The Tyranny of the Flesh

“… the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.‘”  (Matthew 4:16-17)

6849430658_240066832e_nThe first sermon that Jesus preached according to St. Matthew was a one line, straight forward message:  ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.‘   That message, a call to repentance has been central to the Christian message ever since.  At every Orthodox liturgy we pray that “we might spend the remaining time of our life in peace and in repentance.

All of us who are members of the Orthodox Church have personally embraced that message and have agreed that repentance is essential to cure what ails us as human beings.  Every year we attend the “School of Repentance” – Great Lent – in order to respond to the call of Jesus Christ.  We are the ones who have said “I need to repent” – Christ’s Gospel message have resonated with us.  In the first week of Great Lent we pray the Canon of Repentance of St. Andrew of Crete: “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.”  We each acknowledge our personal need for God’s mercy and the forgiveness that Christ offers to repentant sinners.  St. Andrew’s Canon is not a dreary dirge but rather brings us face to face with Christ’s call to repentance.  It is meant to change our heart of stone into one of flesh, which feels the pain of sin and it’s result – our separation from God.  The Canon is meant to awaken in us that pain of separation so that we seek God with all our heart.

Repentance in Orthodox spirituality is normative to our daily spiritual life – instead of blaming everyone else for the world’s sorrows and problems, we acknowledge our own personal contribution to the problems and sorrows of the world.  We come to church not to blame violent shooters and sexual predators, but to repent not only of our personal sins but also of anything we do which enables such sin to continue in the world.

We can consider the words from one of the Lenten hymns for the first week of Lent:

Let us keep the fast not only by refraining from food,

But by becoming strangers to all the bodily passions;

That we how are enslaved to the tyranny of the flesh

May become worthy to partake of the Lamb, the Son of God.

4446986418_6c3154f029_nStrangers to bodily passions . . .  enslaved to the tyranny of the flesh –  sounds like monastic exaggeration or extremism.  Yet, for all of us “living in the world” we can readily understand these words in our daily experience.  How often do we make choices purely because it is easy, comfortable, convenient or pleasurable?  When choices made based on any of those become our pattern of behavior, we have become slaves to them.  We avoid choosing what is good or right or godly preferring to follow that path of least resistance – what is pleasurable, convenient, comfortable or easy.   We don’t want to have to fast, or practice self denial, or attend a weekday service, or give more to charity or to have to apologize to others or forgive them.   Thus ease and convenience and comfort tyrannize us – as we don’t want to have to deal with what is difficult or important and so allow our lives to be controlled by the tyranny of the flesh =  that which is easy, convenient, pleasurable and comfortable.  Instead of doing the next right, good or godly thing, we opt for ease and convenience and let that govern our daily lives.

Lent is the chance to regain control of our choices. To recognize how ease and convenience are really tyranny of the flesh.  Repentance means changing one’s mind and heart, allowing it to be healed of the tyranny of the flesh and the passions, so that we in fact strive for what is godly.


Environmental Clues, Shaping Behavior and Free Will (1)

St. John: "Repent!"

Christianity is based in the call from Christ that we should repent – change our hearts and minds and go in a new direction in life.   Yet most of us recognize how difficult it is to change.  We are creatures of (bad!) habit.  We also tend to listen to those who say things that agree with our worldview rather than listening to people who challenge us in our thinking (see my blog Cultural Cognition: Why Talk Show Hosts Will Always Have an Audience).  We don’t like to be proved wrong and often are not open to facts that would show us why we need to change our thinking or even show us a better way for doing things.

So I found the NPR story, What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits   by Alix Spiegel, to be interesting because it spoke about people, in this case soldiers in Vietnam, who largely shook a (very bad) habit – addiction to heroin.  The U.S. Government ordered a study to see what became of these addicted soldiers when they returned to the U.S.  The soldiers were kept in Nam until they dried out.  What the researchers discovered was that 95% of the returning soldiers who had been addicted to heroin did not return to heroin use once back in the U.S.  This was astounding because in the general population 90% of heroin addicts who are dried out return to using heroin.   For many years many people assumed the researchers just got the data wrong since the data didn’t fit the assumptions of those dealing with addiction.

Basically in those days counselors assumed you need to change the motivation and goals of people to get them to change their behavior.  Such modification did have limited effects in changing behavior, or was effective in certain limited cases but not in others.  What researchers have come to realize from the studies of the soldiers who had become heroin addicts while serving in Vietnam, were dried out, and then returned to the US is that

“People, when they perform a behavior a lot — especially in the same environment, same sort of physical setting — outsource the control of the behavior to the environment.”

In other words environmental clues contribute to us maintaining habits, good or bad.  Environmental clues help us drive a car for example.   We do the right things while driving without thinking about them, out of habit.  The environment of the car gives us clues that determine our behavior.

And what the researchers have come to realize is that this “outsourcing” the control of our behavior to the environment contributes to people re-engaging in bad/addictive/unwanted behaviors when they are in the same environment.   Without thinking about it, we take clues from the environment and then engage in the same behavior we wanted to change.    This “outsourcing” the control of behavior to the environment is similar to what geneticists have come to realize about genetic effects on behavior – there is also epigenetics, factors beyond genetics/biology which not only effect behavior but become heritable characteristics in our genetic makeup without changing our genes.

In other words, our behavior is affected by many things which are in a complex relationship with us, some of these things are external to ourselves.

“We think of ourselves as controlling our behavior, willing our actions into being, but it’s not that simple.

It’s as if over time, we leave parts of ourselves all around us, which in turn, come to shape who we are.”

And, the good news in this is that if we make even small changes in our environment, we can help change our behaviors;  this is especially hopeful for those with “more socially accepted” addictions such as food or shopping.  The article mentions that even doing something as simple as switching eating ice cream with your left rather than right hand can cause you to reduce the amount you eat (not to mention most of us are totally clumsy with our non-dominant hand!).   By changing simple things in our lives, we might be able to overcome some of our sinful addictions to food, gambling, spending, the internet, pornography, etc.   Moving furniture or other external “clues” might help us in our struggles to overcome these passions.

So there are simple helps that can lead to behavior changes, or to help us learn to control certain behaviors.  Note: our behaviors are shaped by many factors, and to this day we don’t clearly understand all of their effects or the interrelationships.  So while changing environmental things can help lead to changed behavior, it isn’t a magic cure-all for ridding ourselves of unwanted behaviors.

The effort to change behavior, to exercise some control over our behavior was also the content of another USA article, Why We don’t Really Have Free Will by evolutionist Jerry Coyne, to which I want to turn in the next blog.

See also my blog, AH, HUMAN REASONING.

Next:  Environmental Clues, Shaping Behavior and Free Will (2)

St. Mary of Egypt (2011)

“’To despise the flesh, for it passeth away, and to take care for the soul, the thing immortal.’ Prove this by your deeds; fast, gladly bestow charity upon the poor, entertain guests heartily; do not grudge anything to those who belong to your household, zealously read the Word of God, pray, repent, lament your sins, strive with all your might after holiness, meekness, humility, patience, and obedience.” (St.John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ – Extracts from the Diary of St. John of Kronstadt, Part 2 pg.175-176)

Unless You Repent…

“’Unless you repent…’ is a message of hope, a message that man is able to put a limit to his sinful fatalism, that he can change, that he can choose the will of God. The mission of the prophets is to set hearts on fire with this call, to turn them toward this choice. Prophecy is from God, from the Holy Spirit. For it is not given to our earthly knowledge to see the mysterious and divine meaning of everything that occurs in the world. It may even be said that the broader our knowledge of the world (and in our day it has reached unimagined breadth), the less and less deep it becomes. It is in order to proclaim this deep knowledge that the Holy Spirit sends the prophets.”

(Alexander Schmemann, Celebration of Faith, Sermons Vol 1, I Believe, pgs114-115)

Repentace: Responding to the Light of Christ

Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”   (Matthew 4:12-17)

Note the call to repentance does not occur while the people are sitting in darkness.

The call to repentance comes with the dawning of the light.

When we are darkness, we are not prepared to repent.

Only when we begin to see the light do we see the need to repent.  The light makes it possible for us to see things in a new perspective, to bring about metanoia – repentance.

Repentance doesn’t bring about the light, nor does it cause us to “earn” the light.

Repentance is a response to the Light.  Repentance doesn’t earn us the right to see the light. 

The dawning light doesn’t chase away the need to repent, rather it brings us to repentance!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God;  all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.  The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.  He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God;  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”  (John 1:1-14)

“Thy Kingdom Come”

It is here that we begin approaching the central issue. For if we have ceased to understand the gospel of the kingdom, and no longer know what we pray when saying the words of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Thy kingdom come,’ it is because we no longer hear them in their fullness. We always start with ourselves, with questions about ourselves, for even the so-called ‘believer’ is very often interested in religion insofar as it answers questions concerning himself: is my soul immortal, does death put an end to everything or is there possibly something there beyond that fearful and mysterious leap into the unknown?  But the Gospel does not speak about such things. It calls “kingdom” the encounter of man with God, God who is fullness of life and the very life of all life, who is light, love, knowledge, wisdom, eternity. It tells us that the kingdom comes and begins when man meets God, recognizes him and with love and joy offers himself to him. It says that the kingdom of God comes when my life is filled to the brim with this light, with this knowledge, with this love. And finally it says for the person who has experienced this encounter and has filled his life with this divine life, that everything, including his death, is revealed in a new light, for that which he encounters, that with which he fills his life here and now, today, is eternity itself, which is God himself. Indeed, what are we praying for when we pronounce these absolutely unique words, ‘Thy kingdom come’? Above all, of course, we pray that this encounter may take place now, here, and today, in the present circumstances, that in my mundane and difficult life I could hear the words, ‘the kingdom is near you,’ and that my life would be filled with the power and light of the kingdom, with the power and light of faith, love, and hope. Furthermore, we desire that the whole world, which so evidently lies in evil and  longing, in fear and in striving, would see and receive this light, which entered the world some two thousand years ago, when at the outskirts of the Roman empire was heard that lonely, yet still resounding voice: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mt 3:2). We pray also that God would help us to not betray this kingdom, not to constantly fall away from it, not to sink into the  engulfing darkness, and that finally, this kingdom of God would come in power, as Christ says.”   (Alexander Schmemann, Our Father, pgs 38-41)

Sunday of the Paralytic (2010) Sermon Notes

GOSPEL:   John 5:1-15        

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. Now that day was the sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk.'” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had  withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.  Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 

 Sermon notes

 Jesus asks the sick man, “Do you want to be healed?”

 The sick man does not answer the question.

 Instead he offers a litany of reasons why he never gets healed at the pool.  In doing so he is asking Jesus to become his servant.  “Will you be the man to put me into the water?  I need someone to serve me”

 Jesus ignores his comment and its implication.

 Instead Jesus commands the sick man:  “Get up and walk.”

 Now it is up to the sick man to decide if he will obey Christ.  He must decide whether he will be a disciple and do what the master commands.

 Jesus is not our personal servant.  We agree to be His disciples and to serve Him. 

 The issue for us is as the issue for this sick man:  will we keep making excuse for ourselves in our dilemmas, or will we make ourselves His disciples and serve Him? 

Jesus as Servant washing His disciples' feet

 We can think of things Christ commands us to do:  Repent, believe, love one another as He has loved us, forgive if we want God to forgive us, be servants one to another as Christ was to His disciples,  love our enemies.

 Yes, Christ says, “love your enemies.”  And like the sick man at the beginning of the Gospel lesson, we offer our litany of excuses as to why we don’t do this:  “our enemies are terrible, their mean, I don’t like them, it’s too hard, there is no one to help me do this thing!”  

 Or we can be like the man in today’s Gospel lesson, who is healed and obeys Christ.  We can obey him to do things we don’t think are possible for us today, things that we have a thousand excuses and reasons why we don’t do them.

 And when the man obeys Christ, and behaves like a disciple, others challenge him – you shouldn’t be doing that right now!   But we have to respond, the Man who healed me, the Man who forgave my sins, the Man who died for me, He told me to do these things.   He is the master and I must obey Him rather than you or religious laws.

 As disciples we must be prepared to obey Christ, and to do what He is telling us to do.    Throughout the Divine Liturgy we can practice the obedience of the paralyzed man healed by Christ, who heard the Master’s voice and got up and walked.   In the Liturgy we are told:  “Let us pray to the Lord.”  “Let us lift up our hearts.”  “Let us love one another.”  “Let us pay attention.”  “Let us listen to the Holy Gospel.”   “Let us draw near in faith and love.”  

 The Liturgy is the place for us to practice our faith and recognition of Jesus Christ as Lord.   We can be the healed man of the Gospel and obey the voice of Christ.

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:9-10 (a)

See:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:8 (d)

4:9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.

“Where is Abel your brother?”   The Patristic Authors tended to see this question, like the one posed to Adam (“Where are you?”), as God in His mercy inviting Cain to confess his sin.  Cain like his father will not confess or repent.    In his commentary on the story, Chrysostom moralizes that like God  we should never condemn a fellow Christian before asking questions and seeing evidence that proves their guilt. 

In the Divine Liturgy, before singing the Trisagion (“Holy God!  Holy Mighty!…”), the priest’s prayer says that God is one “who does not despise the sinner, but instead has appointed repentance unto salvation…”  God gives His people opportunity to confess their sins and to repent.   Cain will not avail himself this opportunity, but instead denies his brotherhood with Abel.  Similarly, Peter denies the Lord Jesus when Christ is on trial before Pilate, swearing, “I don’t know the man.”   

“brother”  –  a new concept in the Genesis story introduced with the births of Cain and Abel is that of brotherhood.  What are the responsibilities of a brother?  The brothers are not portrayed as doing all that much together and have different occupational interests.   God’s dialogue with Cain suggests brotherhood in fact means one is responsible for one’s brother.   Cain’s question denies his brotherhood with Abel.  The notion of brotherhood among all disciples is a key element in early Christian thinking.  Cain does not kill an enemy, he murders his only brother.  One need only think about Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) to see that for Jesus being a neighbor means to show mercy to another (10:36-37).  One would think that at a minimum that is required of being a brother to someone.

“…am I my brother’s keeper?”    Abel was the keeper of sheep.  Cain was not listed as keeper of anything.  Is Cain challenging God – “How should I know where he is? YOU are his keeper.  After all he is YOUR favorite, why don’t YOU know where he is?  Have You lost him?”

“…am I my brother’s keeper?”    Cain slyly (skillfully?) parries with God, question for question.  Does Cain hope God doesn’t know what actually happened and that he can avoid detection by deflecting the  question with a question?    Is Cain inventing a new human behavior – playing dumb?   Unlike his father Adam who blamed both Eve and God for his sin (Genesis 3:12), the polemical Cain cannot think who to blame.  God does not answer Cain, but flays him with a new question revealing that God is quite aware what has transpired.  God knows Abel is dead and he demands Cain to explain whether he (Cain) understands what he has done.   Is it possible that Cain didn’t really know what happened to his brother?   Cain had physically killed his brother, but perhaps he had no clue what happened to the breath/soul of his brother.  The idea of heaven or the place of the dead is not part of the narrative yet.   Maybe Cain felt ignorance of the true state of his brother gave him some excuse.  “I didn’t really know what would happen to my brother’s soul after death, so I can’t be responsible for what has occurred.”    Many a sinner tries a similar excuse – I didn’t intend for these  results to happen, I was only trying to….”  We do not want our sins to count if we never really intended them to do all the harm they do.   But the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), whether or not we intend death to occur.

 “your brother’s blood …”   The Ancients believed life was in the blood of a being.  This idea might be a contrast to life being  associated with breath (Genesis 2:7) or the notion of the soul/psyche/living being the center of life (also in 2:7).  Biblical imagery is richly varied and thus has a greater depth than the rather narrow thinking of pure literalism which wants only one possible meaning for any text.  But since in the ancient perspective “life is in the blood”, blood is basically synonymous with the soul.  It is Abel’s soul which cries out to God.  Hebrews 12:25 mentions Abel’s blood which speaks.  It is perhaps the first indication in Genesis of a life beyond/after death, and that the dead continue to exist and that at least the righteous dead can speak to God. In Genesis 3:19 when God sentenced the sinful Adam, He pronounced the words, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – words oft repeated at Christian burial.   And while we may be dust, obviously that is not all we are, or the only thing we are.  For humans have both blood with life in it, and a soul.  And the blood of Abel cries from the ground showing that a human is more than dust even if he or she returns to dust at death.  The text does not assign any place to the dead Abel except for the ground which had absorbed his blood.  Eventually Judaism forms a notion of Sheol, the place of the dead which originally was conceived of as being somewhere beneath the surface of the earth.  Burial sends the dead on their journey to Sheol.  In early Jewish thinking,  Sheol had a purely shadowy existence and were not capable of doing anything, even praying to God (“For in death there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who can give thee praise?”   Psalm 6:5) because in Jewish anthropology a human needs his or her body to do anything and the dead were somehow separated from their bodies (“for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going”   Ecclesiastes 9:10).   Later Jewish thinking imagined the day when the dead would be reunited to their bodies in the resurrection – only then could they enter heaven.  The concept of Sheol changes over time, as belief in the resurrection of the dead grew in ancient Israel, from a shadowy emptiness to a place where the righteous dead can hope in God’s promised resurrection and eternal life. Late Judaism envisioned even God filling Sheol in the redeemed world.   “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!” (Psalm 139:7-8)   For Christians God’s presence in Sheol is fulfilled in Jesus who through His death enters into Sheol and rescues all the dead beginning with Adam and Eve, an event memorialized in the icon of Holy Saturday.

Next:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:9-10 (b)

Vesper Texts of The Expulsion of Adam & Eve (3)

In this series of blogs I will be quoting and commenting on hymns from the Sunday before Great Lent begins which commemorates the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.   The first blog in the series was entitled The Expulsion of Adam & Eve from Paradise (Hymns).  The blog immediately preceding this one is Vesper Texts of The Expulsion of Adam & Eve (2).

The hymns for Vespers on the eve of the Sunday before Great Lent are totally dedicated to the theme of Adam and Eve being expelled from Paradise.  The very basis for “Forgiveness Sunday” is found in “of what do we humans need to be forgiven by God?”    The Story of Adam and Eve is our story – it’s not about how humans behaved “once upon a time.”   Adam and Eve are prototypical human beings, their story is our story; there story is about us and how we behave.  We are their children, not foreigners to them and how they behaved. 











In these hymns Adam laments having lost through sin “his glory.”    What exactly is the glory of the human which Adam has lost?  

“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man” (1 Corinthians 11:7). 

St. Paul connects human men to the “glory of God”: a male is “the image and glory of God.”   This is an intriguing claim of St. Paul for nowhere in the Old Testament is the Glory of God connected with the creation of  humankind {let alone with males (Greek: aner) only – in Genesis 1:26-27 and 5:1-2 it is clear that humans (Greek: anthropon), both male and female, are created in the image of God}.  However, leaving aside St. Paul’s rereading (rewriting!) of Genesis 1 and 5 (which goes way beyond the scope of this blog), let us further consider Paul’s connecting humanity to the glory of God.

“… since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”  (Romans 3:23)

“…through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God”  (Romans 5:2). 

“And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit”  (2 Corinthians 3:18).

St. Paul has humans falling short of the glory of God through sin.  This along with the Romans 5:2 claim that we hope in sharing the glory of God suggests that for St. Paul, humanity’s sharing the glory of God was an envisioned future event (See also 1 John  3:2 where in the future we Christians shall be like Jesus when he comes in His glory).   We “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another”  (2 Cor 3:18) – this is an ongoing process whose culmination has not yet been attained.

St. Paul is at times credited or blamed with causing some Western Christians to embrace an idea of the total depravity of humankind because of his exposition on “original sin.”  Indeed his reading and use of the Genesis 2-3 story of the Fall of humans appears to have been his own creative insight into Genesis, humanity, Christ and salvation.    This insight led him to realize that the purpose of the Law had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and that strict adherence to the Law could never perfect humanity in God’s eyes, nor was it intended to.   St. Paul is unfairly blamed with having formed the notion of the total depravity of mankind, for that phrase doesn’t occur in his writings.  On the other hand, St. Paul’s reading of the Old Testament does cause him to connect humanity to the “glory of God”, something which the Western “total depravity of man” thinkers completely ignore.  St. Paul has a rather exalted view of humanity!

Still St. Paul seems to connect humanity with the glory of God as something emerging and to be completed in the future.  The hymns of Adam’s expulsion from Paradise have him lamenting a glory which was lost, not one to be gained in the future.    The hymnographers build upon the ideas of St. Paul in reflecting on what happened to humanity as a result of sin.  They see the original and natural state of humans as having shared in the glory of God – a state which was lost along with so much else when humanity through sin fell from the grace of living with God in Paradise.

Humans created by God to share in His life and glory are reduced through their own sin to inert matter, as Adam in the hymn laments:


 That however is not the end of the story as we well know.

“Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.  But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual.  The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).

Next:  Vesper Texts of The Expulsion of Adam & Eve (4)

Begone Satan! Worship the Lord, and Fear only Him.

Sermon notes on  Matthew 4:1-17 (NRSV)

[4:1] Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.  The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Notice it is the Holy Spirit that leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.  We instead pray for ourselves as Jesus taught us, “Lead us not into temptation.” 

Jesus is led by the Spirit – follows the Spirit to his confrontation with the devil.  We want to avoid the devil – to avoid the fight that we must engage in if we meet him?  We would rather avoid the fight than do the battle in order to triumph over him.

The devil is portrayed as nothing more than “the tempter” which is very consistent with the Old Testament vision of the devil.   We are monotheists – there is no equal and opposite to God.  Satan is not a god, nor a god equivalent.  We are not Ditheists – there are not two competing gods, one good and one evil.    And it is not the case that the good Creator God is distant and far removed from the creation which is ruled by an evil god.  These ideas were all clearly rejected by the Church through history.  Satan, the devil, has very limited powers and can do nothing on his own.  He asks Jesus to grant permission that he go into the herd of swine – as we note in our Baptism service, Satan does not have power even over swine.  In the exorcism, we spit in Satan’s face.  That is how little we care about him.

We are not to fear Satan, we are to fear God.  We spit on Satan.

Satan can tempt us, which he does to Jesus.

Jesus’ response to Satan is interesting.   Jesus quotes scripture (“it is written”), but note Jesus does not say we live by every word of scripture.  He says we live “by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Scripture bears witness to Christ, but Jesus is the Word of God incarnate.  We do not obey a book, but rather we pay attention to whom the Bible bears witness and to whom the bible points us. 

Sometimes we misunderstand what is meant by “the Word of God” or the bible is the Word of God.  The bible bears witness to Jesus Christ who is the Word of God.  We follow the living God to whom the bible points and whom the bible reveals.  We do honor the Scriptures as God’s Word – we carry the Gospel in procession in Church, but it is a symbol bearing witness to the reality of Christ.  God’s Word is not contained in the scriptures, the scriptures bear witness to God’s Word.

[5] Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”  Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Even the devil can quote the Bible – or read it.  What Satan cannot do is understand the scriptures, nor do they bring him to faith in Christ.  Satan reads the written words, but cannot comprehend the message of the Scriptures.  He is a literalist in his reading, but cannot comprehend about whom the Scriptures speak.

Jesus rebukes the devil by counter-quoting scripture.  We are not to take scripture verses out of context.  We need to comprehend the entire message of Scripture, unlike the devil who can only quote verses, but can’t put the verses together to form the entire picture being offered by God in His self revelation.

[8] Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”  Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

The devil is deluded.  He believes he has such power over all the kingdoms on earth, that they are his to give away, like toys.  The devil is so deluded about himself, that he thinks Christ should worship him!  Satan fails to recognize His Lord but thinks himself greater than God! 

It is worth contemplating the notion that all the kingdoms of the world and all of their splendor are Satan’s – at least so he believes.  While we might think – yes this is true of the Roman Empire, the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, Islamic Empires –  Satan claims that ALL of the kingdoms of the world are his – this would include the United States and all its splendor.  We can ask ourselves – what kingdom do we serve?  God’s or Satan’s?  God’s or ours?  No exceptions were made by Satan about any kingdom.

Jesus dismisses the devil with a word as he has no power in the presence of Christ.  So too we who have put on Christ in baptism have power over the devil and there is no reason to fear him.   What then is our response in the face of temptation?

To turn to God and ask for His mercy and forgiveness and deliverance from such evil..

 [17] From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”