Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sermon: Lent 3 – Oculi

15 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 11:14-28 (Jer 26:1-15, Eph 5:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Satan isn’t merely a tempter, accuser, treasonous spirit, prince of demons, and the chief enemy of our Lord, he is also the opponent of the mind, of sound reason, of sense and order.

Satan is able to make good seem evil, and evil seem good. He twists the mental capacities of those he attacks, and he distorts not merely Scripture, but indeed all truth.

For the father of lies is the opponent of truth.

This is how it is that otherwise intelligent and rational people, indeed people who live and die by reason, can come to believe in fairy tales like a universe that pops into reality apart from a Creator, like a preposterous myth that irreducibly complex chemical and biological forms can simultaneously develop together with no intelligent oversight by literally millions of happy coincidences.

Satan turns the bright into the dull, the wise into the foolish, the honorable into the disreputable.

We see this pattern again and again in our Lord’s ministry. What sheer insanity to witness the miracle of desperate and dying people being healed only to condemn the Healer for doing such works on the Sabbath?

And when a demon has physically possessed a man to the point of rendering him unable to speak, our Lord condemns the demon, commands its expulsion, and restores this poor man to health. But what is the reaction? Jesus is considered to be in league not only with the demons, but with Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that is, with Satan, the father of lies himself.

The claim is so preposterous that it nearly renders us mute for our inability to make any sense in it. What can one even say to such nonsense? There is utterly no rational explanation for it. It would be like accusing the men who signed the Declaration of Independence of being in league with King George. It would be along the same lines as concluding that Adolph Hitler was secretly on the side of the Jews in World War II Germany.

Our Lord not only appeals to Scripture to refute this diabolical lie that he casts out demons by the prince of demons, He also appeals to reason: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself,” reasons our Lord, “how will his kingdom stand?” And while reason, when elevated above Scripture, can be the enemy of the faith, reason, when the servant of Scripture, is an agent that bears witness to the truth.

And yet, our sinful flesh asks along with Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?”

Dear friends, the truth is God’s Word. And the Word of the Lord comes to us from the mouths of prophets, priests, pastors and from the pages of Scripture. Satan cannot defeat the truth, so all he can do is to distort it, and draw us into enmity with the truth. He can’t silence the Word, but he does tempt us to shoot the messenger.

The prophet Jeremiah knew a good bit about that. For he was sent on a mission of mercy, “Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. It may well be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds.”

Rather than simply mete out justice then and there, the Lord sends a messenger to warn them. Rather than punish them immediately as they deserve, the Lord sends a prophet to plead with them to repent. In this sense, God’s Law actually bears the Gospel!

There are always two ways to respond to such a Word of the Lord: one is to react in anger, in rage, to turn the tables on the messenger, and the other is to admit our guilt, confess our sins, repent, and “return to the Lord our God,” the One who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” The messenger, the prophet, the preacher is giving the warning not in order to hurt, but to heal. Like His Lord Jesus Christ, he is not there to condemn, but to save.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord’s chastening is a blessing, not a curse. As our Lord testifies, there is no place in the kingdom of God for fence-sitters: “Whoever is not with me,” says our Blessed Lord, “is against me. And whoever does not gather with me scatters.” And when an errant sheep scatters, he is prey for the ravenous wolf and lion. The Lord is Himself the Good Shepherd who provides His people with shepherds who are called to be faithful in proclaiming both the warnings and calls to repentance, as well as the full and free forgiveness to those who have wandered and yet have returned to the fold.

The Lord also calls all Christians to help keep their fellow sheep in the flock. There is strength in numbers. It is a matter of love to our fellow sheep to warn them when they wander, to lovingly call them back, to direct them to the Good Shepherd, our Lord Himself, as well as the Good Shepherd’s servants, or ministers, whose calling is to “speak all these words in your ears.”

And “all these words” of warning and exhortation are as important today as they were in St. Paul’s day, as he admonishes us to flee from “sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness,” to avoid making the Lord’s gifts of marriage and sexuality into a mockery, to shun partnerships with those who have “no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” St. Paul the shepherd herds all of us Christian sheep with the invitation and the plea to “walk as children of light.”

These are not instructions for earning a place in heaven, or of securing bragging rights to self-adulation. For St. Paul places all of these things in the context of how we Christians live: we redeemed sinners for whom Christ “gave Himself up for us,” we, whom “Christ loved.” The love of God and the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ for our redemption and salvation is in the past tense, dear brothers and sisters. He has done it for us. And it is because of the grace shown to us: the love of our Father, the gift of the Son, and the call of the Holy Spirit, that we are empowered to “be imitators of God.”

For our God is also a Man, our Sacrifice is also a Priest, our Shepherd is also an Exorcist. He commands Satan and His hordes to flee from us. He bids us to pray every day to our Father who art in heaven to deliver us from evil. He brings us into the green pastures of the faithful flock through the still waters of holy baptism. The Lord expels the demons even as He has crushed the head of their prince, Beelzebul. And, dear friends, those demons seek “waterless places,” hosts who are unbaptized, or those who no longer call to mind their second births by water and the Spirit, those who do not seek refuge in the ark where baptismal fonts are found and where the demons themselves are rendered mute.

The devil is strong, but your Lord, your Savior, your Good Shepherd is indeed the one “stronger than he, [the One who] attacks him and overcomes him.”

And where the devil is defeated, where baptisms are recalled, where the Trinity is invoked, where the Supper is celebrated, where children are put to bed with prayer and raised with the teaching of the faith, where prayers are offered daily, and where the Scriptures are taught, read, believed, and studied, where calls to repentance are issued, and where forgiveness is freely given – there is where reason is sanctified, where Beezebul is silenced, where demons are expelled, and where healing and eternal life are given by Him who blessed us with these words that are also a promise: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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