UNION — What would you do if the devil suddenly appeared in your church?
That was the subject of the following story told by Fr. Louis Miller, Jr., pastor of The Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Wednesday morning during the First Week of Lent Service at Grace United Methodist Church.
There was a small but vibrant evangelical church out in the country that really knew how to rock the place for “the Lord.”
One Sunday the preacher was really wound up with all the “amens” and “alleluias” from the congregation as if on cue.
Suddenly, (poof) standing next to the preacher was the devil himself.
Well, everyone bolted from the little church like rats fleeing a sinking ship. Even the preacher took off leading the exit.
When the dust was settled there was one man left sitting in the back row.
Ole Satan looked down at him and asked, “Don’t you know who I am?”
“Of course,” replied the gentleman calmly.
“Aren’t you afraid? Why didn’t your run out with everyone else?”
“No, I’m not afraid, why should I be. After all, I’ve been married to your sister for the last 25 years.”
Miller told this story as part of his sermon, “Temptations,” delivered during the Meditation portion of Wednesday’s Lenten Service. The service, which celebrated the First Week of Lent, was the second in a series that will be held at Grace UMC through Easter. Each service will feature a Meditation delivered by different ministers from different local churches.
Traditionally, Lent lasts for 40 days, the number of days Jesus Christ spent in the wilderness following his baptism by John the Baptist and prior to beginning His earthly ministry. During His time in the wilderness, Christ was confronted by the devil who tried three times to tempt Him. The story, which is told in Luke 4:1-13, was the subject of Miller’s Meditation message.
Miller said Jesus “ate nothing at all during those days and when they were over, He was famished.” It was at this point that the devil appears and seeks to use Jesus’ physical hunger to tempt Him saying, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus, however refuses to do so, saying “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.”
“What Jesus was illustrating and it should be clear to us that bread can only satisfy and relief us physically and temporarily,” Miller said. “But the word of God spoken to us through scripture and even in our hearts when God beckons will satisfy and relieve us eternally.”
The devil, however, is not deterred by his failure, and tries a second time to tempt Jesus, this time with the offer of earthly power.
Miller said the devil took Jesus and “showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to Him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus refuses the devil’s offer, saying “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.’”
Miller said that this shows, first, that “Satan is a master in the psyche of man… he knows that from the beginning, man has lusted for power and glory. So why not test the Son of God on such powerful attractions? And here is the great cosmic irony of all time.
“Satan was offering Jesus the power and authority over all humankind and nations if only He would worship him. The irony is those things already belonged to Jesus through His Heavenly Father, that part of God’s universal kingdom is the earth and all that is in it.”
Miller said that, as in the case of the first temptation, Jesus rejected the temporary for the eternal.
“Satan was offering Him earthly power and glory … power and glory that, in the history of man, has always been fleeting. Jesus’ response was spiritually ignited, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.’ And during His ministry, Jesus would entreat us to “Love the Lord our God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.’ Love and worship God only and with your all.”
Despite failing twice, the devil makes a third attempt to tempt Christ, this time by getting Him to test God’s power.
Miller said the devil takes Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and challenges Him — even using scripture to do so — saying “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus, referring to scripture as well, once again rejects the devil’s demand, saying “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Miller described this temptation as “a frivolous one … almost childish. … It’s like, ‘I dare you … no I double dare you to jump off … go ahead, I dare you.” It’s like when I was a child back in the old neighborhood we would dare someone to jump off a pier into the creek or or jump off the top of Randy O’Neil’s barn. Kid’s stuff.”
Unable to successfully tempt Jesus, the devil slinks away.
“Satan is a lot of things, but when confronted with God and His Son, he is a coward,” Miller said.
Even though Jesus refused to test God, Miller said humanity tests Him on a regular basis.
“We test God all the time without really knowing what we are doing,” Miller said. “‘God, if you do this for me, I will do that for you.’ ‘Now God, I put my 10 percent in the alms plate every Sunday as you commanded, what are you going to do for me?’ And so on.
“And you know, we do it most of the time out of love and out of faith, though misguided,” he said. “And in my own way of thinking, I sort of think God likes that in a way … at least He knows you know who He is and that you are trying in your own human way to shore up your relationship with God.”
Miller pointed out that, like Christ, Christians face temptation, but that facing and resisting it can make them stronger in their faith.
“We are now into the Lenten Season making our annual pilgrimage to the cross with Christ,” Miller said. “Facing temptation is not intended to weaken us by giving into temptation, but to make us stronger as we resist the tempter.
This Lenten Season can make us stronger in faith, help us to strengthen our prayer time with God, give us the incentive to study and meditate on the Word of God, and strive to be what God intended us to be, Christ-like in our actions, words, and deeds, showing the world that we are indeed, Christians in every since of the word,” he said. “So as our Lord said to the woman who had just escaped stoning, he says to us, ‘Go and sin no more.’”
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090 or firstname.lastname@example.org.