Thursday, March 31, 2011

Homily for Lenten Vespers–Week of Oculi (Lent 3)

Exodus 8:16-24

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The LORD afflicted the Egyptians with ten plagues, but here in the midst of the Third Week of Lent the Church has chosen for us to reflect upon only the third and the fourth plagues, the plague of gnats and the plague of flies. The reason for this, of course, is that this Old Testament pericope complements and leads us to a fuller understanding of the Oculi Gospel from St. Luke where Jesus cast out a demon by the finger of God the Holy Spirit and taught that true power and authority comes from the LORD and His Word.

In our lesson the LORD told Moses to say to Aaron “Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.” Aaron did so, and all the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. That the LORD brought forth life out of the dust of the earth ought to ring in your ears familiar, causing you to remember the creation of man from the dust of the earth. At the creation of Adam, the LORD breathed His own breath of life, His Spirit into the man of dust and the man became a living being. In this evening’s lesson also, the LORD created gnats from the dust of the earth by the finger of God, His own Holy Spirit.

So, while your mind is still in the Garden of Eden, let us consider some other similarities between this evening’s pericope and that very familiar story of man’s creation and fall into sin. In both accounts there is a battle going on between the LORD and His rebellious fallen angel Satan, for that is who Pharaoh represents, your enemy the devil. Satan wants to keep you in slavery and in bondage to sin and death. Though you are free in Christ’s death and resurrection, Satan uses lies, deception, and trickery to tempt you to not believe that and to submit yourself once again to his enslavement. Indeed, in the first two plagues, the plague of blood and the plague of frogs, and in the case of Aaron’s staff becoming a serpent, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to reproduce the mighty works of the LORD in some fashion. The magicians utilized human wisdom and sorcery, and most likely a little trickery and slight of hand as well. It’s even possible that the LORD permitted the magicians the ability to perform their works these first few times so that they would be forced to confess ultimately that the LORD was at work when they could no longer perform their magic, for Satan can do nothing that the LORD does not permit him to do.

And, of course, that is exactly what happened. The magicians were unable to reproduce the plague of gnats from the dust of the earth and they did confess that this work was the finger of God. But Pharaoh hardened his heart; that is, God allowed him to be what he truly was, hard and closed to God’s Word and set against the LORD and His Spirit. Then, in the plague of flies, the LORD set His people Israel apart from the Egyptians as the flies swarmed upon all of the lands of the Egyptians except the land of Goshen where the Israelites dwelt. Thus, despite the raging of our old evil foe, the LORD continues to preserve, protect, keep, and provide for you His chosen in Christ.

When Christ our Victor died upon the cross, the power of Satan and death were destroyed forever. In death, Christ conquered our enemy and set us free from his bondage and enslavement forever. What we experience now as suffering, trial, tribulation, and even death are but the final skirmishes of a war that has already been won for us by Christ our Lord. The promise of this victory was given our First Parents just after their fall as the LORD spoke to the serpent saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” And, after leading His people out of captivity and bondage in Egypt, the LORD baptized them in the Red Sea, sealing them with His promise. So, too, have you been baptized by the finger of God, the Holy Spirit and sealed in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the promise that is Christ’s victorious death and glorious resurrection that cannot be taken away from you.

And so Satan is thwarted again and again by a power and authority he does not possess and cannot reproduce, the power of the finger of God, the Holy Spirit, through His Word and blessed Sacraments to the Glory of God the Father, through Jesus Christ His son, in His Most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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