Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sermon: Invocabit (Lent 1)

21 February 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 4:1-11 (Gen 3:1-21, 2 Cor 6:1-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Enmity” is not a word we use every day. But we sure see it every day. Enmity is the root of the word “enemy.” Enmity is the state of hostility, opposition, antagonism, or animosity. It is the best one-word summary of what life in this fallen world is. We see enmity all around us. We are drawn into it. We gladly take part in it. We welcome it.

Enmity manifests itself in big events, like wars and acts of terrorism, in mass murder and genocide. It also shows up in playground bullying, in judgmentalism, and in gossip. There is enmity in everything from weather patterns and predatory behavior in the animal world, to everyday acts of dishonesty and cruelty in the human sphere of existence, things we consider normal and even laugh at.

Enmity began at the Fall, when man placed himself at enmity with God. But God uses this curse of enmity to become a blessing, to use enmity against itself. For God promises the father of enmity, the devil, the “old evil foe,” that his enmity against God the Son would be his undoing: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring,” and here the Lord adds a specific promise of the serpent’s demise: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Though Satan would drive a nail through the heel of the Seed of the woman, that Seed, the offspring of the woman, would mortally injure the serpent’s lying head.

And this was the beginning of our age’s epic struggle between God and Satan, and the first declaration of a promise to destroy evil and restore paradise.

With that one word “enmity,” God reveals to us that our history was to be a long and bumpy ride.

It’s always amazing when skeptics claim that the Bible gives no explanation for the origin of evil. But it is clearly explained every time the first three chapters of Scripture’s first book are read. Man’s disobedience unleashed the real version of the mythical Pandora’s Box, and did so by failing to worship the Lord our God and Him only.

And in short order after this declaration of enmity, the first murder happened, and soon after, God sent the flood because of the degradation of mankind in his sin. Not long after that, the tower of Babel was destroyed, languages were confused, and man splintered off into nations that have been constantly at war ever since. And we have all been at war against God and against our fellow men as well.

But God has no intention of allowing the enmity to remain to defile his good creation. Though it seems to us that there is no other way to live, the Word of God made flesh teaches us otherwise in the Word of God given to us to read and understand. For the Lord’s disciple Matthew gives us a battle report from the front lines of a skirmish between the serpent and the Seed.

Like Adam, Jesus was tempted by the one who, four thousand years earlier, deceived our first ancestors with the question that was not really a question: “Did God actually say…?” But this time, the New and Greater Adam did not fall for the serpent’s cunning and deceit. When asked to turn stones to bread, our Lord quoted Deuteronomy: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” When the devil, himself quoting Scripture, taunted Jesus to throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple, our Blessed Lord answered, again citing Deuteronomy: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” And on the third try, when Satan promised to give our Lord the entire world in exchange for worship, Jesus delivered the winning blow, again citing Moses in Deuteronomy: “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”

“You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” This, dear brothers and sisters is where Adam and Eve failed. They elevated their own wishes, wants, and desires above the will of God. When Satan offered them a promise he was in no position to deliver on, to make them like God, to defile the order of creation, they snapped at the perceived opportunity to dethrone God and put themselves in charge.

And this is what we all do as well. This is our inherited sin, and this is the sin we add to every time we fail to carry out God’s good and perfect will and replace it with our own selfish desires.

And we always feel justified in our sins.

When we destroy someone’s reputation through rumor-mongering, we lie to ourselves that the other person deserves it. When we are disrespectful to our bosses, our spouses, our parents, our children, our co-workers, our customers, and even complete strangers – we convince ourselves that they have it coming. When we lie, cheat, steal, have impure thoughts, commit impure acts, when we envy and covet and harbor grudges, when we feather our own nests while the Lord’s kingdom is reduced to begging, when we worship ourselves and our possessions instead of the Triune God – we always make excuses, compare ourselves to others, and get angry at God for not giving us the things we think we deserve.

And thank God He really doesn’t give us what we deserve, dear brothers and sisters.

Thank God that He has come to destroy Satan and not us rebels, sinners, and ungrateful hypocrites. Instead, He has come to redeem us, to beat down Satan on our behalf, to uphold God’s law in our place, and to deliver and make good on the promise to smash the head of Satan into the dust and cast him into the lake of fire – “for us men and for our salvation.”

And this, dear friends, is why St. Paul pleads with us: “not to receive the grace of God in vain.” For “behold, now is the favorable time; behold now is the day of salvation.”

Now is the time to acknowledge our wretchedness and repent. “Now is the day of salvation.” A few days ago, we bore the ashes of death on our foreheads and were reminded of the Lord’s words to Adam that we have heard said to us anew today: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

We will all die. It may not be for another century (in the case of the youngest among us), but for any of us, it could happen in the next second. This may be the last sermon you ever hear, your last opportunity to confess, to repent, and to “receive the grace of God,” not in vain, but in faith, unto your salvation, lifting you to victory over death and the grave – not by your own worthiness, but rather in spite of your own unworthiness by the worthiness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

As we begin our Lenten walk anew, let us remember that in our Lord’s victory, He clothes us with His sacrificial garments the way He clothed Adam and Eve. In this victory of our Lord over Satan, He causes the devil to leave us, even as He commands the angels minister to us. The end of time will mirror the beginning, a new heaven and a new earth, a world without sin, without death, and without the devil – with no enmity. For the command is also a promise:

“You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”


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

1 comment:

Theophilus said...

Sunday, I heard a fantastic sermon by an ELCA Lutheran preacher on the three temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness. The preacher asserted that the temptations attacked the very heart of Jesus’ gospel message – Jesus’ identity as the beloved son of God, his mission to proclaim his gospel message to all the world, and the promises of God which sustained him in hope to the end.

Then the preacher applied that to our lives. We often are tagged with very negative names – Dummy! Good-for-Nothing! Poor miserable sinner! Heretic! (names are my editing) It is then that we need to be reminded of our true identity – the beloved sons of God full of God-given honor, dignity, and worth.

Our righteous way of life in the following of Jesus is often ridiculed. It is then that we need to be reminded that our new life in Christ is actually the eternal life in us already now.

The promises of God are often called into question, especially in times of persecution, terminal disease, physical afflictions, and divorce. It is then that we need to be reminded that God’s promises to work everything out for our ultimate good are sure and certain and will sustain us in hope.

What a great sermon!