Sermon for Lent III
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
March 7, 2010
Powers of Darkness
If you want to get the conversation started at a cocktail party, try offering up some of those lines and see where things get you!
These days, we don’t tend to hear much about the Satan and the Devil, let alone sermons devoted to issues such as these. We’re too refined to speak of something such as demon possession or spiritual warfare. Why is that? Have we moved past talking about subjects such as these, and are now simply concerned with pollution, global warming, health care, and the like? I certainly hope not because if we were paying attention these past three weeks, the devil and demons have attempted to share center stage with Jesus on these first three Sundays in Lent.
On the first Sunday we heard of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness by Satan before he began his public ministry. Last Sunday we encountered a Samaritan woman whose daughter was vexed with a devil. This morning we have Jesus casting out a demon from a dumb man, and the crowds began to question him and his authority and said that it was by the power of Beelzebub that he was casting out these demons.
These of course are not the only instances where we hear about demons or devils, and it most certainly will not be the last. There is certainly a reason why the church arranged her Lectionary with these three lessons assigned for subsequent Sunday readings, and I think it’s important to investigate why.
It’s much easier for us to speak of times when we are either in the midst of an experience or upon further reflection that we experienced God’s Spirit truly among us. Those grace-filled moments we wish would never end, or that we could re-create and re-live. For some it might be recalling the birth of one of our children, or being there to give them away when they were married, or even in the midst of death saying goodbye to a loved-one knowing that they had just entered into the embrace of their Heavenly Father.
The flip-side of those experiences are much darker for us to recall, and we certainly don’t wish to dwell on them for any length of time. Often times we don’t even like to admit that the battle in which we might be embroiled is one of spiritual warfare. I’m not just talking about times where we admit to ourselves, “the devil made me do it;” rather, I’m speaking about those times when there is no other logical explanation than to call it what it is – the tools and works of Satan himself.
What do I mean here?
I’m speaking about those particularly besetting sins which we seem to confess over, and over, and over again, and never seem to make any progress of overcoming them, and amending our lives. I’m talking about those instances where the least little irritant throws us into a fit of rage, and we wonder what came over me, or where did that come from. I’m alluding to those times where the temptation to surf the net or pass our time idly by always interrupts our prayer life, or devotional time, or quiet moments with God.
Those, and I’m sure you could name others, are the kinds of spiritual warfare that seem to plague us each and every day of our lives. If you don’t believe me, take another look at the Epistle lesson appointed for today and look at the list of vices presented there. That list hasn’t gone out of date and those trials and temptations are alive and well today as they were some 2,000 years ago.
When Jesus was confronted by these naysayers in this morning’s Gospel, he gives them a most stern warning about what they were dealing with, and I hope that it struck you as well. For our Lord says, “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”
The last state of that man is worse than the first.
If there has ever been a phrase that emphasizes the danger of complacency, for me, this is the one. We are doomed to failure if we ever lull ourselves to sleep thinking that we’ve got all of the answers and have our problems licked. That’s like tempting good ole Murphy’s Law. Actually, it’s more like trying to pull one over on the ultimate con artist himself.
When Dr. Carreker was here two weeks ago and spoke of the ’28 Baptismal service he read aloud the declaration following the baptism itself, and I think here at the end of three Gospel lessons three weeks in a row on devils we might need to hear it again. When the priest has already administered the water and pronounced the Trinitarian formula over the candidate, he then makes the sign of the cross on his forehead and prays these words,
WE receive this Child (or person) into the congregation of Christ’s flock; and do *sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end. Amen.
Hear those words, and comprehend the magnitude of who we are called to be once we take on the name of Christ. We pray that we might never be ashamed to confess our faith in Christ crucified. Jesus tells his disciples at one point, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
We are entering a battlefield and the results have eternal consequences. Why should we avoid terms like spiritual warfare in our lives? Right here, in the service of Holy Baptism, we are invoking the Holy Spirit to assist us as we are preparing to fight under our Lord’s banner, and our enemies are sin, the world, and the devil. In battle, knowing one’s enemy is the first key to success. We know who our enemy is and must name him for who truly is – the father of lies.
Finally, our life as Christ’s soldier and servant will continue every day on this side of eternity. There is no summer break, or time off from living our lives for Christ. Satan takes no vacation, and neither can we. We face a formidable opponent, but one who will not prevail. “The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him, his rage we can endure, for lo! His doom is sure, one little word will fell him.”
One of the followers of Jesus who heard this exchange from this morning’s Gospel paid to the Virgin Mary a wonderful compliment when she says to Jesus that blessed is the woman who nursed you as a young child. Jesus certainly doesn’t undo her compliment, and we hold Our Lady in most high esteem as the Mother of our Lord. Certainly Mary is due her honor. However, Jesus says that true blessing comes not from acknowledging where he has come from, but from what you have seen me doing, and then going out and doing likewise. The Christian life isn’t simply about making right proclamations, but it’s about right manifestations. Orthodoxy, right belief, is hollow and empty without orthopraxy, right actions. St. James declares that we had better be able to show some works to accompany our faith, because faith without works is dead. Not that we are to think that our actions will earn merit or favor with God because we pray every week in the Eucharist that God might not weigh our merits, but rather, that he would pardon our offenses. We are only counted as righteous before God because of what Jesus has done on our behalf. He has fought the forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil and has defeated them all.
We are engaged in a battle, a spiritual battle, and one in which the opponents are playing for keeps. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has come to seek and to save that which was lost. He’s come so that when we go astray, He might leave the 99 and come looking for us. He’s come so that we might have life, and have it abundantly. He’s come so that we can lean upon and trust the only source who has met the enemy face-to-face, and defeated him once and for all.
“Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.”