Based on Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11
It has been almost exactly 20 years since I was introduced to the idea of Stephen Ministry. For those not familiar with this ministry, it is a program where laity are trained to accompany people during the ups and downs of life for as long as the other person needs them. Stephen Ministers step in after the initiating event and provide on-going care that the pastors cannot provide due to the scope of their pastoral duties. In their training, Stephen Ministers learn about active listening, confidentiality, non-judgmentalism, praying, servanthood, healthy boundaries, loyalty and trustworthiness. They meet at least twice a month, once they are commissioned, to assess the state of their relationships, to ask for advice, to support each other along their journey with another person.
One of the areas that Stephen Ministers struggled with most often was maintaining healthy boundaries – I dare say that all humans wrestle with this area of being in right relationship. The Stephen Ministers had to have a healthy awareness of who they were and what they were there to do each week when they met with their “care receiver” in order for boundaries to be kept. Stephen Ministry relationships can last for years and it is very easy over time to have this formal caring relationship lose its formality and devolve into a friendship. Friendships have expectations that formal caring relationships don’t – like watching the kids or having dinner together. Being clear and faithful on where the relationship began and ended led to clear expectations and prevented hurt feelings and awkward situations. In all relationships, clear boundaries lead to fidelity, whereas, blurred or broken boundaries lead to infidelity.
Our scriptures for today speak to us of fidelity and infidelity, that is, of the strong and solid faith of Jesus and the very human lack of faith of Adam and Eve. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, one man’s infidelity to God led to deaths of countless humans; one man’s fidelity to God led to life eternal for all believers. Before we unpack this any further, let us go to God seeking a renewal and strengthening of our faith…
The Genesis story of Adam and Eve’s infidelity is well known. God told Adam quite clearly where the boundaries were for him and expected Adam to honor that boundary. Yet, the cunning skill of the worldly serpent convinced Eve that being disobedient to the only commandment from God wouldn’t lead to their deaths for eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. From that one act of infidelity, death entered into the human world, and humans had to make their way east of Eden.
Paul is making the case in his letter to the believers in Rome that Jesus is the second Adam. Adam, before the infidelity in the garden was sinless – Jesus for all time was sinless and thus could take on all the trespasses from Adam forward and eliminate them through the Cross. Thus, Jesus was sent to set things back to the way they were in the Garden of Eden. Paul writes, “…For just as by the one man’s disobedience (aka infidelity) the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience (aka fidelity) the many will be made righteous…”
Jesus, fresh from His baptism, is driven by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness to have his fidelity to God tested. After 40 days and nights of fasting, the devil – the tempter, came to test Him. First the devil tried to test the power of God to relieve human hunger by turning stones into bread (there were a lot of stones in the desert!). Jesus proved that this was not a boundary he was going to break, saying that believers live by every word that God speaks (something Adam and Eve could have said). Next, the devil tries to tempt Jesus to test God’s love for Him personally. Jesus knows that believers need to trust in the word of God and not seek to test its truth. Finally, the devil tries to get Jesus to be tempted by worldly wealth to give up His allegiance to God and worship another. Jesus is true to the One God and sends the devil packing by refusing to break the boundary of fidelity to God Almighty.
Infidelity. I suspect that some of you here today expected that the preacher was going to talk about marital relationships and broken promises. That is because in our current day infidelity is most often narrowly defined as an indiscretion by one part of a committed relationship with someone outside of that relationship. However, the broader definitions of infidelity include both a lack of faith and/or being disloyal. Taken together, these three definitions constitute much of what happens to people in the Bible. From the third chapter of the Bible onward, humans struggle with one definition of infidelity or another. Most often it is in human’s relationship to God where the disloyalty and lack of faith are most prominent. Certainly, there are instances of marital infidelity, King David’s affair with Bathsheba and resulting murder of Uriah, being the most egregious example. But disloyalty to God and to other humans, the latter especially by kings and shepherds of the people, is everywhere in the Bible.
In Genesis, there was only one rule, one commandment if you will. Eat of anything in the Garden except the fruit of this one tree. One rule…and humans were convinced by the wisdom of the world that they need not follow it. God could have killed them and started over with a different creation. However, God showed God’s great love and mercy toward Adam and Eve as God gave them the consequences for their infidelity. God kicked our ancestors out of the Garden of Eden, but God made them clothing and continued to have a relationship with them. Humans would have to struggle with the earth for their food and livelihood, there would be great pain in bearing children, and they would grow old and die and return to the dust of the earth, but God would not abandon them. No matter what we do, God shows perfect fidelity toward us.
Humans went on to create with God 613 laws to follow…and then they developed work arounds for almost all of them. God gave them 10 Commandments, and humans broke one before the tablets even came down from the mountaintop. Even when Jesus collected all the Commandments and reframed them into just two – with only one uniting factor between them which was love God and each other with all that you have and all that you are, humans continue struggle with their fidelity.
It’s now the season of Lent. A season where we are invited to look at our lives and assess how we are doing in our fidelity to God and to one another. We are called to ask the questions of ourselves as individuals and as a church body, of whether we are living into and deepening our faith or just taking it for granted and living our lives like we were never baptized. We are invited to assess how we are doing with growing into the heart and mind of Jesus – what John Wesley would call growing towards salvation. When we do this, we are all confronted by our infidelity – by our disloyalty and faithlessness to God and the Body of Christ. The great good news, however, is we serve a God who is perfectly faithful and loyal and continues to shower us with love and forgiveness. We will never be able to earn this fidelity, because it is all a freely given gift of grace. God holds out the hope that through God’s grace, one day we will leave our infidelity behind and grow into the mind and heart of Jesus. Amen and amen!