Monday, March 28, 2011
Sermon - Luke 11:14-26 - Lent 3
March 27th, 2011
“Stronger than the Strong Man”
Jesus' miracles were acts of compassion for those in need, sick, afflicted, cast out from society. Often we are told it is because he “has compassion on them” that he reaches out to heal. But these miracles are also his calling cards, if you will, bright flashing neon signs “The Messiah is Here!”
Some saw the signs and believed – at least to some extent. Others “kept seeking signs”, that is, they refused to believe even when they saw one or more for themselves. So the miraculous sign doesn't guarantee belief. In fact, sometimes Jesus wouldn't or couldn't do a miracle – whether it was for King Herod or the unbelievers in his own home town.
Nonetheless, here in Luke 11, our Gospel for today, Jesus has to defend his miracles of exorcism from unbelieving witnesses. Oh they believed in demons. They even believed that Jesus had cast them out. But they claimed Jesus was working for the Devil – casting out demons by the prince of demons.
Jesus defends his miracles – not with more miracles – but with his words. And his words are really the main thing, anyway. He has a point to make, and it's a simple one – similar to what he's said elsewhere. It's something like this: In spiritual terms – you are either with Jesus or you are against him. There's no middle ground.
If you are against Jesus, then you are under the power of the Devil – whether you are literally possessed by a demon or not – the Devil has hold of you. You are a captive of the “strong man” locked away in his palace, under heavy guard. And this is the condition we were all in. This is the place we were born – into sin. Slaves by birth to a terrible master. Possessed by the forces of darkness for all eternity.
Not that we are terribly opposed to that. Each time we sin, our old nature is gasping and grasping for its old master. There's a part of us that is quite comfortable with evil – to the point that we're numb to it. We can even cast our sins as virtues. You can paint the prison walls pretty, but it's still a prison. And you can pretend that the devil is irrelevant or a figment, and he's just fine with that as long as his hold on you is still strong.
But Jesus is the stronger man who comes to beat up the bully. He not only casts out demons from villagers and peasants – he destroys the prince of demons himself. He shatters the kingdom of the Devil with a cross – his own cross, descending to Hell to announce his victory. He's even stronger than death – rising from the grave to live forever.
All this to bring us to himself. All this to free us from our old master. To break the bonds of sin and death and hell. To create in us a new spirit. And to make us blessed.
When Jesus had finished explaining this to the doubters and the haters, a woman in the crowd shouts out a kind of a complement – blessing even the mother that gave him birth!
Not that Jesus denies it, but he redirects the woman's attention to where true blessing is found. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it”. Yes, it's nice to be around Jesus, to see his miracles, to wonder at the wonders. It's great to see him kicking out demons and taking names, bullying the bully for our sake. But it's even better that we hear the word of God and keep it.
Of course, he speaks that word. It's a word of law – a rebuke of sin. Rules to keep that we don't. But his word is also a word of promise – a good word that cleanses and heals. And this word we keep when we treasure the promises and put our faith in them, and in him.
If we don't hear and don't treasure and don't keep that word – it won't matter what else he does for us. He could even cast out demons and the person who doesn't remain in his word will be taken in again, and be worse off than before.
But Jesus does clean house – when it comes to the temple of our body – the temple of the Holy Spirit. He creates in us a new spirit. He washes us clean with the holy waters of baptism. He continues to cleanse us with his holy body and blood. Christ dwells within us, his Spirit dwells within us – and so there simply is no room for an evil spirit. Christ is our master, how could we serve our old master, Satan? Christ is our strong champion – why should we ever worry about what the old serpent can do to us? For his head has been stomped on by the heel of the Savior. He is crushed.
Blessed are you, who hear his word, in this place. Blessed are you, even though each of us struggles with our own demons – literal or not. Blessed are you because the victory is yours in Christ, his word declares, “it is finished”.
Blessed are you who have been sealed in the water of promise – baptized into his name and kingdom. That gift and those words, are also to be kept – not forgotten – not kept on a shelf – but lived and used and remembered each day.
Blessed are you who keep his words of promise that this bread and wine is his body and blood – who remember these words and do what they say. Who receive these gifts in true faith.
Yes, we are weak but he is strong. Enemies surround us, but he protects us. The devil would have us, but we belong to Christ.