3/9/2014 sermon: Responding to Mr. Crafty

Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11
First Sunday in Lent, Year A

Responding to Mr. Crafty

The serpent—the craftiest creature of all—could speak in today’s Old Testament lesson. Today I want to talk about Responding to Mr. Crafty, which is my name for the serpent.

And my, wasn’t that crafty snake clever? Yes sir—yes ma’am—that snake argued circles around that woman in the garden. And so that woman did what God had told her NOT to do, and then SHE became crafty, also.

And so the man ate, and the two of them discovered that they had crafted a real mess for themselves and their children and their children’s children, had crafted a real mess for US.

This mess isn’t OUR fault, you know. WE didn’t listen to the serpent—did we? WE didn’t eat the forbidden fruit—did we? All WE did was to inherit the mess that the serpent man and woman had made. Hah—crafty thinking!

WHY did God create that old serpent, anyway? What’s that, you say? You don’t think that GOD created Mr. Crafty? Well, if not God, WHO? No ma’am. No sir. God had to be the one. Who else was there? Who else could?

You know this. You just don’t LIKE things this way. You just don’t LIKE that God made the snake, or God allows the slimy belly-crawler to exist. What really drives us crazy, though, is that we can’t figure out WHY God would do such a thing.

Well, I’ve been to seminary. Read ALL the theories. Let me save us some time. The theories all boil down to this: We don’t know HOW. We don’t know WHY, except maybe to get free will we had to get the snake, too. To be able to CHOOSE God, there had to be a cosmic alternative. And the cosmic alternative to God is Mr. Crafty.

No, we don’t like the way our world is set up. We’d arrange things better if WE had gotten to create the universe. But we didn’t get to do that, at least not yet. And so the snake talks to us.

That snake is a real charmer. He twists things, she does. Turns them just so, and before we know what is happening, we believe up is down and down is up, and even that the snake doesn’t exist. Yes sir—yes ma’am—that snake can debate like a Harvard lawyer.

Just two chapters after today’s lesson from Romans, the apostle Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”[1] Paul blamed this on what he said was “the sin that lived within [him].”

snake_earCrafty snake! How did that one get INSIDE us?

In today’s epistle lesson Paul explains that sin—doing something other than what God would have us do—that sin came into the world through one person, then spread like a virus until all of creation was and is infected.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is a cure for this virus of sin. One person—Jesus of Nazareth—was somehow able to out argue the snake and to persevere over the whole crafty mess, and even over Mr. Crafty himself. We will find out how Jesus overcame Mr. Crafty at Easter. For now, though, fair warning: Jesus has defeated the serpent, but the serpent is not yet dead.

We know from our own experience that we still at times are overcome by the crafty lies, especially the logical and subtle ones. For example:

“If God is real and really active in my life,” some temptations begin, “then God surely will or will not (pick one) do this or that (fill in the blank).”

After a while of emulating Jesus though, of trying to be like Jesus, we begin to recognize this as a crafty opening. We try all our lives to fight the dregs of the virus that still lives within us and sometimes we can recognize the virus’ crafty opening arguments.

In our gospel lesson today, Jesus shows us how to be inoculated: Submit ourselves to the Great Healer. Jesus said, “Away with you [Mr. Crafty]!”[2] The man and woman in the garden could have overcome the serpent simply by saying, “No,” and we can use that response, also.

Jesus also inoculated himself with scripture. For instance, Jesus said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Isn’t this just another way of saying, “I recognize this line of reasoning as craftiness.” Being recognized, Crafty often slithers away to tempt us another day.

liesSo far I have talked about Mr. Crafty’s temptations of us as individuals. I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t tell you that the serpent has done the most damage in our world when he gets us to work together—in the name of God—against others. Examples?

  • The Jews were the ones responsible for killing Jesus-the-Christ, right? So
    we Christians can punish the Jews any way we see fit, in the Name of God.
    Bad News!
  • Oh, here’s one: The woman was the one who ate the apple, so we Christian men are superior to women in every way, right? Craftiness!
  • And, the Bible authorizes slavery, you know. Why, our Christian duty is to reprove those Godless heathens. Not gospel!

I’ve reminded you of these global outbreaks of craftiness from years past to remind us all that Mr. Crafty can quote scripture, too, and get whole groups of Christians to spread the virus of sin. Mr. Craft always carries a Bible, at least when he approaches us Christians. And that serpent knows the Bible better, even, than we do.

The serpent has updated his repertoire, though. Today the serpent says things like:
The Bible teaches us that if someone doesn’t work, they shouldn’t eat.” Here’s my response: “Jesus said, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’”[3] What’s your response?

The serpent says, “The Bible teaches us to ‘stand our ground’ against those who would threaten us.” Here’s my response: “Jesus says, ‘Do not resist evil’ and ‘Turn the other cheek.’”[4] What’s your response?

The serpent says, “You are richer than others because God loves you more than others.” My response: “Jesus said, ‘Sell your possessions and give to the poor.’”[5]

What is your response?


[1] Romans 7:15-20 (NRSV)

[2] Matthew 4:10 (may own translation)

[3] Matthew 25:35 (NRSV)

[4] Matthew 5:39 (NRSV); Luke 6:29 (NRSV)

[5] Luke 12:33 (NRSV)

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