A sermon preached for the First Sunday in Lent
February 26, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Something is wrong and must be put right. That will be like a mantra for my sermons in Lent. But before we get there, I want to take us to the popular comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” from my first Christmas, December 23, 1990.
Calvin: I’m getting nervous about Christmas.
Lent is a time for self-examination. A time to see where we’ve missed the mark, where we have fallen short. But here, at the start of our journey into self-examination, we might stop to worry with Calvin. We’re good, upstanding citizens, good Christians, even. But maybe good is more than just the absence of bad. Maybe there’s something deeper at play that we need to pay attention to.
Sin is a theological question, meaning it is impossible to talk about sin without reference to God. All sin is against God. Our sin takes us out of relationship with God, with one another, and with creation. And it is an offense to God’s dikaiosyne, a Greek word that means both God’s justice and God’s righteousness.
We are used to seeing our sins as our individual misdeeds. But sin is far more than that. There is also communal sin, the sin of nations and peoples, for which we are certainly on the hook. Just ask the Old Testament prophets about that. But these individual and communal misdeeds, as heinous or commonplace as they can be, are actually not the root of sin. These are consequences of a deeper cause. The root of sin is found in our first reading today, in the fall in the Garden of Eden. It is there, in the Garden, that we see humankind first enslaved to sin, to an active and malevolent force that works against the creatures of God, that takes us out of the way of grace from the moment we draw our first breath. Calvin and Hobbes are right: Good is about a lot more than just the absence of bad.
Sin, in short, is a power, a dominion, that enslaves the human race and makes us all rebels against the goodness and love of God. We cannot workshop our way through sin. We cannot win against sin alone. We cannot will sin away. We cannot champion over sin with wellness plans and spiritual exercises. No, the only way to defeat the Power of Sin is to bring in a Savior from outside its control, from outside its domain: God himself.
That’s what we see in the wilderness today. Jesus, the God-Man, is tempted by Satan. You and I are no match alone. If we think giving up chocolate or booze for Lent is hard, wait until we are tempted with power, with fortune, with fame, with applause, with acceptance, and like Adam and Eve, with divinity itself. But for Jesus, himself already fully divine, it is no contest.
This is what Paul is talking about in Romans. Sin and its ever present companion Death came into the world through our disobedience to God. We became enslaved to its power, unable to escape its clutches. But through the obedience of the Son, grace has been given out freely. Through the righteousness and death of the God-Man Jesus Christ, we have been granted dikaiosyne, justification, righteousness. We have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ, which is the righteousness of God himself.
This is accomplished on the cross of Christ, the place where the dikaiosyne, righteousness and justice, of God, meets our fallen, sinful state. The place where sacrifice for our sin is made. The place from which God himself defeats the Powers of Sin and Death. The place where we are granted life, now and forever, through our participation in his cross by Holy Baptism.
Throughout Lent, my sermons will be focusing on the cross of Christ and how this is all accomplished. The cross and our redemption there is a great mystery. By mystery I do not mean some sort of riddle to figure out. I mean mystery in the sense of an endless ocean: It is something we will never get to the bottom of. If we think we already understand the cross fully, we are making ourselves God–and Lent is a good time to stop that nonsense. At the same time, if we think we don’t need to understand the cross, we are neglecting our great salvation–and Lent is a good time to stop that nonsense, too.
So over the next few weeks, I invite us all to journey together to Golgotha, to the foot of the cross. I invite us to dive into this mystery to see the great depths of God’s love for us. We will see the cross as recapitulation, substitution, ransom, apocalyptic war, and blood sacrifice. And we will see that it is all for love of us, springing from God’s heart of perfect and endless love, to pull us by grace into a reconciled relationship with God.
My friends, something is indeed wrong and must be put right. We are powerless to do it. But on a hill far away stands an old rugged cross, making us righteous through the blood of Christ. Come and see how.
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