A Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent
Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent
Ephesians 5:1-14 & St. Luke 11:14-28
by William Klock
Over the past few weeks, the lessons we’ve heard read have been pointing us to what it looks like to live out our new life in Christ. They’ve especially been focusing our attention on love—and more specifically, the love that the Father showed in sending his Son and the love that Jesus showed us at the cross when he gave his own life as a sacrifice for our sins. But the point of focusing our attention on the love of God in Christ is very practical. The more we understand and appreciate God’s love for us, the more that love will show itself in our lives. Think of it this way: the kingdom of God is a kingdom of love—it’s a kingdom founded on the love of God and it’s a kingdom in which God’s people live in that love. Someone asked me this week: How do we grow the Church? We grow it by living in God’s love and by manifesting that love in our lives—as we live in holy obedience to our loving Creator and Redeemer and as we truly live in love as the united body of Christ—loving each other as God loves each of us. That’s the light that Jesus talks about in this morning’s Gospel, and if we will be that light, shining brightly in the darkness, we will draw others to the light.
This morning’s lessons are focused on this “kingdom” theme. They remind us that Jesus is the King—when he came, he established his kingdom—and that leaves us with a very important question. Each of us needs to ask: Where does my allegiance lie? Who is my king? And if we can answer that Jesus is our king, we need to look at our lives and ask if our priorites in life and the way we’re living give evidence that we’re living in Christ’s kingdom. There are two kingdoms in the world: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. When it comes to declaring our allegiance to God, you and I have it relatively easy. When we turn to Jesus as our Lord, some people may give us some funny looks. Some people may start avoiding us, but chances are becoming a Christians isn’t going to put our lives or livelihood in danger. But consider that in the Early Church, a commitment to Jesus often did mean real trouble. These were men whose proclamation of faith meant persecution. These were women whose devotion to the Messiah meant they might be divorced by their unbelieving husbands and thrown into the street with no livelihood. This was a decision that meant likely separation from their families and persecution by their friends and their government. In those days, Lent was the time when new converts were prepared for baptism at Easter and the Third Sunday in Lent was given the name the “Sunday of Renunciation”. Everyone knew that to follow Jesus was going to cost them something and this was the Sunday when the Church made it clear that they could have no divided loyalties and no uncertain allegiances. This was the day of decision, of final commitment—were they in or were they out? Were they willing to count the cost or not?
Each of us had to make that decision at one point in time: who will rule over you? Are you a member of Christ’s Kingdom or are you a subject of the prince of this world? Think of how we lived before, especially those of you who became Christians as adults: We lived to gratify the flesh. We were immoral. We were impure. We were covetous. We lived in darkness. But Christ shone his light on us and called us to a new life in a new kingdom. He has transformed us and called us out of darkness into the light and now we have an obligation to walk as children of that light.
Today’s Epistle has that same theme. It emphasises our baptismal separation. We have been buried with Christ and now walk in a new life with him. We’ve been incorporated into his body and are separated from the world. In the preceding chapter, St. Paul had urged the Ephesians to put off their old selves—their former selves—and to be renewed in their minds, that they might put on their new, holy, and righteous selves. He continues 5:1-2, now saying:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Why are we to be conformed to God’s character? First, because we have been made his beloved children. In Christ we have been restored to the Father and made his children; we are really loved, really forgiven, and really accepted. God sees us through the sacrifice of his Son and because of that he sees us as his adopted sons and daughters. As Jesus lovingly gave himself for us that we might be saved from God’s wrath and from our bondage to sin, doesn’t it make sense that we should love him in return? In our baptism he’s washed us clean and given us a new start, but at the same time he poured his Holy Spirit into us so that we can walk in holiness—so that we can avoid the very sins that got us into trouble in the first place.
Practically speaking, Paul points us to Jesus. How do I walk in holiness? Paul says, walk in love just like Jesus did. Be willing to give yourself up not only to God, but be willing to give yourself up—your rights, your preference, your expectations, your “things”—be willing to give those things up for the sake of others around you. Live the Gospel. It’s easy to tell the Gospel story of Jesus and his love—how he loves us and how he gave up his own life for us. But that story doesn’t mean very much to the people around us if they don’t see us living it out in our own lives.
We should be living by Jesus’ example and interacting with people in ways that are consistent with how Jesus loves them. He’s the prototype. His life of love is the blueprint for our own lives of love. The world around us is filled with hate and selfishness, but we have a higher calling. The Body of Christ should be a place of love. St. John wrote:
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. He who does not love abides in death…By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:14, 16)
What are some practical ways we show love for God and for the people around us? St. Paul shows us in verses 3-7:
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them.
St. Paul lists all these things that aren’t compatible with a life of holy love. The first thing he mentions is sexual impurity. This is one of those areas of life that is at our core and because of that, if we become impure here it impacts our relationships with our friends and it breaks down the family as the basic unit of God’s covenantal system. Satan so often tries to hit us here because he knows the damage that he can cause through it. We sin sexually and our marriages break up and our children become vulnerable to the enemy. Second, St. Paul mentions sins of the tongue, like gossip, slander, and “foolish talk.” These are the things that drive us apart instead of bringing us together. Gossip and slander aren’t loving. If you catch yourself doing one of these things, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Usually it’s because you’re trying to knock someone person down a peg or give yourself a boost in reputation. That’s not Christlike love. And foolish talk: the Greek word used is morologia. It’s the same word from which we get “moron.” Foolish talk has no constructive purpose. As Christians we need to be engaged in uplifting activities—talk that encourages and that helps us grow spiritually and become more mature. Third, St. Paul mentions covetousness. Covetousness is an outright sin for the Christian. We’re God’s children. He’s promised to take care of us and to meet our needs and we have no reason to doubt his faithfulness to that promise. When we covet, what we’re doing is denying God’s promise to us. If we’re covetous, it shows that we’d rather have earthly wealth than heavenly wealth. Covetousness is the root of idolatry. So ask yourself: Where are my priorities? Are they on earth or are they in heaven?
So, if these are the negative things we should avoid, what are the positives that should be a part of the Christian life? Look at verses 8 to 14:
For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
The condition of man without Christ is darkness: “once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” It’s not just that without Christ we lived in the dark, but that without him we really were darkness because the darkness wasn’t just around us, it was inside us too. When Christ called us he brought us out of the darkness and into the light, but he’s washed us inside and out and filled us with light—now we are light too. Our new duty is to walk as children of the light. We’re to be light in an otherwise dark world. Our light shines in how we act and think, in how we present ourselves, and in how we show the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Are you kind? Are you loving? Are you truthful? Does your life demonstrate integrity? We might not think that people really notice these things in us, but I guarantee, people will notice if you call yourself a Christian, but don’t show these traits. St. Paul also reminds us not to be a part of the darkness. Our allegiance is to Christ and to the light. We live surrounded by darkness, but we need to be separated from it: be in the world, but not of the world. Don’t let the darkness seep in! A tree doesn’t bear good fruit if it’s sucking up poison from the ground and a Christian will have difficulty bearing good fruit if we plant our roots in the darkness that surrounds us. We need to root ourselves in the good, as St. Paul says in verse 9: “the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.” If we practice and attach ourselves to what is good and right and true we’ll be bright shining patches of light in the midst of the darkness of the world—we can’t help but be witnesses of the light of Christ to others. The light attracts people stumbling around in the dark and our duty is to be that light—to draw men and women to Christ. We can’t do that if our light is being dimmed by ungodliness.
St. Luke gives us a practical illustration of this principle of separation from the world in our Gospel lesson. In our lesson today, we’re told how Jesus cast out a demon. The Jews didn’t believe it was possible. Remember, before Jesus came to establish his kingdom, Satan—the strong man—was the one in charge and there was no one stronger, no one to overcome him. When the people saw the demon cast out, their first reaction was to accuse Jesus of being in cahoots with the devil. Jesus responded:
Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (11:17b-20)
Their argument was just plain foolish. Why would Satan work against his own forces? No, the fact is that Jesus has brought his kingdom. Satan had been the strong man of the world, but Jesus is the stronger man. He came and kicked down Satan’s fortresses and has taken back what rightly belongs to God. And Jesus stresses the point that there’s a real battle taking place between two very different, very opposite kingdoms and everyone’s on one side or the other. He says:
He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. (Luke 11:23-26)
In this battle there are no fence-sitters. Either you’re with Jesus or you’re not. There are a lot of people in this world who think they’re neutral: “I’ll just let God and Satan duke it out. It’s not my fight.” These people can be more dangerous than those who are deliberately sided with evil. These are the people who don’t recognize the evil of evil or the good of good. There are people like this even in the Church who are indifferent because they’re afraid of showing any zeal or enthusiasm. If we’re like that, we’re playing into Satan’s hands and becoming enemies of God’s kingdom. Lukewarm Christians have no place in the kingdom. Remember God’s words to the church at Laodicea in Revelation:
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. (Rev. 3:15-19)
The Laodiceans had lost their fire. The same can be said for far too many Christians today. We need to renew our commitment to the Gospel. We need to be reminded that we’re on the winning side of the fight—Jesus defeated Satan and his kingdom at the cross. The problem is that Satan has duped us into complacency. We think it’s enough to simply have faith that Jesus saves. We make him our Saviour, but then we stop at that point. But friends, it’s not enough, as Jesus said, to sweep the house clean and put it in order. It’s not enough to just have the absence of evil. The house has to be filled to full with good. Jesus talks about seven demons coming back to take over the house that he’s swept clean. Brothers and sisters, if Jesus is your Saviour, you also need to make him your Lord. Live the life that his Spirit makes possible. St. Paul tells us that there are seven fruits of the spirit. Let the fruit of the Spirit fill your life and leave no room for those seven demons to come back and take over the clean house!
You see, we have a tendency to think that looking respectable is enough. It’s not. We need to be filled with godliness. Our tendency is to rend our garments—we do the externals—but we don’t rend our hearts. Empty externals don’t cut it. We need to have a deep and growing relationship with God and we can only have that when we commit to standing firm on his side and letting him direct us and fill us.
I wonder how many of you have read Dante’s Inferno. Dante assigned certain souls to the vestibule of hell. These were the souls who never chose between God and the devil, between good and evil, but who just let things float along without making a decision. Their punishment was to chase a flag around aimlessly through a dust storm while being attacked by wasps and hornets. They weren’t allowed to enter the light of heaven or the depths of hell. Heaven wouldn’t have them and hell wouldn’t take them because if they were in hell, the other damned would have the pleasure of looking down on something even lower than themselves.
Dante’s story is fiction, but he’s right in pointing out to us just how important it is that we make our decision clear. As we do each Sunday morning, we come to the Lord’s Table. As we receive the bread and wine today, we’re reminded that we belong to Jesus. He is our only Lord. We have been separated from the rule and power of Satan. But as we’re reminded of our position in the battle, are we really on the Lord’s side? A lot of us are on God’s side only nominally. We declare our submission to Christ to others, we declare it when we come to his Table, but when it comes to the actual fighting of the battle, we sit on the sidelines and let other fight. Or worse, we sabotage the battle: We declare that Jesus is our Lord, and yet we continue to live in the dark more than we do in the light. We say we love God, but we walk in selective obedience, continuing unrepentantly in sin; we continue to put our trust in the things of the world instead of in the promises of God. We say we love God, and then cut ourselves off from his body—from the Church—or we fail to love our brothers and sisters the way that God loves them. We say that we cherish the Gospel, but we rarely share that Good News with others, if at all. Brothers and sisters, we have the sign of the cross on our foreheads from baptism, but how far have we driven it into our daily lives, into our family relationships, into our work relationships, into our friendships, into our church fellowship? As we come to the Lord’s Table reminded of our renewed relationship with God let us each stand ready and find the courage to say, “Lord Jesus, I have decided to follow you to my life’s end. Make me a better soldier, a better servant, and a better follower. Make me understand the depth of your love, that I might truly live out your love in my own life.”
Please pray with me: Lord, we come before you as your humble servants—men and women whom you have taken out of darkness to live in your light. Give us the courage to stand firmly on your side, give us your grace that our lights may shine brightly for you, and give us the resolve to follow you into battle, strong in faith and strong in your love. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.