Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lent 3 Sermon

Lent 3 – Feb 24th, 2007 – Luke 11:14-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

And they were no longer impressed. That’s what we see to start our Gospel lesson. Christ casts out a demon, and while some marveled, others were no longer impressed. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons,” while others, to test Him, kept seeking a sign from heaven. Here we have Christ cast out a demon, a fantastic miracle, shows His power, helps the poor guy who had been possessed – and it doesn’t ring as very impressive. Eh, He’s probably just working with Satan. Eh, that’s just a demon, let’s see a sign from heaven. They were no longer impressed – what Christ did and does no longer satisfies them.

In response to this, there is a long discussion on the casting out of demons, and there is the famous “a house divided” phrase, also the warning that wickedness will return stronger than ever if we don’t keep on guard. But Jesus puts all these ideas into perspective by what He says at the very end. As He said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” There becomes the focus, the key to understanding everything that goes on in our Gospel lesson this morning. The Word is to be heard, and the Word of God is to be kept.

Dear friends, we know the importance of God’s Word. We know Genesis – how does God create? He speaks – the Word goes forth and all things are made. We know the power of God’s Word – I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel. Called. Spoke out the Gospel to me. Attached the Word of God to water and brought me into the Kingdom of God in Baptism, spoke the Law and Gospel into my ears so that I might grow in wisdom and faith. The Word is even attached to simple bread and wine – and then we are given a feast of forgiveness and life in our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Supper. We here of all people know that our focus is to be on God’s Word – and that those who are opposed to God are those who as Luther writes in A Mighty Fortress “let the Word remain nor any thanks have for it”. We know, we celebrate, we rejoice in the power of the Word.

But are we always content with it? Here is the danger. We know that we ought to respect God’s Word, it’s ingrained – and sometimes, we can just sort of assume that we keep it, that we respect it and do it like we ought. We can become complacent, and it’s in that moment that Satan attacks us – and we aren’t even aware of it, because we “just know” that we respect the Word, and Satan sneaks past our guard. How often is it easy not to remember God’s Word, how often do little parts slink on by? To minimize or even water the Word down some? Love your neighbor. . . always? Support your neighbor in every physical need. . . every? Speak well of him, defend him, put the best construction on everything. . . everything? This is the danger, this is the subtlety of Satan our old foe – he doesn’t try to blow up your faith in a huge, dramatic display – but to undercut it, weaken it, slowly wash away the foundations, to where the Word isn’t given the importance it ought to be given, where we don’t strive to keep it like we ought. Instead of being experts at showing love, we become experts at making excuses, instead of speaking God’s Word of encouragement, we speak words of blame. . . and we fall, flat on our faces.

No, the Word of God is to be heard and to be kept – for we as Christian are to strive not just to hear the Word and the let it go in one ear and out the other, to think about it for an hour on Sunday and then be done with it, but we are to strive to keep it – to shape our lives according to the Word – to strive to be like Christ in all things, to be imitators of God, as our Epistle lesson said. And this is terrible hard. Being a Christian is a hard, hard thing, and whenever we start to think otherwise, whenever we forget this, we wander and open ourselves up to all sorts of assaults and attacks from Satan.

This is part of what Christ is referring to when He speaks of the return of an unclean spirit. When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, “I will return to the house from which I came.” And when it comes it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of the person is worse than the first. Rather than tying this directly to demon possession, let’s think about it for a moment in terms of demon oppression, of being oppressed, of being tempted by Satan and his ilk. How many times in your life has there been something that you’ve struggled against, a temptation you’ve had to fight – and by the help of God it gets knocked down. And then you start to feel smug and good – and little by little some new bad, wicked habit comes in that ends up being worse than what you had been doing? Our struggle against sin is a constant one, dear friends. But in this struggle, what we are to always remember is that Truth that we focus on and yet often over look. God’s Word is Powerful. Listen to how Christ describes this.

When a strong man, fully armed, guard his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. That is the picture of Christ – for He is the Stronger Man who overcomes Satan. That is the picture of what God’s Word does to us – for by the Word of God is temptation overcome. When we rightly use the Word of God – when it is applied to us – it is God’s own power for salvation.

This, dear friends, is the point of our observation of the season of Lent. The time of Lent is a time of repentance, a time of reflection – a time where we pause and examine ourselves to find places where we have been lax, where we have wandered off from the Word of God. Where we examine whether or not we have kept the Word of God as we ought to have. Yet in the midst of this time of reflection what do we see – we hear Gospel lesson after Gospel lesson of Christ using His power for our benefit against Satan and all his demons, against all the workers of the devil. In the midst of our repentance our eyes are drawn to Christ Jesus, who sees that we are sorely pressed by Satan, who sees that we are tempted – and so, for us men and for our salvation, came down heaven – and took the battle to Satan – came busting into the world full of sin and showed Himself to be the Stronger Man who can defeat and overcome Satan. Christ goes to the Cross, He suffers and dies – Satan unleashes his worst at our Lord, but ultimately our Lord is not conquered. Christ rises victorious and Satan is defeated. That is our hope, that is what we are to see at all times and in all places – that Christ defeats Satan through His death and resurrection.

This is not just an event of the past dear friends, for this is what Christ does whenever He comes to you by the power of His Word. Christ’s death and resurrection is the central reality of your life. Hear again the Word of the Lord about this truth from Romans chapter 6 – Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore, with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. You are Baptized, and so the Cross, what happened there is the reality of your life. You, as a Christian, are defined by, are attached to the death and resurrection of Christ – that is who you are, that is whom God has made you to be by the power of His Word. Now sometimes we stray from this, we wander away from this life He gave us at Baptism – and so Christ the Crucified comes to us in His Word calling out Repent and be forgiven – repent and wander no more, rather simply delight in My forgiveness! All preaching, all teaching, is nothing less than a crying out from God for you to remember who you were made to be in your baptism and to return to your baptism – to remember and live in the newness of life that is yours in the forgiveness that comes from Christ Jesus. This is the power of God’s Word. This is the power that He uses to give us His own Body and Blood in the Supper. Again, listen to 1 Corinthians 10 – The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ? Did you hear that? A participation – a present reality. God is present for us through His Word and Sacraments – He takes all that is His and He gives it unto us – the Stronger Man comes and claims us as His own whenever we hear His Word and receive His Sacraments. Through these gifts given to us, the same Victory that Christ won over Satan upon the Cross is made real in our lives.

Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. This is what Christ gives to you – for he continually and always comes to you, again and again with His Word – so that you might learn to keep it, that you might learn ever more to fend off Satan and hold on to that Word – but in that same Word He comes to you as the Stronger Man who wins you away from the temptations of Satan, who breaks the chains of sin that held you captive by the power of His forgiveness – and indeed, He gives you His own strength and trains you to be more and more like Him. Christ constantly holds the Word before our eyes, so that we might not stray, but that we might be kept close to Him, for Christ our Lord has the victory over sin and death, and this He gives to us. Amen.

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