Lenten Intentions: Renouncinig Evil

Lenten Intentions:  Renouncing Evil

Below is the video and manuscript for the First Sunday of Lent at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.

Matthew 4:1-11a (NIV)

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”


Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Human beings shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”


Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:


“‘He will command his angels concerning you,

and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”


Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”


Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”


Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”


Then the devil left him…


In some baptism liturgies from other Christian traditions, a question is asked of the candidate that we normally don’t ask in a Baptist service, but perhaps we should.  The candidate is asked: Do you renounce all the forces of evil, Satan, and all his empty promises?


Some might laugh.  Seriously: Who really believes in the devil anymore? Haven’t we left him behind with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy?  Haven’t we regulated “evil” to something much more manageable?  A mental psychosis makes more sense than demonic activity, right?  Let’s put it this way:  “There was really nothing wrong with somebody like Kim Jung-un that a little pharmacological therapy can’t fix.”


Or is there something more to this who devil, demon, and evil thing than we’d like to admit.  I remember a fellow student asking my friend and seminary professor Glenn Hinson this question: “Do you believe in the reality of Satan?” Dr. Hinson responded, saying:  “I’ve spent too many hours in Baptist business meetings to doubt the reality of Satan?”


Now of course we are not talking about the red-suited character with the pitchfork.  That character is a mythical creation of religious literature.  That character is portrayed in Dante’s Inferno, not in Holy Scripture.  That red-suited pitch-folk fellow does not exist.  But when we toss that fellow on the trash-heap of history, that does not mean we are discounting the reality of evil.


I like what Malcolm Muggeridge, the late British journalist, who converted to Christianity in mid-life after years of agnosticism, once said.  “Personally, I have found the Devil easier to believe in than God; for one thing, alas, I have had more to do with him.”


So the question is good:  “Do you renounce all the forces of evil and all its empty promises?”


How might you answer that question?  If you are like most people, you’d be quick to say, “I do!”  It’s relatively simple to make such a vow, promise, or pledge.  Who among us here today would not want to declare our intention to steer clear of the forces of evil?


That word INTENTION is important.  For our purposes, an intention will be a strong purpose or aim, accompanied by a determination or passion to make the INTENT a reality.  Each Sunday through Lent we will be exploring specific intentions that can help prepare our hearts to more fully celebrate Easter and live lives that are better expressions of Divine grace.


Our Lenten intention for today is tied up in that question:  “Do you renounce all the forces of evil, and all its empty promises?”


Of course, our gut immediately responds by saying:  “Absolutely!”  “No problem!”  “Of course I renounce evil.”


But when the rubber hits the road when we have to face the question: How does one live out such a intention?  How do we renounce all the forces of evil?  How do we avoid all its empty promises?


Today’s Gospel story offers us some direction.  Jesus sends the devil packing in this story. Still, Matthew’s gospel does not give us the whole story. In Luke’s account we read these words: “when the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.”  In other words, the intention to renounce evil in is never ending.  It wasn’t for Jesus and it won’t be for us.  The tempter will constantly be nipping at our heel.


Put another way, wholehearted commitment to Christ puts you on Evil’s radar screen.  Live out of the resources of God’s grace, Jesus Lordship, and the Holy Spirit’s strength, and the forces of evil will line up against you.  The battle never ends.  Not for Jesus.  Not for us.  “Satan departed from Jesus until an opportune time.”


In the text, EVIL presents itself to Jesus as temptation.  The Tempter comes to Jesus offers a distraction from God’s call on his life.  But the distractions are things that look pretty good.  There is nothing horribly wrong with what Jesus is offered:  Possessions, Prestige, and Power.  If you think about it, Jesus is tempted by what many have called the American way of life.


The Tempter does not offer Jesus things that we look toward as the dark side. Instead, Jesus is offered things that look good.  You see, evil is rarely obvious. If it were, avoiding it would be much easier.  But the Tempter offers things that look quite appealing.  In fact, he offers things that look like great tools to accomplish Jesus mission and ministry.  That’s the insidious nature of temptation.  It usually offers what’s good as a distraction of what is best.


Renouncing EVIL is more difficult when the EVIL doesn’t look so bad and promises to help us accomplish a greater good.


Jesus does not give in.  He renounces evil and its empty promises. He rejects the notion that the accumulation of certain wrongs can make a right.


So, return to that question of a moment ago. How? How does Jesus renounce EVIL? If it is our intention to renounce EVIL, we might be able to learn from his example.


First, Jesus encounters the devil in the strength of forty days of fasting. And I use the word “strength” in a way that surprises even me, but which seems very appropriate this Lenten season.


Mark Buchanan writes:  “I have always thought that the devil was coming to Jesus at his weakest moment: Jesus gaunt, raw-boned, wild-eyed, ready to scavenge any moldy crust of bread or scrape any meat shreds off a lamb’s bone … But I’m not so sure anymore. The more I learn from fasting the more I see that Jesus actually stood at his strongest when his belly was empty.”  It is at that moment when Jesus faith in His father is strongest.  It is at that moment when his reliance on the Spirit’s breath is most certain.  Jesus sends the devil packing at that moment when His spiritual strength is at its strongest—and that comes out of his time spent in prayerful dependence and fasting.


That’s the reason that so many Christian traditions observe this season of fasting called Lent.  You’ve heard the question: “What are you giving up for Lent?’


My friend and fellow pastor Steve Teague was somewhat of a troublemaker when he was a youngster, and was kicked out of the public schools.  The result?  His parents sent him to a Catholic parochial school.  At the start of Lent the Nun asked the students to all report on what they were “giving up” for Lent.  Each of the students reported their particular fast.  I am giving up ice cream.  I am giving up chocolate.  When they came around to my friend Steve, he reported: “Ma’am, we’re Baptists, we don’t give up nothing for nobody!”


I guess many of us feel like Steve just a little bit.  I’d like to challenge you to think differently.  I’d like to challenge you to consider taking a daily fast through Lent.  Give up a meal daily, or maybe just a snack, and donate the funds to ministry for the poor.  Or sacrifice 30 minutes of television daily and devote that time to prayer.  Find something you can sacrifice so that your focus can be place more squarely on God’s movements in your life.  Find something that you can sacrifice so you might be able to focus more on the Kingdom’s ministry and mission.  Find some sacrifice that will remind you of your spiritual identity as a child of Divine grace.


Jesus came out of his time in the wilderness aware of His Father’s power, presence, and will for His life.  He came out of that time aware of his strength.  As such, he was ready to renounce the Tempter’s efforts to distract him from God’s wondrous will and way for his life.


Do you know when we are most apt to fail and falter in the face of temptation?  Do you know when we are at our weakest?  It’s when all is well and we have little in the way of discomfort to challenge us.  Do you know when we are at our strongest?  It is when we realize that life can often be overwhelming and that self-reliance is never enough.  Instead we need to intend to renounce evil and trust more in God’s provisions and presence.  Fasting makes us aware of our need to trust in Christ.


Second, watch how Jesus answers the devil’s very enticing temptations. Does he toss out some magic totem? Does he rely on strong mental resistance? Does he ask God to rescue him in some impressive way? No!  Jesus quotes scripture.


Jesus so utterly bathed in the Holy Spirit and the Spirits revelation of God’s working throughout scripture that he was able to bring the ALL God’s saving history forward into his own life.


The scriptural references Jesus draws upon come from the book of Deuteronomy, from that time when the Israelites were wandering the wilderness, learning to trust God.  Jesus recasts these words into his own wilderness encounter with temptation.


Jesus lived in a world of story. Some people wonder why Jesus’ ministry didn’t get underway until he was way into his thirties, which was well beyond middle age for the season he walked the planet.  My guess is that Jesus was being shaped and formed by the stories of his religious community. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the words of scripture were not dripping off his lips.   Jesus’ ministry was formed by the stories told long before his birth.  Jesus grew up listening to those stories.  He saw himself a part of that great big narrative of God’s work in the world.


So it behooves us to be bathed in the scripture.  To read it daily!  To know that it’s stories are our story.  To hear it interpreted in our context as a community at worship.  The stories of the Bible are no magical, but they are formational.  They give us the faith and gumption to renounce evil.


Martin Luther, in his classic hymn, “A Mighty Fortress in Our God,” makes a fantastical claim that this temptation story also makes: Speaking of the intention of renouncing the evil one, Luther writes:  “One little word subdues him.”


Will Willimon, one of the nation’s greatest preachers, was reflecting on a “Men’s Soul-Making Weekend” which was being offered near Duke University when he served there as Dean of the Chapel.   The publicity poster described the event as “a time for men to recall their boyhoods, become animals and heroes, and honor their ancestors and elders.” Willimon’s reflections fit the spirit of the scripture’s account of Jesus temptations in the wilderness.  Willimon writes:


“If I ever invite you to join me for a $200 weekend to beat drums … and tell you how deeply significant it is for me to be a white male, act bored. Then remind me that all of that is ultimately uninteresting. Tell me again the story of the Jew from Nazareth who reached beyond race and gender to summon a new people by water and the word, and call me a Christian. My little life has significance only within his light.”


If our personal stories are going to find the needed meaning, purpose, and the inner resources to resist evil, then we need to reach beyond our experiences to the story that was told long before we were born; the same story that will still be told after we have returned to ashes and dust.


So, let’s go back to our Lenten intention for today.  Let’s poses that question again:  “Do you renounce all the forces of evil and its empty promises?”


If you say “I do” and really mean that as a life, Lenten intention, then Jesus’ gives us some resources for sending evil packing.  He speaks to us about the strength of total dependence and the power that comes from seeing ourselves immersed in the Spirit’s ongoing work in the world as revealed in scripture.


Those things equipped Jesus in human flesh to remain strong in his intention of renouncing evil and remaining focused on his Father’s way.


When we come to the table today, it is with the reminder that God is with us.  God’s strength nourishes us.  God’s Spirit breathes life into our spirits.  God’s ongoing story of grace includes us and gives us the word to resist the Evil One.


So, I ask you again to accept this intention as your own this Lenten season.   Renounce all the forces of evil and all its empty promises!


The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity
by: William P. Young
publisher: Windblown Media, published: 2007-07-01
ASIN: 0964729237
EAN: 9780964729230
sales rank: 4
price: $4.95 (new), $2.02 (used)

Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever.

In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant The Shack wrestles with the timeless question, “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You’ll want everyone you know to read this book!


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