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True Blessedness (Oculi-Third Sunday in Lent)

Oculi – Third Sunday in Lent

“True Blessedness”
Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus

St. Luke 11.14-26

15 March 2020 

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

The Introit for this day references the eyes. Oculi—”My eyes are ever toward the Lord” and yet the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reference the ears. Even the Epistle references words and speaking, making a connection with the function of ears, namely, hearing. Perhaps this Sunday should bear the Latin name “Auri,” “my ears,” if we used Psalm 40.6:

Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire;

Mine ears hast thou opened: [KJV]

Hearing ears. Our Gospel reading presents a man who had a demon that had made him mute. The demon kept him from hearing God’s Word. Jesus cast out that demon so that this man could hear the good news of forgiveness. Yet it became the occasion for the blasphemous accusation that Jesus was one of Satan’s agents! Beelzebul is another name for Satan. Literally, it means “lord of the flies.” Some of you may remember having read William Golding’s book The Lord of the Flies. It’s a fine book which shows how evil lies deep within all the sons of Adam and presents the doctrine of original sin in a rather unique manner.

The healing of this mute demoniac brought a severe reaction. Jesus had joined up with demons, they said. Jesus countered by asking how their own exorcists had succeeded. They had been regarded as holy men who were on God’s side. Jesus argued that they couldn’t have it both ways. Either Jesus is who he said he is, the Son of God, and the kingdom of God had come, or he wasn’t. By using the phrase “the finger of God” Jesus was connecting his work to the might acts of God through Moses in bringing the plagues on Egypt.

Jesus is the strong man who was in the process of binding Satan and freeing mankind from the slavery of Satan. Jesus proclaimed himself the strong man who is driving out the evil one. He was disarming the evil one. This would culminate by his death on the cross when Christ shouted triumphantly, “It is finished!” [John 19.30]. It was proved by his mighty resurrection from the dead. He listened to his Father and spoke the Father’s words to the world. Christ has bound Satan and his legions and has taken away his spoil. You now belong to Christ through Holy Baptism. He nourishes and feeds you with his Word and Sacrament. He protects your soul’s life.

Spiritually speaking, there are no free agents in this world. Either one is captive to Satan or one is captive to God. Since Adam all have been born in the bondage of Satan. One doesn’t decide to switch sides. Slaves don’t free themselves, so the first thing that is done at a Lutheran baptism is the Exorcism, the casting out of Satan. Then the word Jesus spoke to the deaf man, Ephatha! “Be opened,” is spoken so that the Holy Spirit can enter and bring the word about Christ to the sinner. Mind you, one doesn’t decide this for himself! Only the Strong One, Christ, frees us and gives us the spiritual capacity to hear and believe his Word.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God [Romans 10.17], so silencing the Word of God is demonic. Jesus explains that our battle with Satan is a never-ending conflict in this life.

“Let no one deceive you with empty words,” warns Paul in our Epistle. (Eph 5:6). What you hear is important because that influences your thinking and actions. Empty words are those without any truth in them, hollow words, and defenses for sin. Such words placed into your ears are meant to lead you away from God’s truth clearly spoken. Shutting one’s ears to the truth keeps Christ away. Distorting the truth pulls people away from the faith. A failed presidential candidate from a city in Indiana often distorted God’s truth in order to justify his sinful lifestyle. That’s the way it goes for those who follow a subtle line, but there are those who will use a direct frontal attack. Those who heard Jeremiah’s call to repentance responded “You shall die!” [Jer. 26.8b]. Jeremiah responded by warning them of God’s judgment because of the words he had spoken into their ears [Jer. 26.15]. When Stephen made a clear confession of Christ his hearers were enraged, and began shouting and stopping their ears [Acts 7.57]. They didn’t want to hear the truth of God. So it goes in our day, too.

Do not deceive yourselves as to the source of all false doctrine and persecution of the truth. It is not flesh and blood but as Paul warns us:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12).

Luther well describes Satan in words you know well:

The old evil foe

Now means deadly woe;

Deep guile and great might

Are his dread arms in fight;

On earth is not his equal. [LSB 656.1]

Let those last words sink in! On earth is not his equal, which is why we should never sing just the first stanza of that hymn. Satan and his demons have great power and seek to snatch the Word of God from you, and if he cannot do that, he will poison it and subvert it, trying to empty the words of their truth. You are not toying with a human being like yourself but with the most powerful force on earth. We may picture Satan as a cartoon figure but he is horrific beyond description. He is no laughing matter.

Paul admonishes you to walk as the children of light, to reject the lies of Satan, and to cling to Christ’s Word alone. Paul’s catalog of sins is meant to warn you of Satan’s lies that one can be a Christian and continue to participate in and practice such sins of darkness.

It is not enough simply to attend the Divine Service—as important as that is—and consider our work/duty done. In response to the woman who praised Mary for being the mother of the Christ, Jesus pointed to the real blessing: Hearing and keeping the Word of God. Those who hear and keep God’s Word are more blessed than Mary.

In Holy Baptism Christ claimed you as his own. He put his Name on you and made you a member of his flock which he has sworn to protect and defend. You have the Word of God implanted in you through your Baptism.

And yet the battle continues. Especially the battle rages on. Nature abhors a vacuum. An empty space with no air wants to be filled. You are not to be empty but are to fill yourself with God’s Word purely taught and spoken because you are locked in a death struggle with Satan. True blessedness consists in remaining in the Word, living by the Word alone. Mere lip service is not enough. Using the Word of God creates the blessings it describes. By using the Word of God your faith is nourished. When one stops using the Word one’s faith wilts. One opens the door for the evil spirits to return and again take up residence. To keep the Word of God implies the same as believing it, guarding it, and living by it.

We imitate God as beloved children, Paul writes. Picture the little boy who sees his father shaving and wants to be like his father and tries it. He wants to to the things he sees his father do. Or the little girl who sees her mother dressing up and soon she’s wearing mom’s heels and secretly applying makeup. She’s imitating her mother.. Parents are imperfect role models for their children, yet we learn by imitating and practicing.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God [Eph. 5.1-2]. In other words, good works follow faith in God’s Word. It means guarding all that is good and right and true, imitating Christ in word and action. This is what that word “keep” means. We guard and protect that which is most precious to us, and that is the Word of Truth. Paul goes on in chapter six to compare our lives as a daily battle against the evil one. We put on the armor God furnishes. Most all those pieces are defensive in function, but one is offensive, the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit. God the Holy Spirit is the Author of the Word. Having and using using the Word brings blessing.

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” One of you asked me if those words were written on this chancel arch many decades ago. It is true that those words were painted there in gold leaf. They are good words to remember because “True Blessedness” is conveyed through God’s Word.

In our ongoing battle with the old evil foe Luther also reminds us that Christ stands by our side upon the plain with his good gifts and Spirit. Our victory has been won. The kingdom ours remaineth. In hearing and keeping his Word you are Truly Blessed!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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