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Monday, February 25, 2008

Homily on Luke 11:14-28

Third Sunday in Lent
February 24, 2008

Lk 11.14-28

We don’t know much about the man who was possessed by the demon in Luke chapter 11. We don’t know his name or where he came from. We don’t know how long he’d been possessed or how he came to become possessed. All we do know is that while he was under the control of Satan, he was mute. And when Jesus performed the exorcism, the man began to speak.

There were three types of response to this miracle. The Scripture says that some were amazed. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled. They conclude, and rightly so, that this is clear evidence that God is moving amongst them in powerful ways. Matthew's account tells us that a hopeful murmur went up from the crowd, "Could this be the Son of David?" Is he the one?

Incredibly, some of them doubted and said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” The word “Beelzebub” is usually translated as “Lord of the Flies.” It could also be “Lord of the Dung Heap.” This verse reminds me that there are always people who insist on seeing everything in the worst light. They aren’t happy unless they’re mad at something. A man is delivered from a debilitating demonic affliction. It must be the work of the devil. They can’t tell the difference between good or evil. God blesses them and they insist that it’s a curse.

Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven. But if releasing a man from demonic possession is not a sign, I don’t know what is. What they had just witnessed in the cleaning of the demoniac was an unambiguous demonstration of the power of God. Yet they are so blind to God’s mercy that they fail to see the obvious.

Jesus' exorcism of demons should be seen as signs pointing to the arrival of the Kingdom of God, just as seeing leaves budding on the trees is an indication that the lifeless tyranny of winter is coming to an end. The exorcisms indicate that an invincible, world-transforming potency has been set in motion. The visions of the prophets are being fulfilled! The day is dawning. The night is over.

Remember the song?

Ding Dong! The Witch is dead. Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch!
Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead.
Wake up - sleepy head, rub your eyes, get out of bed.
Wake up, the Wicked Witch is dead. She's gone where the goblins go,
Below - below - below. Yo-ho, let's open up and sing and ring the bells out.
Ding Dong' the merry-oh, sing it high, sing it low.
Let them know The Wicked Witch is dead!

The scene in The Wizard of Oz when the munchkins realize that their oppressor had been crushed under Dorothy’s house?

Jesus is not a pacifist. Elsewhere he said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace to the world, but a sword.”

The Muslims speak of the concept of a jihad, or a holy war. The only holy war is the war that Christ has waged against the Devil. And it is a war that will not be fought and won with bullets and guns. Our sword is the Word of God that pierces through your armor of defensiveness and self-justification. There is no diplomacy. There is no negotiation. There is no appeasement. There is only crushing, brutal, devastating victory from the ashes of which springs new life.

There are no Switzerlands in spiritual warfare. Neutrality is not an option. No one is merely an onlooker. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. It is impossible to remain uninvolved in the conflict of the ages – the conflict between the Church Militant on earth, and the satanic realm of darkness and evil.

On the one side, there is joy and peace and knowledge and power. And on the other is madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.

In Matthew chapter 16, Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I think many times Christians understand this to mean that God will preserve His Church on earth through every toil and pain, that no matter what evil Satan pours out upon us, the Holy Church will endure by the grace of God. It certainly means that, but also something more. The idea is not merely that the Church will survive, but that the Church will prevail. It says the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against us. We, the church, are on the offense. We are not quietly enduring the assaults of the devil. No, the Church is laying siege to hell itself. And the battering ram of the gospel, of the good news of forgiveness, will shatter the gates of Satan’s realm. The chains of guilt which bound us drop from our arms and the prisoners, newly freed, go delirious with their freedom. In Christ, the dominion of evil is ended. By his glorious resurrection from the dead, our Lord Jesus is not merely a survivor. He is the victor. Christ’s epic battle with Satan is not some kind of draw or stalemate or deadlock. He won the decisive victory. He is the champion and his scars are his trophies. Jesus is the victor and He shares the spoils with all of us.

But that does not mean there will not still be trouble for us here. The enemy insurgents are still trying to sabotage Christ’s victory. But do not be afraid.

A couple of years ago, when I was still pastoring a congregation in Pittsburgh, PA, there was one Sunday morning when I was sitting in the Sedalia off the to the side of the chancel during the hymn just before the sermon and I saw coming toward me on the carpet a big, black, fuzzy spider. Of all of God’s creatures, the spider is one of the few that creeps me out. I know I should have been paying attention to the hymn or at least thinking pious thoughts in preparation for delivering the message. But I just kept watching that little fiend coming closer and closer. Finally, it came to the point, where I felt action was required on my part. So right when he got to my foot, I lifted my black, leather, wingtip shoe to send him to his maker when the most amazing thing occurred. For at that moment, the spider must have detected my challenge and he stopped in his tracks and he raised up his legs at my shoe like this (demonstrate). Now I almost had to laugh because, his threatening gesture aside, I knew without a shadow of doubt that I was going to smoosh him. And I did. That spider was no match for the sole of my shoe.

In the words of Jesus this morning, Satan is the strong man who has built a fortress around his possessions. And we are born into this world as objects of God’s wrath. Before we do or say anything, we are alienated and enemies of our Creator. And we are fully subjects of the Evil One. Looking all around you, it is obvious the mastery which Satan has in this world, this fallen order of things. Yes, Satan is strong. He is the strong man. But Jesus Christ is the stronger man who comes to invade the devil’s fortress. Jesus Christ breaks down the doors of hell and He overpowers the tyrant. And He expels that bully, that braggart, from our lives forever. And He did so with the flick of His finger.

Once upon a time, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, and Pharaoh would not let them go. How were they eventually freed? God Almighty attacked the arrogance of Pharaoh and his evil magicians with one plague after another to confound them. In exasperation the sorcerers and witch doctors of Egypt exclaimed: "This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:18). That is the same unusual phrase Jesus uses this morning. He casts out demonsby the finger of God. We are also told that after God finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave him two tablets of stone, written by “the finger of God.” Jesus had the same power and authority as Yahweh when He emancipated His people of old. And He comes to emancipate us as well.

Think of that the next time you see your pastor use finger to make the sign of the cross upon the baptized to mark him as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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1 comment:

Frank said...

great, great sermon. how often do you get to preach these days?

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