St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Lent III : Fr Tony Hogg

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 Jesus’ miracles were acts of compassion for those in need, sick, afflicted, cast out from society. Often we are told it was because he “has compassion on them” that he reaches out to heal. A sign that the Messiah has come.
Some saw the signs and believed – at least to some extent. Others kept ‘seeking signs’, that is, they refused to believe even when they saw one or more for themselves. So the miraculous sign doesn’t guarantee belief. In fact, sometimes Jesus wouldn’t or couldn’t do a miracle – whether it is was for King Herod or for some unbelievers in his home town. 
Nonetheless in the gospel today, Jesus has to defend his miracles of exorcism from unbelieving witnesses. Oh yes, they believe in demons. They even believed that Jesus cast them out. But they claimed that Jesus was working with the Devil – casting out demons by the prince of demons.
So Jesus defends his miracles, not with more miracles, but with his words. And his words are really the main thing anyway. He has a point to make, and it’s a simple one- similar to what he’s said elsewhere. In spiritual terms – you are either with Jesus or you are against him. There is no middle ground. If you are against Jesus, you are under the power of the Devil –the Devil has hold of you. You are a captive, locked away in his palace, under heavy guard, and as the Baptism service reminds us, “seeing that all men are born of a sinful nature” and through that baptism we become “steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in love, may we so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that we may come to the land of everlasting life.”
High words, but we still have our lives to lead, and although talk of the devil is not popular in many people’s daily lives, we must always remember, that our Christian path is not all cosy .So we must not cast the devil as a figment or pretend that he is irrelevant for he still ‘prowls around, seeking whom he may devour.’ However, through the grace of baptism we can ‘resist steadfast in faith.’
We hear much talk these days, particularly in our schools, of an increase in bullying, when the so called stronger attacks the perceived weaker. That is just how Jesus asks us to respond in our spiritual battle against the wiles of the evil one. By our being here this morning, we through faith know how to deal with a bully. We are assured in that because Jesus, our Saviour and King, not only casts out demons, he casts out the prince of demons himself. He shatters the kingdom of the Devil with a cross- his own cross, descending to Hell to announce his victory. He is even stronger than death- rising from the grave to live forever. And, my dears, he does that for each and every one of us, because this dust is indeed bound for glory. So eat your heart out, you old serpent!
But now as we continue to live ‘the daily round, the common task’, we are strengthened because we know that he has broken the bonds of sin and death and hell. To create in us a new spirit. And to draw us to repentance to make us more blessed still.
Then in the gospel story, we hear the cry from the crowd blessing the mother that gave him birth.
Jesus does not deny the compliment, but redirects the woman’s attention to where true blessing is to be found. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Yes, it’s nice to be around Jesus, to see his miracles, to wonder at the wonders. It’s great to see him kicking out demons, bullying the bully for sakes. But above and beyond that, and so much more importantly for us living out our faith day to day, in an increasingly hostile world is for us to hear the word of God and keep it.
He speaks that word. It’s a word of law- a rebuke to sin. Rules to keep that we not always so do. But his word is also a word of promise – a good word that cleanses and heals. And this word we keep when we treasure the promises and put our faith in them, and in him.
So for us the cleansing and healing goes on, as it did with the holy waters of baptism. That cleansing happens supremely here again this morning with his holy Body and Blood. Christ dwells within us, his Spirit dwells within us – and so there is simply no room for an evil spirit. Christ is our master, how could we serve our old master, Satan? Christ is our strong champion – why should we ever worry about what that old serpent can do for us? For his head has been stomped on by the heal of our Saviour. He is crushed.
So as the third week of Lent begins, remember that you are indeed blessed because his gifts to us and his words are to be kept- not forgotten – not kept on a shelf – but lived and used and remembered each day. Add to that the great news too that victory is yours in Christ, and with Good Friday and Easter approaching, his word declares for us, and for us, ‘It is finished’. Are we not all indeed blessed. Amen
 
 
 
 

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