Feb 14, 2016 Len 1
The Devil Made me do it
“The devil made me do it.”
“There’s a little devil in all of us.”
“He’s got a devilish grin.”
and then of course there’s the
New Jersey Devils. The devil is
clearly part of our lives.
Just as it was part of Jesus life;
but, just how do we feel about that?
Just what do we think Satan is?
And how do we get along with it?
The Sunday after the terrorist attack on New York in 2001, I preached on the opening chapter of Job which has Satan pacing to and fro
as it wanders the face of the earth.
I love the Book of Job because Job is an inexhaustible pool of paradox.
It represents one of the most significant turning points in the development of our faith,
and of course what plays a pivotal role in all of this drama but our ancient companion Satan.
Read Luke 4:1–13
Dear God, we come at the beginning
of another Lenten season to begin our journey,
which will end at the foot of the cross.
We’ve heard it before; we’ve heard it sung it before;
and we’ve seen it in art.
Startle us, O God, with its truth,
and open our hearts and minds anew
to its amazing love and hope. Amen
To do some really serious research on Satan
all one has to do is go to the local video store
if you can still find one.
Now I’m dating myself, but
I’m sure some will remember the fuss over
The Exorcist when it was first released.
One could rent the Witches of Eastwick or
there is Woody Allen’s “Deconstructing Harry”
or Al Pacino in the Devil’s Advocate.
And of course The Passion of the Christ,
Mel Gibson’s violent spectacle includes the
“Evil One” hovering in the crowd.
The Devil, Satin, or as scripture puts it most often “the evil one” is very much part of
our culture and who we are.
Trying to understand evil has been a preoccupation of humanity I’m sure since the very first tragedy.
Why, we ask, and so did our ancestors
as they looked about and struggled
to make sense of the world around them.
Their choices were, in simple terms, that
either the source of the evil came from within them,
or it came from the forces of nature,
or from the Gods.
When I talk about evil I am talking about
tragedy caused by a human perpetrator
or even a human catalyst.
We, as I have said often, do not control circumstance, we do though control ourselves. Tragedies that happen as part of natural circumstance are just that, and have to be
accepted for what they are.
Friends of my family,
a farming couple from Niagara were on a holiday in the south western U.S. about 20 years ago.
They were driving along one beautiful day
through a national forest, I've forgotten which one,
it was one of the very famous locations,
out of the blue a huge tree simply fell on their car. They were fortunate to have lived,
and did after years of medical treatment and physio, finally regained their health;
but it was nearly game over for both of them.
That was circumstance.
That was not part of God’s plan,
at least the way I look at life.
Now tragedy that takes place as result of human freewill is an entirely different matter.
And that is what today’s scripture
is fundamentally about.
Temptation is about choice
and choice presupposes freewill or the
real opportunity to make an unrestricted choice.
When we began chapter 4 of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus had just recently been baptized
and had not yet begun his ministry.
Jesus was in fact making his fundamental life choice. To this point he had been raised and nurtured
by his parents and his family,
he had been formed by his mentors and community, he had been baptized by John and the Holy Spirit, and now here, fittingly
in the lonesome solitude of the desert,
here is where the rubber hit the road.
The three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark,
and Luke, all portray Jesus in very real,
human, and immediate terms.
He is portrayed as one who suffered physical agony and mental anguish, who had dirt under his finger nails, and experienced rage.
And so in that same light
we must interpret Jesus choices
as real and not preordained.
Luke does not mean for us to understand
that God was manipulating the end of the story, Jesus had real choices to make.
The choices Jesus made determined the course of his ministry and his life.
They determined the course of the lives
of all whom he touched before he was executed,
and those choices have determined the course
of all those lives he has touched to this day,
yours, mine, and every one we have touched.
But the evil one is among us in our choices.
In our choice to honour self before others,
in our choice to focus on comfort
rather than necessity,
in our choice to gravitate into cliques,
based upon gratifying similarity,
rather than a vision of the kingdom of God.
In our choice to stand and strain to see the horizon, rather than to stoop to look beneath a bush
for the huddled misfortune that shivers there.
Jesus made his choice, he chose life.
He chose eternal life.
He chose fulfillment and a ministry guided by the Holy Spirit toward his vision of the kingdom of God, and we are invited to do the same.
We are invited to choose life.
The evil one will always be with us.
Luke was certain to make that clear in the end.
That the reality of a choice that did not embrace God was ever-present for Jesus,
and we can be sure that the same possibility hovers always near our lives.
Jesus choices were clear,
not easy but clear.
Our choices are clear,
not easy but clear.
While I was taking my theological education we had the opportunity to go to Mexico and participate in an emersion experience into the under-classes of both urban and rural Mexico.
One of the most awkward,
while at the same time awesome and gracious aspects of that contact was the way in which
our contacts with these families
allowed us to experience their circumstance
without polluting their lives
with North American wealth.
The families were chosen for their ability
to meet us on their own turf,
and minister to us out of their own
experiences of life while not coveting
the “otherworldly wealth”
that even our poorest member represented.
The stories of encounter
and aid to the developing world
over the last several hundred years is replete
with examples of Western well-intentioned interference destroying lives and or cultures.
Love is simply not simple!
As we enter the season of Lent, I suspect that for many people that implies a rather dreary
time of the Church year, a time to be endured.
We think about giving up things that we enjoy.
We think about sombre music.
We think about fasting and repentance.
Those Lenten themes and practices are important, but ultimately Lent is about making choices.
Lent is a wilderness time.
At various times in our lives, the lives of our families, and the lives of our two faith communities
we find ourselves in a “wilderness situation”.
It may be a time of confusion
as we make decisions about where
God is leading us individually and collectively.
It may be a time of anxiety
as we deal with situations that arise around us because of the changes overcoming our world.
It may be a time of doubt as we grapple with keeping faith in the midst of adversity.
And yet those wilderness times
can be wonderfully fruitful as I have described
out of my own personal experience.
In both our own lives and those of our two congregations the wilderness can provide us with a time of closeness to God, a time of intimacy.
It is a time to return to simplicity of faith,
a time to take responsibility for all our gifts,
a time for reflection, and above all
a time to experience God’s grace as we make important choices for ourselves.
Following his baptism in the Jordan River,
Jesus entered a Lenten time in his life.
It was a time of preparation for leadership,
time to make choices for his life.
It was common practice for people to go
to a desert place to prepare themselves spiritually.
It was a reminder of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, and of their hope for liberation.
So Jesus went out into the wilderness.
It was a time to prepare for what lay ahead,
a journey that would ultimately lead to the cross.
Choices are the brushstrokes
by which we paint the portrait of our lives.
Choosing to live our lives as Christians is an integral piece in determining who we will be.
We choose to live in the image of Christ.
So perhaps the question
entering this wilderness time in the Church Year is: what is it about the gospel
that we find so appealing that we would choose
to be followers of Christ?
For our true call is to follow the way of the cross. That is where the power of sin or alienation and death are defeated.
So often when we consider the wilderness times of our lives we reflect on the testing that comes about, and on the suffering that we endure at such times.
In the same way as we often concentrate on Jesus death rather than the circumstances and the results.
John Cobb, one of my favourite Christian Scholars has said that Christians are often so focused upon the death of Jesus that they miss the more essential fact of the obedient choice and the faithfulness
and the sharing and reaching out
that Jesus was engaged in
while he was experiencing the worst
that humans could do to him.
Grace in the face of degradation and death.
The real focus is on the faith.
We know that God’s grace enables us
to meet all the challenges of life.
We know that we are not alone
as we make our way through the many choices.
And so for faith as for life we choose The WAY.
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street / Heritage United Churches in Brantford Ontario.