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Sermon 3rd Sunday in Lent, 2023

Todays Collect: We beseech thee Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy majesty to be our defense against all our enemies.  This collect comes from the ancient Gregorian Rite.  The “Hearty Desires”, were the vows of the Catechumens, those preparing for confirmation on Easter.  The vows of the Catechumens are these: 1.) That I renounce the devil and all his works, the pomp and vanity of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh. 2.) That I believe all the articles of the Christian Faith. 3.) That I will keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of my life. In this prayer we are not asking for worldly or material things or desires, but a desire for the Holy Spirit, strength in upholding our Christian vows, Godly things. 


I want to focus on today’s Gospel (Luke 11:14-28) and how it ties in with this Collect.  First, we have our Lord’s reply to those who challenged the fact that he cast out a devil.  The Jews accused Jesus of exercising his power by virtue of the devil himself, the most outrageous blasphemy and denial of the manifested power of God working through his Son.


Any kingdom divided against itself is doomed and a house that is not united will collapse.  This so aptly fits with today’s collect, a plea for help and defense, as we seek to do the right thing, as we accept and undertake our Christian profession and responsibilities.  How can we as individual Christians or as the Church claim Christ and then engage in activity with the devil?  That would be a disunited house, it cannot and will not stand.


The second lesson in today’s Gospel is that the mere purging of evil is not enough, it must be replaced by positive good, neutrality is impossible in spiritual and moral spheres.  Christ was very clear when he stated “He who is not with me is against me”.


You have heard the old adage, the best way to fight the devil is to serve the lord.  We should fill our lives so full of love for God and obedience to his will that there is no room for sin.  Certainly, this is the meaning of our Lord’s story of the unclean spirit and the house swept and garnished.  The owner of the house had forced the unclean spirit out but had but had put nothing positive in its place, so the evil returned stronger than before.


Christianity is not a negative religion, the focus should not be on what I don’t do, the focus should be on positive Christian love and filling our lives with the Holy Spirit through prayer and God’s Word.  By focusing on these things you will automatically avoid the pit falls of those things we should avoid.  


The contrast between negative and positive can best be seen as one of the chief differences between the Old and New Testament.  Of course, the Old Testament is the foundation of our Christian religion and vital to our understanding of God and the coming of His Son.  It is the background, a foundation for the Incarnation.  The New Testament fulfills and completes this religion. 


In the Old Testament righteousness was achieved by following all the tedious requirements of the law, but Jesus in the New Testament goes far beyond this negative approach in his Great summary of the law “Thou shalt love the lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind and thy neighbor as thyself”.


This particular Gospel comes at an appropriate time during Lent.  It turns our focus from an exclusively negative emphasis of the Lenten season.  Far too many think of Lent as a time of sacrifice, for giving up something, however the self-denial emphasis of Lent is only good if it is done in order to achieve a more important positive purpose.  We give up something in order to focus more fully and completely on God, deepening our Love and obedience to Him. 


The final message of today’s Gospel “Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it”.  Hear and Keep, to do this we must read God’s word daily and engage Him in prayer to know and follow his will.   In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen!

Father Steve Yarger

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