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The Last Sunday after Epiphany; Matthew 17:1-9

It happened to me again this past week, for about the 5th time. I found a message similar to those recorded by C.S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters. Lewis claimed that the methods for intercepting letters between his two demons, Screwtape and Wormwood, were simple, but not for the squeamish. Herbert O’Driscoll has also come across similar correspondence, and claims it is not technique, but accident, and a certain openness of mind or disposition. Unlike Lewis however, who appears to have deliberately intercepted hellish snail-mail, and O’Driscoll, who got them on his fax, I once in a while find demonic messages by accident, on the Internet, usually when I’m struggling to come up with a sermon.

This time it seems to have started on IMDb, Internet Movie Database, another one of the great ways to waste time! I was looking up a movie that June and I had watched, and as often happens, followed a sequence of links and found myself looking at the listing for the 1998 movie City of Angels. I don’t remember it as a great movie, although from its (present) listing on IMDb, it seems it was a great chick-flick! (But from my memory, for a start, I’m not sure which required the greater mental stretch – Nicholas Cage as an angel, or Meg Ryan as a thoracic surgeon.) But the underlying plot theme, that there are hundreds of thousands of angels, invisible but all around us, involved in our lives, strengthening and supporting us when needed, struck me as the heavenly opposite to the Screwtape Letters, with their hellish demons and devils all around us, tempting us and leading us astray. With all that in rattling about in my mind I started to work on preparing this sermon, by looking at he Lessons for this day.

A yes, Transfiguration again, I thought, how do say something new about that? Maybe I should just look up some of the theology around that, and so I began following links, looking at blogs, reading the thoughts of other on that event in the life of Jesus, and the disciples.

That’s when I noticed a link that stood out; being as it was a picture of an old mailbox surrounded by faintly visible flames with the name “HELL” on it in glowing letters. Lovely! Great visual effect, I thought, as I clicked on it. (Like, what could possibly go wrong.) That’s when my speakers started making low moaning noises, like someone in great pain. Interesting! Autoplay sound effects. Then, whoa, why was I suddenly smelling burning sulphur? Computer smells have not yet been invented, and in any case, while I have a very high end computer, it doesn’t have a (currently not invented yet) smell card!

I seemed to have stumbled upon a demonic email box! At the very top was a bright red, flaming banner announcing:

For Demonic Use Only: Please note that the C.S. Lewis Estate owns copyright to the demonic names “Screwtape” and “Wormwood” and others as may have been used in the books and writings of C.S. Lewis; even if those are your names, use pseudonyms, as the lawyers for the Estate of C.S. Lewis have threatened to sue even Hell.

Below that was only one email with the Subject line: “The Transfiguration: An Opportunity for Damnation!” With a certain horrid fascination, I clicked on the email, and started to read.

To: My Dearest Demonic Nephew, Snakeiron

From: Your Affectionately Fiendish Uncle, Nailstring

Your last message worries me! You appear obsessed with persuading your clients to abandon their spiritual life, and to persuade those of them that still go to church to stop doing so. In doing this, you are only partially correct and limiting your opportunities; certainly those with no spiritual life and those with no church connection are much more likely to fall into the power of our fiendish master, the Devil, but you appear blind to the opportunities for damnation that those seeking spiritual experiences and those solidly attached to their church give us. It’s all very well to try to persuade your clients that spirituality is not far from primitive superstition, and that church is not relevant to a truly modern and educated person, but still, most are not so persuaded! They are Church-goers, after all! So you have to find opportunities to seduce for our fiendish master even those who seek spiritually, and those who worship in churches. And, luckily for us, there are many opportunities to be found!

May I recommend to you to study the Transfiguration! Oh, yes, I know it is an episode in the life of the Son of our Enemy, the One who made the ultimate defeat of our fiendish Master possible. But, like so much in the life of Christ (ughh! that Name), like so much in that life, it is two-valued – it points toward salvation at the same time as it points toward damnation – it shows us not only our defeat, but also the way to harvest some of these Christians for our hellish Master!

The Transfiguration – the last of the signs in that season of signs that the Christians call Epiphany. It starts with the visit of those strange people called the Magi, recognizing a new-born babe as King of the Jews. It continues with signs and wonders; if your clients pay attention for the long three years it takes the church to read through all the Epiphany stories: water is turned to wine, the sick are healed, the poor and the prisoners are comforted, the Sermon on the Mount is preached. Worse, demons, demons(!) are driven out! In some years of the church year, even the dead are raised! And, lest after all these signs and wonders there still be any doubt about who Jesus is, at the end of all this comes the Transfiguration!

Jesus and three of his friends go up on a high mountain. There he is transfigured, illuminated, made luminescent! And Moses and Elijah appear to do him homage! Could it be any more clear than that? But, just in case they still don’t get it, just in case they still don’t understand, there is the voice of our Enemy, right out of Heaven – “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” It looks like the ultimate defeat of our Master of Hell; why would anyone not believe after this?

Ah, but within this story, the very story which reveals that Jesus is indeed the Messiah and Son of God, is our opportunity. Remember, it was Peter, the Peter whom the Enemy chose to be the Rock on which he would build his Church, it was Peter who wanted to build dwellings on the mountaintop, to trap, to capture Jesus, Moses, Elijah; and keep them there so he could enjoy them for ever. It was Peter who wanted to remain on the mountaintop, to keep the spiritual high, and not return to the valley, the world of struggle, pain, defeat, and, if you keep reading in the stories of Jesus, death on a cross, repugnant to these humans – but a death which is potentially the ultimate defeat of our Master, the Devil!

My dear Snakeiron, learn from this story! You may think it is our defeat; after all, it shows that Jesus indeed is Lord. But it also shows that it is futile to live on a spiritual mountaintop. Keep your clients searching for new experiences, for ever more spiritual highs! Never, never, ever, let them get the idea that their mountaintop experiences, the spiritual experiences which invigorate them, have consequences down in the spiritual valleys. Don’t ever let the thought enter their minds that, because they have been saved by the death of Christ, they ought to live out the teachings of Christ! Keep their spiritual lives separate from what they do in the world; let them intellectually confess that Jesus is Lord, but never ever let them think of the consequences of that confession, and they are ours!

Oh, my dear Snakeiron, I almost forget the church-goers. You worry about them, but here too we have great opportunities. You, and I, know that worship is about giving them the strength to serve our Enemy in the world. Worship is the greatest tool our enemy has for doing his will in the world. It is in worship that these humans hear the word of our Enemy, it is in worship that they hear of his love for them, it is in worship that they are strengthened to do the Enemy’s work in the world.

And yet, many of them, a wonderfully large number of them, think that worship is about them! They come because they get “something” out of it! They will come only as long as worship gives them what they want! They think that worship is only worth coming to if they leave feeling better than when they came. They will only come to worship if it is in language that they like, or with the music that they enjoy! They forget that worship exists only to honour (to give worth-ship to) our Enemy, God; never and not to satisfy them! Ah, dear Snakeiron, if only you can keep them thinking like that!

Snakeiron, as you work with your clients, keep them firmly focussed on the mountaintop, on the glorious transfigured Jesus, on the glorious life, on their own needs for spiritual highs! Never, never, if you want to win them for our infernal Master, never let them see the valley as attractive; the slogging, labouring life of servanthood, the boredom of faithfulness to their baptismal call; nothing exciting and often nothing important, never ever let them realize that is the life of faith! If you can just keep them looking to fulfill themselves and their own needs, keep them focussed on their spiritual highs, they are ours.

Let me give you some more concrete suggestions ….

As has so often has happened with these experiences, at this point my computer crashed in a blue screen of death.

Oh yes, I re-booted, but, try as I might, I could not find that mailbox, or that message, again.

Only, one more odd thing happened. (And if you have even the slightest doubt that the Screwtape – sorry, Nailstring – letter story is true – I really don’t know why you should doubt me – this really did happen!)

I have a tab in my browser that shows “The Quotations Page” which shows random quotations whenever you click on it. When I gave up trying to find the message from Nailstring to Snakeiron, to find out the rest of their devilish plan, I clicked on it and read:

The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery it involves.1

To which I can only say,


1     Logan Pearsall Smith

Copyright ©2020 by Gerry Mueller