“Hearing and Keeping the Word.”
Sermon, Lent 3, Oculi, Gospel, Luke 11:14-28
The English language is wonderfully rich and expressive. We have so many words to express our thoughts, more than most languages. The vocabulary of basic English is much larger than other European languages because of the Latin, Germanic, and British people groups that gave words to it. For example, we have three words: “begin”, “start”, and “commence”, to describe the same meaning. “Begin” is from German, “start” from British-Celtic, and “commence” from the Latin romance language group. Also one word may be used for different meanings. Sound is a good one, I think. We have sound as something we hear, sound as in healthy, sound in body and mind, a deep body of water, Puget Sound, to test something, to “sound it out.” You get the picture. Well in today’s story we have a word that our Bible translates as keep, but I think is more helpful to think of as guard, the way it is translated elsewhere. When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear my word and keep it.” I would like us to think about this passage this morning with “Blessed are those who continue to listen to the Word of God and guard it. “
The reason I prefer “guard” over “keep” will become clear when we look at our sermon text for today, where Jesus casts out the demon from the man who can’t speak. After Jesus casts the demon out, presumably with His Word, the formerly mute man speaks and the people marvel, but there are those among them who, as usual, are still not convinced that Jesus is the Son of God. They ask for a sign from heaven. Others are thinking and whispering among themselves that Jesus cast out the demon using Beelzebul, the chief demon. Jesus knows their thoughts and explains to them the faulty logic of their assertion. It can’t be Satan, or Beelzebul, another name for him, casting out demons, since then his kingdom would be divided, and a divided kingdom can’t stand. But if the finger of God has cast out the demon then the Kingdom of God has come among them.
Jesus then describes what happens when He casts out a demon. A demon possessing a man is like a strong man, fully armed, guarding his possession, the soul of a possessed man. But then a stronger man, Jesus, comes along, attacks and overcomes the demon, takes away his armor and divides the spoils. The demon leaves but comes back later to check out the man he had formerly possessed, and finds the stronger man gone and the demon’s former residence open for the taking. This time the repo man, Beelzebul, brings back seven friends to help him protect his repossessed soul. And the repossessed man is worse off than before. “A very interesting story, Jesus”, his hearers might have thought. “If I ever have a demon driven out of me I’ll be careful to make sure the demon doesn’t come back with seven more friends. But what are the chances of that happening?”
We may think the same thing. What has this story to do with me? Demon possession is the stuff of tabloids and third world countries. And I’m certainly not demon possessed. In fact, I don’t think I know personally of anyone who has been demon possessed. This must be one of those Bible stories about the unenlightened and gullible people who lived in Jesus’ time. We’re beyond that sort of thing now.
Our text goes on. A woman who has witnessed Jesus performing this exorcism, perhaps the mother of the demon-possessed man, says, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Jesus then says,” Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” With these words, the warning to the demon-possessed man is applied to us.
You see, we too were once under the power of Satan, the strong man,
before we were brought into the Kingdom of God in Baptism, by the hearing of the Word in faith. In Luther’s day, it was common to begin the rite of Baptism with an exorcism of the devil from the baby. It is still included as an option in our book called the agenda, and may be used in a Baptism. “The Word of God also teaches that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own. Therefore, depart, you unclean spirit, and make rom for the Holy Spirit in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Sprit.” from Luther’s Baptism Rite. The words of the rite we use more often today in the church also reflects this former spiritual possession, “The Word of God also teaches that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own.” The words of both rites of Baptism reflect the fact that we were conceived and born in sin– the inherited sin of rebellion of our first parents, Adam and Eve. We are born in the devil’s kingdom, guarded by him, the strong man in our text for today. If not driven from us by the stronger man–Jesus Christ–we would remain in the devil’s kingdom forever. But the stronger man drives out the devil in Baptism, claims us for Himself and His Kingdom, and leaves His Holy Spirit to guard and protect His claim.
But we can drive out the Holy Spirit by neglecting to keep, or guard the Word of God given to us, leaving ourselves wide open to being repossessed by the devil, this time even more strongly. When we neglect God’s word, when we don’t keep it in our minds and hearts, it starts to fade, like worn out furniture to be tossed out and scattered in the back alley to make room for some new, snazzy, up-to-date ideas to by a new decorator to liven things up, new ideas like, “Sin is so yesterday.” “Do your thing.” “God wants you to be happy.” “You’re basically a good person.”, new ideas as old as sin.
Jesus says that whoever is not with Him is against Him. The same goes for His Holy Spirit. We are either in God’s Kingdom, or the kingdom of demons. We either welcome the Holy Spirit through keeping the Word of God, or we grieve Him by our willful, unrepentant sin, eventually driving Him out. There is no middle ground. The strong man, Satan, or the stronger man, Jesus, is our King. We who have been baptized are now in the stronger man’s Kingdom, but the devil would like to have us back. So he attacks Christians again and again as he attacked Jesus with temptations of the flesh and spirit. Jesus fought back with God’s Word, which he had kept, guarded, in His heart since He was a boy. And Jesus says this is how we keep Satan from overcoming us with his attacks. We keep, or guard the word of God.
And how do we do that? By hearing and reading and singing God’s word regularly, so that the Word fills our lives. By praying the prayer book of the Bible, the Psalms, by praying the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus taught His disciples in the passage preceding our sermon text today. “Thy Kingdom come.”–May the finger of God touch us, driving out the strong man, the Old Adam, which guards the sinful word of the devil. “Lead us not into temptation.”–the temptation to soak up the word of the world and let the Word of God wither from neglect. “But deliver us from evil.” Lord come and rescue us from our impure thoughts, our covetousness, and replace them with thanksgiving for your gifts of forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life in your Son.
We keep in God’s Word by a regular devotional life, filled with the Word of God, to daily strengthen our faith. We do it by regularly attending Sunday worship, to hear the Word of God preached, the gracious Word of God pronounced in the Absolution, the Word of God proclaimed in the reading of Holy Scripture, the Word of God made visible in the Holy Sacraments.
We do that by attending Bible class, ever deepening our knowledge and understanding of Scripture, of the Church’s work, and our place in the Kingdom of Grace.
We do that by teaching our children and grandchildren about the Word of God, guarding the Word for next generations.
We do that by repenting of our lax piety, repenting of our presumption that we do not need the Word of God, repenting of our conforming to the world rather than being transformed by the Word we guard.
All this we do only by the power of Jesus Christ, the stronger man, and His Holy Spirit, working within us. By ourselves we are not close to being strong enough to keep in the faith, not even for a moment. But the Holy Spirit is the “stronger man” whom God gives us in Baptism into Christ, to keep, that is, to guard, our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. So let us always give thanks for this blessed gift. We can drive the Holy Spirit out. We can grieve Him by our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, by our flagrant presumption upon God’s mercy and longsuffering. We are not “once saved, always saved” We can let the world tempt us by its words and reason to despise and reject the unchanging word of God. Saint Peter says this of saved people who choose the world over the word, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” (2 Peter 2:20 ESV) Seven demons instead of one.
So let us guard against that state by preserving the Word in us, guarding it, keeping it. That Word will bless us daily. It will fill us with thanksgiving that we have been freed from slavery to sin, and that we have been freed from the dictatorship of the kingdom of the devil. We will then gladly show our gratitude by gathering together regularly to worship with our brothers and sisters, lifting up the weak in faith in the solidarity of our communal prayer together. We will show our thanks in our tithes and offerings, sharing the bounty of what God gives us daily, helping to build God’s kingdom among us and around us, and a witness to our trust in God’s promises to sustain us. We will show our thanksgiving by speaking well of our brothers and sisters, forgiving their sins against us. And we will show our thanks by sharing the gift of the Word with the world through our kind and truthful words that speak of the great love of God for us in Christ Jesus. For we have received that greatest gift of all, the Word of God, in flesh and blood, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again for our justification. Blessed are we for we hear and keep the Word. Amen.