27. March 2011
Oculi (Lent 3)
When Jesus said that your body is a temple, he meant it. Inside this fleshy mass is a house of worship where the gods like to dwell. When it comes to your body, all sorts can and have inhabited your temple. Your tent of meeting in the flesh seems to be always ready for new or old gods. It seems nothing stops them from dropping in for a visit, just like cousin Ernie with his RV. The visit becomes becomes a week and then an extended stay, eating everything in fridge, wrecking the house, and stinking up the place.
Of course, gods are not God. Those that usually dwell in our tabernacle of flesh are far from divine. We call them foibles, failings, and faux pas. God calls them sins, idols, and even demons. Consider the image on cover of your service folder. I admit it is a bit startling. We don’t think of the demonic. We think the multitude of accounts in the Holy Scriptures are tall tales or pre-modern nonsense. Rational explanations must exist for the supernatural superstitious silliness.
Very few deny that presence of the “spiritual” in this world. Even the most strident atheist will speak of the “spirit” of the Constitution or the law. For some, the spiritual is the occasional knock-on-wood, the superstitious garden gnome, or the daily horoscope. For others, it is an obsession with the supernatural, the mystical, or the imaginary.
Ask anyone with a relatively comfortable life about demons. Ask about Satan and his legions. If anyone is willing to admit the possibility of the demonic, they are likely considered silly monsters hiding under our beds.
Score one for the demonic host. Your obliviousness and unwillingness to call them what they are is a huge strategic victory. Ignorance is the best tool for this evil host to continue, business as usual.
Ironically, the bed is one of their favorite dwellings. They’re even so bold to show their hideous faces, when the newest sitcom has so-and-so sharing a bed or the latest tabloid talks about the diva’s torrid affair. There are so many of them, walking about in broad daylight, that we think they are just part of life.
Make no mistake, their wicked lies and deceit are far from natural. Desiring a life that is neither chaste nor decent is not that of beloved children. Lusting after another, even committing adultery is and always will be immoral. The only one who rejoices is the demon inside your bed.
Where one demon dwells, another one or two or even seven will seek to live. The dwelling place of the Holy One becomes the apartment complex for the demonic many. Its no wonder then that a little thing like sex without openness to the blessing of children, perhaps even engaged into innocently enough, has now lead to sex without marriage, abortion on demand, no-fault divorce, and the coupling of two with the same organs. Where one short-statured, barely red, tail-less devil entered and later was sent away, other more evil spirits followed.
Look at countries where these new ideas (perhaps demonic!) have been in place for generations. Last week, a study was released using data from the last 100 years, predicting that Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Canada, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Switzerland will be “religiousless” in the future. These countries consider themselves “enlightened,” having long ago began undermining their society through one immoral legalization after another. Our country continues the same precipitous and demonic trends.
Jesus told us to expect this. “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 my 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 state of that person is worse than the first.”
The story goes something like this: There was a man who could not speak. In his temple dwelt a demon. It coiled its scaly tale around the man’s tongue, seizing it from speech. This unclean spirit was not God. Therefore, Jesus cast him out. The man’s tongue was loosed to confess the Lord’s name and the people marveled. Just a story or history? This man ought to be on guard, keeping God’s Word firmly on his tongue, for the demons will try again and this time with a legion.
Is all this fanciful talk, silly speculation? Or is the tale in the Scriptures true?
We know from Genesis that your flesh was created to be in perfect communion with God. You and the Creator would walk together, enjoying the fruits of his creation. Love and peace would govern your days. But something is now terribly wrong. Adam and Eve were cast out, forced to work the land and deliver children into pain and misery.
This is your lineage. Your body inherited from your first parents has been made a den of robbers, filled with parasitic demons, seeking to eat up your flesh. These evil spirits are not innocuous bacteria, dwelling contentedly with what little they can manage. They seek to gain the advantage, to win you over to their desires. They will hurt or harm you, and worse yet, try to kill you, destroying the body. No bother, there’s always other houses available, ripe for the picking.
Inside once-holy temple is a holiest place. Your heart was created to be the throne of God. Once, God sat on this royal seat, ruling over your heart, mind, and body. From this throne, he would give you great gifts of happiness, beauty, joy, and the strength to be creatures made in his image. But you and the Serpent, joined in league and armed to the teeth with lies, dethroned the Holy Trinity from your heart. You were heard “You will be like God” and wanted it.
That’s the hardest pill to swallow. You are responsible for your own demise. But its worse than that. Your temple and your holiest place of the heart will not be left vacant. You are never left alone. Without God, who will come to dwell in his stead? Who will sit upon the throne, ruling your thoughts and deeds?
When the demon had gone out … some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons…” Who is this prince? [Jesus], knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”
There is but one adversary and his name is Satan. Beelzebul, or lord of the flies, is a pious superstition from the old world. I tell you, he isn’t just a buzzing bumblebee, he is a well-armed foe, whose kingdom isn’t divided. His unholy host is fully with him. The demonic party is not an unorganized, rag-tag outfit. They are well-trained and battle-ready.
There are but two evils and one master. Sin, death, and Satan. Temptation and transgression is from Satan. The wages of sin is death. These three love your tabernacle, reveling day and night at the wickedness the incite in your flesh. It’s either Satan and his hosts or The Holy Trinity and the Sabaoth.
We like the gray and fuzzy. No one wants to be black and white. We say, “well, that’s wrong to me, but whatever you do in the privacy of your own home, that’s ok.” Its not okay. Sin is sin, whether in your flesh or in your neighbor. Either you dwell in the light or in the darkness and the shadow of death. Its either God or Satan. The inexpressible holiness will not dwell in a tent of wickedness. It’s not both/and but either/or.
Either you dwell in heaven or you dwell in earth. Either you are members of the kingdom of God or you are slaves to the god of this world. Either you live in the light or you die in the dark. Jesus says, “whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
In God’s house, there are no double standards, no winking at wrong-doing, no acceptance of greed and materialism, no self-made religion. In his house, only his holy standard of Law stands true and all guilt is revealed. It’s God’s way or the highway to hell.
Your heart and mine, just like father Adam’s, is given over to the evil one. You are plagued by a myriad of devils, going by the names of Greed, Lust, Envy, Hate, Gluttony, Pride, Despair, Sloth. They have many weapons—materialism, illness, depression, pornography, addiction, entertainment, and super-sizing. They are happy with you acting like they don’t exist. They rejoice when you ignore their temptation. They’re ecstatic when your temple is left vacant for them to enthrone Satan himself as Lord of your heart.
Jesus won’t have it. He is here today in your presence and can’t stand by while one of his children subjects himself to the demonic and satanic. He says, but if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Jesus is the exorcist par excellence. He knew you before you were born. He knitted you together in your mother’s womb. He made you body to be his holy dwelling, a temple for his word and Spirit to dwell. His finger is his power. His power is his Word, breathed out by the Holy Spirit.
Satan is the strong man. He is fully armed, guarded his own palace, his goods are safe. Your life may seem overcome with shame and vice. It may seem you are powerless to temptation. You may go day to day fearing death. According to your own ability, this is true. You are powerless against this strong man. Your transgressions, your impending death, and the evil one himself are strong foes and are deadly dangerous.
Jesus is the stronger man. He is the Word incarnate, the Sword of the Spirit, the breastplate of righteousness. Satan may seem strong. He may seem to have impenetrable defenses. He sends one demon after another to torment you. Even the legions of demons at his disposal pale in comparison to the strength of the Almighty One.
When the only one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. This prince of evil is deposed from his throne in your heart. He is the wounded serpent, biting at heels on those on earth. His host has been restrained, their weapons removed, and their devious plans averted.
Jesus did this for you. He freed you from captivity and brought you to freedom. The dark dungeon of despair was burst open and the light of his forgiveness shines through. He crushed the serpent’s head, driving the cross down upon him.
This happens every time you receive his Holy Gifts. The Word of God preached and taught casts of the evil one from your heart. In the baptism, the demonic is washed from you and you are made the holy dwelling of God. The Lord’s Supper is the forgiveness of God imparted to you in flesh and blood.
Luther understood the true nature of our flesh. In his baptismal rite, we begin by saying, “Out unclean spirit and make way for the Holy Spirit.” This is the stark reality, that the unbaptized are in Satan’s possession. Jesus won’t have it and has cast him out of your heart through the saving waters.
This is the reality. There is no neutrality, no middle ground. What is yours by faith is unswerving allegiance. We might even call it patriotism for the kingdom of God.
God is enthroned in your heart. The strong man was cast down by the stronger. Now your flesh also dwells secure. It is quite amazing!
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!”
Blessed are you for you have heard the Word of God, received him in faith, and now keep it in repentance.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church