Sermon 1 Lent Yr A

1 Lent Yr A, 10/02/2008

Gen 2:15-17; 3:1-7 & Rom 5:12-19

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta


“Sin and Death, Christ and New Life”


Today one of the taboo words is sin, and along with it, death. We live far too much of our lives in denial of both sin and death. In fact, many bow down and worship at the altar of sin. As for death, we like to sanitize it by employing phrases such as “passed away,” and we attempt to confine and control death by the use of science and technology—going to all kinds of heroic measures, which are nothing more than out and out denial of and rebellion against death, attempting to be gods and goddesses in our True God’s place.

   The story is told of a fence between Heaven and Hell, which was falling apart. It was badly in need of repair. Saint Peter consulted his records and saw that by the terms of an ancient agreement, it was Satan’s turn to fix the fence. So he gritted his teeth and sought an audience with the Prince of Darkness.

   He found him in the nether regions, cleaning his pitchfork. Peter did not sit down. The smell of brimstone was heavy in the hot air. “You need to fix the fence,” he said.

   The devil twitched his red tail. He scratched behind a horn. “Now Pete,” he said, “you could be a little more friendly, after all these years.”

   “I don’t want to be here at all,” Peter said. “I just came to tell you the fence needs fixing.”

   “My people are too busy to spend time on your lousy fence. Fix it yourself.”

   “See here, you devil; it’s your turn to fix the fence. It’s the right thing to do. And if you don’t fix the fence, I’ll sue.”

   The devil laughed his wickedest laugh. “Go ahead and sue! Where are you going to find a lawyer?”1

   This joke is rather negative towards lawyers, with its demonizing them. However, theologically I think the joke complements both our first lesson from Genesis and second lesson from Romans today. Both of these passages underscore that there is a power existing in the world that is resisting God and God’s will. A power in rebellion against God.

   In the Genesis passage, the power is described as the serpent. In the text, the serpent is not however called Satan or the devil, even though the serpent’s behaviour, by questioning God’s words to the woman and by telling the woman an out and out lie implies that it is a power resisting God and God’s will, and in rebellion against God.

   Something that is difficult for us in the story of the Fall is that God actually must have created the serpent in the first place, since he created all creatures. Why would God create such a serpent, which is described in 3:1 as “more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God made”? A second troublesome question is: Why would God wish to create the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil? According to one Jewish tradition, creation was flawed from the beginning and God, by creating the serpent and the forbidden tree, deliberately set up or framed the original human beings so that they would be tempted and choose to eat of the forbidden fruit. However, for Jews, the man and woman eating of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is interpreted not necessarily as the Fall or the wrong choice. Rather, it is viewed as a necessary choice for human beings in order for them to become full, mature, adult human beings who exercise their independence and therefore must learn to properly accept and be responsible for the consequences of their decisions.

   Christians, on the other hand, have interpreted this story of the Fall differently. We have viewed the choice to eat of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil as a wrong choice, a choice that was made in rebellion against God and God’s will. According to one biblical scholar, Elizabeth Achtemeier: “knowledge” in Hebrew includes also the ability to do. And the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” is, therefore, a symbol of omniscience and omnipotence, of the ability to do and know everything, including right and wrong. In short, the tree symbolizes the ability to be gods. But we are not gods, of course. Human beings are creatures who are totally dependent on our Creator for all good gifts and for life itself.2 Therefore, the restriction placed on the original man and woman in the Garden of Eden not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; served at least two purposes. First of all, it was God’s way of reminding the first man and woman of their limitations. Human beings are God’s creatures, therefore finite, and having to live within certain limitations. This limitation here was to protect humans from sin and death. Second, by giving the first man and woman the responsibility and the freedom to choose not to eat of the forbidden tree; God was actually treating them with respect as mature, adult human beings and giving them the opportunity to face the consequences of their choice. God was holding them responsible for their choice and their freedom to choose. That is not at all a negative thing; it is the reality of life in this world as mature, adult human beings.

However, the first man and woman, by choosing to give in to the temptation of the serpent and believe the serpent’s lie; by eating the forbidden fruit; sin entered into the world and with it, the consequence, death. Ever since that choice, every human being has inherited sin and its consequence, death. Paul, in our second lesson, makes that quite clear. He pictures sin and death like a contagious disease, which spreads to everyone by virtue of being born a human being. Sin and death are what we have inherited from the first man and woman. That means we all too often abuse our freedom and responsibility and make the wrong kind of choices—choices that result in sin and death.

Here’s one example. In Japan there is a type of blowfish that is a great delicacy. However, there is a problem—it is poisonous. It is understood to be such a delicacy that people are willing to pay a high price per pound for the fish. Chefs preparing it are required to study something like two years before being allowed to serve it to customers.

Those who eat it feel a tingling in their tongue, toes and fingers. However if eaten in small quantities it is not fatal. Nevertheless, about sixteen people a year die from eating the fish since there is no known antidote for the poison, which is permeated throughout the meat.

Ever since the Fall of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, human beings can no longer choose not to sin and not to die. That freedom and privilege has been lost. That is why we need a Saviour. If sin and death are like a contagious disease that spreads to us all; then God in the Person of Jesus is like the Remedy to heal us from the disease. In the ancient Church, by receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion, Christians were receiving what they referred to as the Medicine of Immortality. Sin and death do not have the last word.

This becomes quite clear in Paul’s very tightly reasoned presentation of the situation. Thinking of and referring to the story of the Fall in Genesis, Paul tells us we’re all sinners through our first parents. He tells us we all suffer the consequence of that sin, which is death. However, Paul writes with great certainty and confidence regarding our new state of being as baptized Christians, telling us that in Christ we are given a wonderful inheritance—”the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ.” A phrase that stands out in this passage is the superlative “much more surely,” and the word “abundance.” In other words, Paul is saying that sin and death are powerful, but they cannot equal God’s power in Christ; they cannot defeat or overcome Christ and his life-giving power. Christ is a superpower, so great and mighty that he and his power far exceed the powers of sin and death.

A man had felt himself to be badly wronged. It was not true, but he refused to look at facts and stubbornly held to a spirit of gross malice. The longer he held the grudge the more it festered, poisoning his thinking. At last he decided to get even. He concocted a plan to bomb the place of business where his imagined adversary worked. It was a large manufacturing plant, rising six stories and covering an entire city block. Eight hundred employees spent each weekday at work in this building. The fact that 800 people could possibly be destroyed by his bomb did not affect the man with the grievance. As long as his “offender” was killed he did not care how many others were killed or maimed. So 800 people were killed or maimed in a horrible explosion.

Or were they? A police officer somehow learned that the man was making a large bomb. So he carefully planned a search of the man’s premises, found the bomb, and turned it over to a demolition squad. Many could have perished through one man’s sinfulness. But all were saved by another man’s efforts to prevent the mass tragedy.3

Christ, says Paul, not only saves us from sin and death he gives us life, superabundant life, which flows from the present, right now into the future, eternally. This Lenten season, may we be ever mindful and appreciative of the Costly Grace we are freely given thanks to the saving work of Jesus on the cross, which has overcome sin and death—reversing the Fall by making us the new creation in Christ. Amen.


1 Bill Mosley, “Family Tree,” Sermons on the First Readings: Series I, Cycle A (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2004), p. 125.

2 Elizabeth Achtemeier, “The Story of Us All: A Christian Exposition of Genesis 3,” in Fredrick C. Holmgren and Herman E. Schaalman, Editors, Preaching Biblical Texts: Expositions by Jewish and Christian Scholars (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), p. 2.

3 Emphasis, Vol. 25, No. 5, January-February 1996 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 57.  


About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: gwh photos:

2 Responses to Sermon 1 Lent Yr A

  1. Hal Weiner says:

    This homily is very helpful to me as I grapple with the Second Reading for Lent I which I am about to read at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC this morning.

    I just wanted to point out that the Japanese blowfish, Fugu, is so poisonous ( no known antidote ) that the apprenticeship for fugu sushi chefs is 14 years, not 2 years. If the have shortened it to 2, I would earnestly suggest you become a vegetarian when traveling to Japan or eating out in a local Japanese restaurant. Legend has it that it is a rather agonizing way to die.

    I am sure we can find a surer, slower method. Like global warming.

  2. Dim Lamp says:

    Thank you for the additional information on the blowfish-Fugu and Japanese chefs.

    Lenten blessings.

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