Sermon title from Proverbs 3: 5 –
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and do not rely on your own insight.”
By Joe Coalter
In these challenging times, trust in the Lord is more essential than ever. The scripture readings for this sermon provide two lessons in how our trust is tested and was once and for all redeemed by the trust of Jesus Christ in his Father’s Word.
Genesis 2:15-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 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.”
Genesis 3:1-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
3 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’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 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.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.” 6 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. 7 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.
Romans 5:12-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
12 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— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 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. 15 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. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 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. 18 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. 19 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.
Matthew 4:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,
6 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.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Proverbs 3:5-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8 It will be a healing for your flesh
and a refreshment for your body.
Hymn: I Danced in the Morning When the World Was Begun
I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth,
At Bethlehem I had my birth.
Dance, then, wherever you may be;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.
I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee,
But they would not dance and they would not follow me;
I danced for the fishermen, for James and John;
They came to me and the dance went on.
I danced on the sabbath when I cured the lame,
The holy people said it was a shame;
They whipped and they stripped and they hung me high;
And they left me there on a cross to die.
I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black;
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back;
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone,
But I am the dance and I still go on.
They cut me down and I leapt up high,
I am the life that’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
I recently had a strange hankering to return to the places where life began for me. I suppose this is a common urge of people my age. Certainly, in the highly mobile society in which we now live, fewer of us reside in the hometown where we were born or even live close to the cities and towns where critical events in our lives shaped our identity.
But sociologists and anthropologists tell us that it is a common instinct of we humans to return to the place of our origin at one time or another in order to recall key moments in our past that formed us or to recover our bearings for the path ahead.
The scripture passages that we will be discussing returns us back to places where life began for us on a cosmic scale. They are locales of temptation – not just one temptation but two. The first temptation unfortunately succeeded, the other thankfully did not. But in both cases the consequences of these two temptations were pivotal for all who came after. One temptation, of course, occurred in the Garden when Eve succumbed to the wiles of a crafty snake. The other was in the wilderness immediately after Jesus’ baptism when a tempter used God’s own word to trick the newly baptized Jesus into testing his Father’s promises.
There is probably no more human story in all of the Bible than the first temptation recounted in the second chapter of Genesis. Poor Eve and all the daughters who have come after her have been vilified by numerous and sundry latter-day critics for disobeying God by tasting of the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Her disobedience and that of Adam, it is claimed, set in motion the calamitous fall of all humanity.
But, you know, Eve’s failing was no more and no less than that of every mother’s child – be they female or male. Eve’s sin was not simply disobedience. No, at its base, it was a lack of trust. Trust may be the most precious and rare commodity to be found among we humans. It is certainly hard to gain, quick to falter and oh so easy to lose.
Distrust, on the other hand, is sparked in us by the merest hint of doubt. The old commonplace assumption that trust comes easy to we humans as shown by the very trusting nature of young children is not true. Recent studies of social psychology have shown that younger children are less likely to trust than older kids. We evidently are a suspicious lot from birth.
The snake in the story of Genesis 2 clearly recognized this fact, and he craftily used God’s own words as kindling to spark distrust of God in Eve. The tempter tried the same ploy when he took Jesus to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. He said to Jesus,
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 the stone.”
But Jesus said to him,
“… it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
The tempter wanted Jesus to throw himself down because He would have shown by his action that he harbored some measure of distrust that God would stand by his promise of the angels’ care.
Jesus would have then succumbed to the same temptation that Eve had fallen for – a temptation that I certainly – and I imagine you as well – all too often fall into by failing to put complete trust in our God whatever the circumstances we face.
The tempter in the wilderness like the snake in the Garden craftily used God’s own words as kindling to spark the distrust he hoped to fan into a fire of disobedience. In the case of Jesus in the wilderness, the tempter quoted words from Psalm 91 which reads:
1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
2 will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
4 he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
14 Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
15 When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
16 With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.
I must admit to you that I find Psalm 91 more challenging than the 10 commandments handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. I don’t manage to faithfully adhere to those commandments – much less the even more stringent interpretation of those commandments that Jesus gave to them in the gospels.
But to call God my refuge, my shield and my buckler, and not to fear the terror of the night or the arrow that flies by day or the pestilence that stalks in darkness or the destruction that wastes the noonday? I’m afraid that I do not exhibit such absolute trust.
My trust in God too often resembles that of small children that you sometimes see standing at the edge of a swimming pool. They have not yet learned to swim. So their father or mother place themselves in the pool immediately in front of their offspring and call out to them: “Come on! Jump! I will catch you.” But the child hesitates – as do I – because there is always that hint of doubt that their parent cannot be trusted to catch them.
In the book of Proverbs, it is written:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
And he will make straight your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
Because of a very wily snake, Eve could not bring herself to trust God’s counsel fully. Instead, she and Adam sought to be wise in their own eyes. Unfortunately for her and her helpmate– just as it is for us – when their eyes were opened by their act of distrust in God, they found themselves alienated not only from God but from each other. Where before they had been naked but not ashamed of one another, now they covered themselves and hid from God as well.
Thankfully, our return to our origins does not end in the Garden with Eve and Adam for there was yet another temptation that would define who we are and who we were foreordained to become. This second temptation occurred in a wilderness at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. And as Paul wrote in the letter to the Romans,
Just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation of all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
As his ministry was just beginning, Jesus of Nazareth trusted God despite the tempter’s best efforts on the pinnacle of the temple to introduce a worm of doubt into his faith. Jesus refused to put his Father to the test. He did the same at the end of ministry as he hung abandoned and alone on a cross.
Such unconditional trust has never been equaled, and it will not be matched by any of us. But it is our calling as the book of Proverbs says to trust in the Lord with all our heart in the best and the worst of times, and when we fail like Eve and Adam – as we surely will – it is the trustworthy promise of God’s own Son that any who believe in him will not find themselves like Adam and Eve naked and afraid. Jesus Christ has already paid the price for our distrust, and because of his sacrifice, His Father – our Creator and Our Parent as well – calls us with open arms:
“Come on! Make the Leap of Faith! I will catch you.”