Sunday, February 1, 2015

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany (B) 2015

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Mark 1:25
Theme: Satan Silenced.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Christians always have prominent enemies. As goes the Master; so go His servants. If Satan were not your enemy Christ would not be your Lord. No one can be both a child of God and an ally of Satan. Light and darkness are not compatible; the presence of the one excludes the possibility of the other. So do not fear; you are a child of God. “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.”1 The adversary cannot endure His light.

Today a man in the synagogue was freed from the enemy. The situation was not unusual and it is instructive for us. The gospels record a number of encounters between Jesus and evil spirits. He rebuked them. He condemned them. He sentenced them. He silenced them. He never negotiated with them. Never was there possibility of consensus. Whenever Christ comes near the evil spirits recognize Him. They always fear Him.

It does not lie within our power to subdue wickedness. Christ does it all. We do nothing. There are no conversations to be had with Satan. He is not a colloquial companion. He is not a competitor with whom we spar. He is not a diversion to be toyed with. Curiosity killed the cat. Satan often speaks smoothly but his breath is laden with malice. His intentions are vile. To think otherwise is to be dangerously deceived.

Evil is not an artificial construct. That doesn’t mean humans aren’t active participants in the propagation of sin. The rebellion of Adam and betrayal of Eve are propensities unfailingly passed down with each generation. We’re not only sinners by virtue of realities beyond our control we are intentional pursuers of our own agendas. And for the acquisition of our agendas we may regard God to be a help or a hindrance. A discretionary deity is always the preferred option for self-directed beings: God’s there when you need Him but doesn’t interfere when you don’t. We seek to be the potter and make God the clay.

But wickedness is something bigger than us. Evil is something more than the sum of its parts. It is a complex reality that can only be managed, let alone understood, by God. Yet the Bible calls us to clearly identify the foes aligned against us. The devil, the unbelieving world, and our own sinful nature cooperate to form fearsome opponents. The symptoms of disobedience to God are as numerous as motives are perverse. Not infrequently does the Bible catalogue them. Sometimes they are singled out. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”2

When we nurse a grudge we raise the next generation of hostility. Antagonism festers in the bones. Bitterness chafes the soul. It gnaws at the very marrow of our psyche. When an attitude of enmity takes up residence it poisons the entire demeanor of the person. It controls us. Finally, the blame is placed on God. How could He allow us to be wronged! How could He permit us to be sinned against!

Perhaps the definition of evil needs to be periodically re-established? Falsehood is the foundation of everything foul. Falsehood has many masks, many colours, many forms, and many disguises. It’s always marked by discord. Truth, however, is a unity defined by Christ and what He has done. Truth is presented openly for all the world to witness. Evil is not defined by what we deem unpalatable but by what God declares harmful. Our consensus is not required; only our obedience. “Hate what is evil,” says the apostle, “Cling to what is good.”3

Loss of perspective is typically caused by the fears that influence our motives. A faithful Christian is often locked in a struggle between a proper fear of sin and evil on the one hand, and the confidence that there is nothing that God can’t handle on the other. The Scripture says, “The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other.”4 So, on the one hand we are tempted to lose hope in difficult times forgetting God promises to be our fortress and help; forgetting that He is gracious and forgiving. On the other hand we tend to minimalize our own sinful ways in hopes of justifying ourselves, though improperly. Other peoples’ sins usually seem worse than our own. God calls us to repent of discounting our own misdeeds.

Think of the new bride. Three weeks after her wedding day, Susan called her minister in hysterics. She was crying, “Pastor, John and I had our first fight together! It was awful. What am I going to do?" The experienced pastor, leaned back in his chair and shook his head saying, "Calm down, Susan, this isn’t nearly as bad as you think. Every marriage has to have its first fight. It’s normal." "I know, I know," Susan said impatiently. "But what am I going to do with the body?" Indeed, the consequences of sin can quickly get beyond our control. But not God’s.

Dear friends, God is not your enemy. A cross stands between Him and you. That cross has changed His countenance. His piercing wrath and indignation- His just fury against the affront of sin- is absorbed by the body of His own Son. This is no petty sacrifice like those which were meant to appease pagan idols. The cross accomplishes reconciliation between a holy God and damnable sinners. The risen Christ embraces us with His life. You are no longer God’s enemy; you are His beloved. You are His baptized; His cherished. “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church.”5

He tends to the members of His church with blessings that the world cannot offer; divine gifts for redeemed sinners; sacred things for holy people. When King David was fleeing the wrath of Saul he came to the city of priests at Nob for refuge. Ahimelech, the priest, gave him of the bread of the Presence because there was no common bread on hand. When we come to the house of God seeking refuge from the assaults of the world, we do not come for common bread. We come for the bread of presence, the Bread of Heaven, the life-giving bread. Christ strengthens us for our journey with His own body and blood. It’s a journey that requires spiritual vision.

Dear friends, an infant, upon opening its eyes, does not gain its depth perception immediately. Gradually things come into focus. Gradually the clarity is defined. Epiphany is a season for our spiritual eyesight to become sharper. The eyes of faith come into focus when our ears are attentive to the voice of the Shepherd. Paul prays in this manner, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you.”5

Our confidence in Christ comes from the full range of testimony in Holy Scripture. When debating with the Jews Jesus said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.”6 Yes, Moses said today, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.”7 His eyewitnesses said, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it.”8 Satan has no authority over THAT LIFE.

When you are summoned before the throne of God the devil will be shouting at the top of his lungs- voicing accusations and condemnations- but not a single word will be heard. He has been silenced. His every decibel of sound has been stifled by the event of the cross. Because this is so, God can hear with perfect clarity the faintest whisper of you, His beloved. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
1 February, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 John 1:5 2 Ephesians 4:26-27
3 Romans 12:9 4 Galatians 5:17 5 Ephesians 5:25-27
6 John 5:46 7 Deuteronomy 18:15 8 1 John 1:1-2

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