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Songs of Faith – Sermons of Grace: How Do We Handle The “S” Word?

Mark 3:20-35

Just recently, I read about a little girl who came home from school one day quite upset. She had gone into the restroom at school and had seen a “bad word” written on the wall of the stall. Her mother suggested that when she went to the restroom the next day, she should simply go to another stall. The next day the little girl reported that she had done what her mother suggested but there was a “bad word” there, too. At that point the girl’s father, in a rather lame attempt at humor, said that from now on she ought to just go into a third stall and close her eyes!

Of course, that’s what we often do, isn’t it? We close our eyes to that which is bad or unpleasant in the world around us. We often do that when it comes to certain words. I think, for example, of the word “pregnant.” We say it right out loud now, but for most of my growing up years it was always referred to as the “P” word. I can remember as a young boy hearing my mother talking to a friend of hers and the friend said: “Well, I guess you’ve heard about Lillian … you know she’s ‘pregnant’ (whisper).” I don’t know how old I was before I realized that being pregnant was not some shameful, terrible disease!

Well, these days in many parts of the church another word is often avoided. It’s what I would call the “S” word—you know, “Satan” (whisper). You see, the idea of Satan, or the devil, is widely discounted by many in the church today. It’s understandable, I suppose, because to deny the existence of the devil makes it easier to march on through life as though nothing is wrong, ignoring the evil in the world, sustaining ourselves with the notion that we as human beings are always in command, always making progress, always improving on the past, always making advances which someday may bring about a perfect world. But is that realistic? Does it mean to you that the world is getting better and better? I don’t think so. There are too many people today who deny the existence of Satan, convincing themselves that they have outgrown such primitive pictures of the devil and that references to the “Prince of Darkness” seem out of place in our sophisticated era. Consequently, today the devil is debunked by the rationalists, exorcised by the psychotherapists, caricatured by the secularists and demythologized by the theologians. However, for all of those mental gymnastics, you don’t have to look very far to see the power and pervasiveness of evil in this world.

Of course the Bible told us that long ago. The Bible declares that evil is not some rotten little corner of your heart or mind. It’s a force at work within us, yes, but also beyond us. It’s a presence. It’s a personal power. From the early pages of Genesis where evil appears as a serpent to the next-to-the-last page of the Bible where Satan is described as an escaped prisoner roaming about deceiving the nations of the world until he can be destroyed—and the Bible on virtually every page describes evil as an awesome personal force to be reckoned with in this world.

So how do you and I handle the “S” word? I have some suggestions based on the premise that we cannot close our eyes to the reality of evil and we cannot ignore the “S” word. We’ve got to say it out loud: Satan! Let me show you why that’s important …

Saying the word “Satan” declares that the devil exists.

A long time ago, the devil got himself behind the proposition that he, the devil, doesn’t exist—and a lot of well-meaning, well-educated, otherwise enlightened people have bought into that proposition. They argue that the devil is nothing more than a childish attempt to name those bad little impulses which are tucked away inside of us all, or a misguided attempt to use a guilt-trip to douse a person’s sense of pleasure in life, or a fanatical attempt to manipulate other people’s religious beliefs. They say that the devil doesn’t exist, but frankly, I think that the poet was closer to the truth when he wrote:

The devil has been voted out, 
And now of course he’s gone’ 
But simple people want to know 
Who’s carrying his business on?

Someone is carrying his business on, wouldn’t you agree? I’m a reasonably intelligent man. Surely you wouldn’t try to foist on me the notion that a 15-year-old boy in Springfield, Oregon can, with cold calculation, gun down his parents, then arm himself to the teeth and proceed to turn a high school cafeteria into a slaughterhouse, all because of some bad little impulse down inside of him. Please don’t insult my intelligence.

Do you want to know where Jesus came down on the position of whether or not the devil exists? Read it yourself in John 8. There Jesus says that the devil was a murderer from the beginning, that he does not speak the truth because the truth is not in him, that when he lies he speaks his native language because he is a liar and the father of lies. That’s where Jesus stands. If that’s not enough for you then let me remind you of Thomas Carlisle, who once took Ralph Waldo Emerson on a walk through some of the most dreadful slums in London and then said to him: “Now you tell me that you don’t believe the devil exists.” Or let me remind you of Martin Luther, who once said: “The devil, the originator of sorrowful anxieties and restless troubles flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the Word of God,” which is why he then articulated his own stand against the devil in one of the greatest hymns of them all, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Or let me remind you of Martin Luther King, who, as he led his people out onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama (my friend, Parker Williamson, of the Presbyterian Layman was one of the marchers there and has confirmed this for me)—King, knowing that Sheriff Jim Clark was about to release club-swinging deputies and vicious attack dogs upon the marchers, took a bullhorn and said to his people: “When you are attacked, do not retreat. Stay where you are. Fall to your knees and pray to Almighty God. He will deliver you from Satan.”

And if that’s still not enough for you, then just follow me through the course of my daily work, looking over my shoulder as I read the last note of a suicide victim or as I fight for the life of someone captured by drugs or alcohol or as I visit in prison one who has taken the life of another or as I try to reassemble the pieces of a home broken by shattered trust—then you tell me that the devil doesn’t exist.

The devil wants us to believe that the devil doesn’t exist. Don’t fall for the lie. Some say that the devil is a myth. I say that the only myth is that the devil doesn’t exist. Jesus believed that the devil exists, and that’s good enough for me.

Also, saying the word “Satan” declares that the devil is at work.

I heard about a woman who went to see her minister. She was sobbing uncontrollably and between sobs, she told her minister that she had had a terrible fight with her husband. She said: “The last thing he said to me was ‘You can go to the devil!’” The minister asked: “And what did you do then?” She replied: “I came straight to you!” Well, sometimes in anger we may say to someone: “Go to the devil.” What a useless thing to say—the devil is only too willing to come to us. Job says: “Satan is busy, moving to and fro, up and down the earth.”

My friends, please hear me. The battle that is going on in our world is the battle between good and evil—and all of the ugliness we see in the world is the manifestation of evil in that battle. The fact that our society permits some people to go hungry and homeless in the midst of this land of staggering affluence—that’s the work of the devil. The fact that our society has so twisted God’s gift of sexuality that pornography and the purveyors thereof, are encouraged and that lifestyles contrary to God’s will for His people are applauded—that’s the work of the devil. We are in the midst here of what is called “Gay Days Weekend,” and while some of the scheduled events are clean and wholesome, many are anything but that, bordering on savagery and lunacy. Let me read to you from the official brochure for the weekend, which has been distributed widely through the Internet and in other ways. This is the description of one of those events: “A Leather, Latex and Bondage Party. The only trash and sleaze event in town featuring live flogging and spankings, dominatrix, masters and slaves. Two shows plus live piercing and violet wand demonstrations.” My friends, that’s scheduled at the Club Firestone, just a few blocks from this church. The other descriptions are even worse. Now, if you think that I am bashing gays and lesbians, you couldn’t be more wrong. But if you think that I am bashing activities which promote perversion and sexploitation, then you couldn’t be more right. That’s the work of the devil. Freedom has never meant license—not now, not ever—to say that it does or to be taught that it does is the work of the devil. The fact that in this land of the free, people whose skin is black, brown, yellow or red must struggle so much harder to experience the opportunities enjoyed by those of us whose skin happens to be white—that’s the work of the devil. The fact that our society allows a million lives to be taken each year by abortion and the fact that active euthanasia is being considered and discussed in some political and intellectual circles when there are better ways to solve the problems with both the beginning and the end of life—well, that’s the work of the devil.

Paul was dead right when he wrote to the Ephesians: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.” Yes, the devil is at work and that’s the conflict in which we are engaged.

But we dare not forget that saying the word “Satan” also declares that the devil ultimately is defeated.

Mark this down. You and I are fighting on the winning side. In our Scripture lesson today, Mark tells us that the Pharisees and Saducees were so disturbed by the teachings of Jesus that they tried to discredit Him by saying that He was possessed by Beelzebub, the devil. Well, Jesus was possessed all right, but not by the devil. He was possessed by the belief that He had been called by God to defeat the powers of Satan and evil in the world. You see, what makes the devil so dangerous is that he knows he’s already defeated. It was done on Calvary. There, the devil did the worst the devil can do. He murdered God’s only Son. But the resurrection of Jesus tells us that the worst Satan can do, God can un-do! The victory belongs to the Lord and to all who belong to the Lord. The devil exists and the devil is at work in the world, yes. But we are called to join our Christ in fighting against the devil and the evil in this world, remembering that we fight on the winning side.

Martin Luther, in his great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” said the whole thing in a single line. Martin Luther, speaking of the devil, says: “One little word shall fell him.” My friends, that one little word is spelled

J-E-S-U-S.

 

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