In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
The entirety of today’s Gospel is summed up in its last verse, the last Words from Jesus: “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” There is a slight translation and understanding issue here, however. When we hear the word “keep” we get into a sort of works righteousness mindset and hear “God will bless me only if I obey His Word.” While there’s certainly nothing wrong with making your goal obeying the Word of God, the Greek word here translated in almost every English version as “keep” doesn’t necessarily carry that meaning. A better translation is “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and guard it,” in the sense of holding it sacred, gladly hearing and learning it, as Luther taught us in the explanation of the Third Commandment. Those who center their lives in Word and Sacrament are blessed by God. Why? Not because of anything they do, but because they live in constant reception of the Means by which God comes to them, to forgive them, to strengthen them, and to keep them steadfast in the faith to life everlasting.
But we know that’s not an easy life to live. It sounds like it is, and on paper or in our heads it works wonderfully. But the actual execution of a Christ-centered life is difficult. The world’s attitude is that Sunday morning is an untapped chunk of free time. That’s why so many kids involved in recreational sports can’t come to church on Sunday morning: practices, games, and tournaments are all packed into these “unclaimed” hours. A constant lament in so many of our congregations is that mom and dad drop their kids off for Sunday School and use the church as a babysitting service while they go off to breakfast or an hour of child-free shopping. That’s why the Christian education of our young people is severely suffering, as school work, extracurricular activities, and everything else claims after school and evening hours and no one can fit in time for confirmation classes or other sorts of Christian education.
But we can’t just sit here and wring our hands over this or say this doesn’t apply to us since we don’t have kids of confirmation age yet, or you aren’t a parent with children of this age, or any other excuse. The same problems apply to us as well. How many of us really carve out time for family devotions, for the reading of Scripture and prayer? How many of us keep the Word front and center in our lives as God taught His people in Deuteronomy: “These Words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Dt. 6:6-9) We aren’t bound to take this literally, but we should keep it in spirit, making God, His Word and His work the center of our lives and conversation, something we think about constantly. We all fail at this, even me. But this is part of what Lent is all about, and part of what Our Lord encourages us to do in today’s Gospel—keep the Word at the center. Especially as Christians we ought to put Christ and church at the center, making it first and foremost in our lives, and then schedule life around that, not vice versa as we so often do.
Why is this? As Jesus Himself warns: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. … He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” This just repeats what Jesus taught elsewhere: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt. 6:24). Not only during Lent but always we must consider whose side we are on. We cannot be houses divided. We cannot give lip service to God as hearing His Word and keeping it center in our life while confining His Word to Sunday mornings only. When we do this we open ourselves up to a greater fall. We may kick the devil out on Sunday mornings, but when he comes back and finds our life swept and in order but unfortified, he will come back with more force and our last state is worse than the first.
The hard reality is that, while you may resolve not to do that, you have sinful flesh that is constantly under attack. Each day your foes unfurl their banners around you and hurl their envenomed darts at you. You will sin. But there is hope. You have a God who defends you. He is the Stronger Man who defeats Satan, the strong man. Satan may guard you, trying to keep you in his palace, but he has been overcome and you have been taken out of his kingdom and brought into God’s Kingdom.
All this happened on the cross. On Calvary Satan was overcome, bound by Christ. There your sin was forgiven, all the times you let something take the most important place in your life instead of the Word replaced by all the times Jesus relied on the Word alone, spent the night in prayer, and kept the Sabbath faithfully, all just as if you had done it yourself. In Jesus’ death Satan’s accusations lost their truth, lost their sting, and when Satan’s accusations are empty, he has no power over you. Now, Baptized into Christ, given His victory from Calvary’s cross, given His Holy Sprit and faith, you can rebuke Satan, reminding him that he is defeated.
And this victory isn’t just for this life. Christ’s victory is a promise for your future, for the life of the world to come. His victory is yours, made yours when His Blood was placed upon you in the waters of Baptism, the promise renewed each time His Blood crosses your lips in Holy Communion. Your eternal victory rests on the fact that God makes you His child through faith in His promise, and because you are His, you are a victor just like Him.
So now you are that blessed one who hears the Word of God and keeps it. The one who is blessed isn’t the one perfectly keeps the Word, because such a person has never existed, except for Jesus Christ. The one who is blessed is the one who sins but repents, is forgiven, and now lives in the Word of God, existing only by the grace and mercy it gives as it imparts the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Once you were darkness, but now you are in Christ, forgiven, restored, brought into His kingdom, kept safe from all the attacks of the devil, victorious because you are the child of the Victor.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).