Sermon for Oculi

I have had members request that I post sermons each week (!) in case they can’t be at church. In the past I’ve posted good sermons. But now it will be all of them – at least for the time being. In today’s sermon, I encourage the people of God to be in the Word, and to reject the world’s way of doing things.

Plagues – gnats and flies. God sends judgment on Egypt. The Pharaoh’s heart is hardened. He will not hear the Word of God which Moses brings to him. And so, plagues three and four. Eventually there will be ten plagues. The last – the death of the firstborn in all the land of Egypt, except those who have marked their door with the blood of the lamb. The reading we heard marks a turning point in two ways – Starting with the third plague the Egyptian magicians were no longer able to reproduce the plague by their secret arts. It is the finger of God. No other source can be found. And the fourth plague makes a distinction between Israel and Egypt. Now, Egypt will suffer, but Israel will be spared the worst of the plagues.

There is much in these words to comfort us. Moses turned the river to blood – and then there were frogs. The Egyptians could do it too by their secret arts – whether they had some secret illusions or tricks to do this, or whether it was real demonic activity we don’t know. It just says “their secret arts” it doesn’t say what sort they were. Either way they were under the influence of Satan. They were idolaters who worshipped and sacrificed to false gods. And they could do some things too. Some pretty impressive things. But there is a limit. Humanity has great creativity in figuring out how to make things happen. But there is a limit. God allows us to go so far, but no father. Will we find a cure? Has it already been discovered? Will the world be spared further damage? Or is the worst yet to come? These are times of uncertainty. But such matters are in God’s hands. We can do many things. But there are some things reserved only to God. Matters of life and death are among them. We can extend life with certain medicines. But we are still mortal. Life still ends. Whether today or in many years – we are still subject to death for our sins. And our Lord still offers salvation for Jesus sake.

The second important lesson is that sometimes God makes a distinction between his people and the world, and sometimes he does not. And whether he does or not has nothing to do with how much he loves us or how happy he is with us. Israel was told they would be delivered. And then Pharaoh required that they provide their own straw. A plague made clear that there were consequences for disobeying  God. And yet Israel suffered under it as well – and the frogs were the same way. It seems near the beginning of this that Israel is worse off in every way than they had been. Extra work, plagues. How is this a help? And yet God has planned for their deliverance. It is coming – even though it probably didn’t feel like it to the people at this point. God is taking care of us. Even if we must suffer under an additional cross.

Satan loves to bring disorder and suffering to us. If he had his way, we would never have so much as a crust of bread. And yet God provides for us. We need not fear and panic and chase after earthly things. We know that whether we live or die, we are secure in Christ. Not that we seek death. But neither do we fear it. This is the entire point of the Lenten season. We began with the reminder – from dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return. That wasn’t just a rote formula. It really is our condition – as sinners we are living yet dying.

But our Lord Jesus undoes all that. Now, because of Christ, we are dying, and yet we live. And when we die, then we will pass safely through death into the fullness of our life in Christ. The resurrection of the dead, the life of the world to come – just as we confess in the Creed.

The Gospel reading shows a hint of that – Jesus undoing the work of Satan. He cast out the mute demon. Today we tend to think in purely physical terms – there is a virus, it mutates, it spreads in this way, it causes these symptoms, and kills this percentage until we find a cure – then everything is ok again.

But we may want to consider that the Lord God is ultimately the great physician of body and soul. He chastens us, and he heals us. And in this time of trouble – with pretty much every state as well as our nation declaring a national emergency – we should take the advice of our President – who has declared today a day of prayer. We should spend more time in prayer – that was already our goal for Lent. Now, our determination to increase our prayer and study of the word should be even greater. We should devote ourselves throughout this time to prayer to God that he will continue to care for us. We should examine our own conduct in light of the ten commandments, repent where we have sinned, and be more fervent where we have lived according to the Word of God.

Our nation has spent the last three or four generations chasing after one pleasure after another. One perversion piled on top of another. Broken homes and broken lives have been the result of our great social experiments. As our wealth increased, so did our greed. Listen again to the Word of the Lord which was given to Saint Paul “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.”

We have been called to live according to the Law of God, to be children of light in this dark world. Too often we go along with all that the world has to offer. Let this be a wake up call to return to the Lord in all that we do. To give up on the world’s priorities and live our entire life in faith toward God and in love toward our neighbor. That’s what we are given to do.

Satan is committed to one thing: Opposing God at every turn. He opposed him in heaven and was cast out. Now he tries to ruin and spoil the creation. He managed to corrupt our first parents. And now he seeks to undo anyone who walks in faith according to the Word of the Lord. He wants to destroy every chance at peace – whether in the world or (even moreso) in the church. In Baptism your soul and body was taken from him when the water was poured and the word of the Lord spoken over you. You were made God’s child. And Satan wants you back. He will do anything to get you. If that means making you so comfortable you never think about God he will do it. If it means causing wreck and ruin in nation after nation to bring people to despair of God’s love – even better as far as he is concerned.

That is why we pray in the Lord’s prayer “deliver us from evil”. Because Satan never rests. He is always trying to destroy you. Don’t be fooled by the worldly material appearance of things. Don’t be fooled by the anti-spiritual attitude of most people today. There is a war between Satan and God. And Satan is a wounded animal whose life is running out – he is at his most dangerous the closer we get to our Lord’s return. And we have the promise that our Lord will return and set things to right. Satan will be finally cast down into the lake of fire at that time. Sin will end. Even death itself will be vanquished – that last enemy. The one that has every one panicking today.

But our Lord Jesus has already won the victory. That’s what the Gospel tells us – the strong man – Satan – is armed and secure. But the one who is stronger – that’s Jesus – takes away all his armor and takes his goods. That’s you. You were Satan’s. You now belong to Jesus Christ. And he has taken you from Satan, who continues to try and destroy you.

The work of Jesus on the cross has cast down Satan. It has broken his power. And now you have been called out of the world – out of the worldly way of living – and called to live according to the word of God, which he has delivered through the Holy Scriptures.

As Christians we are called to worship the Lord at all times – but especially at the appointed times. We are called to hear and learn that word, and to study and pray even on our own. And yet we get lazy. We have good intentions, but we don’t carry them out. Let this serve as a reminder that this life is short – it can end at any moment. We are not called to unrighteousness, but to righteousness. And Satan doesn’t give up just because he was cast out of you in Baptism. “Oh, baptism, well nothing more to do here, I’ll just move on to someone else.” Absolutely not! He keeps coming at you. And bringing all of his friends with him to try and overcome you. That’s why it’s so important that you remain in the Word. That you are continually fed with the Word and Sacrament in Christ’s holy church. Because Satan is trying to lead you astray, trying to get you to conform to the world’s sensibilities – but the world’s way of living is the way of death – it can not lead to joy and contentment. It leads to more and more unrest. To panic and the grave. As the author of Ecclesiastes tells us – it is all vanity – a chasing after the wind.

Instead, we are given to hear the Word of God and keep it. That is the blessed life. Jesus ends with those words. And for those in the world, they sound like severe law – You must do this or that thing. Hear the Word. Keep it. We do – it must be Law. But the truth is, Jesus has already done all the work. He has sacrificed his life into death. And his death gives you life. And having been renewed by the Spirit, given a new life in Jesus, given a new and right heart, your heavenly Father gives you this mercy –  that you desire the things of God. That you want to hear and learn. It is not a burden or a law, except to those who still resist and fight against God. Rather, you have the opportunity to come here and receive the forgiveness life and salvation won for you by Christ. A gift that can be found no where else. A gift that gives us peace – even as we face death. For our Lord has already gone through death, and come out victorious on the other side. That means that there is already a cure for the coronavirus – and cancer and heart disease and every other evil. It is the word and promise of Christ. He gives himself as the medicine of immortality in His Holy Supper. The world is hoarding paper and rice and flour and water and whatever else – none of that can cure. This – the body and blood of Jesus – cures you of all sin and sickness and gives eternal life. The life of Christ who went into death and now reigns and lives forever. Where he has gone, there you will go. That is our hope.

May God grant it to each one of us, and may he deliver us from all evil.

Amen.

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