"Is the Devil Real?" by Pastor KInsey
Is the Devil real or not?
When Jesus meets the Devil in our Gospel story today, Empires and kingdoms of this world open up in an ‘instant!’ For us, to be able to decide what is holy and real, we have to be ready, through a lifelong journey of faith. Choosing the kingdom and realm of God, over the kingdoms of this world, is not always an easy or clear choice.
That’s why the iconic folk-story of Jesus’ temptation by the devil is so reassuring. Jesus – even though he was famished – was 3 for 3, in making the Godly choice! The Devil is an expert at, tempting, flattering us even, always charming, and closer at hand, than any of us would like to admit. By ourselves, we will never be as good as Jesus. But that’s by design, you might say. Jesus the Christ, represents the power and kingdom of God, the very structures of life, love and grace. We have that power too, but only to the extent we are able to join together as God’s people.
The devil can open up all the kingdoms of the world to us, in an instant. We could win the lottery of instant fame and power, if we would only fall down and pay the Devil homage. The Devil wants to be the king of all the kingdoms of the world. Right now, he only creates their appearances; makes them look real to us – offers them up – and indeed, has had some great successes selling them to people, too. That’s a lot of power. But Jesus will not worship the Devil, ever. And we also have the choice to follow Jesus, rather than following the chimera of instant success, offered by the Evil One!
Is the Devil real or not?
Following his Baptism, Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit. And then, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus ate nothing at all for 40 days, and Jesus was tempted by the Devil, Luke tells us. But fasting, especially with prayer, has a way of focusing one, on the spiritual, on the kingdom and realm of God all around us. Jesus, says Luke, was full of the Holy Spirit, and Spirit led!
For myself, in my life, have never seen the Devil with my own eyes, or heard him with my own ears. Not literally, anyway. But the power of Evil, in the temptations we experience, I think we all know, as a real and present danger: Temptations to betray a friend, or cover up our failures; to give in to bullying or ganging up on a weaker party. We also know powers that are bigger than our individual decisions: the illness of addictions like alcohol and drugs; the structural powers of racism and sexism.
These temptations and powers are how the kingdoms of this world work, that the Devil shows Jesus ‘in an instant.’ But they only become real, in so far as We live in them, or are tempted or tricked into imitating them. That’s what makes the Devil feel real – participating in the power of Evil, and, knowingly or not, following the wrong king and kingdom – despite the fact that no one has yet met the red-horned creature with a pitch-fork, in person!
I really like the story of the TV show, This Is Us. Here’s a family that battles all kinds of evils and temptations! Jack and Rebecca, come from different sides of the tracks in Pittsburg, with their own histories, before they fall in love and marry. And the “Big Three” as Jack calls their kids, Randall, Kate and Kevin, also each have their hidden issues that drive them.
Randall is adopted, after one of the triplets is still-born. This is Jack’s idea, who sees the new-born Randall dropped off at the hospital as a sign that their hopes for triplets is still coming true, despite Rebecca’s real and present grief of their tragic loss. Randall is African-American, and as we watch him grow up, at different stages of his life, in the white Pearson household, and their community, we experience, from our own perspectives, the racism that Randall endures.
By contrast, everything comes easy to brother Kevin, the high school quarterback, who gets all the girls. Randall, even though he’s super smart, is more introverted, and his nerdy-ness is reinforced by the prejudice he experiences, due to the color of his skin – like when he’s a pre-teen and the Pearson family goes to the local swimming pool, and parents, with side-long glances, are pulling their kids out of the water, as Randall is about to get in.
Later, Randall over-compensates with his job, by working extra-long hours and becoming the most valuable worker at his company. But he pays a heavy price by working himself into exhaustion and a kind of mental break down.
Randall is tempted by the powers of success, to prove himself. Kevin, on the other hand, is seduced by the easy success of TV stardom – but as a heart-throb Soap Opera star, is underperforming his acting talents. He ends up loathing himself, and falls into alcoholism before his 30th birthday, trying to avoid the reality of who he has become.
Racism and alcoholism, are just two of the powers of evil that invade the lives of these 2 brothers, of the Big Three.
Some say, Jesus’ Temptation in the wilderness, is the answer to Original Sin in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, after disobeying God’s rule not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As the first humans, they commit the first sin, a separation from God, and God’s kingdom. But Jesus stands up to the temptations of the Devil, in a way that Adam and Eve could not resist the temptations of the Serpent. As St Paul says, Jesus is like a 2nd Adam, reversing the original sin in the Garden, and finally redeeming us in the cross and resurrection, in the Garden in Jerusalem.
Whether Original Sin means, an inherited sin, passed down to us from Adam and Eve, is a topic for another day. But certainly, there are sin’s, and structures of sin, that are embedded in cultures and societies of people. America’s original sin, is often said to be slavery, and the legacy of racism that infects us, ever since.
We see it in flashes of clarity on episodes of This Is Us, as we watch Randall grow up. Despite his above average intelligence, he has to prove his worth in ways his siblings Kevin and Kate neve have to. Despite growing up in the privilege of a white suburban family, he is often an outcast in his white world and not quite welcome in his new black communities. Just so, we still have 2 separate and unequal societies in our land of the free, and home of the brave.
In a flash, an instant, we have to make decisions, whose side we’re on. If we have begun to follow Jesus, and the way of the cross, we will find the kingdom and realm of God.
But it’s not just about our individual decisions, but about being led by the Spirit. The Power of Evil is real, and its weapons of – mass confusion, fake instant success, and the temptation to believe certain others are expendable, so it’s okay to be a winner at their expense – are all running rampant today.
God in Jesus, wants to lead us by the Spirit, and fill us with the Holy Spirit. Together, as the people of God, we can strengthen one another on this journey to cross and resurrection, as we pray for ‘the kingdom of God to come on earth, as it is in heaven.’ For it is written (says Jesus), ‘worship the Lord your God, and serve God alone.’