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Lindemann on Lent III (Oculi)

by revalkorn ~ March 20th, 2011

THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT, OCULI

The Propers for this Sunday appear to have been selected because this was the day of renunciation and of the exorcism for the catechumens. Praying men whose faith meant a desperate struggle against countless odds; frail women who had been disinherited because they wished to become Christians; all have had inward and outward battles to fight, and the victory had not been won even now. This was the day of decision. Shall Christ rule as King and God? Think of former days. What ideals had you? You strove for gratification of the senses, you were immoral, impure, covetous. You lived in blackest darkness. Now you have another, a shining ideal: Christ, the heavenly Sun. A great change has taken place in you. You have emerged out of dark night into broad daylight. You must now walk as children of the heavenly light. Children of the sun are the stars. You are men of light, stars in the dark sky of night. That is now your calling.

The “strong man,” the prince of this world, was your king in former days. As long as you served him, he kept his peace. Now that you have dethroned him, he will go into action and cause a storm. Your relatives and community will turn against you, hell will be loosed on you. “One stronger than he,” Christ, must ascend the throne in you. His victory must become a reality in you. One last warning: Great sacrifices will be demanded of you. YOU must be ready to give up everything, the world, honor, possessions, enjoyment, pleasure. Will you persevere? Woe to you if you fall away again! For, if you persist, it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own ac-count and hold Him up to contempt (Heb. 6:4-6).

Throughout this period of Lent those outside the Kingdom are shown as slaves of sin, enemies of God, allies of Satan. The need and process of release, the power of victory, the entrance into the Kingdom, the requirements of this allegiance to God are brought home in the teaching of the Propers. The Epistles show a progression. The “walk” of the Christian is emphasized, and each week something is added. Today, as a warning, all the horrors of the sins are pictured to which the heart possessed by evil gives way. “Walk as children of light.” The relentlessness of the enemy’s opposition is driven home in the Holy Gospel. This Sunday’s call is for unswerving allegiance, for tried and true loyalty. The response is not motivated by fear but by love, by patriotism for the heavenly Kingdom. Deliberately the faithful count the cost and devotedly consecrate themselves to God. The Introit gives expression to this: “Mine eyes were ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net.” The Collect sums up the whole aspiration of those who heartily desire to walk worthily, not in and by their own strength, but they plead that the Father would look upon their every need and stretch forth the right hand of His majesty. For by the finger of God our Lord cast out devils.

The Introit. “Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn Thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted. Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in Thee; let me not be ashamed.”

Though these portions of Psalm 25 may have been intended for the catechumens, we, too, shall find this personal prayer most appropriate.

The 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.”

A prayer against all our enemies, against the sins mentioned in the Epistle and the mighty foe mentioned in the holy Gospel, the foes considered on the first three Sundays in Lent, the evil spirit, the evil nature, the evil world.

The Epistle (Eph. 5:1-9). The deeper we enter into Lent, the more intense becomes the struggle between sin and righteousness. We see this revealed in our Lord’s suffering for us, but also in the Lessons the Church uses to turn the divine searchlight on our own selves.

The Gradual. “Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail; let the heathen be judged in Thy sight. When mine enemies are turned back, they shall fall and perish at Thy presence.”

The Tract. “Unto Thee lift I up mine eyes, O Thou that dwellest in the heavens! Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us.”

The Proper Sentence. “Christ hath humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

The Gospel (St. Luke 11:14-28). “The Son of God goes forth to war, a kingly crown to gain! Who follows in His train?” The Holy Gospel answers in our Lord’s words: “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and house falls upon house.” There is no neutrality, no middle ground, in the allegiance to the service of Christ. There cannot be a divided nor an unpossessed heart. The Epistle and the Holy Gospel both define the sharp contrast between the Kingdom of Light and the kingdom of evil. Each kingdom has its distinctive marks and its power. Each makes an appeal, each claims its followers. Think of the double and low standards of morality, the winking at wrong, the absorption in the material and transitory, religious indifference, the conventional and self-made religion. Then think of the childlike following and imitating of God, walking in love after Christ’s example, bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit in all goodness and righteousness and truth.

The Proper Preface. “Who on the tree of the cross didst give salvation unto mankind that whence death arose, thence life also might rise again; and that he who by a tree once overcame likewise by a tree be overcome, through Christ, our Lord; through whom,” etc.

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE EPISTLE

The last two Sundays we considered the temptations of the devil and of the flesh. Next we consider the temptations of the world. In regard to these the teachings of the day are very rich both in encouragement and in warning. The Epistle emphasizes our baptismal separation. We are buried with Christ in Holy Baptism. As a consequence we have the duty to walk in newness of life. Baptized and incorporated into the Church, we are separate from the world.

Our Separation from the World

A. We Are God’s Beloved Children. This is our position in Christ’s Church — really loved, really forgiven and accepted, through the sacrifice of Christ. Our position makes our high calling. We are to be: (1) Imitators of our heavenly Father, especially in His free, patient, inventive, infinite love, but also in His purity, generosity, wisdom, and greatness. God’s children admire their Father. (2) Imitators of God the Son. We are to walk in love, as Christ loved us, that is, live in it and act in it. Imitate His love, condescending, practical, self-sacrificing, effective, delightful to the heavenly Father. That love is to be our example and our motive to follow that example. How high is our calling, how tender our motive! The world may be full of hate, but the Church should breathe an atmosphere of love (1 John 3:13).

B. We Are Saints. We have been made saints, persons set apart and consecrated. The love that is to fill our hearts is to be a holy thing, no mere fancy, sentiment, or emotion. As saints we are to avoid: (1) Sins of the flesh; for spiritual fervor and love do not remove this vast danger. (2) Sins of the tongue. “Silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting.” A great temptation to Christian people, and often most unprofitable. (3) The sin of covetousness. This is wholly in-consistent in those who have true riches and an inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God. To prefer earthly to heavenly wealth is a form of idolatry.

C. We Are Light. “Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Men’s condition without Christ is darkness. Not merely that they are in darkness, but that darkness is in them so that they themselves are darkness. So the Christian is not only in the light, but the light is in him; he is light. His consequent duty is: (1) To walk as a child of light, as one begotten by it, with this light burning in his nature, disposition, and life; manifesting itself in kindness, uprightness, trustworthiness, and in a constant testing of every act to prove it pleasing to God (John 3:20,21). (2) To be separate from the darkness. “Therefore do not associate with them.” No fruit of nature or grace can grow in darkness, but “the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.” (3) To attract others to the light. St. Paul does not specifically mention this duty in the text, but surely the duty of an enlightened Church is to shine in dark places and hearts. Light shining in darkness will always attract. The concentrated light in Christ’s Church will shame and yet attract the surrounding darkness.

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL

From the Epistle we have learned the duty of separation from the world. Here we are taught the duty of

Antagonism Against the Evil of the World

In this contest against the forces of evil there can be:

A. No Alliance. The Jews foolishly accused our Lord of having made alliance with the Evil One. Our Lord answered that Satan could not be allied with Him without being divided against himself. No alliance can come from that side. Neither can the Church ally herself with anything that is evil without being separated from Christ, her Head. We are tempted to alliance with evil when we do evil that good may come or when we make friends with evil men in order to give advantage to our denomination or party. We may not use Satan’s weapons in the cause of God. Indirectly we also learn the necessity of unity in the Church. Our divisions prevent the Church from exerting its true moral and spiritual force in the world. If Satan will not have a divided kingdom, how can a divided Christendom be for the advantage of Christ?

B. No Neutrality. We cannot even be neutral, for the struggle is against one who is strong in himself and armed, because he knows our weakness and many ways of access into our hearts, where he has so many secret allies. Satan can be conquered only by the greater strength of Christ. In such a contest indifference counts for opposition, and he who does not gather scatters. This is no figure of speech, for the people whose indifference condones evil are more dangerous than those who openly oppose good. Indifference does not realize the evil of evil or the good of good. Despising enthusiasm, it chills effort and becomes Satan’s best friend and Christ’s worst enemy. A Laodicean Christianity (Rev. 3:14-22) is like lukewarm water, odious and sickening.

C. No Interregnum. Even to cast out evil is not enough; it must be dis-placed by good. Neglect of full deliverance invites greater bondage. It is not enough to sweep and garnish by outward reformation from gross sin, for the sins of the spirit are no less deadly than the sins of the flesh. Sin loses none of its danger by losing its repulsiveness. Respectability will not serve instead of godliness. A religion empty of religion will prove no safeguard. What alone can keep Satan out is Christ in. Admiration of our Lord’s teaching will not save us; only a faith that results in obedience.

THE HOLY COMMUNION

In the Holy Gospel our Lord states very clearly that neutrality is impossible, that we must take a definite stand. Dante, in his tremendous picture of hell, assigns certain souls not to hell itself but to its vestibule. They are the souls who never chose God nor the devil, good or bad, who simply let things float along and never came to a decision. They go round and round, following a moving flag, now here and now there, but never in any one place. According to Dante, they reel forever in a whirl of sandy dust, bitten by wasps and hornets. They are not allowed to enter the light of heaven nor permitted to descend into hell. Heaven won’t have them, for they never chose heavenly things. Hell will not receive them. Why not? Think of it! — hell will not have these people of no decision, because if they came into hell, the damned would have the happiness of looking down on something lower than themselves. In Dante’s brilliantly imaginative The Divine Comedy, Virgil, the high-minded pagan who acted as guide to Dante on his trip through hell, remarks with withering scorn: “Give them but a look, and let us pass on.” They were so contemptible because they would not decide.

How can we make our decision clear? We are doing so this morning. We are entering upon communion with our Lord and King at His Table. St. Paul declared: “As often as you eat of this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” We proclaim not only that Christ died but also that we believe and know He died for us, that together with the Bread and Wine we receive and make our own the price He paid to make us His own. We belong to Him. We have been definitely separated from the kingdom and rule of Satan. We are on Christ’s side. He is our only Lord. We have made His philosophy our philosophy of life. We eat and drink in remembrance of Him, to be reminded to remember Him, to refresh our memory as to all He was in His life and words, that we may follow His example.

As we come to announce our decision to continue on the Lord’s side, certain questions arise. Are we on the Lord’s side merely as ornaments, to add to His army a note of exquisite beauty and loveliness, of personal dignity and charm? Or are we on the Lord’s side to do something? Are we gathering? We have been baptized, whom have we brought to Holy Baptism? We commune with our Savior and King at His Table, whom have we restored to their communion? We have the sign of the Cross on our forehead and breast from Holy Baptism, how far have we driven it into our daily life, into our business and profession, into our school life? How far have we carried it into our community? How deeply have we impressed it on our environment? So we come to meet our Lord in Holy Communion, with muscles tight and decision firm, and say: “Lord Jesus, I have decided to follow You unto life’s end. Make me a better soldier, a better servant, a better follower.”

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