SERMON: 1 Lent C 3 10 19
We got a good dose of the devil this morning in our Gospel. So I thought I should bring you the latest Satan notions from the internet. Why should you always look at the fine print? Because the devil is in the details. Why will you never see Satan in an Armani suit? The Devil Wears Prada. Do you know what happens if you keep knocking on the Devils door? Sooner or later he'll invite you in.
I have been thinking about Satan this week. I have been thinking about him--I think Satan's a him, don't you?--for two reasons. One is that this is the season of Lent and we are talking about temptation. We start off with today's Gospel about Jesus being tempted by Satan. The other reason is that I found online the image of Satan we used in this week's newsletter and it really captured my imagination. Did you see it?
The picture shows Jesus atop a mountain, face raised heaven-ward, arms spread wide, a wind blowing his blue cape. It also shows Satan, a scornful look on his face, flying away, looking over his shoulder at Jesus, as if he's afraid he might catch what Jesus has: his faith. Satan has horns and cloven hooves and looks kind of rusty. He looks like a really unpleasant vulture that's been rousted from the mountaintop by the Son of God.
I like imagining what Jesus is thinking or saying or praying in this picture. Is he saying, "Thanks for giving me the faith to dispatch Satan"? Is he saying why would I want the deal he was offering me? Is he saying "Wow! This faith stuff works?" I think it's the last one. Because that's how I feel when I pray for help and get it. Maybe having an uncomfortable conversation, maybe keeping my temper, maybe just keeping on track with whatever I'm doing: I ask for God's peace to go with me and it does. That is such an awesome sense. As I wrote this I realized that I've never had that not work. I might mention it does sometimes not work when I don't ask for it, however. How about you?
Have you had that sensation that your faith has empowered or calmed or inspired or otherwise helped you in your daily endeavors? The really ordinary stuff? I sure have. As stimulating as the image is, as exciting as the Gospel story is, we still have to figure out ways to translate Jesus' experience into guidance that fits into our lives. Here in the 21st century. Personally I have not visited any jagged mountain peaks. I've never been to the top of a temple. Although I have climbed up in our bell tower a few times.
We picked a different image for the 10 am service bulletin this morning, this one from Cameroon, the Mafa collection, which we see occasionally. In it the presumed tempter is whispering in the ear of the figure in red. This image is much more subtle than the newsletter image. This image focuses on an earlier moment in the exchange than the one from the newsletter. The tempter hasn't yet been dispatched and is still suggesting glory and power for the listener, if only a commitment would be made to worship Satan.
I don't know about you, but I thought the figure in red could be a woman. If so then we can more easily relate to that person's humanity, rather than try to relate to Jesus in his divinity. The whisperer also appears less threatening than Satan in the newsletter version. Regardless we appreciate the danger, the vision of the community below, and we realize in both images the listener, whether Jesus or the woman or you or me, confronts suggestive notions all the time.
Hopefully seeing the ideas of today's Gospel portrayed in two very different ways helps us relate to it and imagine what benefits await us if we apply these lessons to our lives.
When we consider what Jesus said when tempted by Satan, we get a clear picture of our own proximity to temptation and our options. In response to Satan's three temptations Jesus said, "
'One does not live by bread alone," "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him." And "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."
We find it difficult to imagine being so hungry that we would sell our soul for a stone to be turned into a loaf of bread. Just imagine. But there are times when we are hungry for food and times when we are hungry for other things, so much so that we know we might lose our balance, emotionally, and accept an offer with serious consequences.
Averting starvation is only one temptation. Overeating is another serious peril. Eating foods which we're allergic to or which are medically discouraged or which can be harmful in other ways are all possibilities when we're off balance and susceptible to temptation. So we have to be attentive and careful about whom we're dealing with when we accept offers, even really good offers, and especially offers that sound too good to be true.
This of course is not only true about food. When we think about hunger we could be hungering for any number of inedible things, as well as our favorite tasty morsels. We could be hungering to see a friend and make poor decisions to make that happen. We could be hungering for a job and make a poor decision in accepting one or rejecting another. We could even be hungering for health or energy or fitness and overdo it in some exercise regimen recommended by a slick advertising campaign for dietary supplements or bogus equipment. Temptation comes in many, many forms.
Considering "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him" reminds us that there are many people and programs and enterprises looking for converts, followers who will join the chorus of singing their praises. There are times, too, when we'd like to kind of give up this struggle or that and find someone or something to guide us. Often in the church individuals attain a following and become in a sense the center of the church, rather than, for Christians, Jesus. Remembering we're committed to worshipping and serving only God, and no one or no thing else, is the key here. That and not getting distracted by every bright object or easy answer that comes along.
Finally, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" can be understood to mean a lot of things. There are those imaginary understandings we have that go like this: "If I make this light, God is with me." Or, "God wanted me to do such and such." Or even, "God didn't stop me when I did such and so." Usually these are misapplications of something resembling faith. Or wishful thinking.
Putting God to the test might also be taking irresponsible chances, expecting God to cover us if we get in a jam. We can always depend on God being with us, but we have to remember to not presume God is going to bail us out of every bad choice we make.
Satan teased Jesus with scripture that implied God would save him from being hurt if he took a leap off the temple. Jesus said "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." He also might have said that God's certain saving grace is spiritual not physical.
Aside from these three admonitions from Jesus there are many other temptations that we don't have time to deal with today. I think we can appreciate, though, that if we are thinking of God more and thinking of ourselves and our desires less, the chances are pretty good that we'll avoid inappropriate temptations and keep in line with our Baptismal Covenant.
Most of our temptations are pretty mundane compared with what Jesus faced in today's Gospel. When we consider the writings in the Bible and the temptations that were, if you will, available in those days, we realize that we might as well be living on a different planet from Jesus' planet. Except for one thing: the admonitions Jesus cited to Satan apply to us just as much as they did to him.
Yes, our so-called temptations might be overeating or watching too much television. Or they might be keeping our temper or civility in the face of rudeness. But ultimately what temptations represent to us is the potential loss of connection to God, minute by minute, hour by hour. And every moment spent out of touch with God and, potentially, unreachable by our own sense of God and our commitments to God, means unnecessary strain, struggle and stress on our faith. Why risk it?
A sermon preached on the First Sunday of Lent, March 10, 2019, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector.