Sunday, February 28, 2016

Homily for Oculi - The Third Sunday In Lent

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.
The great temptation of the Church of Christ is to accommodate and to assimilate Herself to our world and culture. For, the Church is tempted, pressured, and even attacked, both from without and from within, to compromise Her confession that Jesus is the only Name under heaven by which men must be saved, that He is Truth and the only judge of morality, of good, and of evil, who has not taken the Law of God away from men, but has fulfilled it for us, and that the Church of Christ is His body on earth in and through which His gifts are given and distributed: the forgiveness of sins, faith, life, and salvation. Indeed, the Church exists on earth today, as always, that men may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they may have life.
But the Church, which is the body of Christ, goes in the way of Her Lord and Head Jesus. She is spoken against, mocked and ridiculed, She is persecuted, and hated, and there are not few who would love to kill Her. That’s ok, for Her Lord and Head took the mocking, ridicule, persecution, and hatred, even suffering and death to the cross where He died for the sins of the world and rose in victorious life for all men, even those who hate Him. Jesus has sanctified the Church’s suffering and has promised that, through it, we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. So, as they did to Jesus, so will they do to you. They will take your love, mercy, and compassion, so long as you keep your faith, truth, and convictions to yourself. They will gladly use your hospitals, orphanages, adoption agencies, and soup kitchens, but you’d better not talk about truth, morality, or ethics. “Just shut up and give me what I want.” Because if you don’t, well…. They’ll call you every name in the book – ignorant, uneducated, bigoted, misogynistic, hateful, immoral, evil – because, along with showing compassion, mercy, and love to your neighbor you dare to say what you believe, what Jesus has taught, and what God has given in His Law, at the very least in the Ten Commandments. “How very un-post-modern of you.” Keep up the good work.
“Whoever is not with Me is against Me,” Jesus taught, “and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” Is that a shocking statement to you? I hope not. Yes, Jesus really is that exclusive. He really is the only Way, the only Truth, and the only source of Life for all men, whether they believe it or not. But, He is for all men, without exclusion, whether they believe it or not. What lead Jesus to make this statement was that people were claiming that Jesus cast out demons and performed other miracles by the power of Beelzebul, that is, by the power of Satan. Though He was doing good, they accused Him of doing evil. Others tempted Him to produce another sign before they would believe Him. But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, taught them saying, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” Essentially, He was saying, “Look, there is good and there is evil. Evil does not cast out evil. Satan is not going to work against himself.” Can you believe it? A man who was possessed by a demon and couldn’t speak is freed and healed and the crowd has the nerve to call Jesus an evil magician. It seems that post-modern relativism isn’t as new as we might think! When it comes to Jesus and our Holy Triune God, good is good and evil is evil – and that’s the Truth. It’s only the world of men that there are shades of gray. Thus, Jesus teaches, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”
It was a similar incident that occurred in our Old Testament lesson today where God made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians, between His servants and Pharaoh’s magicians, and between His power and the power of Beelzebul, Satan. In the first plague that God sent upon the Egyptians, He caused the Nile River and all the waters of Egypt to turn to blood without distinguishing between His people and the Egyptians. But, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to produce the same effect by their secret arts; Satan enabled Pharaoh’s magicians to copy the miracle God had performed through His servants Moses and Aaron. In the second plague, God caused frogs to cover the entire land of Egypt. Once again, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to do the same by their secret arts, but they were unable to then make the frogs go away. Thus, Pharaoh had to plead to Moses and Aaron to plead with their Lord to take the frogs away. Then, in the third plague, which was our Old Testament lesson today, God sent gnats or lice upon all the land of Egypt, and Pharaoh’s magicians were unable to do the same and they confessed to Pharaoh, “This is the Finger of God.”  This was a stunning confession, for the Finger of God is the Holy Spirit and, when the magicians say this to Pharaoh, it shows that they know there is a power greater than their own, yet it is a power that they do not honor and serve. In the following plagues, God began to set His people Israel apart from the Egyptians by sparing them the effects of the plagues while the lands of the Egyptians suffered.
Satan is strong, but God is stronger. Pharaoh’s magicians were able to perform some powerful signs, but they soon met the limits of what they were able to do. Satan’s power now is but lies and deceptions. In truth, it is you who give him power, by believing in his lies and succumbing to his temptations. Jesus compared Satan to a strong man, fully armed, who trusts in his armor. But, Jesus is a stronger man who attacks him and takes away his armor and divides His spoil. Does it seem odd to you to think of Jesus on the offensive, in attack mode? Yet, that is exactly how He describes Himself in relation to Satan. And, that wasn’t the first time. When Peter made his bold confession of Jesus saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, Jesus commended him saying, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Did you hear it? The gates of hell will not withstand the attack of the Church, but they will fall before Her. What, did I shock you again? I hope not. I know, you’re used to hearing about Jesus’ love, mercy, and compassion, not His judgment against sin and evil. Yes, Jesus is God’s love incarnate for all men. Yes, Jesus loves all men without distinction or discrimination, even those who hate Him. Yes, Jesus loves all men, but Jesus hates sin. He has mercy and compassion on sinners, but sin is judged, condemned, and damned.
When you were baptized, the Stronger Man Jesus attacked the strong man Satan and ran him out of the palace he had made and guarded in your heart. That day you gained a powerful enemy in Satan who was not pleased to let you go. Jesus taught, “When the 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.” How do you keep the strong man and his minions out of your heart? You gather with Jesus. That is, you gather where Jesus is present with His Words and with His Wounds. You gather with Jesus in constant repentance, in great humility, and in faith and trust in Him. For, Jesus is the Stronger Man, not you. He is your strength. He is your faith. And He is your victory over Satan’s temptations all the days of your life.
Further, you must mark, distinguish, and discern what is the Lord’s will and command and what is contrary to it. That is, as St. Paul writes, you must be “imitators of God, as beloved children” and “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” You are to be set apart from the world as were the children of Israel in Egypt, partaking not in sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness, indulging not in filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking, but instead giving thanks to the Lord for all things, “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).”
And, so it is that the Church is both attacked and She is on the attack. How does the Church attack? The Church attacks, not with violence, not with weapons, and not with force; the Church attacks, not with insults, not with slander, and not with libel; the Church attacks, not with politics, not with laws, and not with government; but the Church attacks with the Word of God and with Truth, for She is Christ’s body, and He is Her Head and Lord, and He is the Stronger Man who fights against Satan and his demons, who indeed has defeated them in His death upon the cross and sends them fleeing by His authoritative Word. And, as the Church suffers attack, she places Her trust and Her hope in Her defensive armor: The belt of Truth, the breastplate of Righteousness, the readiness of the Gospel of Peace, the shield of Faith, and the helmet of Salvation. Indeed, the only offensive weapon the Church has is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Apart from this offensive weapon and defensive armor, you cannot hope to stand against the strong man, Satan. Staking your claim that you are a child of God, born from the womb of the Church in Holy Baptism will do you no good whatsoever if you do not have faith that clings to Christ, for there is no blessing in having the Church as your Mother if you do not hear the Word of God and keep it.
Dear Christian, you have been redeemed out of death by the Stronger Man Jesus Christ who passed through death for you destroying Satan’s armor in which he trusted. Still that lion seeks to devour you and he will use every manner of attack within his power to do so. Beware of his temptations, lies, and deceptions and strengthen your faith by gathering with Jesus where He is present with His Word, which is Truth, and with His Wounds which bring forgiveness, life, and salvation. These are your armor to protect you from attack. And, for a weapon, you have the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Use it in love, that it may cut down the lies of the enemy and rescue those imprisoned by them. At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, and the light of Christ will shine in and through you, exposing all manner of evil and deeds of wickedness, revealing in you the fruit of all that is good and right and true.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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