Note: The following sermon was delivered September 4, 2016, at the Virginia Scottish Games Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans Service.
I recently wrote this poem, and with where I am in my life right now, it resonated. It’s a bit dark, so forgive me in advance, but it’ll make sense in a minute.
I’m the dark cloud
That causes the rain,
The weight on your shoulders,
Your worst life investment,
All loss and no gain,
And I own you …
I’ve convinced you you’re mine
And made you believe
That joy is not yours;
It’s your lot to grieve,
I’ve driven you hard
Without a reprieve,
And I’ve shown you …
Life would be hellish
Beyond my embrace,
You focus on nothing
Except for my face,
I keep you in line,
Put you in your place,
And I’ve grown you …
To wrap your roots ‘round me
With vice-like conviction,
Your heart’s one desire,
Your great predilection,
I hate you … you love me …
‘Cause I’m your addiction.
And I own you.
© Kenneth L. Ervin, II
Addictions. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some you can inject. Others you ingest. Still others are found within us. I want to consider a contrast of two of Jesus’ disciples today.
Matthew 9:9 tells us that Jesus “saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.” Seems straightforward, but remember, Matthew was a tax collector. These men were seen as traitors who sided with the Roman government. They were shunned by society and especially their families. Basically disowned, in a sense. And they were excluded from the temple, so good luck atoning for your sins.
But hey, they had the one thing they wanted: Money. They could, by law, overcharge you for taxes and keep the difference — and they did. So a tax collector was a greedy, state-sponsored thief. But Jesus offered Matthew something more: Redemption. When a rabbi said, “Follow me,” it was an invitation to schooling … to learning … to becoming what every little Jewish boy wanted. It was also, in a way, an invitation to power, because the Pharisees basically ran Jewish life with their little laws and rules. So, while Matthew may have initially thought he was trading money for power, we do see that he came to understand Jesus’ ministry and laid down his greed to follow Christ. Through personal teaching, Jesus broke Matthew’s addiction.
As an aside, Jesus did the same thing for Zacchaeus, another tax collector. Through a personal encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus’ chains of greed were also broken, and he repaid those from whom he’d stolen. It was a 180 degree turnaround.
Now let’s now consider Judas. Judas Iscariot is a nondescript, everyday disciple. We don’t really hear about him till Jesus calls him to be one of the 12 apostles. But Jesus makes him the treasurer. And we find out that Mr. Treasurer is also Mr. Sticky Fingers. John 12:5-6 says, “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
Greed. It’s a hole in your heart; the more you fill it, the deeper it gets. It is as unquenchable as the very fires of Hell. Jesus knew Judas well. And he called him a devil. We all know Judas betrayed Jesus for chump change. Just 30 pieces of silver. The price prescribed in Exodus 21:32 to cover the accidental death of a slave. Now, Matthew writes in the Gospel he wrote, in chapter 12, verses 31 and 32, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people … And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven.”
Judas betrayed Jesus. However, Judas could have been forgiven. He could have been set free from his sin and from his greed. Matthew, who records those words of Jesus, knows it full well. Instead, Judas killed himself in a fit of grief.
Like Matthew, like Judas, every man … every woman … has a battle. The Apostle Paul tells us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Satan hates God. And, by extension, Satan hates us, because we were created in the image of God, Who “so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Satan, the old snake, will do whatever he can to keep us from eternal life.
But he can’t do it without keeping us from God. And he fights hard to do it. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In the Garden of Eden, God was man’s first love. But he sinned and effectively kicked God out of his heart, and sin has been our first love — or, rather, our self-love — ever since.
I’ve heard it put this way: Through that sin connection, Satan ruled and sat on the throne of our hearts. But when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, Satan is dethroned and cast outside the gates. But Satan isn’t dead, and continues to do everything he can to regain the throne of our hearts.
As a man, I prefer to think of Satan as an old lover. I’ve made my choice now. And I’ve chosen Christ. I’ve broken up with that old liar, the Devil, because I know that Christ is the real deal. And yet … Satan cries mournfully, reminding me of the good old days. How much fun we had. … Calling me back to my old ways … Or presenting me with new ones. Constantly trying to tear down my true love — comparing himself to Christ and claiming to be better … stronger … more fun at parties.
He’ll tell you that you deserve more. Or that you deserve better. Why? Because you’re special. You deserve better, because you are better. And don’t worry about any negative repercussions or consequences. Those only happen to lesser men. Idiots who don’t quite have the grasp on things that you do. (“Go ahead. Gun it. You can beat the train.”)
Every scheme … every tool of the Enemy … is built on the twin pillars of pride and arrogance. It’s particularly insidious, because Satan does everything to tear God down by tearing down the image of God — you and me. In Genesis 3, the snake says to Eve, “Did God actually say …?” And again, “You will not surely die.” Essentially, Eve is being told she’s a fool because God’s a liar, and she should have known better. She eats the apple, gives it to Adam, who also eats, and they discover that God was not lying. But you see, right? Satan tears down the image of God and tears God down in the process.
And so it has been for ages. Greed: I’m worth it, so I should have it. If God won’t give it to me, I’ll find another way. Lust: Women — who God originally created as equal coworkers with man — are seen through warped lenses of broken sexuality as only good for one thing. Gluttony: Eating more than you should simply because you can, while somewhere in the same city a family goes without dinner for lack of funds. And it doesn’t expressly have to be one of the seven deadlies. Maybe you’re a stress eater like me, and it’s the only thing that makes you feel better. Or maybe you look in the mirror at the person who was created in the image of God, and find a boiling hatred within because your sight is skewed and the image is somehow abhorrent to you. And if something is wrong or skewed or shattered or ugly with you … the image of God … what does that say about God Himself?
The first several were sins. The latter few were symptoms of deep pain. My point is, whatever … or whomever … Satan can use to keep us under his thumb and away from God, he’ll use. It’ll be something we don’t think we can change. It’ll be something we don’t think we can give up. It’ll be something we’re sure we can’t live without.
It’ll be something that seems like a part of us. But it won’t be. Not really. It’ll be the Enemy’s thumb in our backs. The chain around our necks.
It will be … our addiction.
Now, if that were the end of the homily, wouldn’t that be horrible? Dark and devoid of any hope. But remember, we serve a God Who breaks chains … Who frees us from addictions. But like any addict, we have to want that freedom. So … Matthew or Judas? Who will we be? One man let God break his addictions. The other let his addictions break him.
Folks, Satan only has to distract us long enough to see us to the grave, when it’s too late. I urge you to join me today in asking God to search our hearts … to examine us daily … to make sure we’re not dragged into hell by the very chains we wouldn’t allow the Lord to break.