This is an illustration I have used before, but it seems to fit perfectly today:
Please allow me to introduce myself; I’m a man of wealth and taste.
I’ve been round for a long, long time, stole many a man’s soul and faith…
Pleased to meet you; hope you guessed my name-
But what’s puzzlin’ you is the nature of my game…
It’s a terrifying song, “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones, all the way back in 1968. I’m fascinated by it- it sounds like it was dictated by the Devil himself; the words sound so real, they ring so true…
It is amazing to me that the devil has been an issue for some main-line churches; his existence is openly debated. And I am glad, on this last Sunday in our Ephesians series that our text gives us an opportunity to talk about “Old Scratch,” “Mephistopheles,” or Lucifer.
Because I don’t doubt the existence of personified evil for a second. Just look around at the chaos in our world.
The Devil’s been the topic of countless books, stories, operas and songs. We’re fascinated by the possibility of playing with evil, not dissimilar to the moth drawn close to an open flame and singes its wings.
And in most instances, we see that the Evil One is far more clever, more subtle and more beautiful that we would like to think.
That’s why our text talks about “the wiles of the devil…” “Wiles…” According to the Meriam-Webster on-line dictionary, it means “a trick or stratagem intended to ensnare or deceive; also : a beguiling or playful trick.”
To be sure, there are flat-out Satan worshippers- strange and dangerous cult-like activities that can include ritual murder or other bizarre behavior. When James was looking for rock n’roll that annoyed years ago, he discovered Norwegian Death Metal. Hard core Norwegian Satan worshippers. Who knew? But that stuff is too hideous, or too repulsive for the vast majority of us.
And Lucifer knows that, too. That’s not how the devil normally approaches us.
One of the first stories in the Bible, in Genesis 3, shows the devil hard at work, and in the way he most often does. It’s the second half of the story of our creation, and our fall into sin. If you want to open your pew Bibles, it’s on page 2.
Notice the matter of appearance: however the snake looked, he was not so hideous that the woman went shrieking back into the woods.
Second, look at the approach: gentle, non-threatening- reasonable even- it’s “beguiling…” or, “wiley…” Genesis says “the serpent was more ‘crafty’ than any other wild animal the Lord God had made…”
“Did God say ‘you shall not eat from any tree in the Garden?’” He just takes God’s words, and twists them, ever so slightly…
“No,” says the woman. “Just the one in the middle, and if we touch it, we’ll die!”
“Oh, no, you won’t die… God knows that when you eat, you will be like God; you’ll know good and evil…”
And here’s the beauty- or the horror- of the serpent’s method: the stage is set. The woman looks at the fruit: it’s beautiful. It will make her wise. No hesitation- she eats; it’s her choice! She gives to her husband. He eats; it’s his choice!
No one made them do it, for all the crying they do later. The serpent simply made his pitch- sat back, and watched all hell break loose…
One other thing: while Adam and Eve are not literally killed, before they ate the fruit, they were in close harmony with God and nature. They were literally in the presence of God- in a state of what the Hebrew language calls “Shalom…” or the “peace of God…”
After they ate, the relationship was fractured- no longer in God’s presence (driven out of the Garden), and in Hebrew, the opposite of Shalom, peace, is not war, but death! The snake lied, of course: Adam and Eve were walking dead people.
Not much has changed: ISIS is spreading terror across the world. (I do believe we should use the Arabic Acronym for ISIS instead of the English one- DAESH- it translates roughly into “dog.”)
We know that the people in DAESH don’t consider themselves criminals, or murderers, they’re jihadis- holy warriors, even though the Koran expressly forbids murder. And, in light of the atrocity in Normandy this week, they ignore the fact that the Koran calls Christians and Jews “people of the Book,” to be honored and respected.
In spite of what their religion explicitly states, they believe anything is permissible, even, or especially the deaths of innocents. And the author of their temptation sits back and laughs, as hell belches out of churches, cafes, marketplaces, or wherever next…
Or: I spoke several weeks ago about the deaths of young black men at the hands of the police, followed by the ambush murders of five police officers in Dallas, and the shooting death of the two year old in North Minneapolis. I said then, and I’ll repeat it now, “Black Lives Matter!” And “Blue Lives Matter!”
There’s no contradiction there. It’s not a zero sum game. It’s a measure of how polarized and divided we are as a people that we immediately take sides. To say “Black Lives Matter” is not to say “Blue Lives don’t” and vice versa!
Can you imagine being with Jesus, as he preached the Sermon on the Mount, and when he said “Blessed are the poor,” someone stood up and said, “No, Jesus, blessed are ALL people…”??? That’s not the point Jesus was making!
From Sympathy: “Just as every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints! As heads is tails please call me Lucifer, I’m in need of some restraint!”No kidding. It all gets twisted, suspicion between races gets worse, between police and communities gets worse, and all hell continues to break forth in the cities across our land…
OR: perhaps closer to home, this voice: “Hey, I know that things aren’t so hot at home, and you deserve some happiness. That person is available- and willing, and your spouse will never find out. Or if they do, and you split up, it happens all the time. Kids? They’ll be OK; what matters is you…
See the Devil working? Offer the chaos causing temptation, and all hell breaks loose in our families!
As a society- as individuals, we’re given choices. Just three here, but they’re countless. The devil offers temptations- sets the table, as it were, but the choice to sit down and eat is ours! The responsibility is ours! We cannot say “we had to do it,” yet it is so easy to make the wrong choice!
Luther was right when he wrote, “No strength of ours could match his (the devil’s) might; we would be lost, rejected. But now a champion comes to fight, whom God himself elected…
And, of course, I’m talking about Jesus- God became human, who faces all the forces of evil, the Devil and all his empty promises for us! Jesus, who comes to bring us away from the death, chaos and hell we so freely choose from the devil, to the life and freedom God wants for us- wants for you!
Jesus, who embraced the cross, even as the devil “made damn sure that Pilate washed his hands, and sealed his fate…” Jesus took on everything that separates us from God and from each other- even our deaths. And when he was raised from the dead on the third day, God promised you and me that there is nothing- nothing in life or death- not the devil himself, that can separate us from God’s love in Christ, not now and not ever!
Your future is secure in God’s hands. And, we can be sure that ultimately, the Devil has no future.
But while he may have no future, he certainly has a present. And our reading this morning (did it take me long enough to get here?) gives us the tools we need, as we “stand against the wiles of the Devil…”
Paul uses the metaphor, or the image, of Roman armor in our text. But I want you to see this: everything- from belt, to breastplate, to sturdy shoes, to shield, helmet and sword come from outside. Every single one is a gift given in Jesus Christ. We don’t (and cannot) fight this fight alone!
The “belt of truth,” is the truth we have in the person of Jesus- “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” he says to you! “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free!” he says.
The “breastplate of righteousness” is the righteousness with which we are clothed in our baptisms! That we are “made right” in God’s eyes through the water and word of baptism, all our sins forgiven!
“Sturdy shoes” are necessary as we go into the world, to share the Good News of God’s love with the people around us, as we serve, love and care for all the people God brings us in Jesus’ Name!
“The Shield of Faith,” with which you can quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one- with faith, and confidence in God’s presence you can resist temptation. The faith we have been given (it’s a gift) enables us to recognize those temptations. And get this- it’s the shield that quenches those flaming arrows, not you.
You can’t meet temptation head on; you’ll lose… When I was quitting smoking, the worst thing I could do was to say, “I don’t want that cigarette…” First, it was a lie; I did. And second, the moment I said it, the desire was in my head… And you could count the minutes before I was looking for a light… Let the shield work: GET UP, do something different! Move on! Advance, if you want to keep the armor metaphor going!The “helmet of salvation,” again, God’s gift of relationship in Christ is impervious; it can protect you if you put it on! And notice that this armor covers us from head to foot! It’s mind and heart that are protected!
Then, the only offensive weapon, the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
Again, while the temptation here is to think that by knowing the scriptures as the Word, we can fight the devil, I would caution you. Yes, it is important to know and read the Bible; the Bible will give you strength; it will help you identify both temptation and tempter.
But remember, the Devil knows the Bible better than you do- he’s the best at making the Bible say what he wants it to- something some people do all the time, as they beat you with the Bible as a club…
When I read “Word of God,” I remember that the Bible, as Luther said, “is the Word of God as it points us to THE Word of God, our Savior, Jesus Christ. And once again, we see that it is Jesus who engages with the devil. It is Jesus, who forgives us when we fail, and gives us the strength to try once again…
And even when Paul tells us to pray- which is something we can all do- all the time, he tells us to “pray in the Spirit…” That is, to ask the Spirit- God’s Spirit- Jesus’ Spirit- given to dwell in us when we were baptized, to pray for us (He says this in Romans, too: the Spirit intercedes FOR us, in sighs too deep for words…”).
Because where the Spirit is, the Devil cannot be…
So let me urge you today to take the time to acknowledge the Tempter’s existence and power; remember just how inviting sin can be.
And when you face the temptation to do something you know is wrong- or you’re not quite sure, and the rationalizations start piling up in your mind, remember who you belong to!
Remember that Jesus loves you and always will! Take hold of the nail-pierced hand of our Savior that reaches out to lead you. Use his armor- pray for the Spirit’s protection, and then let them lead you from temptation- to save you from the time of trial and deliver you from evil, as we pray each week…
And instead of hell breaking loose in your life, you’ll see a glimmer of heaven! In Jesus’ Name, and for his sake, Amen!