Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis' Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 1 Lent, 5 March 2017
RCL Year A: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Satan says “If...If...If.”
Jesus responds without giving him what he wants.
What does Satan want?
Jesus tells us in John chapter 8 the devil is the father of lies: “there is no truth in him”. Why does Satan seek the truth about Jesus in our Gospel today?
Notice the shift in his tactics from what we hear in Genesis. He asks the woman in the garden a question. She adds details to her answer, which complicate the restrictions about the tree of knowledge.
As one rabbi says:
When we add to God's words,
we subtract from them.1
How do you add unnecessary details to God's words?
In Matthew the devil challenges Jesus to reveal the truth whether he is God's Son. Notice the devil makes no attempt to disguise himself. Jesus clearly sees this is Satan.
Perhaps we do not see as clearly as Jesus.
Perhaps if Satan were a snake, we'd be more wary. How many of us are afraid of snakes or avoid encountering snakes? [Many at both our services raised their hands.]
My college biology teacher & her husband, a dermatologist, were also herpetologists. The many snakes in cages in their home were for research, particularly on albino snakes, published research about skin issues. Ultimately, these snakes helped people.
My perspective of snakes is less reactive thanks to their teaching me truth about the positive role snakes have in God's creation, including poisonous snakes, which help control rodent populations.
This positive fact aside, we know the harm Satan intends & the shift in Satan's tactics in our readings. Be wise: Know whatever form the adversary takes, through the power of the Holy Spirit, you have resources & wisdom to work for good. Jesus works with us to thwart Satan's lies.
One of Satan's favorite lies we buy into says: “God will love you if or when.....” God's Love is freely given. You can't earn it. You can only embrace it & live in it!
Another lie says: “Just survive.” In God's great Love we do more than survive. A song says: “We know we [are] made for so much more than ordinary lives. It's time for us to more than just survive. We [are] made to thrive.”2
This Body of Christ is made to thrive!
A different lie we buy into says: “You have to go it alone.” That's a lie from the false god, “Prison Guard,” in charge of solitary confinement. He keeps you from community, demanding you handle all life challenges alone.
God makes us in God's image, which is Holy Community. We thrive in Holy Community. How often do we close ourselves off from community because we buy into false gods?
Notice how alone Jesus is in the wilderness, then suddenly he has a community of angels helping him. This is part of the Good News we can share: We are not alone. Satan lies & says we have to go it alone. Let's not buy into this lie.
We have brothers & sisters in the human family, who just survive a wilderness life, not knowing the God of Love who creates & sustains each of us & who dies for our sins so we can live embraced by Love, guided by the Holy Spirit. We are blessed to know God's Love, to know we do not have to hold onto this Love. It holds us.
As Paul says in our lesson from Romans: Jesus' act of “righteousness leads to justification & life for all”. We have healing work to do, sharing this good news to help release folk gripped by fear from all kinds of false gods.
Many believe in the false god, "Cosmic Cop", who rides around on his motorcycle, & you never know he's there until you see blue lights in your review mirror. This god of guilt aims to make you feel miserable, tries to catch you doing wrong, never helps you do right & never cares when you do.
"Cosmic Bellhop & Janitor" stand ready to bring you what you need & clean up your mess for a BIG price.
[These are some of the gods we create & will look at in our Lenten forum as we learn about forgiving others & ourselves.]
False gods are like the thwarted love in a song of a jilted man at a bar saying he'll toast “a country song...another long work week gone...a long lost buddy I ain't seen....” But he's definitely not toasting “her” because “Baby, you ain't worth the whiskey.”3
Baby, false gods “ain't worth the whiskey.”
Another false god not worth the whiskey is Pride, whose arrogance disguises as humility & says: “I am such an undeserving sinner God can't possibly love me.”
If you balk about your worth, maybe it's time to repent of arrogance because it is extremely arrogant to believe your actions can stop Almighty God from loving you!
God's Love is not about your worth. It is about God Love. God sends rain on the just & unjust. Rain is unconditional. Our job is to catch the rain of Love, soak it up, drink it in, & offer a cup of this life-affirming Love to our neighbors thirsting to death in the wilderness.
God's nourishing Love heals, restores & manifests God's goodness within us.
Give Up Crazy gods! Live in the Reality of God's Love. We can toast God for God's Love that we see in so many ways: from Genesis through Revelation & right up to today, God has not given up on us.
God's Love comes at a huge price: Jesus' death on the cross. Jesus erases our sins, saying with his dying breath: “Father, forgive them.”
If forgiving is a sticking point, know this: “Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself, when you are ready to stop hurting for what someone else did.”4
“Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself, when you are ready to stop hurting for what someone else did.”
We can forgive whether the offender wants to be forgiven or even knows they are forgiven.
Forgiveness is about how we relate now to events & people in the past.
Forgiveness is not reconciliation with the offender.
Forgiveness is not forgetting.
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.
Bacon, Ed. 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind. Boston: Grand Central Life & Style. Grand Central Publishing. 2011.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
http://www.metrolyrics.com/thrive-lyrics-casting-crowns.html Hall, John Mark. West, Matthew. Accessed: 4 March 2017.
http://www.metrolyrics.com/aint-worth-the-whiskey-lyrics-cole-swindell.html Accessed: 4 March 2017.
https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/gaston/Pests/reptiles/pages/scarlet.htm Accessed: 5 March 2017.
Taylor, Porter. From Anger to Zion: An Alphabet of Faith.
Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR:The Appreciative Way. 2010. Forgiveness Forum. www.appreciativeway.com. 2014.
Wright, N.T. For Alll the Saints:Remembering the Christian Departed. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing. As Continuum imprint. 2003.
1 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 16.
2 http://www.metrolyrics.com/thrive-lyrics-casting-crowns.html Accessed: 4 March 2017.
3 http://www.metrolyrics.com/aint-worth-the-whiskey-lyrics-cole-swindell.html. Accessed: 21 Feb. 2015.