Sunday, June 7, 2015

Proper 5b - Mark 3:20-35 sermon, Who is the Devil Around Here

            “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.”  At least that is what one movie character says.  And certainly, that is one of his tricks.  A 2009 poll of those identifying themselves as Christians found that almost 60% think that the devil is no living creature, just a personification of evil.
            Whatever works is what the Devil will do.  If he figures that his best bet to separate you from God is
In The Screwtape Letters, a supervising demon advises
an underling to keep his human victim in the dark.
"The fact that 'devils' are predominantly comic figures
in the modern imagination will help you.
If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind,
suggest to him a picture of something in red tights,
and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that
(it is an old textbook method of confusing them)
he therefore cannot believe in you.
to terrorize you with his diabolical tricks, then he will do that.  But if you believing his lie that he poses no threat to you – if that will get you away from Christ, then absolutely that is the way he will lead you straight down the broad path that leads to destruction. 
            In an article[1] about the spiritual beliefs of the ¼ of Americans who report no religious affiliation, there was this quote from a young person helping to provide clean water in Africa: “I don’t need ‘magic trick Jesus.’ I’m not interested in that, and I’m not interested in ‘saving my soul.’ I’m not about saving myself.  I want to save the world.”  You do not think you need Jesus to be God if you do not think the Devil is any sort of problem.  A human Jesus who inspires to be good to others – that is all they are interested in.
            Is Satan’s greatest trick convincing people he does not exist?  Perhaps.  Or maybe it is convincing people that God is a devil.  That happens in the OT text where the Devil had persuaded Adam and Eve that God was being rude to them by forbidding them the fruit of knowing good and evil.  And it happens in the Gospel text today when the enemy scribes from Jerusalem accuse Jesus of having an unclean spirit, saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out demons” (Mark 3:20-35).  Meanwhile Christ’s flesh and blood family figure something evil is going on in His brain, giving Jesus delusions of grandeur. 
            In our own day, God still gets accused of being a devil.  A Christian woman who had suffered domestic violence told her story on the radio last week.  She said as she struggled in the months after she left her abusive husband, she could not believe in God – because it was easier to believe there was no God than to believe that God would allow her husband to abuse her.  She now is glad that God did not abandon her, but had loved her in Christ through and past it all. 
            Also this last week was the sad story about Bruce Jenner.  Now if I were to go get plastic surgery so I could look like an alien, people would recognize I was not right in the head – and at best they would hope I would get mental help.  At worst they would mock me.  It would be wrong for people to go along with my lies and say that in fact I was an alien.  Likewise with Mr. Jenner, who needs our prayers, not mockery nor approval.  The surgery does not change the fact that he still has the male chromosomes God gave him through his dad.  Which brings up the worst part about this mess – whether people realize it or not, Jenner’s actions are an accusation that God got it wrong giving Jenner a man’s body. 
            You and I accuse God of getting it wrong with us too.  Just consider how each time we break God’s
holy Commandments, we are accusing the Lord of giving us bad rules.  Just like Jenner, each sin has us pretending to be something different than we are – as if we did not belong to God.  Or think of how we have mocked and insulted our fellow humans – people whom God created.  We might not go so far as to call some brother or sister in Christ “evil” – but our hatred has made monsters out of them, so that we can imagine they deserve for us to treat them as less than human.  We label them as “closed-minded,” “liberal,” “old-fashioned,” stubborn, or just plain dumb – all to make ourselves look good and to hurt their reputation.  The rest of the world does it this way.  But brothers and sisters of Jesus, among us this lack of love must not be!  How can the same mouth praise God and insult those whom He created? 
            Why God made Satan and his demons in the first place is a mystery we will not know the answer to in this life, though we do know that God created them to be holy angels.  However, the demons turned away from goodness.  Satan became envious that God made humanity to be the crown of creation.  Judging God to have gotten it all wrong, the Devil declared war on God to take over the Universe – and quickly recruited Adam and Eve to his side, seeking to turn man away from God.  His weapons are deception and murder – which is why our Savior Jesus calls the Devil the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning.
            When Jesus tells the parable of the strong man in today’s Gospel (Mark 3:20-35), He describes the world as the Devil’s home territory, a world in bondage to that evil and powerful warlord who does not want you to praise the Lord’s holy name, nor let God the Father’s kingdom come.  The prince of demons hoards his plunder in the courtyard, protected by the walls of his fortress, like some legendary dragon asleep on his piles of golden treasure.
            In this case the treasure is not silver or gold or precious gemstones.  The plunder is you.  And me.  The story Jesus tells is no “once upon an imaginary time” fairy tale, but a real life once upon a historical time.  Jesus tells the one true story that makes sense of this messed up world as His Word cuts through Satan’s lies.  Our Lord and Savior tells us that we are right to cry out when the world goes wrong, because it was never meant to be this way.  Tragedies should not have happened.  God, after all, had created humanity in His image for good.  He put us in this world for far more than the meaninglessness of modern life.  However, humanity has lost its way, falling into sinful pride or self-hatred; lusts and cravings that only hurt us in the end.  The human race fell under the spell of the lie of the warlord and we are enslaved – stripped of the true freedom and life God gave to us.
            But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected.  And so Jesus says, “No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.”  Jesus Himself is this Stronger One who has come behind enemy lines like soldiers
storming a beachhead to bind the strong Devil for us.  The spoils of this war are you.  Jesus fights indirectly against the Devil when He teaches the words of eternal life in the face of Satan’s deceptive propaganda.  And He fights head on against the Devil as He casts out demons and ultimately crushes the Devil’s head at the Cross.  
            Jesus does all that for you – for you are His treasure.  You are worth everything to Him, in spite of your sinful rebellions.  You are worth dying for, worth redeeming, worth forgiving.  Brother Jesus has taken care of your evil.  “Truly, I say to you, all sins [and blasphemies] will be forgiven the children of man,” is His promise to you!
            But what about that unforgiveable sin?  That is enough to keep a person up at night, worried they are guilty of doing something that could lock them out of Heaven.  However, the very fact that a person gets worried about sinning against the Holy Spirit is evidence that the Holy Spirit is working on that person and has not abandoned them.  The sin against the Holy Spirit is to be completely unconcerned about being opposed to Jesus, consciously unrepentant, stubbornly unbelieving – as the Pharisees were that day.  After all, as we heard on Pentecost, the job of the Holy Spirit is to grant us faith in Jesus – and if we reject that work of the Holy Spirit, it will not go well for us. 
            No matter how many other people think Satan is imaginary, you are in good company to believe the demons are real.  Jesus treats them as real too.  And more importantly, even while the Devil rages and the world continues to live all sorts of lies, you know that Jesus is the Truth, and He is the Stronger One who has already conquered and chained up the Devil.  You belong to Jesus.  You are free from Satan’s chains.  Yes, you and I have ignored God’s goodness, and misjudged His actions to be evil.  However, you have also confessed yourself to be a sinner before God.  You do not claim your sins are good.  You call them evil and pray that God the Father will deliver you from them.  And you also confess the goodness of Jesus and His Cross, and His power over death and the Devil.  You expect and receive forgiveness from Him.  And so even as He is arisen after death, so you shall live forever.  A life that is not meaningless, but eternally meaningful – for you live in Jesus the Stronger One, and in Him you shall die, and you shall be His forever.  Amen.

[1] Elizabeth Drescher, “The Gospel According to the ‘Nones’”