Jesus quotes scripture back at the devil to refute, rebuke, and refuse. The first temptation takes place when Jesus is hungry after fasting and praying, the purpose of which was to draw closer to God by emptying himself. The temptation to abuse the power within him is refuted when he quotes the Torah, holding on to the reason of his fast. The Son of God draws closer to God by becoming as human as possible, hungry and in need. The second temptation also involves abusing his power as the Son of God, to prove himself to others by testing God. The devil quotes Psalm 91 atop the pinnacle of the temple, but Jesus rebukes the devil by quoting again from the Torah to not put God to the test. We draw closer to God when we rebuke the powers of the world we have made, the power of empire and oppression. Finally, the devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will bow down and worship him. At this point, Jesus tells the devil to go away and again quotes from the same portion of Deuteronomy, refusing to worship the devil, and to worship and serve only God. Once the devil left Jesus, angels came and waited on him. Jesus drew closer to heaven in his refusal to serve or desire the empires and powers of this world, and so we, too, draw closer to the reign of God when we refuse to serve powers of oppression and domination.
The Narrative Lectionary turns to Jesus’s teachings on forgiveness in Matthew 18:15-35. In 15-20, Jesus instructs the disciples on how to settle disputes within the church. The account of Matthew was probably written at least forty to fifty years after Jesus’s death and resurrection, long after the establishment of the early church, so it makes sense that some instruction was embedded in the gospel to help guide the listeners/readers of Matthew’s community in resolving disputes and reconciling to one another. Verses 21-22 contain Jesus’s teachings on forgiveness, also contained in Luke. Not meant to be taken literally, Jesus’s reply to Peter about needing to forgive more than seven times is that forgiveness is a process, it takes time and work. Verses 23-35 is a difficult parable illustrating that we must forgive people for the things we continue to do. It’s important to note that in the Lord’s prayer, when we pray for forgiveness of our sins (or trespasses or debts), we are asking for forgiveness as we forgive those who have sinned against us. We are asking God to forgive the things we do because we will forgive others who do the same things, for the servant forgiven of his debt would not forgive others indebted to him. This is not about forgiving an abuser, a murderer, an oppressor—we must hold them accountable, and we do not forgive others for things we would never do. But the things we still do to one another—this is what Jesus teaches us we must also forgive—if we want to be forgiven.
Psalm 32 is the psalm today for the Revised Common Lectionary, and verses 1-2 are the supplemental verses for the Narrative Lectionary. The psalmist in these first two verses blesses those who have turned to God and know God’s forgiveness. Blessed are those who are honest and true before God, those who do not try to deceive God and others about their sins.
Lent is the season of forty days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter. In this season, historically Christians have fasted and prayed, remembering to turn back to God and remember their own mortality. As Christ died for us, we attempt to die to ourselves, to our own desires, and resolve to focus on God and God’s ways. Resisting the ways of this world that human beings have created—the desire for power over others and wealth and possessions—is part of the practice of Lent, of what we fast from and pray for (Isaiah 58:1-12). The need to deny ourselves is not about self-depravation or a need to sacrifice our own health or worth. Rather, it is looking to Jesus who became closer to God when he became more like us, reminded of his own mortality and refusing to squander it by jumping off a tower. Instead, he sought to serve others and continues to teach us that denying ourselves is not so we diminish, but to lift up one another. In the Narrative lectionary, forgiveness is not something we do so we can become door mats, but rather we recognize our own sin in the sin of others, and work to change our lives while forgiving others who are struggling the same.
Call to Worship (from Micah 6:6-8)
God has shown you, mortal beings, what is good,
And what does the Lord require of you?
God requires us to take notice of injustice and to act in just ways.
What does God desire of you?
God desires that our hearts break open for one another,
to practice loving-kindness.
What does God hope for you?
God hopes that we will recognize our own humanity,
Releasing our privilege and power over others,
To live in humility with God and one another.
This is how we change the world:
We begin by changing our own hearts and lives,
Before God and one another.
We enter this time of worship,
Preparing to live into the Way, the Truth, and the Life,
Of Christ Jesus our Lord.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of the Wilderness, we confess that we do not always resist temptation. It is easy to fall into the ways of this world we have made. The world’s problems are too big, and we desire to make things comfortable and easy for ourselves and those close to us. We ignore those in need around us, we allow injustice, and we deceive ourselves into thinking we can’t do anything about the concerns of poverty and oppression around us. Call us into accountability, O God, to do the hard work of taking notice of the reality among us. To listen to the stories of those who have been oppressed even when it is hard for us to hear. To change our ways of life so that others may live. Lead us into right paths, O God, out of the wilderness of security and into the way promised for us, for Your name’s sake. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (Psalm 139:7-12)
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
God is always near you, even if you cannot feel it. The Holy Spirit is within you, even if you do not notice it. Christ is always beside you, even if you cannot comprehend it. You are made in the image of God, beloved. You are precious. You are forgiven of your sins. Go and love one another. Tell others they are made in the image of God, and show them how much God loves them, and you will know God’s love.
Holy Spirit, one who is with us in the wilderness, guide our path. Some of us are lost and confused, others have gone astray. All of us, at one point, feel distant from You. Remind us that we need to be fed by spiritual food, the bread of life, the living water of salvation. Remind us that there is no need to test others or God, and that if we wait, we will know Your presence. Keep us to the promise that if we live for You, the powers of the world humanity has made will not have a hold on us. We can belong and participate in the kin-dom here on earth as it is in heaven, and the power and dominance and oppression of empire will not endure. Holy Spirit, guide us forward. Amen.