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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Renouncing The Devil and Evil Forces - 03/05/2017

The Holy Gospel, according to Matthew, the fourth chapter.

I'm going to start today's gospel reading a few verses back at the end of chapter 3:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

***

“If you are the Son of God” – show me, prove it. The devil is taunting Jesus.

It's hard to know exactly who could see the Spirit of God when it came down and landed on Jesus as he came up out of those baptismal waters.

It's hard to know exactly who could hear that rumbling voice from the heavens declare “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

It's hard to know who saw Jesus being driven out into the wilderness by that same Spirit of God for 40 days of fasting and praying, of being tempted and prepared for where his ministry would now take him – the journey we now join to Jerusalem, a cross and a tomb.

It's hard to know precisely the details of those things, but one thing I think we can know is that Satan saw and heard all of this and I believe it set Satan on edge – the tide was changing and Satan knew it.

This is another of those stories that is very familiar to many of us – and even to those who don't really know the story of Jesus or have much knowledge of the bible.

But I often think that widespread familiarity – both inside and outside of the church – should serve as a signal to us that we perhaps we gloss over these stories, romanticize them or water them down. On days like this we are given the opportunity to dig into them a little farther and see what they tell us about God, Jesus and us.

The length of time is, of course, significant. Traditionally 40 days and nights marks a time period in which someone or something is being prepared for something very new, some new part of God's creation. Think about the 40 days and nights Noah and his family survived when God destroyed the earth with a flood and then recreated the earth. In that time the passengers of that ark were prepared for a new world and a new covenant from God.

God set a rainbow in the sky and said, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Gen 8:21-22) The next time God makes such a universal convental promise is when God comes among us as Jesus and dies on the cross for the benefit of everyone and everything.

Or you might think of the 40 days and nights we just heard about a couple of weeks ago when Moses stayed on the mountain and fasted while God shared the new words of the covenant in the 10 Commandments. When that difficult time was over, Moses and the Israelites set off  to the Promised Land with God's law at the foundation of their community – life-giving law that still calls us now into deeper and deeper relationship with God and one another.

We might also think of this time we are in now and our own Lenten Disciplines – the ways we challenge ourselves in Lent to abide more deeply in God's law, to cleanse our lives of what gets between us and God, to bear our sinful selves to God. To place ourselves more completely than ever into God's merciful hands. And at the end of this 40 days, which can be quite dark and difficult at times and cause us to feel very vulnerable, what do we envision God's new creation may be? What are we being prepared for? Is it reinvigorated prayer life with God? A stronger call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome the homeless stranger into our own homes and lives? Some of us are likely being prepared in new ways to name and resist evil forces in our world. Maybe your new life following our 40 days of Lent will bring about new and better visions for how we as individuals and communities care for this beautiful planet. Maybe you are being prepared to open your heart even wider to love, despite the risk of being hurt in that willingness to love and be loved. God is preparing each of us for something new and it's during these traditional 40-day time frames that we become very intentional about listening and feeling how that will take shape when we emerge on the other side of Lent.

I say all this, because it's not an easy and in fact can be a very, very difficult time and I think that's important to remember about Jesus too as we spend time with this part of our gospel story.

Forty days and nights of fasting and praying takes a toll on a human being – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Jesus was human. He felt that toll just as we would. And then the devil enters in and begins, what amounts really, to torture. Famished, Jesus is tempted to turn the stones into bread and fill his shrunken and cramping stomach. Dizzy and disoriented and weak, Jesus is tempted to give up the last of his strength to fall from the pinnacle of the temple knowing that God would indeed protect him. Tired and spent, Jesus is asked to bow down and worship the devil in exchange for a lie – a false promise of power on earth that can only last as long as a human life.

This is torture, make no mistake about that – there is nothing to romanticize here.

And, there is nothing to water down here either, we realize when we truly let the significance of what happens here sink into our hearts and minds and souls. Jesus recognizes evil for what it is here and resists it.

Jesus does this in a way we cannot … and that is the life-altering significance of this well known and sometimes glossed over story of the time Jesus engaged in spiritual warfare with Satan. Tempted to our hungers, tempted to test God to see if those promises to love and protect us are really true, tempted with power and earthly treasures, we – none of us – maintain a perfect track record.

In some cases these temptations are pretty big and can have global ramifications. We live in a world where some people, like many of us, go to bed with full stomachs every night, while too many others do not. And it's not because God does not provide enough for all of us – it's a distribution problem.

We live in a world were profits and convenience very often outweigh what is best for the planet and future generations.

We can probably all think of political and industry leaders – past and present – who cannot resit the temptations of more earthly, more treasure – amassing more and more and more until that power or that treasure is what they end up worshiping above God and God's law. And sometimes whole populations follow them down these paths.

Mostly though, I think we fail these things in smaller ways that affect smaller groups of people or maybe just ourselves. But regardless of the scale, these temptations still wind up putting obstacles between us and God's love and abundance. We cannot resist the temptation to feed a hunger – whether that means this apple or something else – drugs, fame, sex, status, excitement and rushes of adrenaline, a hunger for attention that comes out in unhealthy ways.

We cannot resist the temptation of power and riches – letting our ambitions or our credit cards or our competitive natures replace the radical generosity and hopsitality our Christian identities call us to.

We cannot resist the temptation to make sure we say yes to everything our culture says we should give our time, talents and treasure to, only to find that it is a sports team we worship more than God or a calendar packed with act ivies and conflicts we follow more than Jesus.

These are real challenges for all of us and if it had been anyone of us in that wilderness with the devil, we'd have failed.

So Jesus went for us – renouncing and resisting evil in ways we can only pretend to live up to. He did it for the sake of our lives here and now, and our lives in the hereafter.

He made the way plain and clear for us to follow as best we can, continually stretching ourselves to be more like him, and freed from the burden of perfection in his victory over these temptations. Jesus' bold and perfect renouncing of the Satan may serve as our mantra in this life as we try to follow Jesus path through our own wilderness.

“Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

This merciful and freeing activity of God through Jesus in the wilderness is what we recall during our baptisms and each time we remember our baptisms. And so let's wrap this up today by remembering that, by digging into this story just a little deeper and seeing how very powerfully it is connected to our lives as baptized children of God.

I'd like you all to turn to page 229 in the hymnals … Let's reenact the very first part of the Profession of Faith we make in the course of our baptisms …

I ask you to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the church.

Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? R: I renounce them.

Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? R: I renounce them.

Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God? R: I renounce them.

The tide has changed – May Jesus continue to walk with us all, and make God's divine presence known as we are prepared for something new and life-giving in these 40 days of Lenten wilderness. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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