And the governor asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.
(St. Matthew xxvii. 11)
Silence is something that post-modern man cannot stand. Silence reveals a refusal to answer the immediate lusts, desires, passions, and impulses of a materialistic people. Silence is at the furthest remove from instant
gratification. Silence is then judged to be guilty; silence is always hiding something. Silence is up to no good. It must be plotting with the same feverish, impetuous, unsatisfied, and craving appetite that marks out most men in our age. Men cannot stand silence, for it demands stillness. And stillness frightens contemporary man; noise, talk, babble, and so much active doing protect him from ever facing the universe that stands before him - the self, or even the powers that lie hidden behind the scenes of immediate experience. Silence and
stillness, once the prerequisites to any creative man’s response to what was other than himself, seem conspicuously absent in this world of ours. And for that reason we no longer have schools of thought, painting, sculpture, poetry, literature. Rather we have a chaotic and unbridled unity of feelings, emotions, and animal passions pursuing their selfish wants and shaking the center should they fail to achieve the ends of their
I say all of this because what should strike us most poignantly in the tradition of this Holy Week that we now enter upon is the silence and stillness that characterizes the last days of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the everlastingly-begotten Word of God made flesh. And so how odd it is, then, that
the most important Word or Speech that the world has known or could have ever heard should remain so quiet as the world around him plots and plans, and successfully executes his demise and death. The best intentioned of his followers wondered why he did not perform some miracle to disband, confuse, scatter, and bring down his enemies. He opened the eyes of the blind; he unloosed the tongues of the deaf; he made lame legs to walk; he even drove many demons out of one tortured man named Legion. He resuscitated Lazarus. And so why
is he now so still and so silent? Why doesn’t he conquer pride, envy, jealousy, malice, and murderous hatred with the power of the Word he derives from his Father?
The answers to these questions are, of course, not easy ones. But for starters we might recall that when he did work a wonder or perform a miracle, more often than not, he said, See thou tellest no man. (St. Matthew viii. 4) His primary mission was to reveal his Father’s truth – his will, love, and forgiveness. I always do the things that please my Father. (St. John viii. 29) And as St. Paul reminds us this morning, we should have this mind among [ourselves], which is [ours] in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count
equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil. iii. 5-7) Though Jesus Christ is the eternal Word of God made flesh, its wisdom, power, and love which he shares with the Father are not things to be clung to selfishly or expressed forcibly, but gifts to be offered freely to all men who discover that they alone lead to God’s kingdom. What I mean to say is this: man’s true relationship with God is one of free will and choosing. True wisdom proves and establishes its own
credibility. True love or charity honors and respects every man’s innate ability to discover and cherish it, like a pearl of great price which [when a man has found it, he sells all that he has in order to possess it.]( St. Matthew xiii. 46) For the love of God is something to be unearthed and uncovered, through the stillness and silence of a pondering mind and a searching heart. It is neither easily obtained nor effortlessly
And this is why Jesus will be so silent and so still in this Holy Week of his Passion. Prior to the events that we commemorate this week, Jesus had labored relentlessly to prepare and dispose the hearts of his hearers to the
truth that he would reveal. As Jean Mouroux reminds us, Jesus showed unwearied devotion [to his Father], [wore] himself out with labour, [lacked] time even to eat, [sank] exhausted by the well [of Jacob], [even] slept in a sinking ship.(The Meaning of Man, p. 88) He had done and said all that he could to prepare for the spiritual truth that his suffering and death would reveal. And yet we read over and over again these words which he spoke to them were beyond their understanding. (St. Luke ii. 50) The best of men, his mother and his disciples, were always pressing upon him to reveal his nature prematurely with all force and vigor. They
have no wine, (St. John ii. 3) his mother cried. His frustrated Apostles hollered after him, Nobody is content to
act in secret, if he wishes to make himself known at large; if Thou must act thus, show thyself before the world. (St. John vii. 3-5) And later, in today’s Gospel, the bystanders, who knew no silence and could not stand still, passed by [and] reviled him, wagging their heads. (St. Matthew xxvii. 39) Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. (Ibid, 41,42) Pilate, uncomfortably bothered and exasperated at his silence because he found no fault in the man, desperately asked him, Hearest
thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly. (Ibid, 13, 14) Neither friend, foe, nor the foreign judge knew what to do with this man who would not resent and so would not defend, would not react and so did not provoke. Instead, the eternal Word of God in him remained still and silent, and so suffered arrogance, ignorance, confusion, and sin to proclaim their final judgment on him.
To such a sorry state of affairs the Word of God in Jesus has no response. Sin must run its course. And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me. (St. John xii. 32) The truth that Jesus carries, embodies, and will share with all men never changes. God is love, and he that abideth in love, abideth in God, and God in him. (1 St.
John iv. 16) Jesus is love, God’s love made flesh. Who he is, is what he receives freely from the Father. God’s love defines his desired nature. That nature is compassion, pity, love, forgiveness, and hope. God’s nature revealed in Jesus Christ is the uninterrupted, ever-living, ever-giving, incessant passion for his people’s return to and reconciliation with himself. Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall
find rest unto your souls; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (St. Matthew xi. 28-30) The truth never changes; Jesus will now reveal what that truth demands of him. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man seweth, that shall he also reap. (Gal. vi. 7)
So today in silence and stillness we behold the man. (St. John xix. 5) There is darkness, confusion, obscurity, and chaos. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Gen. i. 1,2) Sin envelops itself with disorder, derangement, and disarray. The Word of God is hidden and unheard. Its meaning and purpose seem lost. Out of this condition emerge anger, hostility, resentment, bitterness, and
revenge. Man does not easily admit the effects of his own free-choosing and willing. Yet still the Son of man promises to come to us with power and great glory. But at first only quietly, silently, in the stillness of his
undeserved, unmerited, wholly unearned death. Jesus endures man’s rejection of him. Jesus loves him still. He suffers the unspeakable torture of the long, hard death reserved for the enemies of Caesar. Jesus loves him still. He not only takes on sin, but he takes it into himself – for the source and origin of his suffering is sin; and sin wholly misunderstands who and what he must be. He not only endures sin’s desire for his death, but he forgives it all. He can do no other. Why? He is the forgiveness of sins, just as he is the resurrection and the life. He is broken bread and poured out wine. He is broken body and poured out blood. No man cometh to the Father, save through me. (John xiv. 6) He is with the Father because he has died perfectly and completely to himself, the world, and the devil. That death is his; he has chosen it. But he cannot help but offer it to us also. He shares his suffering and death with us because without it, we cannot be changed. He dies for us, and even at our hands,
because, always, he desires to make us new. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. (Gen 1,3,4) In stillness and silence, then, let us follow Jesus to the Cross, whose light reaches out to us even in his death. In stillness and silence the light emerging from his heart will begin to separate us from our darkness. When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (St. Luke xxi. 28) And in the stillness and silence out of his death the light of new life will begin to touch and heal us. Through his death
we shall begin to be dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lent III 2013
Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep
(St. Luke xi. 28)
In last week’s Gospel we read of the Syro-Phoenecian woman who was tormented because her daughter was more grievously vexed by a devil. We learned too of her persistent faith and willingness to consider herself to be no better than a dog that eats of the crumbs that fall from its Master’s table. (St. Matthew xv. 27) With this, I hope that we gleaned something of the nature of humility that faithfully persists in its supplication of God’s mercy and healing power. The fallen human condition can be overcome only from a determined desire
to seek out what is not its own, or to seek out what God alone can give. And yet there is more to it than just that. We know very little about what the future held in store for the suppliant woman of Canaan and her cured daughter. Whether they returned to life as usual, we do not know. But if they did, they might have
fallen into the kind of troubles that Jesus tells us about in this morning’s Gospel.
Jesus never intended that miracles should produce one-time off cures or healings. In last week’s Gospel the real miracle that Jesus effected was not the healing of the Syro-Phoenician’s daughter, but the miracle of faith that was elicited or drawn forth from the mother’s heart. And so we find a similar happenstance in this morning’s Gospel. Of course, today we read of no entreaty or supplication of one on behalf of another. We read simply that Jesus was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was
gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. (St. Luke xi. 14) Jesus comes upon a man who was mute or could not speak. Neither family member nor friend found the courage or compassion to entreat on behalf of this sorry soul. He performs the miracle in the midst of a surprised and astonished crowd who, at
first, remain as silent as the dumb man. And curiously enough, we read that the man was possessed by a demon. The ancient Jews believed that blindness, deafness, and mutism were all the result of demonic possession. Jewish men or women afflicted with any or all of these diseases were shunned from civilized society. So Jesus will venture into dangerous territory with no prompting at all. He does so in order to teach something about the nature of miracles. His enemies – no doubt the Pharisees and Scribes - answered the miracle with the
charge that he cast out devils by Beelzebub the chief of the devils...while others sought of him a sign from heaven. (Ibid, 15) Beelzebub was the foreign god of Ekron, interpreted by some to be the Lord of the flies, by others, more pejoratively to mean the god of dung, or perhaps more generally the prince of
the air. Whatever the meaning, Jesus’ accusers intended to say that he was an agent of Satan, and with the others who demanded an even greater miracle, did not believe that any good had come of what Jesus had done. To be fair to most people, miracles are strange occurrences, and for the most innocent of observers
fear and trepidation carry men into the strangest of places in search of explanations. Be that as it may, Jesus answers his critics and doubters with a fuller explanation of the meaning of miracles and the faith that it should
Jesus says this: Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. (Ibid 17, 18) He knows the thoughts and motivations of his enemies. He counters them with the truth: Satan’s kingdom is most assuredly divided against itself, and will be brought to desolation. His kingdom, in the end, will not stand precisely because he foments division from and warfare against God, that is impossible to perform with any hope of permanent success. But prior to the fall
that Satan desires, he has no preliminary interest in being divided against himself. (Ibid, 17) His primary intention is to divide man from man, and man from God. He certainly would have no interest in the healing of this deaf and dumb man. Hearing and speaking have all the potential for uniting man with his fellows, and man with his Maker. So Jesus makes clear that Satan would not stand for any miracle that might enable a man to hear the Word of God and keep it. (Ibid, 28)
Having performed this miracle, however, Jesus reveals much more about who he is and what he intends. He says: But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. (Ibid, 20-23) Jesus admits that it may very well be true that this poor dumb man had been possessed by a devil. Sickness and disease are evidence of man’s fall from God and his goodness. So let us agree that this man was, in some way, possessed by a power
other than God’s. He is, then, moved by a strong man or Satan, who was fully armed and guarding his own possession. The man’s condition seemed irreversibly invulnerable to any outside interference. He belonged to the devil, whose peace and protection were secure. And then suddenly a stronger than [the devil] came upon him, and [overcame] him, taking from him all his trustworthy armour, and divided his spoils. (Ibid, 23) The stronger man is, of course, Jesus. Satan’s kingdom will not stand, and will be brought to desolation, because the finger of God will divide it. Jesus brings the kingdom of God to earth, and the success of its temporal survival depends upon what comes next.
Wonders and miracles may be packed full of power, Jesus acknowledges, but they also have all the potential to die idly in a thankless and forgetful soul. Once the miracle has been wrought, a great danger ensues. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell
there: and the last state of that man is worse than first. (Ibid, 24-26) The dumb man now speaks; he is freed of one barrier to his redemption and salvation. But being healed of one possession, demon, or vice does not ensure protection from others or even promise salvation. The healed man in the Gospel is now free to hear and
receive the Word of God into his soul if he so chooses. Other men, like Jesus’ accusers, could hear the same Word if only they would open their spiritual ears to the truth that Jesus speaks. The dumb man’s house is swept and garnished of one demon. Jesus’ accusers think that their spiritual houses are tidied and cleaned up because they follow the ritual precepts of the Jewish Law. Both may be emptied of one unclean spirit, but are in danger of being overtaken of seven others spirits more wicked than [themselves]. (Ibid, 26) Why? Because hearing
the Word of God is not enough.
God’s Word in Jesus is spoken to the cured deaf man and Jesus’ accusers in order to habituate and accustom them to the Divine virtues that ensure redemption and salvation. Redemption comes about when a man in faith humbly submits to the power of God’s Word and its incessant demands. The dumb man now joins all others
who are ready to hear the Word of God and keep it. (Ibid, 28) But even here, the devil does not give up so easily on any man from whom Jesus has cast out a demon. John Calvin warns us: Let us not then suppose that the devil has been vanquished by a single combat, because he has once gone out of us. On the contrary, let us remember that…[the devil] has knowledge and experience of all the approaches by which he may reach us; and that, if there be no open and direct entrance, he has dexterity enough to creep in by small holes or winding crevices. (Calvin’s Commentaries: Volume XVII) Faith must grow into virtue if the devil’s advances are to be resisted and thwarted successfully. As one writer reminds us, the virtue of the soul…is a matter of humility and obedience…. We become good by doing the good, over and over and over again, until it becomes the habit, the very pattern of our lives. (The Price of Liberation, R.D. Crouse) True healing comes about only when faith
entrusts itself to the persistent presence of Divine virtue in the soul. It requires patience as each individual person surrenders humbly on a daily basis to God’s labor of love, remembering that he was sometimes darkness, but [is now] light in the Lord, as he learns to rebuke the works of darkness, and to have no fellowship with them (Ephesians v. 11) Humility and obedience are then essential if faith will not only hear the Word of God but keep it. St. Paul says, You must begin to live as men native to the light; where the light has its effect, where all is goodness, holiness, and truth, as your lives begin tobecome a manifestation of God’s will. (Ibid, 9,10)
So dear friends in Christ, let us remember today that we rely wholly and completely upon the finger of God to cast out [our] demons, not once and for all, but continuously, indeed as often as the devil assaults and attacks us. We must, therefore, as Calvin reminds us, endeavor that Christ, holding his reign within us, may block up all the entrances of [the devil]. Whatever may be the fierceness or violence of Satan’s attacks, they ought not to intimidate the sons [and daughters] of God, whom the invincible power of the Holy Spirit preserves
in safety. (Ibid, XVII) For if we humbly open our souls to the Holy Spirit, and obey his Godly motions in righteousness and true holiness (Collect Lent 2), the light of Christ’s power will shine into our souls, banish all darkness, and enable us, with the dumb man in this morning’s Gospel, not only to hear God’s Word and keep it, but to share and minister it to those who have not yet heard
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons