“Hear the Word of God and Keep It” – Luke 11:14-28 – Oculi 2013

02. March 2013
Luke 11:14-28

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!” 

To keep the Word is to hide within the Word. The woman in the crowd thought that faithfulness is serving Jesus. She uplifts the Mother of Our Lord for childbearing and nursing. St. Mary is to be revered for hearing the Word from the angel Gabriel and bearing that eternal Word. For Jesus we and all the saints are to be revered for the same reason. We have heard this Word and we keep near and dear. We clothe ourselves in Jesus and treasure Him in our hearts by faith.

“The most effective help against the devil, the world, and all evil thoughts.. [is] to be occupied with God’s Word, to speak it, and meditate on it.” (LC, Preface 10) There sweet smell of Christ’s sacrifice is the only effective repellent against the devil and his wiles and his ways. Jesus defends us from all our mortal foes when he continually speaks His Word and grants us faith to cherish it.

Our bodies are dwelling places just as this sanctuary is home for this congregation. This is why Jesus casts out demons. They cannot dwell in a body home that has been reserved for Him. By nature this home is a dwelling place for the Devil. Only by the stronger man’s finger is the evil one cast out. Holy Baptism exorcises the Devil and all his angels and the strong name of the Trinity takes up its residence in you. Where the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is given, there the Godhead dwells by faith.

What of the homes exorcised of the devil in Baptism but this faith is not nurtured? What of those baptized but infrequently, reluctantly, or never hear the Word, receive forgiveness of their sins, and eat and drink Christ’s body and blood? What of those who have been freed, swept, and cleaned? These empty homes need Jesus. He tells us in the Gospel:

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 last state of that person is worse than the first.”

Jesus is telling us how those who are saved and then stop receiving the Holy Spirit. As St. Peter said it, to paraphrase, better never to be a Christian than to reject the faith once received (2 Peter 2:20ff). They are the house cleared of its demonic possession but then left without Christ’s continual filling of the home with His Spirit. A vacant home invites the devil’s host to return and with more evil than before.

Yes, God will “punish those who deliberately turn away from the holy commandment and involve themselves again in the filth of this world (2 Pet. 2:20), prepare their hearts for Satan (Luke 11:24, 25), and outrage the Holy Spirit (Heb. 10:29), and that he would harden, blind, and for ever damn them if they continue therein.” (FC XI 83)

This is God’s alien work. Even allowing people to fall into blindness, hardness of heart, and under demonic power is not to damn them eternally. No, it that He would receive into grace all who repent and believe in Christ. It is a call to repentance. When we struggle against our flesh this is the call to confess our sins, by which God crucifies our flesh again and makes us alive by the Spirit. When the devil rages and torments us, this is a call to dwell again richly in the Word by which we quench all his fiery darts. When the world seeks to pollute you or the holy Church, only God’s Word is the true defense and shield.

There is no middle ground in the battle between God and devil, between flesh and spirit, and between church and the world. We’d like to think that we can straddle the fence, play both sides, or dabble as our mortal enemies are mostly harmless. Two weeks ago Jesus showed us how there is no capitulation to the devil. He warred against the evil foe in the wilderness and won. None of the evil one’s three temptations were reasonable or faithful. At every turn, the chief of liars deceived, cajoled, and baited to choose the wrong side in a losing battle.  At every temptation, Jesus turned the devil away by the Word of God, thereby defeating him.

When it comes to the battle between God and Satan, “whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” This is no surprise to us. We know the Law given by Moses. God commanded we have no other gods, that we hallow the name of the Holy Trinity only, and that we worship Him only in spirit and truth. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind—and Him only shall your serve. Even with the command and perhaps despite of it, we flirt with idols. We call upon the name of guru, president, or mock savior for help. Our worship and prayers fail and falter. As a spiritual warrior we look more like Barney Fife than a Navy Seal—bumbling, idiotic, and mistaken.

There is no middle ground. There is no picking and choosing. No neutrality. You cannot say, “there is my victor Jesus!” and deny His gift of Holy Baptism. You cannot call Jesus your only Lord and deny His forgiveness and to forgive others. You cannot live in Jesus if you fail to receive His life-giving body and blood. There is no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t receive Christ in the Holy Scriptures and blessed Sacraments. If you’re with Him in His Word you will receive Him in His instituted means. If refuse the means of giving His life by His very Word, then you’re against Him and scattering faith into the wind.

Thanks be to God that the battle is not up to us. God is faithful and He will do it. He saves us without our reason or strength. He gives us faith to trust that Jesus’s death is enough to satisfy all God’s wrath. The battle is already won. The victory is done. Christ has triumphed over Devil and every idol and gives us this victory in His body and blood. That is to say, our victory over Satan doesn’t come by our striving to win but rather receiving the spoils in Christ.

He is the stronger man who binds this strong man. Jesus is the finger of God whose mighty touch casts out demons, cleanses of iniquity, and raises the dead. This is what Jesus does. He casts out Satan’s demonic hold through Holy Baptism. “Out unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit!” He waters the parched desert of our heart with His living water. We are wandering pilgrims, journeying through the valley of the shadow of death. He nourishes us with bread from heaven, the sustenance of His Word. As we constantly stumble and fall, He rescues us from the pit in Holy Absolution. Our self-inflicted wounds need a constant source of healing and He gives us His body and blood to eat and to drink as medicine. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Triumph in Jesus – Advent Midweek 3 – Luke 24:13-33

19. December 2012
Advent Midweek 3
Luke 24:13-33

We don’t always recognize the need for Christ’s presence. Sometimes it’s the daytime and things are “sunny.” In the artificial light of this world, the need for Christ can be ignored. Yet in the evening, in the darkness, in sickness, and in death… the statement “abide with me” resonates with us. In those times we need the abiding light of Christ. We need His gracious presence.

God’s presence and His grace are bound together. Grace is gift, taking us to bask in the light of the cross. Grace faces down the evil one, the tempter. The glorious grace of Christ crucified defeats the devil. Even when the sun shines and things are peachy, we still yearn for this grace, this light. There is still darkness within us and without in the world. Only Christ can banish that darkness.

The cross is God’s gracious, brilliant defeat of all our enemies. This life’s journey is full of stumbling blocks. Our heart is full of temptations to sin. We walk in danger of slipping all the way. Only the One who goes into the well-fought fight can end the warfare. He is our captain. He leads us through the darkness. He fights on our behalf. The only defeat of Satan is by Christ. He is the victor because he has already won at the cross. We who abide with Him already have the victory in Him.

The beauty of being in Christ is the receiving of His gifts. Every day with Christ is Christmas. We need to be with Him, to be in communion with Him. He gives us Himself. We share in His sufferings that we would also share in His glory. Sharing is giving. This is why we constantly go to church, to hear His word, and receive His body and blood. He is out in front of us in the battle. We know we will stumble and fall. We know we will lose the way. We are haunted by our sins, especially at night and near death. In His service, Christ gives precious treasures. We receive forgiveness. He heals us. He cleanses us. He takes us into Himself. He abides with us.

Jesus is the changeless one and thus His gifts abide. His light shines forever. The brightness of His mercy, forgiveness, blood shed, and what He does banishes the darkness. Not only does this light shine now but it has been shining since before the foundation of the world. The incarnation of Christ, a light shining in darkness, was always the plan of God for you. We are broken people dwelling in the blackness. Christ is the eternal light, brightening even the worst of life’s moments. The child born of Mary breaks through the darkness with everlasting light.

“Abide with Me” is a hymn about death and seeing the light that comes in Christ. It is in death where Christ abides with us. Christians have the capacity to see the sorrow of death and to mourn. There is a loss. Death is not the way God created it to be. Christ has transformed death by His death. It is no longer the end but the beginning. It is the entrance into the eternal reality.

Think of Pastor Henry Lyte and singing “Abide with Me” on the day of his farewell. He never made it to Italy for recuperation. He must have known he was dying. No doubt he suffered pains, tears, bitterness from TB. Even in his weakness, He sees Christ’s triumph. In his suffering, He sees the triumph of the cross. Even in death, he sees triumph. This the heart of the Gospel. The Christ must suffer then enter into His glory. Death has no sting. Grave has no victory. Pr. Lyte had the triumph of Christ even as he lay dying. So also for every saint of God. Death gives way to resurrection and eternal life.

Baptism is when we’re joined to the eternal one. We’re no longer living in a body that simply decays and dies. Our bodies are remade by the waters into what God intended us to be in the beginning. Our bodies are made like Christ’s body. We get death over with in Holy Baptism. That’s why we make the sign of cross upon the dying to remind them they already died at Baptism.

Baptism is when our life becomes part of the life of Christ. This is when Christ began to abide with us. Despite sin sticking to us, the reality is Christ is joined to us. He suffered for the sin we now commit. He forgives by the blood He shed at the cross.

The cross is the moment the heavens opened and light into the gloom. At Christ’s resurrection we see the dawn break and our eternal dwelling open up to us. First at the baptism of Jesus, then transfiguration, and finally at the resurrection this is revealed. Heaven is now on earth in the person of Jesus. The ultimate and final yearning of everyone is to commune with God. To be baptized into Christ. To abide with Him.

Our lives testify to everything but eternity. This hymn captures our emotions and feelings, those of reality. Fast falls the eventide. Other helpers fail and comforts flee. Change and decay all around I see. We long for the presence of Christ bodily. We hope in the friend of sinners, the helper of the helpless. Christ abides with you. In life. In death.

As Christmas approaches, we ask: why did Jesus become man? Why did he take on flesh? The answer?  He would experience everything we experience. For those who are baptized in Christ, we know that everything we suffer He suffered. Every melancholy we have He had. His sadness is shared by us and ours with Him. He was lonely on the cross—why, my God, have you forsaken me? He experienced what it means to be human and yet without sin. Thus sinners who have no idea what it means to be whole and perfect learn as we abide in Him. He conquered loneliness, melancholy, and suffering by His life, suffering, and death. He gives us friendship, joy, patience, hope, and life.

To abide in Christ is to be fully human, to know what it’s like to be holy, to know what it means to be as God created us to be. To be joined to Christ in Holy Baptism is to share with Christ everything including suffering, darkness, evening sadness just as He shares with us every good gift. Jesus is in us and we in Him. In life and in death, it is Christ who abides with us. He is our deepest longing. He is our greatest hope. We have Him now in Baptism and in the Supper and we will have Him finally in the company of heaven.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Image courtesy of http://bearhollowcreations.blogspot.com/2010/04/road-to-emmaus.html