Series: Wings of Transformation

Sermon: Born Into It

Pastor Diane Gordon

Mt Pleasant FUMC

March 5, 2017

 

 

Scriptures: Psalm 32 and Matthew 4:1-11 NRSV

 

          We, like the hungry caterpillar, are born into a state of being where self-interest is primary. Unlike the caterpillar who is mobile from the start, we humans are totally dependent upon the good will of our mothers and other caregivers. We must cry out to be fed and cared for. For months, we don’t know the difference between ourselves and the world around us. We only know we are hungry, cold, wet, uncomfortable or tired and we want our needs to be met.

          As we grow older we begin to recognize others as distinct from ourselves. Those others do things apart from us, but there is a sense that we want them to do what makes us happy. In our minds, we are the center of the world. It’s all about “me.”

          For the child that has their needs met consistently through these early years there comes growth into next stages of development. They realize that other people have needs, and they learn to share and enjoy the feeling of cooperation. They learn to feel compassion when the other is hurting.

          We know that it’s possible to get stuck in stages of development as human beings. When we fail to grow beyond our initial egocentric stage we are stuck thinking that the world is all about meeting our needs. We crave power over others and desire that the world revolve around us and function for the sake of making us happy. When that doesn’t happen, we are likely to take our toys and go home.

Adults who are stuck in this stage tend to act out. They manipulate those around them to get what they want. They crave the biggest and best of available resources, just because. It’s all about them.

          The story of Jesus’ temptation is a wonderful illustration of our human stuck-ness, desiring what we want, when we want it, riches, wealth and power, and the way we seem to test God to prove to ourselves that God will dance to our tune, give us what we desire and shield us from harm even when we take unnecessary risks and do things we know we shouldn’t do. Jesus didn’t fall for it, but I suspect a lot of us would have.

          On the one hand, we are born into this state of egocentrism. It’s natural, but on the other hand, we aren’t meant to stay there. Jesus shows us what it looks like to move past that stage and into a transformed understanding of who we are in the world and our relationships to God and to other human beings.

          Each time Jesus’ temptation comes up in the lectionary, it makes us ponder the existence of evil and how, or if, Satan works in our world. There are those who acknowledge that evil exists in our world, but defy the existence of a personification of evil. C.S. Lewis was once asked whether he really “believed in the Devil,” and his response is interesting. He wrote:

          “Now, if by “the Devil” you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self-existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly No. There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite. No being could attain a “perfect badness” opposite the perfect goodness of God; for when you have taken away every kind of good thing (intelligence, will, memory, energy, and existence itself) there would be none of him left.

          The proper question is whether I believe in devils. I do. That is to say, I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies to God and, as corollary, to us. These we may call devils. They do not differ in nature from good angels, but their nature is depraved. Devil is the opposite of angel only as Bad Man is the opposite of Good Man. Satan, the leader or dictator of devils is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael.”[1]

          We are further reminded by Lewis, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” [2]

          That an evil entity is mentioned in relationship to Jesus makes us think that the middle road of believing in the reality of devils but not giving room in our lives to evil’s influence is the wisest course. Keeping close to God and the love of Christ is the surest way to stay on the path that leads to life and not be distracted from that path.

          It is a temptation to think that distractions are a new thing; that somehow before the invention of things with screens we were a more pure and wise people. This is not true. At all. Humans have been distracted from God ever since Adam and Eve. This is where the notion of original sin begins. The original sin was not to eat an apple. It was disobeying God and hiding from God – removing our attention from our Creator and Sustainer; becoming distracted by our own shame and guilt, so focused on our own self that we fail to notice God is still there, ready to forgive and offer us grace and another chance.

          I highly recommend the new movie entitled The Shack. Tom and I think the movie was better than the book! It is a wonderful illustration of the relational nature of God, a study on judgment, forgiveness, redemption and grace. Take along with you anyone who is struggling with feelings of anger, guilt, unworthiness or grief. It’s powerful.

          The truth is, our own inability to stay focused on Jesus causes us suffering. Listening to the voice in our head that says it’s time for lunch, just when we were about to pray and open up to God is more the problem than anything else.

          Open your heart to the Holy One. Let the Spirit in and repent of whatever stands between you and God. Accept the forgiveness that is given and look forward to being part of a transformed world where faith changes lives, peace reigns and evil no longer has the power to distract us from praising and serving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Amen.

 



[1] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (Collier Books, MacMillan Publishing, New York, 1961) Preface, vii.

[2] Ibid, 3.