slide 1 ...make no room for the Devil.
I've been pondering this verse since Monday and I'd like you to think about this little snippet of scripture too today. This verse comes from a letter to the church in Ephesus. The origins of this letter have been debated by scholars for years; but the point of this letter is especially clear for me today.
This letter is full of directions for the young church in Ephesus about how to live together. I've been thinking this week this advice is good for all of us too. When you became part of a congregation like Grace as a church you became part of something bigger than anyone individual. At our very best the church is always greater than the sum of all our individual gifts. At our very best we see one another as sisters and brothers adopted sons and daughters of God the Father who are together seeking ways to love God and to go into the world to love our neighbors. But the Devil doesn't like that at all. The enemy wants to exploit every crack between us so that he can drive in wedges to separate us from one another.
Slide 2 Basilica in the trees
Much of the time we think that our spirituality is a private and personal matter. Maybe you think this way. Many people in our culture don't believe in the church. When asked most people say they believe in God and many of them pray; but many don't believe in the church. Couples who want to get married in a church come looking to use the facility here, but they have no intention of being part of the church. Many never have been part of the church or have been part of a church only on the periphery. To many people in our culture and to many of us as individuals how you and I connect with God is a private matter between you and me as individuals and with the gods of our own invention.
Slide 3 Chicago
We don't live in a spiritually neutral world and we aren't spiritually neutral either. We're sinners who live in a world with both good and evil forces present and active. As Christians we know that God is real and that he loves us enough to die for us. We learn the hard way about our enemy who is intent on doing as much damage as possible.
Our God loves us enough to die for us; but he has not made us into robots. Through Jesus' blood you are freed from sin. You are free to serve God or the Devil. Jesus cross took away sin but it did not take away your freedom. God wants us to love him freely and openly. And because God wants love that is freely given you and I can choose how we treat God and how we treat one another.
Slide 4 ...and make no room for the Devil
We have an enemy who will exploit our free will. He's looking for any opening he can find. He will drive enormous wedges between us to break up everything that matters by using our freedom against us. We're free to choose church or not. We are free to read scripture or not. We are free to pray or not. We are free to say a kind word to another person or not. We are free to help as sister or brother in need or not. We are free to participate in evil or not. What God wants is for us to seek him out in worship, scripture, service, and prayer. What God wants is for us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are free to live as God intends or to choose not to live as God intends.
Many people think connecting with God is easy if you just go on your own. That's what we sinners like to believe. We sinners like connecting with our own individual gods one on one without anyone or anything to challenge us. That's what the Devil wants. He wants us to be isolated, out on islands with gods of our own making, surrounded by our own self-righteousness. The devil's the expert at this. He's been at this for thousands of years.
Slide 5 How do you imagine the devil?
How we imagine the Devil often blinds us to all the ways that evil is at work in the world today.
Our cultures two most favorite decorating holidays, based on total sales of decorations and their effect on the retail economy, are Christmas and Halloween. This nation is infatuated by the polar opposites of good and evil, innocence and guilt that these two days represent. Keep in mind that the image that we have of the Devil at Halloween is only part of our enemy in the world today. The devil most likely wants us to imagine him as a beast with horns, fiery red flesh, a forked tail, and a pitchfork.
If we insist that the Devil incarnate has horns or breaths fire we won't recognize him when he's at work. But if you and I look around the world long enough you identify him in his work. Hell is real and there are people living in hell on earth today..The Devil is at work subtly trying to destroy everything good and true.
Slide 6 kkk robe
The devil needs no pitchfork. He uses our words and our hands. He uses our self-righteousness. When you refuse to forgive the enemy will use that choice to tear-down and destroy. He uses us to do his dirty work. He uses our ancient prejudices and deeply ingrained biases against both other people and against ourselves. He's been at work for thousands of years trying to undermine everything good and true.
In the movie Oh Brother Where art Thou one of the characters, Tommy sold his soul to the Devil. Another character in the movie Pete asked Tommy, “I've always wondered, what's the devil look like?”
The know it all of the group Everett piped in: “Well, there are all manner of lesser imps and demons, Pete, but the great Satan hisself is red and scaly with a bifurcated tail, and he carries a hay fork.”
Tommy, the one who sold his soul to learn how to play the guitar said: “Oh, no. No, sir. He's white, as white as you folks, with empty eyes and a big hollow voice.” We imagine evil incarnate looking one way. But the enemy has countless disguises. He can even come under the cover of an angle.
Slide 7: the enemy uses our...
The writer of this letter to the Ephesians knew the truth. The Devil will slither into any tiny fissure in our lives where he can find room. He knows our old weaknesses: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. In church conflict he uses our anger and pride against us every time he can. If one party feels they have been lied to or mistreated the devil cans use that anger.
Slide 8: and make no room for the Devil with list
It's critical to note that Paul warns against falsehood and calls for truth speaking; but he also asked the church to, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” (Ephesians 4:26)
In our families he uses our anger against another against us. The devil rejoices if a fight is separating you from a sister or brother.
In marriages he will try to twist any misplaced word or mistaken glance for something sinister. He will work to undermine fidelity, love, and affection.
He will try to come between friends. He will use all the old tricks. And we will by our free choice freely fall for them.
At work he will use jealousy and acrimony to rip us apart.
Slide 9 ...make no room for the devil
Last week I attended the 125th anniversary of my internship congregation. I was there as “Vicar John” from August 1997 to August 1998. It was good to see some old friends and hear stories from the church where I came as a student and left better prepared to be a pastor. I say thanks be to God for all that.
As I reminisced I realized how different that church is today then when I came as a seminary student. A few years after I left there was deep conflict. Many left who were once deeply committed to that church. Attendance fell by more than half. A few 20 somethings (who now live other towns) were there, but one of the young man's parents wouldn't come. It was tough to watch, for him, for me and probably for others who remembered the people who weren't there to celebrate.
Our old enemy rejoices when one Christian attacks another. We Lutherans sing about, “Our old satanic foe has sworn to work us woe” as part of A Mighty Fortress. If we will listen, Paul is boldly telling us the real power of the enemy to split and divide us. God's power is greater than the enemies; but we are often the Devil's unwitting accomplices in conflict.
Slide 10 and be kind...
The enemy uses and manipulates us in all kinds of places (not just the church) to try and pull down the good. Paul's challenge to Christians who are taking up sides against one another is real.
and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:31-5:2)
The old enemy wants us divided; but the Lord of Hosts can use us the most when we are united. We often mistakenly seek out ways to make others “just like us” assuming that uniformity is unity; and God instead makes us one in the Spirit, in the sacraments, and in his love.
For that Amazing Grace I give thanks. AMEN.