8 July 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 5:1-11 (1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Cor 1:18-25)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Most people are familiar with the 1973 movie The Exorcist. A lot of jokes have been made about it. A lot of horror movies have been based on demonic possession thanks to this movie – which was in turn based on a novel written in 1971. What many people don’t know is that the story is based on a real 1949 case of the exorcism of a young boy in St. Louis. And the way the demon was finally chased away is interesting.
In the end, what finally brought peace to this boy and salvation and deliverance to his family was a word: a single word that the demon fought unsuccessfully to keep the boy from saying. The spiritual battle over this one word calls to mind the line from A Mighty Fortress Is Our God concerning the devil: “one little word can fell him.”
And that word was “Dominus.” It is the Latin word for “Lord.” When the troubled boy confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, it was then that the evil spirit made way for the Holy Spirit, and the Word had His way with the demons who were conquered by the Word Made Flesh. The Word Himself has power over every manner of evil, whether the Word is shouted from a rooftop or uttered in “the sound of a low whisper.” The Word created all things. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word of forgiveness was uttered from the cross. The Word of the Gospel was given to the apostles to spread around the world. And this word is that Jesus is Lord, that He is God and Man, that He died on the cross as a full atonement for our sins, that He rose from the dead, that He is coming again to restore paradise, and that we shall rise in our flesh to be part of this restored creation. “Dominus!”
And that word is a word loathed by the demonic forces. For it is a confession of Christ, of His majesty, of His victory over death and the grave, of His forgiveness of sin, of His grace, mercy, and peace. “One little word can fell him,” and the Word does indeed fell the devil, dear friends!
In our culture, we admire loudness. Our sports figures engage in trash-talk instead of sportsmanship. Our movies value bigger and more outrageous stunts and special effects instead of quiet honesty and integrity. Our politicians and pundits yell and scream and insult one another rather than calmly telling the truth.
And our churches are becoming loud entertainment halls with amplified music, huge screens, outrageous antics, bragging rights, bling, and bombast – instead of being meditative places of faith, of the Word, of the Good News, and of the calm assurance that the Lord is present with us, and for us, in the quiet but certain declaration that “this is My body… this is My blood… for the forgiveness of sins.”
And yet the Lord makes it clear that He is not in the “great and strong wind,” He is not in the earthquake, He is not in the fire. Rather He is in the “sound of a low whisper.” For truth is truth whether screamed in an amplifier or whispered by a frail and elderly baptized child of God on his deathbed confessing, to the chagrin of the devils and to the celebration of the angels, that Jesus Christ is “Dominus.”
But to the world, what power is there in the Word? To the world, there is power in money, power in fame, power in physical might, power in political connections, power in dominating those weaker than oneself, power in mockery of the truth, power in the silencing of the “sound of a low whisper” by the siren of the world’s hatred of the Church and of the Gospel, of the Christ and of the cross.
“For the word of the cross is folly,” says St. Paul, “to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
This, dear friends is what baffles the world and what fills us forgiven sinners, what fills us baptized saints, with joy and with hope even as the world crumbles around us. The Word is the power of God, for “we preach Christ crucified,” which is not a stumbling block or folly to us, but rather “the power of God” to save us, and it is the “wisdom of God” to bring us back into paradise and recreate us into what we were always meant to be.
Our faith is not in ourselves, our wealth, our strength, our armies, and most certainly not in our own righteousness. As our forbears sang “one little word can fell him,” so too did they confess the power of the Word – the power of the preached Word, the power of the crucified and risen Word, the Dominus – over and against the power of the church’s might, the claims of popes, the compromises of the councils, the politics of the princes, or even the terrifying might of the Church and the state that had lost faith in the Word.
For ultimately, the confession of the Word is faith. It is the faith of St. Peter after being told by our blessed Lord, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” For in spite of Peter’s unbelief, he believed. In spite of Peter’s resistance, he yields. In spite of Peter’s protest, he complies. The word of the Word has its way with Peter. For even in his stubbornness and pride, there is divine power reflected in St. Peter’s confession, in St. Peter’s surrender to the Word: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your Word I will let down the nets.”
“But at Your Word!”
This, dear brothers and sisters was St. Peter’s “Dominus,” the one little word that fells Satan, the Word of obedience uttered even as a “low whisper” in faith – even the faith as tiny and weak as a mustard seed. For it is not Peter’s faith, but the Lord’s faith, given through the Word, that strengthens Peter, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
“But at Your Word,” Peter confesses, and the Lord works the great miracle of the great catch of fish. And then a greater miracle happens: St. Peter’s confession “I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For the confession that Jesus is “Dominus” leads to the confession of our sins, and the confession that Jesus took flesh to die in the flesh, to pay for our sins in the flesh, and to rise again in the flesh.
But the miracles are only beginning. The Lord works another miracle that day: the miracle of the forgiveness of sins. “Do not be afraid,” the Lord says. For Peter’s sins that are such a terror in the presence of the Lord are no more. Peter has been made worthy to stand in the presence of Jesus, even as Jesus has humbled Himself to stand in the presence of Peter and the rest of us sinful men. And there would be many more miracles, for the Lord was to work through St. Peter in proclaiming this Word of the cross: “from now on,” promises our Lord, “you will be catching men.”
We have been caught, dear brothers and sisters. We have been caught in our sins and trapped in the net, not of the law and of condemnation, but rather in the net of the Gospel, rescued through water by the very Word that impelled St. Peter to put out into the deep, the same Word that is the power of God, the same Word by which we have eternal life: the Word Made Flesh.
Indeed, dear friends, one Word can fell the devil, and that Word is Jesus Christ our Dominus, the Victor over sin, death, and the devil, the Word of peace, the Word of hope, the Word of eternal life.
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In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.