Sunday, February 1, 2015


"There is no neutral ground in the universe.
Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan."
-- C. S. Lewis

   Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B  

On Thursday I went to the movies 
and saw, American Sniper.
(I’ll do my best not to give away too many details,
in case you plan to see it, too.)
The film—nominated for six Academy Awards—
tells the true story of Chris Kyle,
a U.S. Navy SEAL from Texas,
who serves four separate tours of duty in Iraq
during the height of the conflict there.
The movie provides quite a powerful depiction
of what our service men and women face 
when they go to war.
But one of the most affecting aspects of the movie
is that Chris Kyle finds himself fighting on two fronts:
one is the enemy that he can see—
the violent insurgency in Iraq;
the other is a hidden conflict…
...but one no less deadly.
All that time in battle, you see, takes a toll on Chris.
He’s wounded...but not by bullets or bombs.
As a legendary marksman,
he’s celebrated for all the lives he’s saved;
but he’s continually haunted
by all the guys we wasn’t able to save.
When he comes home to his wife and kids,
there’s a big part of Chris that stays off at war.
And that affects his personality, his character, and his marriage.
We see him, as they say, “wrestling with his demons.”

But I’d say that’s more than just an expression.

This Sunday’s gospel reminds us
of something we’d all prefer to forget:
we live in a war zone.
There are plenty of visible battles going on in the world,
but I’m talking about the one you can’t see with the naked eye.

You don’t have to read through the gospels very long
to notice just how many times Jesus is engaged
in hand-to-hand combat with the devil.
Whether it’s the Lord’s temptations in the desert
or the many times he’s casting out evil spirits,
it’s pretty clear: Jesus has come to take Satan out,
and both the battleground and the prize for the victor
are one and the same—the human soul.
The coming of the Son of God in human flesh
was an ingenious infiltration behind enemy lines,
and now the powers of hell are all stirred up
like when one kicks a hornet's nest.
Jesus, of course, has completely vanquished evil
by his suffering, death, and resurrection…
…but the devil seems to have an awfully hard time
admitting his defeat.

While they were pretty clear to his wife
and the doctors at the VA clinic,
Chris Kyle couldn’t find healing from his hidden battle scars
until he knew for himself that he’d been wounded;
he couldn’t fight an enemy he didn’t even recognize.
Likewise, the devil’s most cunning trick
is to get us to think he doesn’t really exist.
In our modern, supposedly “enlightened” age,
we write off any talk of the evil one
as a myth—a “boogey man”—
invented in a less sophisticated time
to explain things science hadn't yet explained
and to help keep people in line.
But we buy into that lie to our great detriment.

When you’re trying to do some good work,
have you ever noticed
how one obstacle or distraction after another
crops up to throw you off track?
Or when you’ve set aside time to pray or read the Bible,
that that’s right when you get a headache or can’t clear your mind?
Have you always assumed that's just a coincidence?
Have you ever given any thought to what really lies behind
all the acts of terrorism in the world today?
What if there’s a whole lot more going on
behind the scenes in our lives—on a spiritual level—
than we usually stop to realize?

Now, I don’t bring this up to get people scared.
We have no reason to fear the devil.
As I’ve already said: Christ has conquered him.
The authority of Jesus,
which once so astounded the crowded synagogue in Capernaum,
he has passed on to his body, the Church.
If we stick with Jesus, we’ve got more than the upper hand.
There’s no need to be afraid!
Yet neither can we use Satan 
as a handy excuse for our bad behavior.
While he can tempt and taunt us,
we’re still fully responsible for our own actions.
But we’re all going to be better armed
to play our part in this ongoing battle
and avoid any traps that have been set in our paths
if we recognize the wily tactics of our opponent.

A crucial thing to remember
is that the devil is always trying to divide us.
(In fact, the Greek word that gives us that name, “the devil,”
literally means, “the scatterer.”)
God is perfect unity—a Trinity of divine Persons in one God—
and continually working to bring the many into one,
both with each other and with him.
But while the Holy Spirit’s mission is to bind us closer together,
evil spirits look for ways to pull us apart—
whether it’s a marriage, a parish, or a country.
We can even see that happening within ourselves:
feeling scattered; our lives getting out of order;
our mind fighting against our will,
or our passions against each other.
As the old saying goes: “United we stand; divided, we fall.”
If you want a dependable litmus test
for what’s happening uncover in any given situation,
just ask yourself,
“Is this serving to bring people together or tear them apart?”
Division is a clear sign of the devil’s hidden handiwork.

We fight plenty of battles in this world,
but the most critical of them all is one we quite often fail to see.
And so it was with good reason
that, when the Lord taught us to pray,
he concluded with, “deliver us from evil.”

God our Father,
source of all authority in heaven and on earth,
help us to firmly believe that your Son
has forever conquered the enemy of our souls.
Strengthen us to resist every evil
with Jesus at our side.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Fantastic! Thank you so much for sharing your sermons with us.