In case you aren’t aware, I became a proud Episcopalian in December. I am also an unabashed intellectual and, in case you hadn’t noticed, a liberal. As such, I often get sometimes good-natured (and other times, not-so-good natured) grief for what some of my friends call “believing in fairy tales.”
I can understand why they feel this way. There are a lot of people who call themselves Christian who sometimes don’t appear to be following the teachings of the man they claim are at the center of their lives.
My good friend, Peter Faass, gave a wonderful sermon on the subject this past weekend. I have reprinted it here with permission. I hope it makes you think — it sure as heck made me think.
Lent I Sermon
“The Devil Laughs!”
Sunday, February 14, 2016
The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector
Christ Church, Shaker Heights
“After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”
When we 21st Century Christians hear this story of Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the wilderness, it most likely evokes one of two responses in us.
The first one is to roll our eyes at the mention of the devil, as we conjure up images of a little red man in tights with horns and a pitchfork. “Other than children, who believes that silliness?” we think dismissively.
The second is to think, “Well sure, Jesus could resist all those highly seductive offers of power, money and worldly dominion because he was the Son of God. But me, well, I’m a mere mortal, weak and subject to temptation. I don’t have his capacity to resist.”
Both thoughts are folly, and both are evidence of just how wily and seductive the power of evil truly is in the world.
Evil – which for the purpose of our understanding is what Satan and the devil represent in the scripture – is an insidious, seductive, relentless force in our lives. Evil is a force that will stop at nothing to gain entry into the hearts and minds of each and every one of us in whatever ways it can muster. Even Jesus’ success at resisting the devils’ temptations in the wilderness did not deter the devil. Our passage today closes with these ominous words, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” The devil may have failed this first go-around, but he will go back to the drawing board and devise another plan, until he finds the one that works to break us down and make us his.
Being dismissive of the devil and his relentlessness in gaining entry into our souls is folly. Writing him off as a quaint Halloween caricature is equally as foolish. In both instances, when we do so, he laughs!
As for the “Jesus is God’s Son and I’m not” argument. Well, I would argue that the Jesus we get at this point of his life and ministry is the all too human one. In the Incarnation, Jesus takes on our humanity, which means he is tempted and tested like all of us. He did this for the sake of knowing, deeply, intimately, that this is what it means to be human. He did not have some sort of Divine shield that went up – like the shields of the Starship Enterprise when enemies’ approach – to protect him from the temptations being proffered. In the Letter to the Philippians we are told that Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” (Phil. 2:6-8) In other words, yes Jesus was God, but in becoming human he emptied himself of his Divinity so that he was fully human.
So the truth is Jesus was subject to the temptations of the world and of the devil, just as any one of us is.
The key difference is that, as the text tells us, right after his baptism he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” It was the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in him that allowed Jesus to resist the devils’ temptations. But being filled with the Holy Spirit is not unique to Jesus. It’s not a holy inoculation. Just as the Holy Spirit filled him at his baptism, so she also fills each and every one of us at our baptism. It isn’t just Jesus who gets the Divine advantage with the fullness of the Spirit, we all do.
Our problem is we forget that . . . or ignore it. In either event when we do forget or ignore the presence of the Spirit already in us, we loose our ability to resist and be protected from the “deceits of the world, flesh and the devil” as we prayed in The Great Litany.
This past week I read a great Blog post by a minster named John Pavlovitz. His writing offers a profound example of how when we are dismissive of the reality of evil and forget we have the divine presence of the Spirit in us, Satan not only gains hold but is able to wreak great havoc in our lives. The title of the Blog piece is “Christian, the Reason So Many People are Losing Faith—May Be You.”
The premise of Pavlovitz’s article is that the growing millions of people who have given up on the Christian faith and have become part of those legions of folks who call themselves spiritual but not religious or Nones – people with no specific religious identity – is that we, who call ourselves Christian, have stolen their religion from them. Pavolitz writes, “They’ve looked at our body of work and found it far less than convincing. For all our loud, flowery talk of a God who is Love, we’ve repeatedly proven ourselves incapable of a worthy demonstration in close proximity—and so away they walk.”
“Far too often, people are abandoning Christianity because they are looking closely at believers like you and me and finding very little light worth moving toward. They are rubbing up against our specific, individual lives, and instead of coming away with the sense that God is real and worth seeking, they are determining that God must be dead or at best irrelevant—and we probably shouldn’t be the least bit surprised.”
“We haven’t arrived here overnight and there are lots of reasons for it, but in America especially, I think we’ve gradually evolved into a nearly Jesus-free Christianity; one that allows us to claim Christ while not being saddled with the annoying burden of living like him in any meaningful way. We get God’s cachet and we get our way, which is how we like it: cheap religion without the costly personal transformation.
If we’re honest, in the course of a given day out there most of us are usually far more interested and invested in winning arguments, proving points, garnering Retweets, and throwing shade than we are reflecting the compassion and humility and dignity of Christ to people in our path. We have so strayed from the plot and so made God in our own nasty image, that we’ve convinced ourselves the best answer to the question, “What Would Jesus Do?”—is be a jackass.”
What delight evil must take in seeing the decline of the Christian faith being caused by those very people who claim to be Christian, as they create a Jesus-free faith! All because we have caved in to Satan’s temptations. What laughter must this evoke when the devil can have us be far more interested in the egoistic, self-serving, mean-spirited endeavors of winning arguments, proving points, garnering Retweets, and throwing shade, rather than emulating the humility and compassion of Jesus, as we ignore the Spirit who dwells within us. How much fuel do we throw on the fires of hell that desire to consume us, when the best answer we can give to “What would Jesus do?” is to be a jackass.
It would be very easy to point at any number of politicians who invoke God and then preach hate, to make this point. But the reality is it’s not just the high profile media hounds that engage in this behavior. It’s to one degree or another, all of us. We are all too quick with snark, all to willing to bully people who disagree, ever thinking of rhetorical touches and comeuppances, all too subject to let partisanship over-rule the Gospel, all too facile in gossip and character assassination.
And with the devil having such power over us, people look at us and say, “If this is Christianity, then I don’t want it.” And Satan laughs.
Pavlovitz states, “’I’ve always contended that the best evangelism is simply to tell people that you’re a Christian and then not be a complete jerk. I believe in faith-sharing through the sermon of a life resembling Jesus.”
It is Lent. This is a time of self-reflection and repentance; a time to make a right beginning of re-newel in our lives to follow Jesus. I invite you in this Holy season to meditate and pray on these questions:
Is the life I am living worth aspiring to; my countenance, my manner, my default condition?
In any significant way, does my faith in Jesus make me different than those without it?
Is my life a witness to the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit within me?
Do I exhibit – to the best of my ability – the kindness, compassion, forgiveness and love of Jesus, or am I a tool of Satan that has caved, hook, line and sinker into Satan’s seductive temptations?
Am I diligently trying to be a follower of Jesus or have I defaulted to evil’s wiles?
This Lent let’s take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror and ask these questions. And where we are wanting – and we are, all of us – may we pray for God’s guidance that leads to an amendment of life, so that the testimonies of our lives may give witness to the salvation and love of Jesus, to all people.
Only then will Satan be beaten down under our feet.
Only then will this Christian faith of ours become the Jesus Movement that will redeem us, and the world.