|44 - The Work of Faith, July 12, 2009|
Why are you here this morning? This morning’s Scripture lessons show in powerful and dramatic fashion spiritual realities that most of us don’t see because they hide beneath the surface of the ordinary; but the Scriptures are like a veil that we can lift through studying them closely, to see beneath the surface of everyday life and come to understand why we need to be here.
St Paul says to us: “The word [of faith that we preach] is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” This word of faith that St Paul speaks of is the word that the Church preaches. It is the word that drove out the demons in this morning’s Gospel. These demons were so fierce that no one could pass by that way. But Jesus could. The demons know Jesus, and they seem to know Him very well. And they hate him; but they have no power against His word, which, it seems, only makes them hate Him more. You can see them gnashing their teeth in their hateful rage as they grovel on the ground before Him; and all they can do is sneer at Him in their torment: “What have we to do with you, O Son of God?” These demons so fierce that no man could even be near them tremble in fear as Jesus steps out of the boat. They are compelled by His mere presence to come out of the tombs. With a word, He renders them impotent and they are compelled willy-nilly to leave the men they had been tormenting and flee into a herd of swine. This word is in your mouth through Holy Eucharist; and it is in your heart if you hear the preaching of the Church and keep it.
How much do you appreciate that it was from such demons that the Lord delivered you in your baptism? It may be hard to appreciate your deliverance from such evil powers by the almighty word of God if you have never seen them; but even this is a blessing for which you owe God gratitude because in Christ’s Holy Church, you have been shielded from them by the Word of Faith in whom the angels of heaven protect you from them so that they are to you but the stuff of fabulous stories.
The demons exist in the unseen, spiritual realm that lies beyond the human intellect so that those who are caught up in the intellect cannot see them, and in the arrogance of their intellectual blindness would even deny their existence. But you need only look around, beloved faithful: young children, teens, men and women. What spirit can you feel beneath the surface of your ordinary life in the schools, in the halls of academia, in the work-place, in the media, the entertainment industry, in the marketplace of our society? Is it the spirit of compassion and respect? It is not. It is a spirit of scorn and contempt and greed in the service of, even enslaved to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Is it a spirit that loves virtue and goodness and decency? No. It is a heavy, darkening spirit that makes people feel heavy and dark dragging them down to become lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Is it a pure spirit of noble and gracious dignity? It is not. It is crude and vulgar, insolent, scoffing and sneering at any hint of moral or ethical restraint; it is proud, arrogant, abusive, ungrateful, unholy. Beloved faithful, open your eyes to discern the spirits at work in the world all around you and you will see the spirits of this morning’s Gospel. St Paul calls them spirits of the power of the air who are even now working in the sons of disobedience. And they are working to penetrate your mind through the intellectual foolishness of modern science, the empty cynicism of modern philosophy, the images of our technological world with the intent of entering your heart that they may do with you as they did with the demoniacs in this morning’s Gospel, and then as they did to the herd of swine.
You see why we need to be here. We need to hear again and again, “Let us attend!” so that we will not be casual about the Christian Faith. The Christian Faith is not a set of religious ideas we can play with. The Christian Faith is the Word of Jesus Christ, filled with the Spirit of God; it is the word of faith that the Church preaches, the word that drives out the spirits of darkness and – as St Luke tells the story – leaves us clothed in the Robe of Light, seated at the feet of Jesus in our right mind, that is to say, in the Mind of Christ. It is not possible to be casual about this Word of Faith because whether we are aware of it or not, we are serving the light or the darkness every day, every hour, every minute, in every choice we make, in every thought we think, in every word we say, in every deed that we do.
So, here you are this morning, sitting before the ambon, listening to the preacher preaching to you, he hopes, the word of faith that is Jesus Christ, the Word that the demons hate and before whom they are compelled to flee, the Word whose Faith is the very Life of Christ’s Holy Church, the Life that is His Holy Spirit, the Spirit that we receive when we eat and drink the Word of God in Holy Eucharist. So, where does that Word of God go when we eat and drink it in Holy Eucharist? If we are entertaining in our heart not the word of faith but the words of these dark spirits, giving ourselves to the love of money, to ingratitude, to disobedience, to insolence and so on, do we think the Word of Faith that we receive into our souls and bodies will sit at table in the coffee-shop of our heart with these words of the Evil One and enjoy a nice cup of tea with them?
We can see from this morning’s Gospel that it will not. There is no fellowship of Light with darkness. Either Christ will drive away the spirits with all their hosts and their pride; or, if like the townspeople we don’t want the Word of Faith to dwell with us, He will leave us. Because this Word of Faith is the Word of love, and it will not stay where it is not loved. And the Word of Faith that we ate and drank in Holy Eucharist will be for us nothing more than ordinary bread and wine.
So we need to be here to be reminded that this Christian Faith we have received is not a set of ideas subject to debate, its truth depending on the outcome of our argument. It is the power of God to salvation, and if we have received this Word of Faith, if we have been delivered from the spirits of darkness as were these demoniacs, then we have work to do. We need to be here to hear the word of faith that we need to keep, so that we know how to keep it and not lose this gift of the Christian Faith that we have received in our baptism and chrismation. This brings us to this morning’s epistle lesson.
These words of St Paul – “the word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” – are drawn from Deuteronomy. They are words Moses spoke to the Israelites to prepare them for crossing the Jordan under the leadership of Joshua, a name which is actually Jesus, to take the land of Canaan that God had given to them. And so the context for St Paul’s doctrine of faith here is this moment when Moses was preparing Israel for the work that lay before them: the work of crossing over the Jordan to take the Land God had given to them. This work involved cleansing the land of all the false gods and their high places that filled it. These false gods were spirits like those we encounter in this morning’s Gospel. They are the spirits active in the world around us today and, if we are not vigilant and faithful, they can become active in us. Because these false gods of Canaan were spirits, they could not be driven out by the Israelite’s strength, and they cannot be driven out by ours. They can be driven out only by the might of the Lord, as the Lord says to the Israelites as they are preparing to take Canaan: “Do not say in your heart, ‘My strength and the might of my hand gained me this great power.’ Then you shall remember the Lord your God, for He it is who gives you strength, that you may gain power.” Here is another reason we need to be here: to receive the power of the Lord through Holy Eucharist so that in His strength, we can cleanse the land of Canaan; only, the land we are to cleanse is our own mind, soul, heart and body. This is the ascetic work given us to do in the Christian Faith we have received.
Like the Israelites whom God delivered through the Red Sea and led to the Jordan, we are sitting here in the Church “beyond the Jordan in the desert” having passed through the waters of our baptism, listening to our Moses, the preacher, who is hoping to preach the word of faith that you might pass over the Jordan under the leadership of our Joshua, Jesus Christ Our Lord, to receive the land God has given you; only the land that God has given you is His Holy Spirit, which He gives to us in His Holy Eucharist that He might cleanse us and, if we will take up our cross and do the work of faith, that He might create in us a clean heart and put a new and right Spirit within us, so that we can become His dwelling place, partakers of the divine nature, communicants of Life Eternal. The work of faith that we must do is presenting our members as slaves of God’s Righteousness through prayer and fasting, and reading Holy Scripture, keeping the teachings of the Church, so that we can be led into our heart, and in the power of the Word of Faith that we receive in the Church, the Word that is Jesus Christ Our Lord, put to flight all the false gods we have served willy-nilly, shining the Light of God’s Holy Spirit into our secret heart to chase away the spirit of disobedience that lurks there and to turn in repentance to God, to serve Him and to worship Him, to receive into our mind and heart His Word of Faith that we have received here in Christ’s Holy Church and to keep it in the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Love of God the Father, and in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.