I Think These Days, the Devil Looks Pretty Good

Matthew 4:1-11The First Sunday of Lent – for Sunday, March 5, 2017

“Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him . . .” (Matthew 4:1)

Do I believe there is a Satan (or “devil”)?

No.

Do I believe there is evil?

Yes.

How do I understand Jesus’ encounter with “the tempter” in the fourth chapter of Matthew? There, after forty days and nights in the wilderness—where Jesus fasted and prayed, and inevitably was “starving”—the devil appeared and tempted him. Like God and Satan testing Job or Dante’s Divine Comedy depicting a journey through the nine circles of Hell, I don’t read it as an actual, factual event.

And yet I believe Jesus’ devilish confrontation revealed a truth—as the best stories do—and that every verse and, in particular, each of the three temptations, were very, very real.

They were for Jesus.

They are for you.

They are for me.

Do I hunger to serve the word and way of God? Or do I just want my belly full? What hunger tempts me? Sex? Money? Property?

Is my relationship with the Holy (and fellow humans) defined by manipulation, by bargaining, by comparing, by “testing” God?

Who or what do I truly worship? Continue reading →

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What the Usual Suspects Saw

Matthew 17:1-9 – Transfiguration Sunday – for Sunday, February 26, 2017

“But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.” (Matthew 17:7-8)

“Don’t be afraid.”

So Jesus said.

So we tell children when the creaks and groans from the house, in a winter’s storm, sounds like the approach of a monster.

So I’ve told groups of young hikers—accustomed to lights that easily switch on, televisions that glow with entertainment, and street lamps that brighten the neighborhood—when darkness shrouds the mountains and a flickering campfire is the only light.

So a million and more spouses have encouraged their beloved when they’ve headed inside a cancer center for another treatment.

Afraid we are. Of strange sounds. Of the dark. Of death.

Fear transfigures us.

Hope also does.

Once, midway through the Gospel accounts (in three of the four versions of the good news), Jesus invited the usual suspects—Peter, James, and John—up to the mountain with him. Though not on the peak for Moses’ forty days and nights, they lingered long enough to witness Jesus’ transfiguration. In a swirl of light and sound, of holy voices and legendary figures, Jesus’ countenance glowed, and his clothes shimmered as bright as the noonday sun. The child from Nazareth was proclaimed as one that pleased God.

The disciples, Matthew succinctly stated, “fell on their faces, filled with awe.” Continue reading →

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Enemy Mine

Matthew 5:38-48 – The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany – for Sunday, February 19, 2017

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you . . .” (Matthew 5:44)

Sometimes I think I have only one enemy.

I know his name.

I know his habits.

I know his weaknesses.

And I also know his strengths, and the ways that he can undermine me, hurt me, and often leave me battered and then walk away as if nothing happened. The “battered” is more metaphorical, based on the way he works, but if I don’t show any bruises after an encounter with him, it doesn’t mean his words or actions didn’t hurt me.

I am, of course, my own worst enemy. I pondered that while reading Jesus’ words in Matthew’s fifth chapter: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you . . .”

What I pray is often not what I say.

What I say is often not what I do.

How often do I act with more hypocrisy than holiness? Am I not my own worst enemy by my two-faced omissions and false admissions? And yet I don’t suppose Jesus was referring to our private stares in the figurative mirrors of our lives as the reminder of who our enemies are.

I get the historic context of Jesus’ call to the love the enemy. Continue reading →

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