a sermon for the first sunday of Lent, preached at the 5:30pm and 8am services
The devil is real. The devil is not fiction or fantasy. The devil is also not a red demon with forked tongue and pitchfork. The devil is a very real part of our existence and the devil is not shy to make an appearance. The devil has the audacity to challenge Jesus Christ, so it’s no wonder that we are viewed as easy prey. But, the devil winning is never a foregone conclusion. The devil winning is never a permanent state. The devil winning is not really winning at all but a loss of self, a loss that is recoverable, redeemable, forgivable. When we meet Jesus in the wilderness today we have great empathy for him because we know what it is like to go through the wilderness. We know what it is like to be tempted by the devil. We know what it is like to want what the devil has on offer. And, we know how easy it is, we know what it means to give into the temptations of the devil, to turn from God, to get lost in the wilderness. Jesus does not get lost in the wilderness. Jesus does not give into the devil. It is in this moment that we must draw our strength, it is in this moment that we must acknowledge the reality of the devil and turn the game on its head, so that the devil cannot win.
The season of Lent affords us a time to experience rebirth, resurrection. But, the season of Lent can also lead to our wallowing in self-pity, self-doubt, losing our faith, losing our hope. This happens because, as is oftentimes the case, when we take a moment to take stock during lent, it is quite possible that what we discover about ourselves, we do not like. And, when we find something about ourselves that we do not like, it is hard to see the love, the hope that is the community around, which is the real presence of God in our lives. When we give into self-hatred, when we give into self-judgment, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not strong enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not…we are not only giving into a false reality of ourselves, we are giving into the forces of darkness that are present in this world. There is a reason why our negative impressions of ourself seem to compound upon each other, steamrolling away, leaving us feeling hopeless, leaving us feeling pathetic and alone. The darkness that is active in this world latches onto us and drags us down, feeding our self-loathing, encouraging our self-doubt. It is really hard to listen to other people trying to raise you up when the opinion of yourself keeps you from recognizing the true love that is extended to you.
This sucks. This is a terrible place to be. This is not the type of life any of us want for ourselves, and yet, it can seem like the only way to go about our daily routine. This is our personal time in the wilderness. Whether it is 40 days or 40 years we have all experienced in our lives periods of wilderness. Some of us have experienced cycles of wilderness and grounding and some of us experienced wilderness once and never want to return to that place. I experienced the wilderness in my life, a time when I felt so distant from the person I wanted to be. It’s surprising when you catch yourself and realize that you are not happy. I remember that moment 6 years ago as if it were yesterday. I remember it so vividly both because of how down I was, how much I had let the powers of darkness drag me down, allowing me to pity myself, allowing me to not see the joy that was right in front of me. And, I remember it so vividly because of how quickly I was able to turn it around when I looked for the one thing that was truly missing in my life and found God waiting to welcome me back into the fold with the open arms I had always said were there but not needed by me.
Jesus serves as a guide for us today and always to help us come out of the darkness. To stand up to the devil that tempts us each and every day. To know that the power of the devil is not unbeatable. Each time the devil tempts Jesus, puts before him a question, a test, challenges Jesus’ power and authority as much as the devil is challenging God, Jesus responds. Jesus responds in a way that helps guide us in our own struggles with darkness. Jesus is getting at the deeper issue put forth with each temptation. Jesus is answering in a manner that places the power of his resistance not in himself, nor does it allow room for the devil to continue pressuring, because Jesus has put his faith into the power of God. The power of God which cannot be defeated by the devil, especially when we look past the surface of what is on offer and connect to the deeper reality that is presented.
Jesus serves as a guide in our own personal struggles with the devil. Jesus also serves as a guide for us when we are called to help others in their struggles with the darkness pressing in on them. This season of Lent is a space when we are uniquely called to serve as guides. To serve in the “the intense work of acting as midwife for those the Spirit is calling us to accompany through Lent toward baptism at Easter.” We are called to be guides, to be these holy midwives for those the Spirit is calling us to accompany, because the season of Lent is not so much about our terribleness and brokenness as it is about the fact that despite our terribleness and brokenness God loves us anyways. And, when we recognize this fact, we realize that our terribleness and brokenness are not what defines us. Our terribleness and brokenness are our burden of being of creation, but we are redeemable, we are capable of seeking forgiveness, we are capable of standing up to the devil and saying no thank you, not today, not ever.
When we acknowledge this reality, an earth-shattering, reality-shifting realization, then we can be the guides that we are called to be in this season because we know that Lent is ultimately about hope. We cannot share the Good News without sharing hope. We cannot come to worship each week without knowing hope exists, that hope is present, that hope is attainable, that through hope we can be loved again. We could not make it through this season of penitence, fasting, reconciliation if we did not have the hope that is the promise of forgiveness that comes from God. Knowing this, knowing that Lent is about hope, now we can become the guides, the midwives for those who seek, those whom the Holy Spirit sends to us and us to them. The experience of Jesus in the wilderness should fill us with immeasurable hope. Here is our savior, going toe to toe with the devil, and winning convincingly. If Jesus can so handedly defeat the devil, than, particularly with a little help from the community of believers, the devil can be just as easily defeated by those who claim the hope of Christ, driving out the darkness, replacing it with the reality of hope, love that is being of the community of believers, that is being of Christ.
The devil is real. The powers of darkness in this world are not unknown, they are present every day. We all know what they look like. We all know that this reality is present, even if we try and tell ourselves that the devil is a silly little myth told to scare children. But, even though the devil is real, it does not mean that we are bound to it. Even though the devil is real, it does not mean that we are destined to the darkness. Instead, through our faith in Jesus Christ, we can defeat the devil. And, when we defeat the devil, when we take away the power of the devil in our own lives, then we can in turn serve as guides, as holy midwives, agents of the Holy Spirit, to guide others who find themselves lost in the wilderness. Lent is a season of hope. Lent is a season that requires us to reflect on self, and in reflecting we may find things we don’t like, but through hope, through seeking forgiveness, we can find hope again. And, we can reflect that hope, reflect the very love of God to those who find in their reflection something or someone to dislike, to put down, to wallow in.
Christ is our guide. Christ is our champion and victor over not just the devil but death itself. And, Christ does this through spreading a Good News of hope, of love, of redemption. Christ does this through spreading a Good News that says no matter how down and out, no matter how outcast, depressed, self-hating, self-doubtful we may be, we can always turn to God and find the forgiveness, find the love, find the hope that we seek. Lent provides us a season to find this for ourselves. Lent provides us a season to guide others to find it for themselves. Take the devil, the darkness seriously and overcome. Take Lent seriously and find the hope in your own life. Take Lent seriously and discover the depth of faith, the strength of relationship that one can have with God. Take Lent seriously and be a holy midwife for those whom the Spirit brings to you. Take Lent seriously and know that God is with you always, even when the devil shows up to tempt you.