Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the third Sunday of Lent 3/7/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, 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 of Lent, click here.
It is still one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked. It didn’t come from a boss, a mentor, or an esteemed professor. I don’t think it would have even occurred to a grown-up. But it did occur to a twelve-year-old girl. She asked me what it sounded like.
We’d just finished reading the first few verses of Genesis. She was stuck on verse two. It’s that bit about the earth being formless and void, with darkness over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters. Verse two would be the moments, if you can call them moments, before God spoke.
“I don’t think it sounded like… anything,” I told her. It was tohu wabohu, formless and void, it was… silent. What would have made the noise? How would it have reverberated? Something about vacuums.
I was pretty sure that I’d gotten the physics of the situation correct, but a physics answer wasn’t what she was looking for. She wasn’t asking a physics question. She was asking a spiritual question. What did it sound like?
It sounded like the man in verse 14 of tonight’s Gospel. That is, mute – silent – void.
He has a demon that has taken away his voice. And so, he cannot tell anyone about his pain. This is why stroke victims weep; because we are meant to communicate. Face to face, and mouth to ear, with no barriers. And to lose that or to surrender that is one of the deepest human sorrows.
He can’t even ask for help. The silence has him stuck.
If the demons are capable of pleasure, if they can delight in anything at all, if there is anything they truly desire, it is this: in whatever time there is between now and judgment day, they’d like a quiet place to rest.
Quiet like it was back in the day before there was day. They weren’t there, but they know what it was like: it was silent. And that’s what they desire most. For everything to be as it was before God spoke.
So very often you’d like that kind of peace and quiet too. If only God would keep His mouth shut, you wouldn’t have to deal with what He says.
If only it would be quiet again, then your conscience would be mute like that demon, then you could finally rest.
If only it could be like it was before God spoke, and you knew His Law, maybe you wouldn’t feel this guilt, shame, and loss.
That may be quiet, but it isn’t peace.
Peace does not come quietly, because Jesus does not come quietly. In the beginning there was silence, but then that silence was pierced.
So again this morning. Jesus comes speaking, restoring, forgiving, and healing. He finds demonic silence and suffering, and He will not have it. Jesus speaks into the chaotic void: and He brings to it sound and order and beauty.
Our other dear Kantor, J.S. Bach, must have known something about this. He wrote a cantata for this Sunday that recognizes the difference. The first aria is pleasant and relaxing. There’s nothing tense or conflicted. The base line is steady and grounded, like a man at peace.
Before too long, though, it is disrupted, and begins to wander. As sin’s poison sinks in, the steady joyful sounds are disrupted. And that’s not peace.
This is how the demons get what they want. As temptation gives way to sin, that sin has a way of disrupting you, of muting you and shutting you up. You become too ashamed to speak, to confess, to repent. But Jesus will not abide the silence and leave you like He found you.
The demons had their chance to sing His tune, and they would not. So, what they really want now is a place where He no longer speaks. And in the very end that is what they will get.
But this is not the end. Neither is it the beginning. It is the re-beginning; the re-genesis; the re-creation.
Jesus is making all things new, even you. When He speaks, the demons are cast out, like so many sins. They pass through waterless places, seeking rest; but they find none. And neither will you – not in the quiet of your own mind, not in the chaotic silence of a world deaf to God’s Word.
The demons seek rest in waterless places, away from Jesus’ voice. Your rest, however, is in a watery place full of Word and sound.
Here the very same Word that spoke creation into being speaks to you, face to face, mouth to ear: freeing you, loosening your tongue, giving you ears to hear and mouths to speak. Here the water that flows from Jesus’ side fills the baptismal font, where you are cleaned up and made a fit home for His Holy Spirit.
If you read verse 24 closely, you’ll see that the demon has plans to return to his home. So long as nobody else has moved in, he will come back with seven more evil than himself.
If your ears are not filled with God’s spoken Word, with His Holy Absolution, with His Law & His Gospel; if your heart is not filled with His Holy Spirit; if mouths once fed with Christ’s own Body & Blood are left empty, then your spiritual state will become far worse than it has ever been.
“But blessed are you who hear the Word of God and keep it!” That word “keep” can be tricky if you’re not careful. You probably think that it means something like, “Blessed are you who hear the Word of God, and obey it!” And it is true that obeying God’s Word is a tremendous blessing to you and others.
But that’s not strictly what it means here. The Greek word, φυλάσσω, which we’ve translated here as “keep,” has been used in this Gospel reading already. In verse 21, it was translated as “guards,” as in: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe…”
To guard, to keep, to watch over, to protect, etc. That’s how Luke uses the verb every time in his Gospel. The only possible exception is when he quotes the rich young ruler in chapter 18, whose use of the verb seems to imply that he thinks he has met the Law’s demands. But that’s proof enough that he’s ignorant of the word’s meaning, his own sin, or both.
Blessed are you who hear the Word of God and keep it. Who watch over it, who guard it, who protect it.
Blessed are you who give this Word a home in your ears and your mouths and your hearts. Blessed are you who…
Blessed are you who come now to this altar to eat and drink it.