Perhaps we're all a little bit Satan

by Lowell Chilton

A sermon preached at University Lutheran Church in Seattle, WA on August 31st, 2014. The texts for the week are Jeremiah 15:15-21, Romans 12:9-21, and Matthew 16:21-28.

What are some images of Satan that are common to you?

Prowling like a lion seeking to devour souls?

Dancing in a bespoke suit with horns and a tail?

Lola, getting what she wants?

Anybody remember Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine Jones? In the first introduction of the character, Geraldine comes home wearing a new dress and her husband is exasperated, “that’s the 3rd new dress this week.” Geraldine replies:

The devil made me buy this dress. I was walking down the street minding my own business, and the devil steered me straight to the store.

He whispered in my ear, “see that dress, you’d look sooo good in that dress”.

I said “No Devil, leave me alone” but he kept on. “See all those flowers just like you like, you owe yourself at least a try on.” Again I said “No” but he just kept on and he thrust me in to the changing room. And then he MADE me sign your name to a check and bring it home.

I’m telling you the devil MADE me buy this dress!

[Paraphrased from The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress by Flip Wilson, 1970]

The devil made me buy this dress.

Perhaps we’re all a little bit of the devil.

In our Gospel lesson today, Peter is doing one of the things he does best and not getting it. This time it is a little surprising because just last week, a few versus up, he seemed to get it when he declared Jesus the Christ and the Son of the living God.

Now however, Peter objects to the very idea of Jesus needing to die.

“Get behind me Satan! You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts!”

This is Peter, the rock on whom Jesus’s church is to be built, and he is called Satan!

If Peter is Satan, thinking human thoughts and not godly thoughts, then perhaps we’re all a bit of Satan.

And that is the true insidiousness of Satan. When our bits of Satan team up, great evil can happen. There are the obvious examples of mass genocide or all-out war, but it goes much deeper than that, for those are very overt.

The sneaky thing about Satan is that Satan does prowl like a lion and sneaks up on you. Through the earnest effort to increase the ability to protect and ensure safety, for I truly believe that is the calling of the vast majority of our nation’s police officers, we have built police forces across the country that verge on paramilitary power.

Through the conscious or unconscious desire to grow profitability and maintain investor relationships, we’ve built economic systems that subjugate entire populations of our citizens and create economically and racially segregated neighborhoods.

While our television news cycles filled up this spring with constant coverage of a missing plane, a serious tragedy, millions of Syrians were continuing to be displaced by violence and ISIS grew into a major power and we barely noticed until our interests in Iraq were at risk.

And while we were paying attention to that, young girls and boys are being trafficked all across the United States and Europe, including heavily through Seattle.

And while we’re reading up on that, the device we used contains precious metals and gems the acquisition of which contributes to the growing global economic disparity, while wearing clothes produced under grueling conditions with substandard wages.

Truly these are all Satan’s ways.

Satan is insidious and is part of all of us.

Thankfully we are not completely Satan. We are children of God and have the Gift of God’s Grace.

The Good News that is declared by Christ today is that all those who lose their life for Christ’s sake will save it. Jesus declares that we are to deny ourselves and follow Christ and we will gain life!

Okay good, so all I have to do is be an ascetic monk, eating a sustenance diet and praying 18 hours a day. Perfect!

Oh right, there was that Luther guy who tried that for a while.

When Jesus says “deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me,” he is not giving a command for self-denial as we would often understand it in the West, which is a self-centered self-denial.

Instead Jesus is inviting us to assist in bringing about the kingdom of heaven by joining in an other-centered self-denial. Jesus is inviting us into the life that Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans that we read this morning.

We are encouraged to love without pretense, not because we think we should, but because we do.

We are encouraged to laugh, to cry, to pray, to love, and to live in community with one another.

We are encouraged to stand firmly behind Christ and reject Satan.

The gift and promise of Christ is that we don’t do that on our own, but we can only do it through the grace of God.

See, God, through Jesus, lived in the world and suffered at the hands of the world. The collective Satan that needed to protect the status quo sent God to the cross, and in doing so ensured that death and Satan is conquered forever.

Now it is our turn to live into that gift of grace and fulfill our part of the covenant by answering Jesus’ invitation.

With each little bit that we do to reject the Satan inside each of us, the power of Satan is diminished and the kingdom of God comes in just that much more.

As we go forth today, may the grace of God which goes beyond all understanding, keep our hearts and minds ever turned toward God and watchful for the insidious ways of Satan prowling after us.

Amen and Amen