February 28, 2016 AD
Old Testament: Exodus 8:16-24
Epistle: Ephesians 5:1-9
Gospel: Luke 11:14-28
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Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
From the Gospel for this Sunday:
“Jesus said, ‘But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.'” – Luke 11:20
When you were baptized, and again when you were confirmed, you were asked, “Do you renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways?” And you answered— either through your godparents at your baptism, or you yourself answered the question at your confirmation— with the single word “Yes.” “Do you renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways?” “Yes.” A simple answer to a simple question. But what follows is not simple at all, for by answering that question with a “Yes”, you in fact enlisted as a soldier in the battle against Satan and his legions, a battle which never ends until we leave this present world and, like poor Lazarus, are carried by the holy angels into the paradise of God. “Do you renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways?” “Yes.”
You may have noticed that Satan appears in the Gospel read here in church on each of these first three Sundays in Lent: on the first Sunday we heard of our Lord’s struggle against Satan in the wilderness; last Sunday we heard of the Canaanite woman whose daughter was “tormented by a demon”; and today we see our Lord’s enemies accusing Him of being in league with Beelzebul, i.e., the Devil. You might well wonder why there is all this emphasis on the Devil during Lent. The reason is that in the ancient Church Lent was the time when adult converts to the faith received their final preparation for baptism during the vigil of the night before Easter, when they would be asked this question, “Do you renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways?” “Yes.”
Now in our day it isn’t easy to talk about Satan and his legions. Many Christians are reluctant to talk about the subject too much for fear of being laughed at. When demons do get mentioned, we often tend to slide over the matter as if it doesn’t mean much to us or as if it embarrasses us— after all, who still believes in devils in this enlightened age? So many people assume that this is just another outworn superstition for which there is no place in this so-called “modern” world. Today the Devil is much discredited and treated as something of a joke. Just think of the popular picture of the Devil in red tights with horns and a tail and waving a pitchfork! He’s comical, laughable— and the word “devil” has gone all the way from being a word of dread to being in fact a term of endearment, as when a fond father says of his little son, “He’s a little devil, isn’t he?” A devil? No, there’s no such thing.
The irony of all this is that this disbelief in Satan and his legions prevails in an age in which, as much as and perhaps more than any other, there is mountainous evidence of his work!
As some of you know, one of my obsessions is the First World War. The last day of that war was November 11th, which, when I was growing up, we called “Armistice Day” , because it was the day when there was an end to the fighting. For four days before November 11th, representatives of Germany and representatives of the Allied nations were trying to work out the terms of the Armistice. Now you might have thought that they would have then and there, on November 7th, called a halt to the fighting, but no! The fighting and the killing went right on until 10:59 AM on the 11th. (It was in fact an American soldier from Baltimore, Henry Gunther, whose parents lived in Highlandtown, who was the last Allied casualty.) Well in those four days of negotiations six thousand more soldiers were killed; and even after the Armistice was signed at 5 o’clock in the morning on the 11th, the generals ordered their troops to continue killing each other until exactly 11 o’clock! I find it hard to imagine the mindset of generals who would order continued slaughter, even though they knew it was less than six hours till the cease-ﬁre would go into effect.
Well, Satan’s efforts and works are hard to detect. But when I look at something like that, and indeed at what, in my opinion, was a completely tragic and unnecessary war, how can one not see a more-than-human power of evil at work? Or look at our own day, when thousands of people are perfectly willing to blow themselves up to destroy their enemies and in so doing imagine that they are somehow pleasing God!
But it’s not just those poor deluded people in other lands who are Satan’s prey. For if people in our part of the world are convinced that Satan is nothing more than an outmoded superstition— a myth, a fairy-tale— then he can go about his destructive work undetected and unhindered. Then our resistance is down and we are easy prey to all his seductive wiles. I’ll never forget how one my dearest teachers, Dr. Martin Franzmann, put this many years ago. He said: “The trouble with the modern world is that we’ve been the Devil’s funeral— and then we’ve stayed for the refreshments served by his grieving relatives.”
But all of Holy Scripture, together with the faithful and constant teaching of the Church, and also everyday experience, unite in proclaiming the reality of the ancient enemy of God and Man. Of course Holy Scripture tells us not so much what Satan and his legions are as what they do. They are of course by nature fallen angels, invisible spirits, bodiless powers, and their purpose is always to destroy everything good that a truly good and gracious Creator has made. And Christ’s Church and we Christians are especially the target of their evil purpose. It has been often and truly said that “Wherever Christ builds his Church, there the Devil builds a chapel,” and I’ve known some churches in which the Devil had a very fine and large chapel indeed! Two of his favorite tricks are to sow seeds of dissension, and to keep our eyes so focused on problems that we lose sight of all God’s goodness!
And so we are called to prayer, as we pray in the daily morning and evening prayers in the Catechism: “Let your holy angel be with me that the evil foe may have no power over me.” And we are called to watchfulness. This Sunday’s Gospel is in fact a call to watchfulness against all the snares and delusions of Satan.
Now all of this can sound rather gloomy and defeating unless we remember that Holy Scripture never calls our attention to the sad reality of Satan without also drawing our attention to our Lord’s victory over Him! So when in the Holy Gospel for this day Jesus is accused of casting out devils with the help of the devils, He replies: “If I by the finger of God cast out devils, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” Satan has met his match and more in the incarnate Son of God, God made man, Our Lord Jesus Christ. In His great struggle with Satan in the wilderness, in His life of perfect obedience to the Father’s will— always resisting every Satanic suggestion— and finally in His death of pouring out His life-blood to cleanse us from the stain of all our sins, our Savior has defeated the Devil, the decisive battle has been won. And now we but await the manifestation, the unveiling, of His victory on that Last and Great Day when the world as we now know it will come to its end and the risen Lord of love will make all things new. That new world dawned from the open tomb when the Lord Jesus rose victorious from the dead, the triumph we celebrate every Sunday and which we’ll again celebrate with great joy at Easter.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. +Amen.