Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon for the third Sunday in Lent, 3/12/2023. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Lent3 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the third Sunday in Lent, click here.
Two weeks ago, at the beginning of Lent, we saw spiritual warfare as the battle between order and chaos. If you missed it, we could sum it up this way: chaos is the mark of evil; and order, is the mark of things divine.
We saw this played out in Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, when Satan tried to insert chaos into the order of Jesus’ fast, and, of course, in the creation account from Genesis, where God ordered the chaos.
Creation wasn’t random or spastic, but an intentional process. It was carefully arranged and managed. Creation was so orderly, not only because it flowed forth from God, but because it had a divine purpose: to bring forth mankind, the crown of His creation.
Which tells us something else: God’s divine order has divine purpose. Even the parts of creation which confound us belong to His revelation. The dark, distant, and limitless cosmos, for example -they are a reflection of God Himself:
infinite, majestic, and unsearchable, except that like a meteorite, He descends to earth to be seen, handled, and inspected.
So, chaos is the mark of evil, and order is the mark of the divine. But today’s Gospel lesson takes us one step beyond this. Order v. Chaos is one thing; but this morning we see that there is “order,” and then there is Order.
Part of the reason for this is linguistic. The language I like so much from Genesis that we translate as “formless and void,” is so elastic that it’s difficult to concretely express its precise opposite.
So, without trying to pick apart the etymology of the tohu wa bohu (formless and void), suffice it to say that there is not only the idea of disorder, but a kind of emptiness. If something is to be rightly ordered, it must be full and not empty.
You know how fleeting the satisfaction of a clean kitchen can be. It’s momentarily nice to see it neat and clean, glistening, with everything put away. But you soon remember that’s not what kitchens are for. It’s not meant to smell like a cleaning agent. It’s meant to smell like chocolate chip cookies.
As God’s creation was ordered when it was filled and satisfying His intentions, order is truly order when it is filled and oriented towards God’s purposes. This is made clear in the Gospel lesson for this morning.
First there was a man who was afflicted by a demon that was mute. This was disordered and chaotic because it got in the way of man’s purpose. God created us to speak, to one another and to Him. Thus, order is achieved not when the demon leaves, but when the man starts talking, and the people marvel.
Jesus illustrates this further with His teaching on the return of an unclean spirit. In this teaching, Jesus describes one possible outcome of an exorcism. The demon returns and finds the house, which is Jesus’ metaphor for a person, swept clean and put in order.
But it’s that kind of order that you have to put in scare quotes, and us a lower case “o.” Because that order is empty. That house must be filled with something. It will be either filled with the Holy Spirit and divinely ordered, or it will be filled with corruption and chaos. And the last state of that person will be worse than the first.
You could sum this up with Jesus’ words from verse 23:
Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.
There is no such thing as spiritual neutrality. There is no middle ground. For the MIT folks, there are only ones (1) and zeroes (0).
Jesus is the stronger Man. By His death and resurrection He has overcome the strong man, fully armed as he was. Christ has disarmed him and taken away the armor in which he trusted. Jesus has divided His spoil. He has plundered you away and set you into the order of His Kingdom, where He would have you live as beloved children.
The forgiveness of sins, then, is not meant to be merely a house swept clean. Instead, it is to be a remaking and a reordering of your heart, and a suitable dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. That house, you, are supposed to be thoroughly occupied.
This is why, in the Service of Confession & Absolution, we do not only confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. We also ask God that He would renew us and lead us, that He would cause us to delight in His will and walk in His ways, to the glory of His holy name.
Our new, divine Order is more than cleanness, it is oriented toward divine purpose.
This truth is expressed when you not only refrain from the sins that would pollute you, but when you live in mercy and good works, when you fill your eyes and ears and mouth with the things of God.
It is expressed not merely by your fasting, but when that fasting is complemented by giving alms.
So, how do we have a full, ordered Lent and a full, ordered life? Not only by restraining ourselves from those sins St. Paul warned us about in this morning’s epistle; things which are by nature disordered, and, I quote, “out of place.” But by replacing them with thanksgiving, with praise, and walking in love, being imitators of God.
That takes constant training and instruction, even as it takes constant forgiveness, as we tend to the cobwebs and bits of clutter that creep into God’s ordered house.
It requires that we not be scattered, but gathered. It means you need to be here. Law & Gospel; Confession & Absolution; Word & Sacrament; Church and Bible Study, every week, that is Order; and gift, and beauty.
If you are new, and if you are not, know that there is more to the Christian life than having your house swept clean. As you learn and grow, and ornament your clean house with knowledge and wisdom and good works, as you are daily sanctified by God, you will see more and more, that the last state of the Christian in this world is better than the first.