Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
(St. Luke xi. 28)
The point of our journey up to Jerusalem in this holy season of Lent is not only to see and behold with spiritual eyes the love of the Word [that] was made flesh and dwelt among us (St. John i. 14), but also to hear the same Word. So we go to Jerusalem to hear what the Word of God in the flesh has to say to spiritual sickness and disorder and then also to spiritual hardness of heart, obduracy, and ill will. What Jesus says or does not say is all-important for a true understanding of the salvation into which He is drawing all who will desire it. For when the ears of sinful men are opened to the Word of God, not only can they learn of His will but also they can experience the power of His love. So the Word of God in the flesh is not only educational but spiritually salubrious, sanctifying, and salvific.
So our theme for this Sunday is spiritual hearing. Our understanding of it is found in this morning’s Miracle of the Dumb or Mute Man. Prior to the reading of this passage from St. Luke 's Gospel, the Apostles had been hearing Jesus’ discourse on petitioning God the Father in prayer. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (St. Luke xi. 9,10) Jesus reinforces the Father 's desire to respond to their asking by reminding them that, If [they], being evil, know how to give good gifts unto [their] children: how much more shall [the] heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him? (Ibid, 13) And then on the heels of this, Jesus comes upon a dumb or mutant man. Here is a man, He shows His disciples, who can neither hear, nor speak, nor ask. The dumb cannot speak in any rationally coherent way but can only laugh, scream, yell, and groan. If he had been suffering from this physical disability alone, his chief handicap would have been that physical deafness which prevents a man from uniting rationally with the world around him through speech.
But what we find is that there is a more insidious reason or cause for this man’s inability to hear and to speak. He was possessed of a demon. Jesus was casting out a demon and it was dumb. (Ibid, 14) The real sickness that afflicted the deaf and dumb man was demonic possession. Had this not been the case, Jesus might only have performed a bodily miracle. But this man’s sickness was psychic and spiritual. And so Jesus expels the demon. He does this, no doubt, to teach His Apostles and us something about the nature of that evil which threatens both to possess and to overcome any man in this life. And so He will never treat the symptoms of spiritual disease and sickness alone, but will rather attack and overcome the source and origin of the evil. This man can neither hear nor speak because the devil has possessed and sickened him. The devil divides men from God and men from other men. His spiritual aims are as present to our world as to that of the New Testament. And thus what we must desire from Jesus is that Divine power which alone can overcome and banish those demons, which threaten to rule and govern our spiritual lives and dissuade us from union and communion with God. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake.(Ibid, 14)
But asking for and receiving the healing of one demon is never enough. We read that when the deaf mutant was healed, He spake. (Idem) And yet what did he say? Nothing. No sooner has one demon been banished from the life of the healed man who desires to speak –to thank Jesus and to ask questions about how he should now live the new life that had been given to him, than other demons worse than the first threaten to interrupt and destroy his healing. Where are they, you might ask? They are in the hearts and souls of those who attack Jesus and His miracle of mercy. But unlike the demon that possessed the deaf and mute man, these demons are concealed. They are so hidden to the souls of the malevolent attackers that these adversaries of Jesus don’t even know what they are saying. The demons have so effectively inured and acclimated them to sin that they don 't recognize that they too are possessed! These men believe that they are religiously related to the world around them through their piety and good works, and yet while they might lead moral and upright lives, they have become the unwitting enemies of God and His goodness.
So once Jesus has healed the demon-possessed deaf and dumb, the people wondered. But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. (Ibid, 14-16) See how far wickedness has advanced in the lives of these men! Jesus responds to them: 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? (Ibid, 17,18) Jesus makes it clear that the devil has no desire to overcome and banish himself. He wishes rather to secure man’s division from God and from all other men. So, on all levels, the devil is determined to bring men to despair of all spiritual healing, sanctification, and salvation. Because he is divided from the goodness of God he hates all those who find union with it.
Jesus continues. If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. (Ibid, 19, 20) Romano Guardini tells us that Jesus replies: Don’t you see how I war against Satan? How can you say that he works through me, which is the same as saying that we join forces to found one kingdom? (The Lord, Regnery, p. 119) Those who attack God’s healing power are Satan’s demonic friends who frantically attempt to set up a kingdom of appearances and disorder. (Ibid, 117) These men have blashphemed against the Holy Ghost [by turning] against the heart of God; Jesus is saturated with the essence of God. To accuse Him of working through the power of Satan, is to touch the absolute in ill will. (The Lord, Regnery, 120) These men are possessed by ill will and the mortal sin of envy. The spiritual goodness, health, and healing that Jesus brings into the world elicit nothing but malevolence, jealousy, and a burning hatred from their hearts. Jesus proclaims that He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. (Ibid, 23) Christ Jesus has come to scatter, confuse, confound, and destroy Satan’s Kingdom, which may not be divided against itself, but will be divided and conquered assuredly by this One who is possessed by God.
The deaf and mute who is now able to speak is silent and wholly possessed by Jesus’ rebuttal of Satan and his friends, learning what He must do to be truly healed not only for a season but for the whole of his life. Jesus continues: 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 the first. (Ibid, 24-26) The man learns from Jesus that most religious people take pride in their own moral victories over demons. Because they have not been overcome by God's Strong Man and deprived on the armour [of their own good works] in which they trusted, their souls are in danger of greater demonic possession. St. Cyril says this of Jesus accusers and all who will not be overcome habitually by God's Strong Man, Jesus Christ: The devil finds their hearts empty, and void of all concern for the things of God, and wholly taken up with the flesh, and so he takes up his abode in theme. And in this way it comes to pass that [their] last state is worse than the first. And so, the dog has returned to its own vomit, and the sow that has washed to her wallowing in the mire. (Cyril: PG 72, col. 699.)
This morning St. Paul gives us a recipe for blessing that comes through true and lasting healing. It blends with Jesus’ final words in today 's Gospel: Yea, rather, Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it. (Ibid, 28) St. Paul tells us that we must walk in love, as Christ hath loved us, and given Himself for us. (Eph. v. 2) The love of God in Jesus Christ alone will heal us of all our demons. But that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith (Eph. iii. 17), we must flee debauchery, impurity of every kind, and covetousness...[and] filthiness, foolish talking, [and] jesting. (Ibid, 3,4) We must not be deceived with the vain words of the quacks and charlatans who these days pass for authorities on anything. We should have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them; for it is a shame even to speak of those things which [these days] men are doing in secret. (Ibid, 12) And, as Calvin says, Let us [never] 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, as his lodgment within us was of old standing…he 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 Comm’s; Vol. xvii)
So today let us hear the Word of God in Jesus Christ who comes to identify and overcome all our demons. For, The Word of God is disillusioning; it penetrates and unmasks our fantasies and lies; puts the finger on our devils; it shatters our illusions. (Par. Serm) Then we shall remember that we were sometimes darkness, but now are…light in the Lord. So let us walk as children of light (Eph, 8) because we know that the Kingdom of God is come upon us. (Luke, 20)
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons