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We laugh at the tale of the spider and the fly! Even the meter and the rhyming scheme brings levity to the battle between the evil counselor and the weaker fly. In the end, levity ends.
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes and green and purple hue, thinking only of her crested head, poor foolish thing! Knowing full well the danger of the den, she can't help herself, she comes back again. Ever act so foolishly as did the fly? Well, so have I.
The lesson here? Beware of the voice of the evil counselor who uses flattery and deception to reel in another unwitting victim. And in the ancient story of the Fall, recorded in Genesis Chapter three, we hear the voice of another cunning evil counselor, using the weapons of doubt, denial and deceit to bring down Adam and Eve. The serpent was more subtle than any other creature. He raised doubt in the Word of God: Did God say, "You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?" Denial and deceit comes next from the tempter; he focuses on the marrow of the tussle. He says, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God..." and Eve saw the tree was a delight and would make her wise, and she and Adam took and ate of its fruits. GOTCHA! We know the rest of the story. The repercussions of that rebellion against God we all experience each and every day! Temptation and Fall! Adam and Eve now hear God walking in the garden and they run and hide. They are afraid of God. Their relationship with God is damaged. They feel ashamed and naked. Their relationship with themselves is damaged. When God asks what happened, the man says, "She made me do it," and Eve blames it on the serpent. Blaming betrays the relationship between Adam and Eve and the relationship is also damaged. In the end, even creation itself is spoiled because of their sin, as God says, "Cursed be the ground because of you."
The final result of sin is that Adam and Eve will die. But before the ancient story closes we do find a promise of hope. God addresses the tempter, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed, he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel." This promise of a death blow to the evil one, as we hear in Paul's letter to the Romans, comes to fulfillment in Jesus, the Christ. He tells us, "Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men." There is the hope when we look into the world and see so much evil. There is the hope when we look into our own hearts and see the same dark side of our personalities. The hope to overcome temptation, to stand firm against the evil one, is the power of the cross and resurrection of our Lord. In the cross and resurrection we experience victory! In Christ alone there is forgiveness and new life, even for us as we consider ourselves dead to sin, we are alive to God in Christ Jesus.
The dramatic reversal of the power of evil in our lives is witnessed in the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness recorded in Matthew 4:1-11. As soon as our Lord is baptized, he is led out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He has come to do battle for us. The threefold victory of Jesus over Satan is but a hint of the final defeat that comes through the cross on Calvary.
Today we are faced with the Biblical challenge to face up to our dark side, to our weaknesses, our soft spots. Take time to examine your lives, to acknowledge weakness! We are tempted to take the easy road, at the expense of others, to take the low road at the expense of our Godly virtues! Turn to the only one who came to give strength in the midst of temptation. Turn to Christ! Be empowered by Christ!
That is the miracle of the Gospel! No! We are not doomed to repeat the same old mistakes, the same old personal history of yesterday and the day before! I can stand firm. I can say no to evil and yes to Goodness! I stand firm because Christ has made me his own.
We remember Paul's words of encouragement to the believers in Ephesus, when he says: "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." So, he says we are contending with the powers of darkness! How do we fight against the evil in our own hearts, with our own dark side? Again the answer is the Living Lord, the same Lord that did battle with the evil one in the wilderness and was victorious, and who died on the cross for you and for me. Look to Him, the risen Lord, for strength in the midst of temptation! And when you stumble and fall, ask for Him to reach down and pick you up so you can begin again. That is the power of the Gospel. In Christ there is victory.
One of the most compelling stories of Nathaniel Hawthorn is called "Young Goodman Brown," the story of a young preacher from Salem Village who has an eerie meeting with the devil himself. Deep in the darkness of the forest the devil appears and he says, "Lo, there we stand, my children, depending upon one another's hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue was not all a dream. No you are undeceived. Evil is the nature of humankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome again, my children to the communion of your race." You are doomed, you belong to me.
This encounter with the evil within the human heart, Hawthorn describes, had such an impact on the young preacher that "a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative man, a distrustful, if not desperate man did he become" from that night's meeting.
So we face up to the dark side of our human hearts, to our weakness when tested. And what's our reaction? How are we changed? Do we too face the rest of our lives with sadness, distrust and desperation? Thank God I am not Goodman Brown! Nor are you. In the face of temptation, and our weakness, we can still face the future with trust and hope, and even joy as we look with anticipation for our day and our week to unfold. I do so in faith, faith in a loving Lord, the same Lord who defeated the tempter in the desert. I am not alone. Yes, we hear in the Epistle of John, "He who is in me is indeed greater than he who is in the world." The Spirit of the Lord is in me and in you. Take heart in that. It is one thing to be honest about our weaknesses, and another to be held captive by them. Again, freedom comes from Christ. As we hear in Newton's hymn of faith: "Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come, tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home."
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