24 February 2008

Homily for Oculi

Today I’d like to direct your attention to just a portion of the Gospel reading, these words: “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.” (Luke 11:24-26)

In these words the Lord Jesus issues to us a most solemn warning, and it is a warning that we Lutherans need to take to heart because of the way we misuse the comforting doctrine of God’s Word about Baptism.

We are correct to teach that in Baptism God saves us. His Word says so: “Baptism now savse us.” 1 Peter 3:21 We are correct to teach that in Baptism God gives us a new birth. His Word says so: “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:6 We are correct to teach that in Baptism God saves also the little children. His Word says so: “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children.” Acts 2:38,39

Where we get into trouble, though, is where Baptism does not lead us to daily contrition and repentance, but into what the theologians call “carnal security.” That’s the idea that Baptism is a “get out of hell free” card and so we can live our lives however we like and then on the great day of judgment announce: “But I am baptized” and God will automatically order the gates of heaven to swing wide. If we think like that, we are only deceiving ourselves.

What Baptism introduces us into is a life of penitence, a life of sorrow over sin, fighting against it, and by the power of the Holy Spirit conquering it. Not to fight against the sin in our lives, to make peace with it, to even coddle and nurture it, is to resist our Baptism, not to put it to use.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus warned that once a devil is driven out of a person, the devil is in torments and restless. He wanders at a loss, until he thinks: “Maybe I can go back home now. Maybe there’s room inside that person’s heart for me again.” And if the devil comes back and finds the heart swept and put in order, but unoccupied by the Lord, then the devil shouts a big “yippee” and runs and grabs a pile of his friends and they move right back in again, leaving the person worse off than they were before.

Now Baptism clearly shows Satan the door. Not by accident are the words of the Baptismal order: “Do you renounce the devil, and all his works, and all his ways!” Baptism truly does drive the devil out of human hearts and lives. But, and this is a HUGE but, for Satan to be kept out, Baptism itself must be put to use, else just as Jesus said, the evil spirit is tossed out the front only to enter by the back, and with a bunch of his buddies.

Do you see now why the Church asks the parents and sponsors at every Baptism of a child that they are to "pray for them, support them in their ongoing instruction and nurture in the Christian faith, and encourage them toward the faithful reception of the Lord's Supper”? That admonition is not a sweet nothing! It is the Church’s earnest charge to parents and sponsors that for Satan to be kept at bay in this little one’s life, they must teach them how to USE their baptism against him.

As for the little children, so for all adults. When someone is baptized or received into the Church by confirmation, we always lay the same solemn charge on them: Will you make faithful use of the means of grace? That’s not to fulfill some sort of law, but the Church’s way of confessing that only by the faithful, continual use of these means can Satan’s power be broken over human lives.

And do you know why they are powerful to do this? Because in each of the means of grace, in Baptism, in the preaching of the Word, in the holy Absolution and in the Supper, the Gospel – which is the power of God for salvation – is given. In each one of them sinners are given a Savior who has taken from off their shoulders the horrible burden of all their sins, and carried it Himself. In each of them sinners are given the gifts which that Savior won when He shed His blood on behalf of the human race: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. In each of them, Jesus doesn’t just tell us that such forgiveness, life, and salvation exist; He actually impart them to us. And Satan flees before such gifts!

Dr. Luther once made the most awesome observation: On Calvary, salvation was won, but it is not there bestowed; in the Supper it is bestowed, but it is not there won. If you want your sins forgiven, then, you don’t run to Calvary. You can’t get there anyway. It’s long ago and far away, and if you were to go there, your Lord is long since gone from it. But if you want your sins forgiven, you go to the Supper. There your Lord will give you what was offered on Calvary: the Body that carried your sins and the judgment that was against you; the Blood that spilled for your pardon and acquittal. It’s there. And it’s all yours. And He comes with them.

So the point of the Lord’s words about the demons trying to come home are words we Lutheran Christians need to take to heart, lest our rejoicing in Baptism be perverted to a rejoicing in the delusion that we are free to sin without consequence and thus our Baptism become a judgment upon us instead of salvation. Our Jesus would not only drive the devil out through Baptism, but in His Word and Absolution and the Supper would keep him out by Jesus Himself taking up residence within us, constantly forgiving us our sins, and freeing us from their dominion. To whom be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

11 comments:

Lutheran Lucciola said...

Is Oculi an unclean spirit, or demon? The name sounds familiar. If so, I think I have met him in the past.

He's a jerk. Just for the record. ;-)

William Weedon said...

LOL. Lucciola - Oculi is Latin for "My eyes" and comes from the traditional Introit for the day: "My eyes are ever toward the Lord for He will pluck my feet out of the net."

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Very good sermon!

(Why are Lutheran pastors so fond of Latin?)

William Weedon said...

Thank you, Anastasia. Why so fond of Latin? I suppose because it is our heritage as Western Christians, and for more than two centuries after the Reformation, Latin was in frequent use in our Divine Services. And so to this day we still call the Canticles by their Latin names: Gloria in Excelsis, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Magnificat, Benedictus, Te Deum Laudamus, Venite, Nunc Dimittis. We also use the occasional Greek and have been known to sing Kyrie eleison!

Norman Teigen said...

Thank you for your sermon. I have recommended your words to the readers of my blog, Norman's Demesne, and furnished a link.

Norman Teigen
ELS layman

William Weedon said...

Thanks for the kind words, Mr. Teigen.

Paul T. McCain said...

Why Latin?

Because Latin is the language of formal theology for most of the history of the Western Church and remained the language in which systematic/dogmatic theology was taught in our seminaries, right down to Concordia Seminary, where lectures in dogmatics were delivered in Latin well into the early decades of the 20th century.

Ecclesiastical Latin is actually quite basic simple Latin and as such it developed a great deal of precision.

Even when I attended seminary, we were required to memorize and be able to define scads of Latin terms and phrases.

Once you can master the meaning of the term, you know the doctrine an the theology behind the term. It is a good form of shorthand.

There is an economy of words with Latin that is lacking in other languages.

I'm very grateful I took Latin and with I had studied more of it.

Pax!

Father Hollywood said...

Uncanny.

Father Hollywood: Sermon: Oculi (Lent 3)

William Weedon said...

Most interesting, Fr. Beane. A quite different approach and yet very much the same message.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, Pastor Peace Lutheran Church (LCMS) said...

William,

Unbelievable!

We have been studying Revelation in Adult Bible Study for some time now. Yesterday, we just finished ch. 19. I was pointing out, as I have been throughout our study, that the "white garments" referred to throughout Revelation symbolizes the holiness and righteousness of Christ with which we are clothed at our baptism, but that these "white garments" need to be constantly cleansed in the Blood of the Lamb. In other words, the baptismal life is a life of daily repentance and ongoing reception of the Gifts our Lord distributes through His Holy Word and Sacrament in the Divine Service. He not only clothes us in His holiness and righteousness, but He also continues to cleanse us, so that our baptismal garments remain "white." Without that cleansing, our garments will become soiled and we'll not be permitted to enter the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Thus will many say on that Day, "Lord, Lord," only to hear Him reply, "I never knew you."

Then I get up this morning and do a little pre-study surfing on the net and come across your sermon. Wow! It could not have been more timely, especially given the fact that I mentioned your blog during Bible Study yesterday and I am sure that some will be checking it out.

All of that is to simply say thank you for an excellent sermon! :)

Your brother in Christ,
Tom

William Weedon said...

Pastor Messer,

Thanks for the kind words!