Monday, February 27, 2023

I hate. . .

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent (A), preached on Sunday, February 26, 2023.

The devil always tempts by presuming to offer us something better than what God would give.  It has been that way since Eden.  The serpent came to Eve appealing not to some sick joy of being bad and getting away with evil but with the ultimate good.  What did God say?  Eve, weren’t you listening?  God did not say what you think He said.  God really said that you will be like God.  So the best way to obey God is to disobey Him.

In the same way the devil meets Jesus in the wilderness.  Jesus knows what He is called by God to do and it will involve miraculous bread for hungry people.  So the devil asks the hungry Jesus simply to do for Himself what He will do for others.  Command the stones to be bread and eat your fill.  You will feel better.

The devil brings Jesus to the height of the pinnacle of the Temple and tells Him to dive off trusting that God will send His angels to save Him.  You know the cross lies ahead; don’t you want to know that God will be with you there?  So try it out here.  Jump off and God will save you.  He said He would.  Won’t you feel better knowing that God will catch you when you fall?

Finally the devil makes it easy.  Get down on your knees in private before me and I will give you every public part of this world and its glory.  Jesus, it costs you nothing to give into me in secret and you gain everything for this one small price.  The end justifies the means.  Won’t you feel better having won the world and all things without suffering the agony of the cross or dying the death of a sinner?

By now we are all wondering why Jesus did not simply give in.  After all, we do. We give into evil by doing for ourselves what we do for others.  You have to love yourself before you can love anybody else, right?  We ask God for signs all the time – little hints to know that He is with us and on our side.  Is it too much to ask for a sign even though we gather before the cross, the greatest sign of all?  We are the kings and queens of shortcuts and ends justifying the means.  It started as a quick and easy good but it has progressed to a quick and easy righteousness.  As long as we are on God’s side for the big things, it will not matter if we succumb to the little temptations, right?  No reasonable person could disagree.  The way the devil frames temptation it seems like the right thing to do to follow the devil’s path instead of God’s – the devil seems more reasonable than God.

Three times in your life with your voice or the voice of your family, you have said just the opposite.  When you were baptized, your family and parish spoke with you and for you.  I renounce the devil.  I renounce his works.  I renounce his ways.  You said it again when you were confirmed and when you joined the Church – so three times you have renounced the devil, his works, and his ways.

Sometimes we are embarrassed by talk of the devil.  Sometimes we treat the devil as if his problem were merely being misunderstood.  Maybe your mom or dad or Sunday school teacher told you it is always wrong to hate.  But they are wrong.  For you are not simply saying the devil is bad.  Each of those three times you are confessing before your fellow believers and before the world:  I HATE THE DEVIL.... I HATE EVIL....

Let’s put it bluntly.  This is what each of us confesses:  I hate the devil.  I hate his lying ways.  I hate his lying words. I hate his lying works.  I hate the devil and I hate evil.  I hate all the pleasures he promises that make me feel worse.  I hate the short cuts that end up being dead  ends.  I hate the desires that well up in me and seem impossible to stop or end.  I hate the thoughts I cannot control but make me relieved no one can read my mind. I hate them all.  Because I love Jesus.

The hate you have for the devil and for evil is not manifested in words of rejection but in the refusal to walk in the ways of evil – to lie, to cheat, to murder, to gossip, to commit adultery, to fornicate, to separate sex from love and love from sex, to speak with vulgar words as if they enhanced your character, and to dishonor those whom God has set as watchers at your gate and in your lives.  The devil will try to make it seem like disobedience is obedience, like evil is righteousness, and like sin is faithfulness.  You know better.  Renounce them.  Hate them.  Refuse to have nothing to do with the works of the flesh, the sinful desires of the heart, the affections of men rather than God, and what works in the moment but not forever.

Proverbs says:  “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.”  The Psalmist says:  “O you who love the Lord, hate evil!”  Jesus says:   “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” We cannot treat the devil or evil as if it were myth or legend or a joke.  We cannot treat the evils of this world as if they could be enjoyed without a cost to your soul.  We cannot say we love God without at the same time hating all that is not of God.

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and his word is not in us...

Temptation is not what God will do to us.  His goal is never to distance us from His grace or raise doubts in our minds or fear in our hearts.  That is always the devil’s doing.  But the devil is a great scammer – using the words of God to deceive and packing up evil to look good.  My friends, you cannot love God and be indifferent to evil.  Hate evil.  Hate the devil.  Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, body, and mind.  The devil cannot save but can only extend his misery to you but God saves by taking on the full misery of your sin and its death so that you might be forgiven and live forevermore.  In the midst of temptation there is only one refuge, the Word of God, and the Word of God teaches us to hate evil and love good.  God help us to do just that.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

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