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For clarity’s sake I’d like to prep you on how I worked my way through this week’s Gospel lesson and why… which will hopefully add insight to the Bible, Jesus’s somewhat bizarre words, our troubled and beautiful world… and as an added bonus – by the time I’m finished you’ll realize another skill to add to your resume.
I’m starting from the end of today’s reading, with the confounding statement by Jesus, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightening!” This is such a weird retort by Jesus as his joyful disciples return from successfully doing the work Jesus bid them to do. I mean, honestly, can’t they at least get an ‘atta boy’ or ‘atta girl?’ Is a pat on the back too much to ask? They did good.
So, first, suspending Biblical reasons why Jesus might say this (we’ll get to that in a bit), the original reason this statement captured my attention and curiosity is because much of the time I feel like Satan crash-landed into my backyard.
I mean, ‘fabulous’ that Satan isn’t taking up space in heaven, but I’m not so sure his fall from grace to earth is a good thing. I feel like heaven is better equipped to manage the evil forces that Satan wields than I am.
Looking around is seems evident that Satan has apparently taken up residency all over the place, not just my backyard. I’d be hard-pressed to find anyplace that isn’t crawling with Satan’s handiwork: brokenness, heartache, pain, sorrow, betrayal, disregard, greed, destruction…
So, maybe the disciples were casting out demons left and right, but Satan seems alive and well.
Before I go on, I should note that the term, and also the notion, of a being called ‘Satan’ can seem archaic and foreign. In this post-modern age, we dismiss the traditional horned, tailed, pointy-nosed being so often depicted in cartoons and storybooks. In fact, I struggle with even using the name/word ‘Satan’ when speaking, either in a sermon, a classroom setting, or in conversation, because of the way Satan is pigeonholed.
First, humans are intelligent, logical, and powerful beings. Satan, the cartoon character, doesn’t exist. Why would we continue to perpetuate a mythical creature, especially within the realm of religion, especially, when we take our religion seriously? So, within Protestant Christianity, we’ve largely abandoned the image so we’ve largely abandoned the language of ‘satan,’ for very valid reasons… and, by that, I don’t mean ‘not followed’, but rather ‘not addressed.’. And second, to take the being Satan seriously means taking a hard look at humanity. And frankly, doing that is just vexing and wearisome.
I am still working this out, but it seems to me that Satan is an objective projection of ourselves: the forces from within and from without of us combined into one entity which seeks to damage and destroy us.
Satan knows us intimately and uses the details of our lives and our secret insecurities to create rivalry and competition with each other, because of our dissatisfaction and rejection of our own selves. So, it’s probably more appropriate to say Satan is my bedmate, rather than saying he lives in my backyard.
Ironically, Satan only has the ability to talk his way into my bed
because he tells the truth.
And right now, even if you’ve hardly been paying attention, you should sit up and reflexively reject what I just said: No. You’re wrong. Satan DOESN’T tell the truth; he is deceitful and a liar and conniving. We learned that in 3rd grade Sunday school, Pastor Christine.
And you would be right.
But, so I am.
Satan’s power relies in the notion of truth.
As does God’s (but let’s deal with Satan’s ‘truth’ first).
So, I’m going to go slowly, because as I said, I’m still working this out in my head and because it’s a little bit of a complex problem.
Satan fell from heaven because what he espoused was and is hostile to the ways of heaven. Maybe he was kicked out or maybe he left on his own accord, because he knew he’d have a better shot at dominion here on earth. Who knows?
But regardless, the way Satan’s power leeches into earth is by
proliferating the human truth over and against God’s truth. Sort-of a cosmic
#fakenews approach. To take this to a more personal level, and to hopefully
bring this all down to earth, so to speak:
Satan reinforces the ‘truths’ that I believe about myself and others. Now, these ‘truths’ aren’t true from God’s perspective, but they ARE true from my perspective.
These can range from:
I’m going to fail anyway.
I’m stupid. (Stupid is a big one for me.)
They should’ve known better.
Why is this my problem?
It’s not fair.
Depending on one’s perspective all these examples are true, at least from a humanity’s viewpoint. And Satan, he’s smart; he uses the ‘truth’ and whispers them to us under the cover of dark. These lies are so compelling and have roots in our brokenness, and so we believe them to be true. You could probably add to that list the ‘sweet nothings’ Satan has hissed in your ears.
It’s why he’s so freely invited into bed. He tells me what I know about myself. And what I believe about others. There’s a type of intimacy there – having what you believe to be true validated. It’s a toxic relationship to be sure, because these ‘truths’ keep me bound and impotent… Which is exactly where Satan wants me.
Satan also has another little trick up his sleeve: Not only does Satan capitalize upon Truth, but also Accusation.
See, Satan knows that eventually I’m going to catch on to his charade, God’s truth will prevail in my heart, and I’ll become wise to his ways. It’s then that he does something absolutely cunning: he uses the actual truth to break me further.
Let me explain: One of the ways the Bible refers to Satan is by calling
him the Accuser, which is such an apt designation. See, the truths that Satan
accuses us with, for his own gain are these:
You are not upholding the image of a God who promises life and value to all.
You are not embracing the other and the vulnerable.
You are not using your gifts and abilities as God would have you.
And Satan’s right. His accusations are true. I don’t do all those
And Satan breaks my heart all over again.
And the cycle begins again…
Satan makes us question God’s truth, by using our very selves to diminish us. It’s ingenuous, really. How could God love someone like me; give His life for someone like me; use someone like me for good in the world; grant the Kingdom to someone like?
It’s unbelievable. Surely, I’ve failed enough at the things God would have me do that God’s written me off by now. Which would be a human truth. I certainly would’ve given up on me.
But this is not how God acts, loves, gives, or thinks.
God has written down my name. My name.
God has written down your name. Your name.
In His book of life.
Not to remind God of who I am. But to remind ME of whose I am.
God’s truth supersedes our truths. We cannot erase ourselves from God’s mind or heart. Nor can all the forces of this world, Satan, or all His empty ‘truths.’
So, back to the Gospel text…
We’ve got the disciples, who have gone out in pairs… I think they need to go out in pairs, so that when one starts to falter and question themselves (ie. When Satan starts whispering in their ear) the other is there to speak God’s truth to them again, to remind them whose they are, and bat those demons away. Anyway, they go out to share the God’s truth with the world. To tell people that God has their names written in his book of life. These are the most healing words in the whole reading!
And the disciples are amazed at what unselfish love does in the world and how desperately people need forgiveness and mercy graced upon their brows. They bless, bring peace, and heal by enacting and speaking God’s saving graces upon anyone who will listen.
And Satan flees from beds and demons surrender.
Because, to use a cliche: God’s Truth will conquer all, even Satan.
One thing with this Satan image/language:
Satan doesn’t just fall once. And that can mean: He doesn’t just arrive on earth once and then leave. And he isn’t defeated once and done. No. Satan is wily creature and doesn’t give up easily. I guess that’s why Jesus doesn’t give them that ‘atta boy and atta girl’ they deserve. It’s never-ending work batting the ‘demons’ away.
We only need look at our own lives to know that demons seek to rear their ugly heads, pounce upon our hearts, and sink their teeth into our flesh whenever the chance arises.
Which is why I need you. And you need me.
When you tell me God’s truth and you make Satan fall for me.
And I think that was Jesus’s actual point when he said,“I saw Satan fall like a flash of lightening from heaven.” The disciples were a new sign and new hope of the defeat of Satan.
And what’s sort-of cool is so are we!
Sort-of cool and sort-of scary.
Have you figured out your new resume skill: Modern-day Ghostbusters.
Thank goodness we don’t go it alone. Finally, I would like to lodge a request to Jesus for a pair of pointy, steel-toed boots to kick Satan’s tail out of bed, you know.. just as a backup. He takes up too much space and doesn’t share the covers. Amen.