Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sermon: Oculi (Lent 3) – 2014

23 March 2014

Text: Luke 11:14-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord Jesus makes it clear that it does matter what you think about Him. 

Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it matters what you believe about Him.  Opinions about Jesus today run the full gamut from those on the one hand who believe He is God in the flesh, to those on the other hand who believe He is a historical fabrication - and all points in between.  Some believe He is a fraud that was perpetrated by the early church (a very weird theory that meant that the people telling such a tale were willing to die under torture for the sake of it), others believe that He was a great rabbi (which doesn’t explain His betrayal to the hated Romans), a self-delusional Messiah (which doesn’t explain His miracles – including the empty tomb), and as our Gospel lesson reports, even as He was casting out demons, He was accused of being Satan.

From the moment of His miraculous conception, Jesus has been a lightning rod of the devil.  That is still true today.

However, even as Jesus is viciously attacked, He continues to teach and preach and cast our demons and heal.  He continues on the path set before Him by the Father.  He continues to reveal divine truths, to save those in need, to heal every manner of human sickness, and to entrap the devil in his lies.  Our blessed Lord continues to forgive sins and perform signs and wonders and beat back against the attacks of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, priests, scribes, the Sanhedrin, even as He will continue to defy and baffle Pilate, Herod, the high priest and his associates, and the mobs during His passion – and even on the cross, right up until the second of His blessed death.  And even there, dear friends, even on the cross, suffering unspeakable agony, bleeding, drowning in His own fluid, He continues to forgive, to heal, to carry out the sentence against the devil, and to preach and teach.

Today’s Gospel can only be understood in light of human sin.  And I don’t mean individual acts of sin, but the entire corrupted nature of mankind – which includes all of us in this room and on the planet!  For how out-of-reality must one be to look into the merciful face of God in the flesh, even as He works marvels and amazes people with public displays of mastery over the demonic and asserting dominion over them, all the while demonstrating love and compassion to all men in a way that the scribes and Pharisees do not – and then conclude that this must be the work of the devil?  How perverse must one be to see the work of divine power, of love, of mercy, of healing – and then call it evil?

Even in the face of their blasphemy, Jesus calmly shows them their error and bids them to repent.  Jesus is reaching out to them even after being insulted in this terrible way.  And “knowing their thoughts,” He shows the logical fallacy in their thinking. 

And He continues to proclaim the Good News to a world so jaded by sin and so demoralized by death that it can only seem to be skeptical and hardened, for even here is the proclamation: “the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

And He puts the whole matter into perspective simply and in a way that no reasonable person could misunderstand without wanting to misunderstand. He says: “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”

So what does Jesus mean for us today when He says, “with Me” and what does He mean by “gather”?

Jesus promised His Church that He would be with us always, even until the end of the age.  He is with us when and where His Word is proclaimed and His sacraments are administered, where preaching and Baptism and Holy Communion are given and shared, where “two or three gather” in His name.  And what higher privilege does the Church have but gather around the Lamb, in thanksgiving, in praise, in prayer, and in participation in the Holy Supper?  What is more glorious and transcendent, what is more truly human and complete than to be at the Divine Service?  This, dear friends, is how the Lord continues to beat back the attacks of the evil one among us today.  For as our Lord Himself demonstrated, Satan cannot withstand the “It is written,” of Holy Scripture, for “man does not live by bread alone,” but indeed by every Word from the mouth of God.

To be with Jesus, to gather, is to join the resistance, to fight back against Satan, to reclaim your compromised humanity.  And now, just as then, the world will often call evil good, and good evil.  The Church is cast as evil, as followers of Beelzebub, as intolerant, hateful, and outcasts, typically mocked, sometimes persecuted, never accepted.  But in fact, it is the Church that defends the very weakest, the bedraggled institution of the family; it is the Church that opposes slavery and every form of human degradation, upholding the dignity of each and every person, whom she confesses was created in the very image of God. 

By contrast, today’s worldly heroes are wisecracking, self-obsessed purveyors of hatred, seeking court injunctions and restrictions upon the rights and freedoms of Christians and the public confession of what we believe.  Or more to the point, against whom we believe in!

And that is really it, dear friends.  It all boils down to Jesus.  What do we believe about Him?  What do we confess about Him?  Do we gather with Him or scatter from Him?  Do we desire to be with Him or to be independent of Him?  Are we going to serve the world’s “strong man” Satan, or are we going to serve the Stronger Man, the truly and fully Human One, the Man who is God, the Man who has paid the price of the sins of all men at the cross?  Are we going to serve His blessed mother, or are we going to serve her Blessed Son who is the Word in the flesh which she birthed?  Are we going to serve a world that calls evil good and good evil, or are we going to serve our fellow Christians in the name of Him who is the Bridegroom of the Church?  Are we going to serve ourselves by choosing other activities instead of gathering with Him in our eternal fight against Satan, the world, and our sinful nature, or are we going to serve the only One who has ultimate dominion over every manner of evil, every demon, and over the devil himself?

Our confession matters.  Our proclamation matters.  Whether we are with Him or not with Him, whether we gather or whether we scatter – matters!  And it matters eternally, dear friends.  It matters eternally.

Blessed indeed, brothers in sisters in Christ, covered by His blood and sealed by His baptism, redeemed by His cross and promised a resurrection by virtue of His resurrection, yes, blessed are we, when we “hear the Word of God and keep it.” Amen.


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