"Stick it to Satan Sunday"
Preached at House for All Sinners and Saints
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
28 August 2011
Texts: Jeremiah 15.15-21
"In whose interest is it to keep us all divided?" - Dr. Jeffrey Stout
-If there’s one thing Lutherans have always been good at, it’s sticking it to Satan. In baptism, the first vow we make is to “renounce the devil and all his empty promises.” Long before Motley Crue told us to “shout at the devil,” it was Martin Luther who first offered the famous advice to “mock the devil and he shall flee from you.” It is in this same Luther’s study that you can find, to this day, the ink stain on the wall where he reputedly threw a pot of ink to drive away his netherworldly nemesis. (Incidentally, I tried it out this week on a particularly satanic little squirrel that’s been eating the bagels in our kitchen. I missed too.) “Defy boldly,” and not “sin boldly,” was the constant refrain of Luther’s movement. And the more the Gospel was preached, he believed, the more the devil was defeated.
-So on the one hand, we who follow Christ in the tradition of the great Reformer should live for today’s Gospel, when Jesus delivers one of the great one-liners in all of history: “get thee behind me Satan!” If Jesus hadn’t said it, Lutherans would have had to invent it. We seriously wrestled this week with whether to call tonight’s worship “Stick it to Satan Sunday.” A Satan-shaped piñata may have been suggested. There is something powerful, even prophetic, and certainly cathartic, when human beings, made alive by the truth of the Gospel, can stare evil in the face, call a thing what it is, and defy its empty promises.
-Except, more often than not, we humans are not exactly experts at discerning demons. If we believe in the existence of the satanic at all, we are less likely to direct our ire towards a little red creature with horns, a tail and a pitchfork. No, we are, tragically, much better at seeing horns on other human beings, and in particular, those we experience as enemies. That’s something else Luther and his progeny, were ruthlessly skilled at. And this never ends well for either party. Just ask the Jews of Germany.
-Incidentally, this is the kind of luciferian logic that leads Peter to rebuke Jesus for revealing to his disciples that he will be crucified by the Romans. See, for many of the disciples, as well as the majority of the people of Israel, the Romans were the embodiment of the demonic. Just a few verses earlier when Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, he probably did so expecting that, soon and very soon, the Christ would stop wasting his miraculous power on healing peasants and gentiles, and would eventually get busy annihilating the oppressive reign of domination under which his people lived. Too often, many of us can admit to having been guilty of the same logic: our enemy is Satan, and God will surely take my side, to the misfortune of those we hate.
-Of course, Peter does not say all this directly. Because, obsessed with seeing Satan in others, its easy to become the deceiver we despise. In this case, Peter, the recent recipient of the keys to the kingdom, shows himself to be shackled by his fear. And if there’s anything that the real devil delights in, it is manipulating people who are afraid. See, when Peter says, “God forbid it Lord! This must never happen to you!” what Peter is really saying is, “God forbid it Lord! This must never happen to me!” Because as Jesus makes explicit: “if any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.”
-The kingdom of Satan is the network of domination systems in this world that seek to manipulate people’s fear of death and suffering by convincing brothers and sisters that they are in fact enemies. And so must compete with and destroy one another in order to remain safe. In rebuking Jesus, Peter shows himself to be possessed and thus manipulated by that same fear that so often also possesses and manipulates us. Fear of change. Fear of suffering. Fear of death. Which also leads us to treat other people as means to our own ends. Which tempts us to do violence for the sake of our own security. Which leads us to simply react and rebuke. Which twists us to see the world as a competition and a battlefield full of enemies. Which leads us to see the worst in others. Which leads us to doubt God at God’s Word.
-This is precisely the satanic system of slavery, the Babylonian mathematics of manipulation, that Christ came to defy and to overthrow. Not with armies and a holocaust. But with the Gospel, and a cross. Because Jesus refuses to be manipulated by fear. Because Jesus refuses to allow his enemies to remain his enemies. Jesus looks Peter in the eye, and says “get behind me Satan,” not because Jesus desires to eliminate Peter. But because he wants to liberate him. Because when Jesus says, “get behind me,” it is not an incineration of Peter’s life, but rather an invitation to return, to be reconciled, to let go of fear and be re-integrated into a life that can be called truly abundant. Because Jesus will not allow his friend to be manipulated into throwing out the resurrection with the baptismal bathwater of the cross.
-While the kingdom of the world seeks to create enemies who manipulate, react and rebuke one another out of fear of suffering and death, Christ’s cross has created a community in which enemies are re-created, reconciled, and re-integrated into communion with one another. Because as the kingdom ruled by the one who suffered death at the hands of his enemies rather than destroy or manipulate them, the people of the Gospel are those who have been shown that death is not the worst thing that can happen to us. We the church, gathered around the table of the one whose death has become the bread of life for all people, are those called to be agents of this kingdom, and so to take up our crosses with Jesus. With Jesus, to “defy boldly” the empty, manipulative promises of the powers and principalities who destroy life in their quest to avoid death. We are called to be those who, as Paul writes, “are not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” And the good of the cross is the ministry of reconciliation given to all those called to be agents of the new creation that God has fashioned out of the devil’s chaos.
-As agents of this new creation, the church is called to continue to “stick it to Satan.” Yet, we are called to do so, not out of the captivity of Peter, but rather, out of the freedom of Christ. As those who are called to take the risk of letting go of our fear of suffering and death, as those called to embrace the promise of resurrection, we are also those empowered by God to seek not only to not kill our enemies, but also to pursue their restoration and reintegration into the liberating reality of God’s grace.
-And we need not be Martin Luther King or Gandhi to do so. We need not be great saints like Mother Teresa. In fact, it is precisely in using people like us who are so very not saint-like, who are more like Martin Luther than MLK in our propensity to resort to violence in our words and in our thoughts, that God delights in defying the devil. Because while the satanic scoff at the folly of the cross, seeking to manipulate the broken beauty of the world to avoid the inevitability of death, the God of the Gospel delights in the cross’s foolishness, choosing to work with the beautiful broken things of the creation to proclaim the glory of the Gospel of resurrection. Because when we are all fearful people, when we are all manipulators, when we are all busted stuff and sinners, when we are all cross-shaped and cruciform – it is then that we have nothing to fight about. There are no enemies when there is nothing over which to compete. Grace is the great equalizer.
-Having been promised that death is not something to fear, but rather, the unavoidable first step on the path that leads to the new creation of the resurrection, we are invited into a strange new way of being in the world. While the world asks, “how can I manipulate others to keep myself safe?” we are invited to wonder, “how might this enemy, this struggle, this cross, this death, in fact be a source of friendship, of life, of growth, of newness, of surprise?” The Church is called to be the kind of people who, even while still fearful, manipulative sinners, nevertheless explores and experiments with the answers to this question, seeking reconciliation, restoration and re-integration, even as we view the world from the shadow of the cross that won reconciliation and restoration for us all.
-The Church is God’s ultimate weapon against the power of the satanic. Not a weapon as the world knows it. But as a shattered sword that has been fashioned into a ploughshare. As an abandoned military base transformed into a refugee camp for all sinners and saints. As the rotten wood of an old rifle fashioned into a guitar, singing the love songs of the Triune Troubadour. The devil is mocked most when God takes broken human beings who were once enemies, and gathers them together as friends. When God refuses to let enemies refuse each other. Whenever and wherever this happens, there can be said to be “Stick it to Satan Sunday.” So come, let us “defy boldly.” But let us be more bold in our love of Jesus Christ, and of the brothers and sisters to whom, today and every day, we extend a sign of the peace of the new creation. Amen.