Vol I No. 7

A Sermon for Lent III

by William J. Martin

        Blessed is the womb that bare thee and the paps which thou hast sucked. But Jesus said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

(St. Luke xi. 27, 28)

Last week’s Gospel carried us into the realm of knowing ourselves, repenting of our demons, supplicating Christ and seeking His healing. You will remember that the Syro-Phoenician woman taught us all about humility and obedience to God- that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves. (Collect Lent II) Her persistent petition was O Lord, thou Son of David, have mercy upon me.(St Matthew 15. 22) I hope that like her we came to know ourselves as spiritual whelps –which is to say that we never presume to come to His table trusting in our own righteousness.(Prayer of Humble Access)

The faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman is not meant to reveal a temporary or one time appeal to the Lord. It is meant to become the habit of our lives. We are to come near to the Lord in good times and in bad. We are to search for Him, find Him and cry out to Him from the kingdom of anxiety, uncertainty, confusion and weakness. As Jesus insists in today’s Gospel, Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.(St. Luke 11. 28) Today, another woman, this time a Jewish one, having witnessed Jesus’ healing of the deaf and dumb man and listening to His Word, praised and lauded Him with these words: Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. (St. Luke 11.27) Or, Happy is the Woman that has Thee for her Son. The mother…of one who ‘speaks as never man spoke’, that has so much of the Grace of Heaven in Him, and is so great a blessing to this earth, as Matthew Henry explains it. (M.Henrry Comm…) But Jesus corrects the woman. He insists that the source and cause of all wisdom and righteousness is God. It may very well be true, and indeed is, that the womb that bare Him and the paps which He had sucked were blessed- His mother was, after all, the Blessed Virgin. But her blessedness came to her because she heard the Word of God, and kept it. In other words, she was be blessed, indeed blessed…among women (Luke 1. 42)), only in so far as her soul magnified the Lord, and her spirit had rejoiced in God her Saviour.( St. Luke 1. 47) Blessedness comes from hearing God’s Word, retaining it, fertilizing it, and growing up in and through it to perfection.

So the source of all truth is God’s Word, and we are called to hear this truth and to keep it. Keeping the Word of God in our souls is what faith’s journey is all about. We must not seek to be healed of one demon and travel on our merry way, failing to keep and cherish the truth that has begun to transform us. We are called not to treat God and His Word as the doctor and his medicine at Urgent Care. Faith seeks for healing on an ongoing basis. Sometimes faith has a particular demon that needs exorcising. Sometimes faith needs help in making it through the common drudgery of life. But faith must always be banishing its vices by acquiring and amassing those virtues that fortify it against the assaults of other demons. Faith seeks comprehensive healing. The medicine of faith must be allowed to cure the body, soul, and spirit if true spiritual health is to be found.

At the beginning of today’s Gospel we read that Jesus was casting out a devil and it was dumb.(St. Luke 11. 14) The man whom Jesus finds is physically deaf and dumb. Obviously, then, he can neither hear nor speak. Can we identify with this man? We may not be physically deaf and dumb, but are we spiritually deaf and dumb? Is it possible that we have not heard the Word of God addressing us, because we have been too moved and defined by the noise of this world?  If we are honest with ourselves, we must confess that we blither and blabber, shoot out vain words in mindless chatter that makes us deaf to the spiritual address, call, and summons of God in His Word, Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells us that our mindless jabber, filthiness, foolish talking, and jesting (Eph. 5. 4) too often express and define our lives. He reminds us that if we cosset and delight too much in this world, we immunize and inoculate our ears to God’s healing Word in Jesus, and so find no reason for the giving of thanks. But St. Paul tells us to hear the Word, and keep it, and with keeping it, to give thanks for it.(Eph. 5. 4) We cannot begin to give thanks to God for His Word, until the demons of our deaf and dumb natures have been cast out and off. Hearing God’s Word and keeping it, St. Paul suggests, cannot come about if we are deceived by the vain words [of this world], for then we will incur and merit God’s wrath [as] the children of disobedience. (Eph. v. 6)

Our Gospel text continues: When the devil was gone out, the dumb (man) spake. (St. Luke 11.14) and the people wondered, or were amazed. And so too, in our own fallen world, people will be confused and sore-amazed when we are bent on hearing God’s Word and keeping it. God no sooner unlooses our tongues in new spiritual ways, begins to change our lives, than our family members, friends, and others become judgmental and censorious. In the Gospel today some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. And others sought a sign from heaven.(St. Luke 11. 15,16) When we begin to hear God’s Word and it begins to grow and mature in our lives,  people will suspect that psychological imbalance and mental instability are hard at work within us. Many will become impatient and then indignant with us. Some will not be able to abide that this world, and the words that enslave them to it, should be judged and measured by the still small voice of God’s Word hard at work in our times of silence and prayer.

But Jesus the Word makes it clear that when our spiritual ears are opened and our spiritual tongues are unloosed, this is no work of the Devil. If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore shall they be your judges. (Ibid, 19) The Devil cannot contest or combat the effectual operation of God’s Word.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) Jesus says. It is the finger of God alone that is powerful enough to heal us and to implant the Word of God in our souls, for the Devil is rooted deeply in the soil of our souls. He surrounds us with images and attitudes that ensure his continued rule of the earth. He ensnares and entangles us in a web of images and sounds. Through television, the internet, and the cell phone he whips us up into a world of words, exaggerating our fears, enhancing our anxieties, threatening our relationships, and deepening our depression. He fills our ears with words that divide and clutter our minds with the noise that makes us deaf to the Word of God. The Devil lays his snares all round and fetters God’s people. He is not divided against himself (St. Luke xi. 18), for his single determination and desire is to sever us from the healing Word of God.

So someone much stronger than Satan must drive Satan out. Someone whose love alone can disperse the darkness of the Devil and enable us to hear and respond to language of heaven once again is needed to help. That one is God’s Word, spoken to us in the life and mission of Jesus Christ. For when a stronger than [Satan] shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all the armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. (St. Luke 11. 21) When Jesus the Word drives out Satan, Satan’s power is gone. When the Word drives the Devil out, he is silenced. Goodness and healing come from God alone, and Satan is positively dislodged and unhinged when their conception is at hand. God speaks His healing Word through His Son Jesus Christ and the powers of darkness, disorder, disharmony, and dolor are scattered. The spiritually deaf and dumb can neither hear nor speak unless and until God’s Word of love dismisses and dispels all disease and disarray, and enables us to respond to God’s merciful work.But it is only with our response that sanctification begins. Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it. (St. Luke 11.28)

Keeping the Word of God is the hard part. But we must remember that as Christians, we were sometimes darkness but that Christ desires now to make us light in the Lord. (Eph. v. 8 ), So beyond merely talking a new talk –Christianese, if you will, we must walk a new walk, [walking] as children of light…as fruit of the Spirit…in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. (Ibid, 9 ) Having had Jesus’ Holy Spirit sweep clean our spiritual houses of one demon, we must allow Him to keep on sweeping, because we are determined not only to hear [God’s] Word but keep it.(St. Luke xi. 28) And if we are going to keep it, we must not only cherish and treasure its presence occasionally, but long and desire that it might change us forever. And though we are never promised that in hearing the Word and keeping it, we will not feel the pain of this world’s rejection of it, if we lovingly receive it with the language of gratitude and thanksgiving, the light of God’s love will shine into and then out of our hearts. Jesus the Word will have his way with us. His presence will become more familiar to us; His work will define and inform us; His love will mold and fashion our deepest desires; His meaning and mission will become our passion and purpose in life.  With St. Paul we will know what it means to be light in the Lord. Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. (Eph. v. 14) Then the light of His presence will carry us forward, with hearts well prepared to receive Crucified Love, and thus all the more eager to wait and watch for the Resurrection call that is meant for us all. Amen.