Oculi Sermon 2010

In the name of the Father and the +Son and the Holy Ghost.  Amen.  These are difficult times.  A house divided upon itself will always fall.  My friends and I used to play war when we were kids.  The basic tenant was always, “divide and conquer.”  And we knew that if you could divide, the conquering was easy.  And so it is that I’ve happened upon a family here at Our Redeemer.  A household of faith – a kingdom if you will.  Brothers and sisters have been born out of water and the Spirit.  The Church birthed them… many of you right here, if not in this room, then in Houston.  Our Lord Jesus has made you a member of himself in the Holy regeneration of Holy Baptism.  The finger of God has touched you.  You are called holy.  You are called righteous.  You are children of the most high almighty God.  Look at yourselves.  Look at your hands.  Hold them up before your eyes.  God has made for himself children out of creation.  He has made family out of humans.  You have become divine because of Jesus.

And yet it is the way of the human heart to call what is good “evil,” and we have all done it.  We have vilified those we disagree with.    We rarely call our opponent in politics, at the work place, at home, or in the Church “evil.”  But we have called them “closed-minded,” “hateful,” “legalistic,” “Pharisaic,” “stupid,” “racist,” and “liberal.”  And we’ve rolled our eyes.  Our intentions in all vilification, in arbitrary accusations, character assassinations, and plain old name-calling has been to make ourselves look good and to enact some vengeance, born of envy or anger, disgust or ignorance, but never of charity, on our opponents.  And we have allowed our brothers and sisters to become opponents.  We’ve made ourselves the judge.  We’ve relished our anger.  Repent.

Jesus was casting out demons.  The mute man spoke for the first time.  There should have been great rejoicing.  It was a sign from God.  It was a miracle – the mute man’s affliction was cast out and his voice returned to him.  But Satan wouldn’t allow it.  Some in the crowd hated Jesus, no matter what he did.  Their hearts were full of envy and rage.  They couldn’t stand or accept his good deeds.  So they called him evil.  They called him the prince of the dung heap.  They were saying, “Jesus is in league with the devil.”  Divide and conquer… and the joy evaporated like the morning fog.

Envy is never happy.  Anger is not easily satisfied.  They kept testing him: seeking a sign from heaven.  Were they blind?  Was not Jesus performing a sign from heaven?  Who casts the doubt?  Who demands a sign?  This is what the devil did in our reading two weeks ago.  In the desert he asked Jesus to throw himself down from the highest point of the temple.  “Force the angles to catch you.  Make your Father prove his power and his love.”  Is that what we do, too?  Are we forcing God to show his power to forgive us, even when we refuse to forgive… when we harbor anger, or let our envy grow and lust?  Are we forcing the angels to intervene?

Jesus would later say to this same crowd that an evil generation seeks a sign.  They refused to be satisfied and would not trust in Christ and his Word.  They demanded proof.  Jesus said he would give them the sign of Jonah… the sign of a man buried three days in the belly of death alive out of death to preach repentance and salvation to the nations.  That is the sign faith clings to—the sign of the cross.  Christ crucified and risen to save sinners, death spitting up its prey.

Still fallen men call what is good evil.  They attack God’s Word by calling it a human-created fiction.  They say Christians are intellectually foolish and psychologically weak, Christianity is an offense that should die its own death.  But God has chosen nonsense in the world to shame the wise.  God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God has chosen you, in his mercy, to be vilified with the Lord Jesus, to go the way of the cross.

The devil is obviously strong.  He has great power.  He is ruthless, and he is also clever.  He will stop an nothing to divide this family.  To see it conquered, he will throw any lie at us and he will whisper sweet nothings in your ear to trick you into hate, envy, and anger.  He wants there to be no joy here—and he is delighted when the angles stop rejoicing.  But our Lord Jesus Christ is stronger then the devil.  He exercises his strength not with spectacular power, violence, or deceptions, but instead he submits to all the devil has.  He lets the devil do his worst, bring his full power to bear, and he turns the other cheek.  He uses Satan’s strength against him.  It is not a surprise, it is exactly what the Law, the Psalms, and all the prophets foretold.  The devil knew.  He quoted the Word of God in the desert.  He has the Word of God memorized.  But in the end, he was a fool who could not resist the chance to kill God even though this is how he lost humanity.  Jesus did not use evil disguised as good, that is the way of the devil.  Jesus used good disguised as evil.  The unjust death he died, the innocent for the guilty is good.  The centurion’s conversion and the repentant thief are good.  The death of Jesus appeared evil but is the ultimate and greatest good.  It is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.

It was by a tree that the devil overcame the human race and plunged creation into darkness.  So it is by the Tree of the cross that the devil is overcome.  It was by death that Satan sought to steal away man’s glory.  So it is by the death of Jesus Christ that the glory of man is restored.  Satan is caught in his own trap, succumbs to the temptation, bound and defeated.  He was divided and conquered.  The strong man is out worked by the Stronger Man whose strength is not hatred and rage but love and mercy.  The war is over.  Satan is defeated.  Jesus is the victor.

The unclean spirits must be replaced with the Holy Spirit.  And those who have the Holy Spirit hear the Word of God and keep it and are thereby blessed.  Blessed are those whose wickedness has been covered and sins have been forgiven.  Blessed are those who confess what is evil as evil and confess what is good, even the Lord Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection as good.

You are such people.  For though you have called good evil and vilified your opponents and even your brothers and sisters… so also have you confessed your sins.  You are not a hypocrite.  You have not claimed to be anything other than a sinner.  Neither are you wicked.  For you do not call your sins good.  You confess them.  You call them evil.  You repent of them.  And you also confess the goodness of Jesus Christ, of his Holy Cross, of his power over death and the devil, and of his Holy Sacraments.  You expect and receive forgiveness.  You hear the Word of God and keep it, which is not to say that you obey it perfectly, but that you believe it, trust it, and you hope in it.  Jesus Christ is your Lord.  Satan has not divided you.  Jesus now bind you together into one body.  You are made one flesh in him who has come down from heaven.  Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy.  For unto you this day Jesus Christ has come to give you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Blessed are you.  The difficult times are made easy in the yoke of the Lord.  He is come.  You are his.  He is faithful.  He calls you by name.  He is faithful and today he does all things well.

In +Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

**Modified from a sermon by Rev. David Petersen, Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana and Rev. Richard Futrell Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Kimberling City, Missouri.

The Reverend Steven Thomas Cholak