Sermon for June 6, 2021
This week, I learned that someone has a twitter handle with the name Satan. I think it is intended to offer some humor but with Satan you never know for sure. Allow me to share some of the things that Satan has posted. Satan expressed his disagreement with a common misperception when he posted "Whoever said 'there's no rest for the wicked' was lying, we love sleep”. We know that the gospel of Matthew tells us that at the end of time Jesus will separate the good from the bad, the sheep from the goats which may have led to this post, “Someone sacrifice a pizza or something I'm getting bored of goats”
We have some common expressions that Satan doesn’t appreciate, “Stop trying to sell me your souls, hell is depressing enough." Here’s another one, Why is 'boring as hell' an expression? Hell is always lit 24/7. Finally , the devil gave us one reason to want to go and see him, “Come to hell, you'll get a better tan.”
Our Scriptures today give us many names for the devil. He was called a serpent or a snake, as Beelzebub or Satan. All of these names speak of a tempter that leads us astray. Jesus was confronted in today’s gospel by Scribes who said that Jesus was being led by Satan and he was arguing against that idea. Jesus decided to make sure that people understood what the devil stood for. Would you join me as we seek to learn from this particular gospel lesson? I find it troublesome, challenging and comforting all at the same time.
While this passage is early in the gospel of Mark, Jesus had already performed many miracles. He healed a leper, a paralytic and a man with a withered hand. But what caused the commotion this time was an exorcism. Jesus had called the evil spirits out of people. Jesus did this so much that Mark wrote, “Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!”
Crowds gathered around Jesus, asking for more and believing in his amazing powers. The crowds were so large that it was difficult for Jesus to eat. But two groups of doubters spoke up. Some thought he was insane, crazy. Members of Jesus’ family were worried that Jesus had lost his mind and they came to take him away. Jesus decided that he would remain with his followers and to ignore his family. It troubles me that Jesus became estranged from his family. Our faith teaches us that we must first love God and follow God’s will. When we have a strong relationship with God, then we are able to stay rooted in God as we work to improve our relationships with people in our family. It is not easy.
The Scribes also appeared complaining about Jesus. They opposed his actions on a theological basis. The Scribes believed that Jesus used the powers of Satan to cure people. Jesus reminded everyone that it was evil demons that possessed people and they were from the devil. Why would the devil call his own demons out from a person? It doesn’t make any sense, Jesus said. Furthermore, Jesus had come to bring the kingdom of God to earth and to get rid of the powers of Satan. The folks who had seen Jesus perform miracles were divided. Because of their background or their understanding of the world, the doubters thought Jesus was a fraud.
I am troubled by the number of people who chose to reject Jesus. After all, Jesus was healing people, he clearly wanted the best for others and he was asking people to commit themselves to God. Those seem like good things to me. Yet, many did not believe. It reminds me of the divides we experience in our world today. People are so quick to judge the words and actions of people who are not like them. People often don’t take the time to listen to look for the good that someone is trying to achieve. The other person is just wrong because of who they are, not what they are trying to do. I know I can be like that.
I am also troubled by the struggles people have in their families. I know of so many people who are estranged from family members. It happened with Jesus and there have been separations in my own family. Yesterday, someone told me a story about a woman who learned she was going to die and she took the time to reconcile with her mother. It was an important experience for both of them. I wonder if we might try to find reconciliation somehow in our lives, perhaps find a way for families to reunite. Perhaps we are left with prayer as our only response.
I am also troubled by the constant belittling of people who have different opinions and efforts to sway our opinions. We are living in a time when people are telling us what to think all of the time. We can find opinions expressed on television, on the blogs and on internet sites. Let’s dig through the muddle and form our own opinions. In our relationship with God, this passage encourages us to pay attention to the word of God and to always be listening for God’s call to us. There is no better teacher than Jesus and we find his words to us in Scripture.
One voice that seeks to sway us from God is the devil. I hear Jesus telling us to avoid Satan’s whispers and to stay focused on God. A self-titled philosopher named Marty Rubin once said “If the devil is the ultimate deceiver, then words must be the very devil.” Words can be used to help us but can also be used to derail us. A theologian once wrote, “Very few people believe in the devil these days, which suits the devil very well. He is always helping to circulate the news of his own death. The essence of the devil is the lie, and he defines himself as: 'I am who am not.' Satan has very little trouble with those who do not believe in him; they are already on his side.” We must keep an eye out for our tempters. Even if you don’t believe in the devil, you know that temptations can come from inside ourselves.
Even modern-day religious personality Joel Osteen warns us about the devil, “If you don't set the tone for the day, the devil will set it for you.” Perhaps there is a devil lurking about trying to lead us astray. As I said, we are challenged by the words of Jesus to realize and stay focused for we can easily be tempted and lose sight of the way of the Lord.
In the midst of the doubters and the temptations for today, let us also recognize that Jesus gave us words of comfort about forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter”. Despite our troubles and our challenges, Jesus always comes to redeem us, to save us. Jesus told us that he came to conquer the devil. The Psalm for today includes words about God’s forgiveness, For there is forgiveness with you; therefore you shall be feared.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of the power of Jesus over the devil, “We should never argue with the devil about our sins, but we should speak about our sins only with Jesus.” We turn to Jesus to find our path, to ask for forgiveness. There is even a quote from Saint Bernard, the man not the breed of dogs, that reminds us that we should turn to Jesus, “God removes the sin of the one who makes humble confession, and thereby the devil loses the sovereignty he had gained over the human heart.” All we have to do when we are confronted by the devil is turn to Jesus. Even if we make a mistake, we can find comfort in the arms of Jesus.
We find comfort in the letter to the Corinthians today which speaks of the salvation we find in God. We learn that God is building us up every day. While our physical bodies may be fading, our spirit is being brought closer to God. We may not know it physically, but we experience it spiritually. “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day”. Let us trust in God for God will care for us.
I mentioned three things for us to ponder today. The number and type of people who opposed Jesus is troubling. It helps us to realize that the words of the devil can lead us astray. The words of Jesus challenge us to put our trust in the Holy Spirit and to ignore the pleas of the devil who simply wants to lead us to bad places. Let us focus our hearts on the comfort we receive from Jesus. For we are certain that Jesus came to bring God’s kingdom here, for us. Let us rejoice in the work of God in our lives. Amen.
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