Sunday, March 15, 2020

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.
Today is one of those days in which some of you may be tempted to believe that this pastor, this congregation, this church body is simply out of touch, stuck in some medieval mire, and irrelevant in our enlightened, modern, and post-modern world. For, today I’m going to preach to you about the devil, Satan, and his minions of fallen angels that we call demons. In fact, today you have heard Jesus’ own teaching about demons as He cast a demon out of a man and then taught the crowd that had gathered about the danger of more demons returning if a man is not filled with the Holy Spirit of God.
Today, scientific materialists hold that all things that exist can be explained in terms of matter, stuff, that can be seen and measured, leaving no place for the spiritual or the supernatural. They scoff and wag their heads and, increasingly, shake their fists at those who believe in angels, demons, and God and consider them unenlightened at best, but more typically, ignorant and backward, and more recently, dangerous. It’s difficult to tell, however, if they represent the majority, or if they are simply the loudest voice in the world today. Either way, they have been successful in making shipwreck of the faith of many a soul who have come to regard religion as mythology or fantasy, and the Bible as merely a collection of men’s writings serving their purposes of suppressing knowledge and keeping people in ignorance and fear that they may more easily be controlled.
However, even if you have resisted the siren’s call of scientific materialism, and you still believe in the devil and his demons, you may be tempted to simply blame them for all the evil and suffering in the world, even for your own sinful failings, and deny your own culpability and need to repent of your sins and be absolved and forgiven. You may be quick to recognize the demons in your brother and neighbor, but deny those who cohabitate with you in your own house. Jesus’ teaching today informs you that, not only is Satan’s kingdom not divided against itself, but that if you wrongly believe that you can live with your demons and keep them locked in their bedrooms and live happily ever after, you are dead wrong. Jesus taught that the spirit cast out of a man will return, and if he finds the house of a soul unoccupied – that is, by the Holy Spirit of God – he will move back in, this time with seven other spirits more evil than itself, and the state of that person will be worse than the first. Likewise, if you believe that you can dance with the devil and remain in control of your faith and your life, you are dead wrong – sooner or later, he’s going to take the lead.
Ya can’t have it both ways. There is no fence-straddling when it comes to faith in the Lord. If you are not with Jesus, then you are against Him. And, if Jesus is not the Lord of your life and the God of your salvation, then the devil is. “But, Pastor, how can you say that? That’s so absolute. That’s so black and white. Surely God is not so rigid and inflexible as that.” I didn’t say it, the Word of the Lord did, Jesus did. And, His Word is true, for there is God, and there is everything else; there are those who put their fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and there is everyone else, for God says “You shall have no other gods,” and He isn’t kidding. If the house of your soul is divided against itself, divided between the Lord and the devil, it cannot, it will not stand.
We are all born, we are all conceived in sin and iniquity, as David confessed in Psalm 51, as spiritual children of the devil. I know that is hard to hear, but it is the Word of the Lord and it is true, for all inherit our First Father’s sin, which is truly ours, and we quickly and perpetually add to it our own actual sins. However, in Holy Baptism and faith, we are literally born again. That is to say, the old evil spirit in us is cast out, and a new and holy spirit from God is raised up within us. In Holy Baptism, Jesus casts out the evil spirit within us by the Finger of God, that is, by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of a new and holy spirit within us. Though we receive this one baptism for the forgiveness of our sins and it need never be repeated, the gift of Holy Baptism must be received in faith. Without faith, both baptism and its gifts remain, but the baptized cannot benefit from them.
However, be sure of this, when you were baptized, the evil spirit which possessed you was driven out. Your sin-corrupted and fallen man was drowned and died and a new man, a holy spirit was raised up within you and took up residence in the house of your body. While the Holy Spirit will bear with your letting the demons back in for a while as He fights with you and for you to keep them out, He will not bear with them forever. If your faith becomes weak because you have danced with the devil and permitted him to take the lead, your heart will harden and your faith will die – the Holy Spirit will leave. And, when He has left, who will there be to prevent any number of demons from claiming you as their home – and your last state will be worse than your first? Repent.
For, when you repent, when you confess your sins and are absolved of them by God’s Word and Jesus’ blood, you need not be baptized again, but you return to the one baptism you have received, the baptism which was always there, the baptism you rejected is still efficacious to you when you receive it in faith – and the Holy Spirit will return to you with all His gifts, blessings, and benefits. But, the Holy Spirit will not cohabitate with demons. Your Jesus will not abide with you if you are against Him. And your God will not share you with any other god, if there truly were any other god but Him.
What demons do you show hospitality to thinking that you can harbor them and that the Holy Spirit will remain with you? What neutral position do you attempt to claim between good and evil, right and wrong, what God has commanded or forbidden and what your flesh, culture, and world tell you are good and right and true. How often do you believe that what God’s Word says is sin, what Jesus’ shed His blood and died to forgive, is no sin at all? How often do you call God a liar and accuse your Lord of doing evil, casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons? Repent, and return to your baptism, that the Holy Spirit may fill the house of your soul and guard it.
As Jesus was teaching these things, a woman in the crowd cried out “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” That is most certainly true as Mary herself confessed “all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.” Though her confession was true, she was, unfortunately, missing the point. The flesh can neither bestow nor preserve and protect blessedness. Only the Word of God can do that. In fact, it was the Word of God spoken to Mary by God’s messenger Gabriel that blessed her womb as she conceived the Word become flesh Jesus, who, after His birth, nursed at her blessed breasts. So also are you blessed, so also are all men blessed, not by the flesh, but by the Word of God. “Blessed are those,” Jesus says, “who hear the Word of God and keep it.”
In truth, it is in hearing the Word of God that faith is created and forgiveness and life are bestowed. It is the Word of God that exorcises the demons and sends them fleeing. And, it is the Word of God the preserves, keeps, and protects you in the true faith that you may resist temptation and the assaults of the devil. In truth, you were born again from the blessed womb of your Mother the Church in the font of Holy Baptism. In truth, you are suckled and nourished at the blessed breasts of your Mother the Church as you hear and eat and drink and keep the Word of God in the proclaimed Word, the incarnate Word in bread and wine, body and blood, and the cleansing Word in Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, that you may walk in love as imitators of God, beloved children, children of light to the glory of the Father.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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