The Third Sunday in Lent| March 15, 2009| Rev. Rolf Preus| Luke 11, 27-28
And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
I recall my father telling me on several occasions that not a day went by that he did not think of his father. My father died on November 4, 1995 and during the past thirteen years, four months, and eleven days not a day has gone by that I have not thought of my father. I loved my father very much.
And I miss him. I miss him primarily because he taught me God’s word. He taught me when I was a child. He taught me when I was a man. He gave me a love for theology and a desire to preach it and teach it and indoctrinate others in that same saving truth that captured my own heart.
I cannot dissociate my father from my teacher because he was both at the same time. But I would rather be a Christian than a Preus. Blood is not thicker than theology. God’s word trumps every relationship of blood, marriage, family, or kin.
I grew up with children who rejected the faith in which they were raised. I have taught children who embraced the faith for which their parents had little use. I’ve seen one sibling embrace it and another reject it. One thing is certain. You cannot inherit the faith from your parents. It is as Jesus said, “You must be born from above.”
We Lutherans perhaps do not venerate the mother of our Lord as we should. I cannot think of a woman who should be honored more highly than she. Not only did she submit to becoming the mother of God in true obedience and humble faith, she also remained devoted to her son not only as his mother but as a dutiful disciple.
And Jesus honored her. When he was suffering and dying on the cross he saw her and he committed her to the care of the Apostle John. Early church tradition has it that Mary the mother of our Lord lived out her life in Ephesus where John cared for her as if she were his own mother.
When the woman in the crowd cried out to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” she was not entirely out of line. Jesus did not rebuke her. After all, Mary was blessed, was she not? When the angel Gabriel came to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of the Son of God he greeted her with the words: “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” Mary herself said, “From now on all generations shall call me blessed.” Mary as the mother of our Lord was truly blessed. She was uniquely blessed such as no other woman who has ever lived. Think of it! She gave birth to God. Yes, it was God in the flesh who came from Mary’s womb. It was the incarnate God who nursed at Mary’s breasts.
But the woman from the crowd missed the point of true blessedness. It did not come from being the mother of Jesus. It came from being a believer in Jesus. Mary was a Christian. She responded to Gabriel with these words: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” There is true blessedness! Let it be to me according to your word.
Mary did not say, “Let it be to me according to my desires.” She didn’t base her faith on her feeling. She did not say, “Let it be to me according to the expectations of the crowd.” She didn’t base her faith on popular opinion. She did not say, “Let it be to me according to your inscrutable and unknowable will.” She knew what God was promising. God was promising that she would give birth to the Savior and she wanted what God wanted to give her.
To say “Amen” to what God promises is what makes someone truly blessed. Mary, the mother of our Lord was blessed more by hearing the word than by bearing the Word. We honor Mary and all Christians who have gone before by hearing the word they heard and keeping it.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” To hear means we listen and we believe. Hear doesn’t simply mean hear. It means hear with faith. It means to take it in. Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. To keep it means to guard it, to treasure it, to protect it.
We hear folks tell us that we don’t need to protect God’s word. We don’t need to contend for it. This, they say, is the wrong attitude to take. Defending God’s word, they claim, is indicative of a lack of faith. We simply share God’s word and let the word do what the word does.
The word does what it does, there’s no doubt about that! God’s word has the power to convict the hardest heart of sin and bring the proud and boastful to their knees in humble repentance. God’s word has the power to take out the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh, as God promised through the prophet Ezekiel. People with no hope are given hope through the almighty power of God’s word.
But God’s word also needs to be defended. Keep it, Jesus said. Guard it. Someone is out there trying to falsify it and steal it away from you.
Jesus came to do battle with the devil and that battle rages today. On the one hand Jesus has already won. He resisted the devil’s temptations and drove him away with the word of God. He invaded Satan’s kingdom, casting out devils and healing those possessed by evil spirits. He crushed Satan’s head on the cross where he bore the sin of the human race. When Jesus took upon himself the weight of the world’s sin and suffered the punishment for it he took away the sin of the world.
When Jesus took away our sin he took away from Satan his fiercest power. The name Satan means accuser. Satan’s accusations are real and devastating. He accuses us of the very sins into which he leads us. He accuses us to destroy our faith and get us to run away from God.
Satan would have us believe that we can live unchristian lives and retain the Christian faith. We can’t. St. Paul warns us in today’s Epistle Lesson about this very thing.
For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any 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. (Ephesians 5, 5-6)
If you live to please your sinful nature you will drive faith right out of your heart. Christians can fall away from the faith after having faithfully confessed it. When they do, it is usually not because they are persuaded by some kind of intellectual argument that God’s word is unbelievable. The most common cause for falling away is latching onto sin without repentance.
To keep God’s word is not just to hold on to it as the truth. It is to use it against all lies against it. The name devil means slanderer. The father of lies is both accuser and slanderer.
We confess our sins to God. God forgives us. We hear the words of Christ’s minister absolving us. Satan calls those words into question. He says they are invalid. We confess our sins. We eat and we drink the very body and blood by which our sins were taken away but the accuser keeps on accusing even when God has pledged full and free forgiveness to us by the body and blood of his Son.
The accuser is a slanderer. He denies the gospel. He tries to get us to deny it, too. The battle rages in the heart and soul of the Christian. We fight or we die.
Those who hear God’s word and keep it are those who do battle against the devil. They claim Christ’s victory as their own. They know that in any battle what matters is not how many times you’re knocked down, but how many times you get back up. They know when they are weary, tired of contending, and hammered by doubts and have no power of their own to drive away the devil’s temptations and lies that the word of God is God’s almighty power.
The one who fulfilled the law and suffered for us all has placed within his holy word the power that drives the devil away. It is the power of sin forgiven by Jesus’ blood. God’s word pronounces us innocent for the sake of Jesus’ vicarious obedience and death. When you are innocent the devil can’t touch you. He can’t accuse you of past sins because they’re forgiven. He can’t rob you of your faith because God’s word assures you that what you are trusting in is true. The devil can’t withstand God’s word. He can’t take away from you what the word of God guarantees. You are blessed by God to do battle. And Christ’s victory is given to you. Amen