Sunday, February 8, 2015

Recognizing Our Temptations

Epiphany 5B 02-08-15 
 Fr. Dale E. Matson

The season of Lent is approaching. This is a reflection on our Gospel lesson this week and last week. While the theme of season of Epiphany is the revelation of Christ and His ministry, there is also a corresponding awareness of evil. When we are baptized as adults or reaffirm our baptismal vows, we are asked if we will resist the devil and all his works, to which we answer, “Yes”. At this point we have joined with Christ in the cosmic battle of good and evil. This cosmic struggle plays itself out in our personal lives as well.  I will also be discussing the account of Christ’s temptation by Satan in the wilderness and Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve.  I will begin with a portion of last week’s Gospel first because it flows into our Gospel reading for this week.

Mark 1:20-25 (New International Version)

Jesus Drives out an Evil Spirit
They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!"  "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

And now I will read a portion of today’s Gospel Mark 1:32-34. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Let us now examine what is taking place in these two Gospel readings.  First of all, there is recognition on the part of the demons of who Jesus is. In Mark they refer to Jesus as the “Holy One of God” and in the Gospel of Luke they refer to Jesus as “The Son of God”.  It is rather ironic that the demons recognize who Jesus is before anyone else including his disciples. Secondly Jesus exercises a supernatural (exousia) ex-oo-see-ah authority in his teaching and in his power over demons.  It was not the expertise kind of authority of the Scribes.  Lastly Jesus forbids the evil spirits from speaking or using his name.  Jesus was not ready to have his identity revealed yet. Much in this passage could be understood with the word "relationship". In the case of Peter's mother in law, she is healed because of her relationship with Jesus yet the demons are afraid that he will destroy them because of their relationship to him. They knew him too and even acknowledged who he was (Mark 1:24) "You are the Holy One of God" yet this acknowledgment was not praise when it came from evil lips. I think that it is interesting that Jesus would not allow the demons to speak his name yet he has given us his name and invites us as believers to call upon it "If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”(John 14:14).

The demons tell us something important about Jesus and they also tell us something about ourselves. As Christians in this world we sometimes ask our Lord the same question as the demons, “What do you want with us?” When we see the beggar on the street corner and say to ourselves what does he have to do with me? Sometimes we like the demons are also on the wrong side of this relationship with Jesus.  Like the demons, we know and can state who Jesus is but we are not in a right relationship with him either. We are not in a right relationship to him when we see others in need and say to ourselves, “What do they want with us?” Brothers and sisters we are asking this question of Jesus himself.

To this point we have been looking at examples of how Jesus has dealt with demons. These have been specific examples of good versus evil? Let’s pull back a bit and look at this from a larger perspective. Although Mark only briefly discusses the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness following his baptism, Matthew and Luke describe the three temptations of Jesus by Satan in detail.  It is instructive at this point to examine these temptations because they help us also understand what happened to Adam and Eve in Genesis, the book of beginnings and they help us understand the kind of temptations we too face daily.

Jesus suffered three major temptations in his encounter with Satan in the Desert.  These three temptations are an assault on his entire personhood.  The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread."  Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'" Temptation 1: To use his Godly power for his own purposes. Jesus was hungry because of forty days of fasting and Satan challenged him to turn the stones to bread. Here Jesus is tempted through his physical life.

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, [It was given to Satan by Adam] and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'" Temptation 2: To have power over others. Here Jesus is tempted through his emotional life.

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ”‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"  Jesus answered, "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Temptation 3: To Bind God/to take away God’s Sovereignty. Here Jesus is tempted through his mental life.

I would also note that in all these temptations Satan would have controlled God if Jesus had acted on any one of them.  And that is the real struggle on a cosmic level.  When we sin, we don’t just sin against God, we become allies with Satan. Each time Jesus was tempted there was a cosmic struggle between good and evil and each time we saw Jesus defeat Satan.

The monastics have taken these temptations of Christ very seriously for they know they are engaged in a cosmic struggle between good and evil.  On a personal level they make vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience in response to these temptations of Christ.  The monastics guide their entire vocational life addressing the struggle against the physical desires for what we should not have (poverty), emotional desires for power over others (obedience) and intellectual desires to be God (chastity).

Now let’s look at the most tragic episode in the history of humankind and use our understanding of the three temptations of Jesus to understand what happened to Adam and Eve.

Genesis 3:1-11 (New International Version)

The Fall of Man
Now the serpent was craftier than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'you must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' “ "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Here you have the temptation addressing the physical desires [fruit], the emotional desires [you will be like God] and the intellectual desires [you will know good and evil]. Adam and Eve were created good and in the image of God.  When Satan said, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He was really only offering one thing, the only thing he had to offer.  They already knew good so all Satan really had to offer them was evil. Adam and Eve began with free will, were innocent (pure) and wound up giving themselves over to Satan, Sin and death.  We are all born into and with this original sin as a part of our nature.  They exchanged the truth of God for the lies of Satan. They gave their authority and inheritance to Satan with their disobedience to God.  This was the chapter of the continuing battle of good versus evil that now included humans.

We know that Christ’s death upon the cross is a complete and sufficient atonement for original sin.  Our baptism joins us to Christ in his death, resurrection and ascension.  We have died with him and arisen with him from the grave. Christ has undone what Adam has done. Christ has returned our free will, our virtue and our authority over Satan to us.

It is in a larger scope, an opportunity to view the cosmic struggle between Good and Evil, between God and Satan and on a smaller scale it is the battle within us.  With our baptismal vows, we have decided to join this battle on God’s side.  “Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil?” “I do.”  Do you renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?” “I do and with God’s grace I will follow him as my savior and Lord.”

As we approach Lent consider it as a time for introspection and self-examination.  Think of the areas Jesus, Adam and Eve and we too are tempted.  We are attacked through our physical, our emotional and our intellectual needs. When our needs become desires we become vulnerable. Desires are the things we aspire to that go beyond what we need. During Lent take the opportunity for personal confession and absolution. It has been said that the Psychiatrist’s couch has replaced the confessional booth.  The problem with the Psychiatrist’s couch, where one can express both false guilt and real guilt is that there is no acknowledgement of and absolution for the real guilt.  When we have repented and confessed our sins to God, God remembers them no more.  If you still feel guilty about a sin you have confessed and repented of, then it is not God reminding you of this sin.  Another name for Satan is the accuser and it is he that is bringing you the false guilt.  Real guilt is a psychological pain that should cause us to react just as the pain of being burned causes us to react.  In both cases the pain is real and intended to warn us of a problem.  If we ignore the problem, we ignore it at an even greater peril. As our Psalm states today,

"Listen to my cry for help, for I have been brought very low; * save me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. Bring me out of prison that I may give thanks to your Name" Amen.



underground pewster said...

Thanks for posting your sermon today as I have been under the weather and could not make it to church today.

Dale Matson said...

Prayers ascending for your return to health. We were up doing supply work in Oakdale CA. It's a long haul but the congregation thinks of us as their brother and sister. St. Matthias. It was nice to have good air and we could see the Sierras all the way up.