First Sunday of Lent


Old Testament

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; 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 when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Genesis 2:15–17, 3:1–7


1 Happy the one whose transgression is forgiven, •

and whose sin is covered.

2 Happy the one to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, •

and in whose spirit there is no guile.

3 For I held my tongue; •

my bones wasted away

through my groaning all the day long.

4 Your hand was heavy upon me day and night; •

my moisture was dried up like the drought in summer.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you •

and my iniquity I did not hide.

6 I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ •

and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

7 Therefore let all the faithful make their prayers to you

in time of trouble; •

in the great water flood, it shall not reach them.

8 You are a place for me to hide in;

you preserve me from trouble; •

you surround me with songs of deliverance.

9 ‘I will instruct you and teach you

in the way that you should go; •

I will guide you with my eye.

10 ‘Be not like horse and mule which have no understanding; •

whose mouths must be held with bit and bridle,

or else they will not stay near you.’

11 Great tribulations remain for the wicked, •

but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.

12 Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; •

shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

Psalm 32


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— sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 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. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Romans 5:12–19


Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you”,

and “On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’

Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,

and serve only him.” ’

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Matthew 4:1–11

Sermon on First Sunday of Lent

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’

I want us to forget about the serpent in the story. I do not think he is the focus of the Garden of Eden.

I think this story is more about the purpose of humanity rather than who is to blame for tasting the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I think this knowledge distracts us from our purpose in life. When we get interested in a subject, don’t we sometimes let it take over? Don’t we become obsessed with that knowledge? When that happens, we die to so much – don’t we we really miss the mark?

We all know that the Greek word used for sin has this other meaning – that we miss the mark, and in the case of this knowledge of good and evil, we miss the mark of being innocent or even the reason that Adam and Eve – indeed that we ourselves – were placed in that garden. We are to till and keep the garden as we were given it, or indeed we may even improve it – and I am speaking as a gardener.

If we lose that purpose, when we are driven out of Eden, any personal comfort has been forsaken, that we do not understand our place in the world, that we have no reason to keep on going, like all those existentialist characters from French literature of the last half of the twentieth century. Isn’t that why the angel with the flaming sword bars our way back to Eden? Isn’t that why we feel abandoned in the desert to make our own way, to toil and work all our days? We feel we have been driven out of the Garden and we must struggle all our days, just like the philosopher says. We have lost the womb of Eden, the family home with loving father and mother. We are wandering strangers in strange lands, like Moses’ father.

But humanity can never recapture innocence. It is like Pandora’s box, or when the genie is out of the bottle. Once out, it cannot be put back. Once we lose our innocence, we cannot recover it. However, when that child-like innocence is lost, we do know the difference between good and evil. When Adam – or indeed, we – eat of the tree of knowledge, it is imperative to choose the good, “to choose life” as the ancient christian writers put it to their audiences. Life is not the cynical self-interest of the worldly. Life is where we are in love with our neighbour. Life is the Good.

Jesus proposes the Good to us in the Gospel. Jesus shows us how we can live well when we live in faith, hope and love. Sinfulness is not the natural state of humankind. I propose that sinfulness only arises with the knowledge of good and evil, just as we have it in our reading from Genesis. Everyone errs at some point in their lives, we all step off the grand highway of the Lord at some point. But we know we need to get back on. That is when we know we are sinful.

The infant is not sinful. The child may be dirty and smell bad, but evil is not its nature – well, I don’t think so. The teenager is difficult and not inherently demonic (although we do call them “little devils” all the time). It is when they go off on their own, when our children become “of age”, when they legally can drink their beer and cider that we do judge them good or evil, because at that age they can get up to so many more bad things than they can when they are under their parents’ control.

Yes, there is a time when we do know the difference between good and evil and so we would act upon that knowledge. Isn’t this why we hold our politicians accountable? Isn’t this why there are so many investigations into historical crimes? Isn’t this why we feel guilty about so much in our lives when we reach “maturity”?

But why does Paul say this?

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. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Why is humanity condemned by one man’s trespass? How can Paul interpret the Genesis passage in this way? And then why has the Church followed this interpretation? — It seems to me that we have become confused. The symbol of Adam and the person of Adam have become identical in the history of the world presented in Genesis.

Adam is told in the Garden of Eden that on the day he eats of the tree of knowledge, he “will surely die”. That is a significant symbolic statement. It is symbolically true, not in the sense of the symbolic logic of the scientists, but it is true in the sense of the logic of symbols. Symbols have their own lives and they are what constitute life as we experience it. Coincidently, I picked up Carl Jung’s memoirs just to remind me of what he had said about his life. As I glanced through, I found that Jung described his life in these terms, and he thought analytic psychology investigated that life of symbol, as it is manifest in the life of the individual. In his book, he showed how he came to understand himself in terms of the meanings of his life, in what he took to be symbols in his life. — But I am not here to do a book review. Rather, if you are interested you can read the book yourselves and perhaps we could all talk about it some time.

This logic of symbols drives us through the course of our lives. The realm of life is governed by myths, dreams and mysteries as another philosopher tells us. Humanity is depicted in everyday language and the meanings of life disguise themselves in objects of desire and design through those interesting vignettes we remember about yesterday and our earliest memories. Those stories recreate the Garden from which we have banished ourselves and the desert in which we wander.

When we learn of good and evil, we become people isolated, each one of us is alone, and then we project our limitations and fears on all around us. This is that death to which God condemns enlightened humanity with the prohibition in the Garden. This separation from others is what we have to overcome symbolically and literally in the whole of our lives. Eating of the tree of knowledge brings us to a new knowledge of God – a knowledge that we have to transcend in order to enter the promised land of the Kingdom of Heaven which is the new Garden of Eden, a garden of delight because therein dwells our Lord


This sermon is from Stilman Davis. It is copyrighted. You are welcome to use it, but put some extra money in the plate if you do.

Sermons are spoken. They whistle in the wind and enter your ears to echo for some time between them. However, sermons are destined to go on into the distance after they have resonated with you.