Sunday, March 19, 2017

Oculi - The Third Sunday In Lent (Lent 3)

Luke 11:14-28; Ephesians 5:1-9; Exodus 8:16-24

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Peter says that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” He roars because he has been defeated in Jesus’ death upon the cross. There, the devil wounded Jesus’ heal, but Jesus crushed the devil’s head. Satan has been defeated, but as a wounded animal is more dangerous than a healthy one, so Satan’s wrath burns furiously hot against you, God’s children. Satan hates you and wants to destroy you simply because God loved you so much that He sent His only-begotten Son to die for you to set you free from sin, death, and Satan’s claim upon your life.
The war is real. Don’t kid yourself that it is not. Jesus says that “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” There is no fence-straddling when it comes to God and Satan. You cannot keep one foot in heaven and one foot on the earth. To do so is to stand with both feet in hell. The First Commandment is that you shall have no other Gods. Simply put, God will not share you with another god, with Satan. You are either His through faith in Jesus, His Word made flesh, or you belong to the devil. In the Revelation, the glorified Christ says that He would have you be either hot or cold; that is to say, be honest with yourself and confess Him as Lord, or deny Him in unbelief. But, Jesus continues saying that, “because you are lukewarm, I spit you out of My mouth.” Who do you say that Jesus is? That is the question. And, corresponding to your answer to that question, how then will you live your life? You see, you cannot claim to belong to Christ and continue in your sinful ways unabated. Don’t hear me wrong, you will at times stumble, succumb to temptation, and sin, but you must repent and strive to amend your sinful ways. That means, you cannot willfully and intentionally continue in your sinful ways, but you must repent, be absolved, and pray and strive to sin no more. You must change. You must be changed. As Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “[I do not] condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
When you were baptized, Satan was exorcised from the house of your body and soul by the Finger of God, which is the Holy Spirit, through the Word of the LORD and the washing of water. You were set free from captivity to sin, death, and the devil, passing through the waters of death, born into new life, even as the children of Israel were baptized in the killing and cleansing waters of the Red Sea and emerged safe and new on the other side, as Satanic Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in that killing, cleansing, and purifying flood. However, “When an unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’. And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” That is to say, your body and soul cannot remain a neutral ground. There is no neutral ground in spiritual warfare. “Whoever is not with Me is against me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to get us to believe that he doesn’t exist. Truly, Christians today have drunk the societal / cultural Kool-Aid of materialism, evolutionary theory, and post-modern relativism. Along with the culture, Christians embrace as the highest values equality, freedom, and tolerance – higher than truth, goodness, and morality. Christians get divorced at nearly the same rate as unbelievers. Christians raise up their children and educate them, above all else, to get a good job and make a lot of money so that they can live in comfort and security and possess nice things, rather than to fear God, obey His commandments, marry, have children, and train them up in the fear of the LORD. In truth, God’s good gifts of marriage and family are all but despised. Marriage is put off until after careers are established, as late as is possible, if at all, and children are an inconvenience, even a curse. It seems that church attendance, for many, is for when you feel that you need it, and its value is judged by what you feel that you get out of it rather than what the LORD has promised you that He is doing for you through His Word and Sacraments. Christians seemingly live alternate lives on social media – at least I pray that they are alternate lives! They share near pornographic images, make lewd comments, change their profile pictures to rainbow flags, promote abortion, often claiming to do so in the Name of Christ. And, while they seldom take time to read God’s Word, to attend a Bible Study, or to pray, they regularly listen to and read the works of false teachers like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, the Dalai Lama, and a host of others. Popular novels and movies filled with godless values and the celebration of sinful behaviors are greedily consumed, while there is no interest or patience for an hour and a half to receive the true and Living Word of God and His Sacraments on a Sunday morning.
Truly, the greatest temptation Christians face today is to live as if the devil isn’t real, to live as if our sins do not matter, to tell ourselves that we are good enough, to base our confidence for our salvation upon how we feel, to buy into the lie that this material world in which we live evolved by chance, that all things continue on as the ever have, that God is an antiquated idea that served a useful purpose long ago, but has now gone the way of the dinosaur, and to continue to hold on to such belief is ignorant, foolish, and superstitious at best, and bigoted, racist, and hateful at worst. Therefore a Christian must examine himself in the mirror of God’s Law and Commandments. Do I live in gross idolatry, placing my fear, love, and trust in created things above and before the LORD my God? Do I curse, swear, lie, and deceive by the Name of the LORD, taking it in vain? Have I despised prayer, God’s Word, and His Ministry? Have I despised my parents and those God has placed in authority over me, despising government and the order the LORD has established? Have I hated my enemy, been cruel towards my neighbor and my brother, have I been vindictive, jealous, and unforgiving? Have I been lustful in my heart and with my mind and with my eyes? Have I harbored unchaste and impure thoughts, spoken vulgarities and profanities, and indulged in gluttony and drunkenness? Have I deceitfully attempted to defraud another or to steal from another by wasting time for which I am paid, borrowing without paying back, or taking what does not belong to me? Have I lied about and slandered others, defaming them and harming their name and reputation by gossip and backbiting? And, have I used underhanded and deceitful means to obtain what my neighbor has, or to prevent him from keeping what belongs to him?
The Christian faith and life is a renunciation of the world, the flesh, and its passions and desires – “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” Thus, the ancient rite of Holy Baptism always contained an exorcism, “Be gone thou unclean spirit and make way for the Holy Spirit,” and a three-fold renunciation of the devil, his works, and his ways. Baptismal candidates literally turned their backs to the west, symbolic of the devil, and faced the east, the symbolic direction of Christ’s return on the Last Day. But, more than that, Holy Baptism marked not merely a spiritual renunciation of Satan and sin and evil, but it marked a change of life. “For at one time you were…,” says St. Paul, “but now you are…,” he concludes. For the early Christians, such a renunciation of their former life often meant rejection by their families, ostracization from their society, and persecution by the upholders of pagan religion and the governmental cult of Caesar. Christians could expect to lose everything of worldly value, even their freedom, welfare, and lives. However, today, what is the price that you pay for your faith in Christ? What comforts and pleasures do you renounce and leave behind? What do others see when they look at your actions, hear when you speak, and conclude that you believe by how you live your life? Jesus says “they will know that you are My disciples when you have love one another.” So, do they know?
When you were baptized, the Holy Spirit drove Satan from your body and soul and set you free from slavery to sin and death. You were a tomb and a prison, but now you are the temple of God. The Holy Spirit must abide in you, or you will become host once again to the devil and his demons. There is no neutral, middle ground – “He who is not with Me is against Me, and the one who does not gather with Me scatters.” Again, St. Peter describes Satan as a “roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” He will not give you up willingly, but relentlessly pursues you and tempts you and deceives you that he might overcome you and destroy you. Therefore you must be on guard, be vigilant and sober, watching at all times. Take care, then, how you live, the pleasures you partake of, the sinful desires that creep up within your heart and mind, that infiltrate your eyes and ears, and that slither out from your lips and from your hands.
You cannot do this on your own. But, take heart, for you are not alone – you are never alone. The Holy Spirit was poured upon you and filled you in your Holy Baptism, and He will remain with you and protect you and guide you so long as you do not continually resist Him and open yourself to the devil and his demons. When you stumble and fall and sin, humble yourself and repent, and receive God’s gracious forgiveness anew. Cover yourself in the holy armor of Christ He provides you and take up the defensive sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Do not despise His Word and preaching, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Call upon His Name in times of trouble, in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. Return to your baptismal grace, purity, and righteousness through daily repentance, being absolved anew by the LORD’s gracious Word. And, receive Jesus’ body and blood into your own body in Holy Communion that your faith may be strengthened and protected, that you may be equipped for good works to the glory of His Holy Name, and that you may persevere and withstand the fiery assaults of the Evil One.
Let not your minds and hearts and members ponder and do works of sexual immorality and impurity. Let not covetousness be named among you. Purge yourself of filthiness, foolish talk and crude joking, and guard your eyes and your ears from the same. Be on guard against false teaching by hearing and reading and meditating upon the Word of the LORD. “Do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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