24 February 2008

Homily - Lent 3 - Oculi

Out of the Strong Something Sweet
Luke 11:14-28

Remember the story of Samson fighting and killing the lion? In Judges 14 Samson was looking for a wife. When he came to the vineyards outside the town of Timnah, a young lion confronted him. As Scripture says, “The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon [Samson], and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat” (Judg. 14:6). Some time later Samson returned to Timnah to take his bride, and he turned aside “to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate” (14:8-9). A while later Samson gave this riddle based on his victory over the lion: “Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet” (14:14).

What does Samson have to do with Jesus and our Gospel reading? When we view Samson, especially in this story, as a prototype, or preview, of our Lord Jesus, our Gospel makes perfect sense. Just as Samson went to Timnah to find and marry his bride, our Lord Jesus comes into this fallen world to gather a spiritual Bride, the Church, from the human race. Just as Samson conquered the strong lion, our Lord Jesus conquers the hellish lion, the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Just as Samson scraped sweet honey out of the lion’s carcass and gave some to his parents, Jesus scoops sweet salvation out of His conquest of the devil and gives that sweet life and love of God to us. We can also say that our Lord Jesus scoops the sweetness of a holy people, forgiven, redeemed, and rescued from sin, a people who in turn give a sweet smelling aroma in their lives of thanksgiving, praise, service and love, and He gives it to His Father.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus heals a demon-possessed man. You would think that people would rejoice. After all, a man had been freed from Satan’s shackles. But no! Some folks accused the Lord of life and love of committing nefarious no good. “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” they claimed. Then our Lord Jesus spoke of the nonsense of Satan being divided against himself, the foolishness of a kingdom divided. After all, Satan and his evil horde of devilish minions are far from divided. They are very much united, much more united than we Christians tend to be. They are united around the single cause of drawing us away from God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are united in consuming us in order that we may not enjoy the sweet life, love, and salvation of our Mighty Savior.

Consuming? Yes, consuming! Remember how St. Peter says it. The devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

C. S. Lewis illustrated this quite beautifully in his book The Screwtape Letters. In these fictional letters from the underworld, senior tempter Screwtape instructs his young nephew, Wormwood, on the art of tempting a Christian “patient.” Like salt and pepper throughout the letters, Screwtape sprinkles little hints about the demonic urge to sink teeth into and devour the souls who belong to “the Enemy,” who is God. C. S. Lewis capped off these delightfully wicked letters with a juicy sequel. It’s called “Screwtape Proposes a Toast.” Screwtape is the guest of honor and main speaker at a banquet of young devils who have just completed their training at tempter’s school. As Screwtape begins his toast, he comments on the low quality of the souls on which they were feasting. Screwtape says:
It would be vain to deny that the human souls on whose anguish we have been feasting tonight were of pretty poor quality…. Oh, to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there; something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own…. Instead of this, what have we had tonight? There was a municipal authority with Graft sauce. But personally I could not detect in him the flavour of a really passionate and brutal avarice such as delighted one in the great tycoons of the last century…. Then there was the lukewarm Casserole of Adulterers. Could you find in it any trace of a fully inflamed, defiant, rebellious, insatiable lust? I couldn’t…. The Trade Unionist stuffed with sedition was perhaps a shade better. He had done some real harm. He had, not quite unknowingly, worked for bloodshed, famine, and the extinction of liberty (The Screwtape Letters, pp. 154-155).
Screwtape goes on to say, however, that the quality of the souls is not as important as the quantity, the numbers. Even though it means less “quality,” Screwtape rejoices in the greater numbers as he says, “The sort of souls on whose despair and ruin we have—well, I won’t say feasted, but at any rate subsisted—tonight are increasing in numbers and will continue to increase” (p. 157). What’s the point? Satan and his minions love to devour Christians. And by ourselves, we Christians are powerless to prevent it—as powerless as juicy, red slabs of meat tossed to a hungry lion.

And just how do Satan and his army of tempters try to consume and devour us? You see, they are constantly trying to stew us an marinate us. Remember what St. Paul tells us today. He reminds and warns us of things like sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking, and deceiving with empty words. These are just some of the ways that the devil prowls around looking for tasty little Christians to devour. While we’re at it, we might as well remember St. Paul’s list of works of the flesh: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-21). When you find yourself participating in things like this, Satan is sinking his claws into you, basting you for his consumption, and just waiting until you finally end up on his dining room table.

Not a pretty thought, I know! And that’s why we need Someone stronger than strongman Satan. We need Someone to come into Satan’s domain – this fallen world – and attack him, overcome him, take away his armor, and divide his spoil. That Someone is the Son of God, the Word made flesh. Just as Samson fought against the lion at Timnah, our Lord Jesus came into our fallen world to fight against the old satanic foe, the lion who prowls around looking for souls like ours to devour. Every time Jesus healed someone from a disease, and especially from demon-possession, He showed that He is the Stronger Man who came to defeat strongman Satan. But never forget the way that Jesus ultimately defeated the devil! The ultimate disarming of the devil came in the death of the Son of God. No doubt, the devil though that he had his greatest feast of all eternity – conquering and consuming the Son of God! – but death cannot swallow the Lord of Life! Even in death, our Lord Jesus is like a poison pill, a good dose of arsenic, to Satan and his minions. On the cross, in the tomb, and then on Easter Sunday, our Lord Jesus conquered our hellish foe.

So now, returned to life our Lord continues coming to His world to fetch His bride, the Church. And He brings to her—that is, to all of us who are part of her—the sweetness of forgiveness, life, and salvation with God. Yes, your house—the house of your soul—has been swept clean in Jesus’ dying and rising. Now, you can leave it empty, and risk more demons coming in to ravage the place again, or you can keep it filled with the Holy Spirit, who comes to you in the Gospel, in your Baptism, in the Absolution, and in the Holy Supper. I highly recommend the sweetness of the life of God over the bitterness of satanic captivity. You see, the sweet life of God leads us out of our sin and death, and into real life—life of trusting our Mighty Savior, life of living in His love for us, life of practicing His love for those around us. As St. Paul says in our Second Reading: “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

So, when you sense Satan prowling and growling, eager to sink his teeth into you, remember, you have a Savior who is stronger. By His cross, He has overcome Satan. In your Baptism you have been joined to Christ for His sweet life and love. In the Eucharist, we get to taste and see that out of the strong one has come something sweet indeed: forgiveness, life, and salvation with God. All of this helps us defy Satan, as we will soon sing: “Satan, hear this proclamation: / I am baptized into Christ! / Drop your ugly accusation, / I am not so soon enticed. / Now that to the font I’ve traveled, / All your might has come unraveled, And, against your tyranny, / God, my Lord, unites with me!” (LSB 594:3). Amen.

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