The Parish Church of Connersville, Indiana

The Third Sunday in Lent 2024

Sermon Date: March 3, 2024

Passage: St. Luke 11

But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you (St. Luke 11:20).

Anglican Christians share the providential gift of the Book of Common Prayer as the means by which we pray the Bible into our hearts and souls and minds. One way our manual of devotion accomplishes this goal is by asking us to recite the Lord’s Prayer at least twice a day through the services of Morning and Evening Prayer. A part of that prayer, so particularly relevant during Lent, is the phrase, ‘deliver us from evil.’ It has been noted by translators and scholars of the ancient text that the original Greek could also be accurately translated, ‘deliver us from the Evil One’ or ‘deliver us from the Devil’. Throughout the Lenten season, a theme developed in our Sunday Bible readings is the cosmic conflict between God and His corrupted angelic creature who, in the infancy of creation, chose a life of rebellion and hatred and destruction. God and Beelzebub, as Satan is called in today’s Gospel reading, are not equals: God and Satan are not the Yin and Yang, nor are they the Light and Dark side of the Force. For millennia, humans have constructed religions which imagine good and evil as evenly matched because it’s actually much more comforting to our fallen sensibilities if God and Satan are equal powers in the fight over creation’s eternal destiny. After all, the original and enduring human sin is the aversion to the sovereignty of God, an allergy to living in the perfect freedom of only serving our Creator. If Satan and God are simply two equal powers warring for our souls, then neither of them is sovereign (neither of them is owed our love and service). If good and evil are equal, then we become the sovereign decider of what is right and wrong rather than rebellious children playing with fire and love.

But, of course, God and Satan are not equals. God, as our Articles of Religion tell us, is ‘…everlasting, without body, parts or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible…’ (BCP 603). Satan is an invisible creature and you and I are visible creatures; Satan is evil, or put another way, he is the ultimate, living example of a good thing corrupted, while you and I are evil in so far as the mad rebellion against our Creator still manifests itself in our hearts and words and deeds. God allows Satan to continue to exist for the same reason He allows all evil to exist. As Augustine of Hippo writes, ‘Since God is the highest good, he would not allow any evil to exist in his works unless his omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.’ Rightfully acknowledging the ultimate sovereignty of God is how we begin to understand the enormous power of God’s providence. Rather than a genie granting wishes for people He likes, God shapes time and space, joy and suffering, good and evil, for the sake of those He loves.  As St. Paul tells us, ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28). Those words, ‘all things,’ are doing a lot of work in that sentence. Do we truly believe in a God who can turn ‘all things’ into instruments of His goodness for those who love Him—for those who unite with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the Trinitarian creation of a new and perfect heaven and earth? Do we believe in the God who takes human misery and transforms it into unending joy and peace? 

In this created universe just described, rebellion—by Satan or by us—is not cool or sexy or even tragic; it is merely unfruitful. Because no matter how hard we or our neighbors or our enemies actively fight against God (through sin) His infinitely just will cannot fail.  We all will eventually bend the knee to our sovereign divine king.  As the loyal angels of God sing in Revelation, ‘Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest’ (Rev. 15:3-4).  Just as ‘all things’ are bent by God in the direction of the good, ‘all people’ will eventually kneel down and worship the King. The only question is, will we come as victorious brothers and sisters rejoicing in the fulfillment and fruition of our life-saving faith, or will we be marched as vanquished rebels forced by the Heavenly Army to acknowledge and worship the King we despised in this life: a broken army of the proud and defiant people who are universally the most highly celebrated in our mad, rebellious world. As St. Paul tells us today, ‘For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience’ (Ephesians 5:5-6). Amazingly, part of that wrath will be the enlightenment of the damned. In those final moments of this present earth’s fallen existence, a time Jesus describes in terrifying detail, a day when creation is racked and broken in the final labor pains of the new heaven and new earth, when that day comes, all men will see the righteousness of God riding on a warhorse making all things new, and in that moment, they will worship and know the truth.

We see this inevitability in the way Jesus manhandles demons in today’s Gospel reading. The fallen angels which plague humanity derive their strength from the first man, Adam, who gave Satan and his demons authority on earth by following Satan in his mad rebellion against God. By eating the forbidden fruit, Adam gave Satan humanity’s rightful crown. Blessedly, the story does not end there, for it is Jesus, the second Adam, who made the new tree of life from a bloodied, Roman cross, who wore a crown of thorns while nailed to a throne of pain and victory. It is Christ who wrestles back humanity’s crown so broken sinners might once again be royal priests. We see this God/Man today casting out demons before crowds of people, freeing the afflicted from lives of slavery to evil, but the intense irony of the whole scene is the reaction of the onlookers. What should they be doing? They should all be lining up behind the newly freed man, begging the Creator in their midst to exorcise the demons in them, rather than standing on the sidelines proudly inventing insane theories about why Jesus can command the invisible warriors of Hell to let a man go free. Sadly, there’s a little of these proud onlookers in all of us, particularly in a culture which has taught us that the detached, cynical jerk is the coolest guy in the room, but the big difference for most in this room today, is that you or your parents brought you to the waters of baptism to be exorcised and regenerated into new life. That mighty act of faith by you or your parents was an action of the Holy Spirit in your life, and it should drive us all to live in the blessings which flow from hearing the Word of God and keeping it. 

But, there lies the double warning of Jesus and His servant-unto-death St. Paul.  Jesus warns all who have been exorcised, all who have been baptized, ‘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’ (St. Luke 11:24-26).  To be exorcised and baptized into the church of God is to be in the wonderful and dangerous life Jesus is here describing. A life of vigilance and prayer in which we continually present ourselves before Word and Sacrament to receive and live in the grace which is our only defense against spiritual darkness. We could easily look at that list of sins from St. Paul and despair as we realize how many things we still idolize and worship before God, the worthless trinkets of a dying world, but we would be so very wrong to despair. As long as we believe the heart of the Christian life is to dwell on the many ways in which we have failed God, our struggle will always be about our finite moral effort rather than the infinite divine gifts of faith and hope and love. It will always be about trying harder rather than being made new.

In the end, it all comes down to what we love. If we love God more than sex or fear or money or our things, then we will act in a way which reveals our love. If I love God more than my money, giving alms for the poor will not be a burden but an act of love. If I love God more than my favorite distraction, a daily hour spent praying and fortifying my soul in His Word will not be a burden but an act of love. If I love God more than myself, I will trust in Him rather than even my most cherished personal beliefs. To follow St. Paul’s apostolic command to be the light of this dark world is to live a life that is not our own. It is to live in the light which illuminates all darkness, the righteousness which brings good even out of evil. It is to live in the love which pillages the spoils of Satan and carries us home in His arms.