Saturday, March 6, 2021

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.

Is it any wonder that the Church and the Christian faith are under attack today? Simply listen again to the Words of Jesus from today’s Gospel: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” That’s pretty black and white. No shades of grey there. This saying is decidedly not post-modern. Our world, our culture, despises and hates such black and white distinctions: Good and evil; right and wrong; legal and illegal; male and female. Truly, they do not believe such distinctions can be made, for they do not believe that absolute moral truths even exist, but that what’s good and evil, right and wrong, legal and illegal, male and female are but the product of one’s culture, personal context, and personal belief.

For example, I remember a discussion I participated in some time ago concerning the morality of ISIS cutting off people’s heads. The majority of the folks involved in that discussion – not pastors or even Christian laity, for the most part – were not able to say that the act was immoral, but only that, it was moral for them, it was moral for ISIS, within their culture and personal context, to cut off the heads of those persons they considered to be infidels. If you find this shocking, you should be reminded that this kind of thinking is not new. For, if you deny moral facts and absolutes, what you truly deny is truth itself. According to this logic, all truth is the result of cultural and social constructs and personal experiences. Carrying this logic to its logical end, the result is that, what’s true is what’s true for you, or for your community, or in your context. No, this kind of foolishness is very, very old. It goes back as far as Pontius Pilate who famously quipped, “What is truth?” It goes back as far as the ancient Greek philosophers like Protagoras writing in the 5th century B.C. And, it goes back all the way to the first question about truth ever asked: “Did God really say?”

Truly, when Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” he should have known that he was staring the Truth right in His incarnate face. And, when the serpent asked Eve, “Did God really say?” he knew the truth very well, he knew what God had said, and that His Word alone is true, and the Truth, in contrast to which every other word is false and a lie. God was, is, and ever shall be the Beginning, and the End, and, well…, everything in between. Likewise, He is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” And He, and His Word, and His Spirit were before all things, His Word being the very source and the origin of all things, who also sustains all things and holds them together until the very end. Truly, the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology are reflections of God, set in place by His design, not the other way around. Likewise, goodness and truth are measured by the standard of God in His holiness and righteousness, not by the subjective and limited reason, wisdom, and perceptions of men and women whom He has created.

And so it was that Aaron could cause gnats to arise from the dust of the earth by the Word of God and by the Finger of God, His Holy Spirit. And, so it was that Jesus could cast out demons, heal the sick, make the paralyzed to walk, the deaf to hear, and the blind to see, could raise the dead, and forgive sins by the power of the Word of God – whom He was and is and ever shall be – and by the Finger of God, His Holy Spirit, who works in and through the Word of God, Jesus, and who always, and only, points to Jesus, to the glory of God the Father. And, so, when Jesus casts out demons, there are two, and only two, possibilities – either Jesus casts out demons by the Finger of God, the Holy Spirit, through His Word, or He doesn’t. And, if He doesn’t, then, the crowds were indeed right, He must, necessarily, cast them out by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. “Whoever is not with me is against me.”

But Jesus does not cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul. In fact, He offers an impeccable piece of logic to demonstrate this truth 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? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they will be your judges.” You see, it was not a question of whether or not there were demons to cast out, or if Jesus had the power to cast them out – no, those are modern questions, the result, not of scientific discovery, as most suppose, but of the decline and attrition of faith in the Word of God. No, they believed that there were indeed demons, and they saw that Jesus did indeed cast them out. The question for them was, from whom did the power come? Did it come from God, or from Satan? Jesus’ words inevitably caused them to remember Aaron and Moses and the magicians of Pharaoh. In that story of old, even Pharaoh’s magicians had to confess that Aaron caused the plague of gnats by the Finger of God. That was precisely the power they believed to be at work when their sons, their own exorcists, cast out demons. And they could not conclude otherwise than that Jesus cast out demons by the same Finger of God, the Holy Spirit, communicated through the Word of God, even the Word of God made flesh, Himself.

There is a lot going on in today’s Gospel – Jesus’ authority over the devil and his demons, the clear line of demarcation between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil, keeping one’s spiritual house in order, what it means to be part of Jesus’ family, and more – however, I believe that Jesus’ final statement in this pericope sums it all up: “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Yes, truly, it all boils down to this point. For, Jesus’ authority over the devil and his demons comes from the Word of God alone. The line of demarcation between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil is trust in God’s Word. What enables you to keep your spiritual house in order – that is, your soul – is that you remain focused upon, and trusting in, God’s Word so that you are not lead astray by the devil’s deceptions and lies, as appealing and attractive as they often appear to be. And, most of all, what it means to be a part of Jesus’ family – His brother, sister, mother, father – His Bride, is to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, in, and through, His Word, and His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Before, after, and through all of your life, even all of creation, His Words remain true: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” It truly is that black and white. The difference between the two ways is a clearly demarcated as the difference between light and darkness, life and death. You must trust in God’s Word, you must trust in Jesus, in this way. There is no fence straddling. There are no shades of gray when it comes to the Truth.

This is why St. Paul exhorts you to beware of worldly and fleshly desires and deeds. Sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolishness, crudeness – these are doorways to the household of your soul beckoning the devil and his demons to come and setup shop. Be certain of this – they will come. And the more you practice these things and give yourself over to them, the more will come, and the stronger their foothold will become for you. Though they were once cast out of you in Holy Baptism by the Word and Finger-Spirit of God, if you let them back in and do not continually cast them out by returning to your baptismal purity in repentance, confession, and absolution, your last state will be worse than your first.

Therefore, let Christ be your example, and imitate Him as beloved children imitate their loving father. “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 remain constant in faith, hope, and knowledge in the Word of God, being not deceived by the devil’s and the world’s “empty words.” “Because of these things, the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore, do not become partners with them.”

You can resist them so long as you keep your eyes focused upon Jesus. The devil knows this, and that is why his only goal and purpose is to divert your focus and attention. He doesn’t need you to bow down and worship him. If he gets you to look away from Christ, towards anything else, he knows that he has you. Like Peter, who in faith walked on the water towards Jesus, but began to sink when he looked away, apart from Christ and His Word, you will sink in the mire of sin and death. Whoever is not with Him is against Him, and whoever does not gather with Him scatters, and is scattered. Therefore, let your focus now, and always, be on His Word, and on His visible Word in the Blessed Sacraments He has provided you that you may not falter, but embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of His Word. For, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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