Preached March 27, 2011
St. Luke 11:14–28
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
This is the third Sunday of Lent, the completion of our cycle of meditations on the temptations of the devil, the flesh, and today the temptations of the world. We need to begin with the remembrance that in our baptism, we died to the world, as St. Paul says, Romans 6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. We are truly expected to be separated from this world by our baptism into Jesus Christ, so that we are no longer a part of the world, but rather are separated from it, insulated from it, although the temptations of the world are still there for us. All of this is true because we are truly loved by God and forgiven by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for our sakes.
Let us return in our thinking first to the Gospel for the first Sunday in Lent, the story of the temptations of Christ in the wilderness from the devil as recounted by St. Matthew, Chapter 4. You will recall that the first temptation was a challenge to Christ that he use His power to change the stones into bread to feed Himself. This is an invitation to deny His Sonship, to assert independence from the Father. The second temptation was a challenge that Christ should throw Himself down from the top of the Temple, the presumption to put God to the test. Finally, the devil offers to Christ all the attractions and glories of the world if only Christ will worship him. This is the challenge to be disloyal to His Father in Heaven, to be an unfaithful Son. All of the challenges of the devil are against sonship in one form or another.
Much the same sort of thing applies to us as Christians. We have been made adoptive sons of God in our baptism, and the challenges of the devil to us are to rebel against that adoption, to turn away from the Father who has adopted us through grace. Our Epistle lesson opens with the words, Ephesians 5:1 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; We are to be followers of God the Father. We are accepted, in spite of our sins and rebelliousness, because of the Father’s great love and we are simply asked to respond as dear children.
When we were children, our parents established household rules for us, to guide our behavior, and we respected their rules. In the same manner, God the Father has established His rules for mankind, and if we are to be His dear children, we must live in loving respect for His rules. Thus it is evident that murder, lying, fornication, stealing, and the like have no place among Christians because they are all directly contrary to God’s rules clearly stated in the Ten Commandments.
There is more to being Christians, however, than simply following the rules. We are to love God, to want to be like God, to respect God, to have God as our model. We can follow the rules without doing any of these latter things, but these latter are all essentials, and the former are of no account without them. This is where too many of us get into trouble today. What are our goals? What do we want to accomplish in life? Who do we look to as role models? Let me suggest some problems that are common.
One of the common goals in American life is security. While there is no universal definition of security, it is usually associated with having enough money, where enough is not defined, although it usually assumed to be a large quantity, to live comfortably no matter what may happen until the end of one’s life. Did you notice that God does not figure into that working definition of security at all? Yet that is true; that is what you would usually be told if you were to ask the meaning of security. Many people work hard, very hard even, to achieve security, making it their life goal, while failing totally to realize the entirely transient nature of such security. It is a false goal, because it blinds them to eternal security, the only real security, and often leads them to compromise that eternal security in the pursuit of the transient temporal security. This is the result of making an idol of security and failing to trust in God.
One of the most destructive goals in America today is unrestrained ambition. I certainly do not intend to condemn people working hard in an effort to better their station in life. When I apply the adjective “unrestrained” I am thinking of people who are willing to use deceit, immorality, lies, perjury, etc. in order to advance their own position, and I think you will not have to think too hard to come up with examples of many such. This is often combined with a willingness to work extreme hours, to the exclusion of family and community, with a single-minded zeal focused on the acquisition of wealth. They are particularly common in government, businesses that deal with the government, etc. In almost every case, these people have long since forgotten the Commandment Thou shalt not bear false witness. This comes as a result of making an idol of ambition and failing to remember that God is Lord first and foremost.
We are constantly badgered today about the importance of fitness and health. We are regularly advised to eat healthy and to exercise, and many people have taken this to heart, to the point of making this the focal point of their lives. They will run and go to the gym and talk with great enthusiasm about great benefits of physical training. The result of all of this is a huge focus of the body, and a great interest in youthful appearance. The dignity of advanced age is now denied, and everyone wants to look 23. It is a denial of reality, a denial of the unavoidable processes of nature that were ordained by God our Father for us. And yet, some, the older they get, the more time, effort, and money they spend in the pursuit of the appearance of youth. This is a refusal to accept our role as the adopted, human sons of God who must perish from this earth in order to return to the Father. It shows a inordinate love for this life, perhaps greater than for the Father. We were not put here to live forever on this earth, but rather it is simply as preparation for life eternal.
Creating and serving various idols is clearly gross disrespect to God our Father. Perhaps the only thing more disrespectful is for us to presume to judge God. Even this happens in our day. Just a few days ago, I read of a Methodist pastor, Chad Holtz in Henderson, NC, who has been dismissed from his work for denying the existence of hell. Now it is fortunate that he was dismissed, but how have we gotten to the point where those in the Church, in a teaching role, have concluded that the existence of hell requires a “monster god” as Mr. Holtz has says? He has forgotten all about God’s holiness and righteousness, and has taken it upon himself to judge God. There is also a much bigger disturbance in the Church today caused by a new book by Mr. Rob Bell, Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. Mr. Bell’s book, entitled Love Wins, appears to teach universal salvation, again failing to recall the righteousness and holiness of God, and making Christ’s sacrifice totally pointless. Mr. Bell is pastor of a very large and influential evangelical church, and this sort of heretical teaching will subvert the souls of many. When man presumes to judge God, he truly becomes a defiant and unworthy son, fit only to be condemned.
It happens at times that men are clearly made clean by Christ at some point in their lives, but later, after some time has gone by, the memory dims, and they tend to slide back to their old ways. This is altogether too common an occurrence within the Church. Our Lord speaks to that at one point in the Gospel lesson for today when He says, Luke 11:24 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. When the unclean spirit is driven out, it walks about, looking for someone else to haunt. But then, failing to find someone else to persecute, he comes back to try to persecute the same man again. Now what he finds at that point will be critical. Will the man be fortified against him, or will the man be unguarded and open to attack? In the case that Jesus describes, Luke 11:25 And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. We need to understand this to mean that the man is living an outwardly satisfactory life, but without real commitment. Thus it is like an empty home, ready to be moved into by the returning demon. What an invitation!! Luke 11:26 Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. The demon does move in, and he brings his friends, other demons, to live with him!
The point of all of this is that there is no neutrality regarding Jesus Christ. As Jesus Himself said, Luke 11:23 He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. That statement is crystal clear; there is no middle ground. We must choose to be with Jesus Christ, or we are necessarily de facto against Him without making any conscious decision at all. Not very many would say that they have consciously chosen to stand against Christ, but how many will say that they have chosen to stand with Him? As He says, it is only those who stand with Him that count; the rest are a priori against Him. Let us be certain that we have chosen to stand with Christ!!
The Lord has adopted us in baptism to be His earthly children in this life, and we should life our lives as such. This implies respect for all the Father’s rules for this life, and moreover, loving and respecting the Father and His Son in all things. Let us be clear that there are no part-time Christians, that commitment to Jesus Christ must be total and without qualification or it is pointless altogether.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.