03/01/2020: The Problem with the Devil
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Matthew 4: 1-11
A Sermon by Reverend Gretchen Jones Switzer
The thing about life is we usually know what to do and what choices to make. Our guts, if we bother to listen to them, tend to guide us pretty well. But we have the same experience Eve and Adam had. We know what God has told us to do and that God told us not to do, either in the Bible or simply from the trust in our hearts and our faith. However, we don’t always completely trust that knowledge, do we? “Well,” we say to ourselves, “I know God said not to do this, but it is sooo tempting and maybe…just this once… God won’t get too upset.” OR “I know I am supposed to do this wonderful thing but I am just too tired, too dull, too unmotivated to bother feeding the hungry, or visiting the sick, or comforting those who are in pain.”
These challenges are part of our “human” condition, or so we tell ourselves.
But God did not create us to be hungry or sick or sad. That is NOT where we started! God created us for love and well-being, for good and for compassion. You and I were born with all the wonderful, kind, and unselfish qualities God could muster. God created us to be creatures of thoughtfulness and compassion, so what happened? According to the book of Genesis, evil happened.
Now the Bible never describes a devil in a bright red suit with a forked tail. That image is a creation of literature, movies and tv. One thing about that image is, that it gives us the impression that spotting evil is easy. Just look around and if you see a flash of red, you know the devil is nearby and if you see the devil coming, there is a chance you may be able to protect yourself. The problem with the devil is that we don’t always see him coming. It seems that it is not just one creature either, but a whole slew of evils which threatens to take all the goodness from our lives. The example is that no drug addict or alcoholic comes to mind who is taken down by just one bad thing, but a myriad of destructive decisions. They are not just done in by marijuana. They are done in by heroine and cocaine and meth and more. No drunk is ruined by one drink or even one bottle. They are done in by a thousand bottles and a million drunken bad choices, by the addiction itself. To quote the hymn we sang this morning, “The world with devils filled threatens to undo us. For still our ancient foe does seek to work us woe. With craft and power great and armed with cruel hate. On earth there is no equal. On earth, there is no equal. But in heaven, we have Jesus, who is, in every way, not only an equal with evil, but a conqueror of evil and hate, darkness and shadow.” Because of Jesus Christ, you and I always have a choice. Every day, every night, every moment, we either decide for evil in our own lives and in the world, or we choose the love and goodness offered us by God.
Jesus was tempted by the powers of evil for 40 days and 40 nights. The season of Lent, which began on Ash Wednesday was the beginning of 40 days and 40 nights when we observe the season of Lent. As the fully human Jesus faced himself and his shortcomings, wo we are called to reflect o our own mistakes and shortcomings as well, confess our wrongdoing to God and seek God’s understanding and mercy, which are always given through Jesus Christ, whose life and sacrifice and goodness we proclaim the holy meal we share this morning.
When Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness, he fasted. By the end of the forty days, a tempter gave Jesus a choice. “If you are the son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” As hungry as Jesus must have been, he says, “No, I won’t do that.” He says, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Then Jesus is challenged to throw himself to certain death, to prove that God could and would save him. His response to evil is this: “Do not put the Lord, your God, to the test. and finally evil offers him dominion over all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will fall down and worship “evil.”
There are several difficulties with these temptations: First of all, they all assume evil has way more power than Jesus has. But Jesus does not have to change stones into bread. Instead he is giving his own self to be the bread that not only feeds and nourishes us, but saves us from a ‘forever’ death, by granting each of us a place in Heaven with him.
And in the end, evil offers Jesus power over all creation. Problem is, that power is not evils to give. Only God’s. Evil does not have dominion over the earth – never has, never will. But there is still enough evil in the world that we must constantly be making choices between evil and Jesus. Every minute we must decide how loving and honest, respectful or compassionate or ethical we will be, at home with our families, at work with co-workers and customers, or in traffic or at the store or here at church.
Lent is designed to remind us how vital these decisions are, whether we are making them outside in the world beyond this building or in our families, or simply in the depths of our own hearts and minds. Lent is the time to choose Jesus. Lent is the season to decide for God, select God, commit ourselves to God. Right here, right now, once and for all, we are called to embrace God. As the perfecter of our faith and the great love of our lives.