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Seventh Sunday after Trinity óJuly 26, 1998
The Rev. Dr. L. R. TarsitanoóSaint Andrew's Church, Savannah
"Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience to righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you."  
                                                                                             (Romans 6:16-17) 

In classic Christian theology, the devilís statement of self-condemnation is called his "non serviam," the Latin for "I will not serve." It was this refusal to serve the Living God that separated Lucifer, "the bearer of light," from all light and from life itself. It transformed him from an angel of light into an angel of death, since only God is the source of life and light, and apart from him all that the devil can be or bear to anyone is the opposite of life and light. 

The devil, of course, is not a god, not even with a small "g." He is just a creature of the One True God, albeit in rebellion against him. He is not a "god of death," ruling over an independent realm of his own like the pagan Greek Hades. He is, as the prophets called him, Beelzebub, the "lord of the flies." And his realm can be compared, as our Lord Jesus Christ did when he called it "Gehenna," to the Jerusalem garbage dump. The not very subtle message of these names is that the devil rules over Hell, the dumping ground for those who have repeated with him "I will not serve," in the same manner that flies have their way with garbage. 

Our Lord and the Prophets were always careful not to make too much of Satan, whose name means "the adversary" or "the one who speaks against." Even this name, overblown by foolish people who find something "heroic" in a hopeless rebellion against God, is a name of defeat, whether in Hebrew, or in the Greek translation "diabolos," or in the English word "devil," which is derived from the Greek. 

To speak against God is a waste of time, since the Living Word of God, become incarnate as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is God himself and no creature. The Word of God will always prevail over the words of every creature, including the lying words of the Adversary, as the cross, the resurrection, and the giving of the Gospel have proved forever, beyond a shadow of doubt. Thus, Satan has lies, but no truth. He can deny God, but he cannot be God. 

Furthermore, to be the Adversary of those whom God has called to life with him and offered his love is also simply a waste of time and energy. God the Holy Ghost, who is called in Greek "the Paraclete" and in English "the Comforter," meaning "one who stands by another and gives him strength," stands indeed with those chosen for life by God the Father, against every opponent and adversary. The devil can claim for himself only the emptiness of opposition, and he cannot succeed against the Holy Ghost. Again, the devilís name reveals his entire life as just a reaction against Godís infinite advocacy of those he loves, and not something that has power or reality in and of itself. 

Satan is quite real, however, and even as a fallen angel he is quite powerful in comparison to an ordinary human being. But he is not more powerful than God, or more powerful than a human being who has communion with God, who has the Word of God, who has the Comforter to strengthen him. And the devilís weapons, such as sin, evil, darkness, and death are not real things at all, but only the absence of real things. They are the absence or the rejection of grace, obedience, light, and life. If we do not join the devil in rejecting these gifts of God, the absence of them cannot harm us. 

Clinging to the gifts of God, however, can be more difficult than it sounds, as the cross of Jesus Christ must remind us. Emptiness does have power. A vacuum is an emptiness, an absence of air, and it is the vacuum created by a vacuum cleaner that sucks up all the dirt, along with anything else that isnít attached to something stronger than the vacuum. If we are not attached to God, the emptiness of the devil can easily suck us up, and we can find ourselves in Satanís kingdom of the flies and garbage. 

Satan entered the Garden of Eden, not so much to conquer Adam and Eve, as to disconnect them from the strength of God by getting them to say, "I will not serve." Once they had said it, once they had surrendered to him without a fight, they made themselves and all their children capable of being ruled by emptiness, and that emptiness is what we call "original sin." 

Adam and Eve made themselves and their children, including us, the slaves of emptiness. We begin our lives with this weakness, unattached to the goodness of God. And every time we say "I will not serve," even in the least matter of the Commandments and the Gospel, we make ourselves more and more like the dirt that rightfully belongs to the emptiness and in the trash heap. 

It was to reattach us to God the Father by grace and life and light that Jesus Christ came into the world. He needed nothing from the world, since he is God the Son; but we needed him. We needed him to fill our emptiness with good, to replace our disobedience with obedience, to belong in heaven and not with the garbage. Jesus Christ did this for us, by dying on the cross in our place in obedience to his Father, so that now his obedience is our own. He gave us the "good news" of the Gospel, where Satan could only give us the bad news of sin and death. He washed away our dirt with his own Blood and with the sacrament of water. He filled our emptiness with an eternal communion in his Body and Blood. 

We must remember all this in order to understand what St. Paul told us this morning. We are the servants, literally "the slaves," of whatever we serve. Whatever master we choose, now that our wills have been freed by Jesus Christ, who had to choose us first, we can only receive whatever that master is able to give us. If we choose Satan as our master, sin, death, and the garbage dump are all that we can expect to receive. If we choose Jesus Christ as our Master, then the Word of God, the light of God, the Spirit of God, and the life of God are what we will receive from him. 

But every time we say "I will not serve," which is what the devil wants us to say, we choose the garbage dump and the Lord of the flies over Jesus Christ. The emptiness that once ruled us, before Christ called us, inclines us to return to emptiness. It is only the grace of God, the living power of Godís love, that holds us back when we stand firm in Christ or calls us back by repentance when we have foolishly returned to our slavery to sin. 

This infinite and all-powerful grace is the reason why St. Paul can say, "God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but [now] ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine that was delivered you." Godís grace is so great that it will not permit a heart that truly belongs to God, a heart that rejoices in his goodness and that is truly broken with sorrow because of sin, to be lost. Satan will not prevail against it or drag it back into the emptiness. 

But that "form of doctrine" that Christ has delivered to us is very important. In the Greek it is the "form" of a coin that is stamped out according to a pattern. In our lives, it is the imprint of Christís own life and his Gospel on our lives. A coin does not select its shape or value. These come from the coin maker. The same is true of us, if we belong to Christ. He has shown us our value on the cross, and he has shown us what we are to look like and to be like by his own example of living. He has given us a book, the Bible, to teach us the pattern of life in his kingdom. 

So we can be something, the image of Christ and the companions of God, if Jesus Christ is truly our Lord and Master. Or we can be nothing, and the slaves of the Lord of the flies. The difference is in saying, "I will serve the Living God" or "I will not serve." We must say one or the other, and we say it every day by the choice of the master we serve and follow. 
 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.