Incognito Satan
Thursday of Pentecost 5
13 July 2017
Like Martin Luther a thousand years after him, Augustine had a lively sense of the demonic. In our time, we have relegated the demonic to the realm of fairy tales and disturbing movies. We think demons are merely personifications of bad behavior, not spiritual beings fallen from the corps of heavenly angels seeking the demise of the children of God. We think we can cast out that malign influence if we just make "good choices." And while we should encourage making good decisions in the realm of this world, our optimism about our ability to make those good decisions is horribly misplaced. It is especially shocking that despite centuries of experience to the contrary, we humans continue to think we can make life in the world work out just right by doing what we ought to do. In actual experience, "ought" seldom manufactures an "is." Even Christians struggle with this, as Paul testified, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing" (Rm 7:18-19). Our track record at defeating the malign influences of the satanic is not particularly good.
Perhaps part of the success of the prince of darkness in our western culture is his ability to carry out covert operations. If a lion escapes from a local zoo, upon seeing him, one might be disinclined to believe that there is a lion prowling the streets of our town. People who doubt Satan's existence are not particularly attuned to looking for him prowling about. This places him at an advantage. He's hidden in plain sight. While people today are skeptical of the reality of a being called Satan, they still have the deep intuition that there is something quite corrupted influencing their lives. This uneasiness about the evil they feel, but cannot, or dare not, name, often leads people to take up lifestyles dedicated to living in the influence of wickedness, even attempting an accommodation with evil, by deliberately seeking to flow along in the channel of life dug by Satan and his minions. For example, while people are certainly free to dress as if it is Halloween every day if they choose, they are often doing so to make an overt statement that they stand on the side of the malign. Like the child who considers himself a winner when he joins the team of a bully in the schoolyard, people attempt to propitiate the evil by joining in it. Though they cannot name him, he who prowls about will, without being named, devour them.
Christians are much more realistic (or should be) about the power of Satan's influence. We are rescued from the realm of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of the Son whom God loves, only through the decisive action of God in Christ (Col 1:13-14). We never avoid our prowling enemy if left to our own devices. Our heavenly Father has not left us to them, but has sent the Son, whom He loves, into our flesh to rescue us from Satan's dominion. That rescue is entirely His work, through the gracious assumption of our humanity. While we feel the corrupting influence of Satan all around and within, only Christ can rescue us from wickedness.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"It is by true piety that men of God cast out the hostile power of the air which opposes godliness. It is by exorcising it, not by propitiating it. They overcome all the temptations of the adversary by praying, not to him, but to their own God against him. For the devil cannot conquer or subdue any but those who are in league with sin. Therefore, he is conquered in the name of Him who assumed humanity, and that without sin, that Himself being both priest and sacrifice, He might bring about the remission of sins, that is to say, might bring it about through the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, by whom we are reconciled to God, the cleansing from sin being accomplished. For men are separated from God only by sins, from which we are in this life cleansed not by our own virtue, but by the divine compassion; through His indulgence, not through our own power. For, whatever virtue we call our own is itself bestowed upon us by His goodness. And we might attribute too much to ourselves while in the flesh, unless we lived in the receipt of pardon until we laid it down. This is the reason why there has been vouchsafed to us, through the mediator, this grace, that we who are polluted by sinful flesh should be cleansed by the likeness of sinful flesh. By this grace of God, by which He has shown His great compassion toward us, we are both governed by faith in this life, and, after this life, are led onward to the fullest perfection by the vision of unchangeable truth."

Augustine, The City of God, 10.22
1 Peter 5:1-11

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (ESV)
Lord Jesus Christ, You have taken our flesh from the clutches of Satan our enemy, that we might live peacefully in the kingdom You won by Your death and resurrection. Give us zeal to share the rescuing message of Christ with a person who has fallen into the ditch dug by our enemy, that we might continue Your work in the world. Amen.
For Susan Bomar, who is undergoing surgery on Friday, that the Lord her God would be with the surgeon and grant her full and complete healing

For the members of the Committee of Memorial Lutheran Church seeking a Director of Parish Music, that the Lord who gives the church her song would grant them wisdom and a measure of His Spirit in their labors
For Robert Bennett and the Luther Academy, that the work of encouraging confessional Lutheranism worldwide would go forward to the glory of God and the justification of sinners
For Ellen Brda, who has completed her treatment for cancer, that the Lord would grant her strength and continued healing
Art: Albrecht DURER,  The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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