Temptation, knowledge, wisdom and trust

A sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11, Psalm 32

A workman is killed in an industrial accident; it’s all the more unusual, because the industry breeds dinosaurs. Investors get nervous and demand an independent evaluation. Dr. Ian Malcom, a mathematician who specializes in applying chaos theory to complex issues, is a part of the evaluation team. As he is introduced into the laboratory, he fascinated by the work, impressed by the science, unimpressed by the theories of control, [i] and somewhere along the line he mutters to himself: … just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Jurassic Park, dare devils, breast cancer, fertility, DNA splicing, Genesis and Matthew, are all interrelated.

We know the story in the garden, with Eve, the serpent and an apple. At least we think we do.

Eve gets involved in a conversation with a snake, Adam is in the background. The snake entices Eve into a conversation, the subtle focus is death. The outcome is her and Adam’s relationship with God changes from intimacy to shame. Their shame does not come from their disobedience but from the knowledge they gained in eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Now they know they are naked, they know that they are not God, how much more naked can you be. In making loin-cloths they are hiding from themselves, just as they later hide from God.

The snake enticed them by saying they will be like God. That temptation reframes their relationship with God. Until this moment, Adam’s and Eve relationship with God was trust; from this moment on its generic, its about, its theoretical, and boundary laden. Before all this, knowledge arose from their trust in God. Knowledge is no longer automatically rooted in wisdom, the stuff of the tree of life.

There’s a version of the Cyclopes’ story, where they are offered the ability to see the future for the modest cost of one eye. They strike a bargain, and give up an eye. In return they can see the future. However, the only future they can see is their own death. [ii]

The Cyclopes tried to be more than they were, and in the end they were less than they were before. It’s a similar fate that befell Adam and Eve, who tried to be like God. It’s a fate that still befalls humanity, as we make our own attempts to be like God. It is the boundary between divinity and humanity that Dr. Malcom is pointing to: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

This week four articles from the New York Times caught my attention, with respect to the story of Genesis 3:
            The Genetics of Being a Daredevil,
            The Breast Cancer Racial Gap,
            F.D.A. Weighs Fertility Method That
                        Raises Ethical Questions,
            A Powerful New Way to Edit DNA.
All the stories are about some aspect of our understanding of DNA and humanities developing ability to manipulate it.

It turns out high risk athletics may not just be a learned skill. The willingness to engage in very risky behavior, as many Winter Olympic sports are, has an identified genetic component. [iii]  An interesting bit knowledge, perhaps with applications for recruiting, but otherwise innocuous. Right?

The story on breast cancer reports on multiple studies on the difference in mortality rates of black and white women with breast cancer. For some time it was believed there was a genetic factor that explained the difference. Tara Parker-Pope reports:

The research also dispels the notion that black women face a higher risk of breast cancer because of genetic differences. While they are at greater risk for some types of breast cancers, that doesn’t explain the widening mortality gap developing in a relatively short period of just two decades. [iv]

In the article on fertility Sabrina Tavernise reports on a technique that uses parts of three people to create an embryo. It is a treatment to correct a mitochondria defect, by replacing defective mitochondria with mitochondria from a healthy egg, either prior to, or after fertilization. Tavernise reports excitement about the science, and great concern about the implications and ethics. It’s an open question if this is a cure for disease or the beginning of designer babies. [v]

The final article is about a new way to edit DNA using bacteria. The process adapts parts of the immune system that makes vaccines work. Andrew Pollack quotes Emory University’s David Weiss:

The pace of new discoveries and applications is dizzying.  All of this has basically happened in a year … It’s incredible[vi]

And it is incredible, or is it the latest temptation to be like God?

Do not get me wrong, I am not against science, technology or modern medicine. If you’ve heard me talk, you know how excited I can get about science, and technology. And you see every week how much technology I use. However, as the article about breast cancer reveals such knowledge, for varied and vastly complex reasons, is not universally available. In itself that should give us cause to stop and ponder how such knowledge changes our relationships with each other, our relationship with creation, and our relationship with God. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness reveals at least a place to begin pondering.

Immediately after his baptism, Jesus is driven in to the wilderness, where he fasts for 40 days. Every temptation Jesus faces, the Hebrews faced in the wilderness, and early days across the Jordan. They fail every time. Jesus, succeeds where Israel failed. Underneath the temptations, to turn rocks into bread, to test the angelic command to keep him safe, and the lure of worldly power and wealth is the temptation to be like God, but more seditiously to not be who Jesus is ~ the Son of God. Judith Jones writes: Jesus defines “Son of God” not by privilege or power but by obedience to God. [vii] Jones also notes the temptations are not over:

            After Peter acknowledges Jesus to be the Son of the living God, he rejects the possibility of Jesus’ death.

            On his way to crucifixion religious leaders taunt him, Son of God?  ~ Prove it!

            On the cross: Doesn’t God love you enough to rescue you?

All the temptations go right back to the snake’s twisting of Adam’s and Eve’s relationship with God. They could not obey, could not trust God. Jesus does. Can we?

Lent is a season of penitence, when we are to make concerted efforts to reorient our lives to God. From Genesis and Matthew, we learn that that basically means to trust God. It’s more complex, because ‘we’ is not the numerous ‘I’s in the room, we is the people of God, which is every human-being. So yes, we have our individual work to do, we also have our communal work, as a church, a city, a county, a state, a nation, and a world, in a vast cosmos to do.

Everything begins with: Is this who I am?  who we are? Does this improve relationships between ourselves? Does this improve our stewardship of the earth? Does this reflect the relationship God seeks to have with us? If there is any doubt that one answer is not a resounding YES we should pause, until we receive the wisdom for said knowledge to contribute to everyone living life on earth as it is in heaven.


[i] imdb.com, http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0002031/bio, Ian Malcom, Jurassic Park, 1993
[ii] Krull, 1983, imdb, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085811/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Interpretation, Genesis, Walter Bruggemann
Scott Hoezee , cep.calvinseminary.edu, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is March 09, 2014 (Ordinary Time), This Week‘s Article: Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Working Preacher, workingpreacher.org, Commentary on Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Juliana Claassens

 [iii]  The New York Times, GRETCHEN REYNOLDS, PHYS ED FEBRUARY 19, 2014, 12:01 AM 37 Comments, The Genetics of Being a Daredevil
[iv] The New York Times, TARA PARKER-POPE, THE WELL COLUMN MARCH 3, 2014, 5:23 PM 68 Comments, The Breast Cancer Racial Gap
[v] New York Times, Sabrina Taverinse,  F.D.A. Weighs Fertility Method That Raises Ethical Questions, 2/25/2014
[vi] Andrew Pollack, New York Times, A Powerful New Way to Edit DNA, March 3, 2013
[vii] Working Preacher, workingpreacher.org, Commentary on Matthew 4:1-11 Judith Jones

Hozee, ibid, The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Matthew 4:1-11
Interpretation, Matthew, Douglas R.A. Hare