The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Fr. Peter's sermon for Lent III


When the unclean spirit is gone out from a man, he walketh through dry places seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out; and when he cometh he findeth it swept and garnished; then goeth he and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in, and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. St. Luke 11:24-26.

How well Jesus understood the human condition and how clearly his words demonstrate that understanding. Jesus is speaking of course, about the soul and is sounding a terrible warning; the empty soul is in grave danger.

Christians are told often that we must acknowledge and confess our sins to God. We are to be truly sorry for our sins and ask God to forgive them. At no time is this requirement laid more clearly upon us than during Lent.

I think it is important at this point to make a distinction between sins, those acts which we commit which are wrong, and our sinful nature, those underlying traits in fallen man which Satan exploits to give rise to the sins we commit.

That sinful nature will differ from one person to the next, at least in degree. One person may be inclined to lust, but not to anger, for example. Another may be inclined to anger but not to deceit and so on. The temptations to which we yield, which are manifested in sins, reflect the parts of our sinful nature which are dominant and to which we are most susceptible.

Addressing our sins, that is the acts, is in a sense, a superficial exercise. Most of us know right from wrong and we are aware when we have done wrong and what we have done wrong.

Getting to the root of those sins is a different matter, requiring a much more searching and comprehensive exercise, one in which we are unlikely to succeed without God’s help.

It is through such an exercise that we find the evil, the unclean spirits to which Jesus refers. And, as Jesus teaches in his infinite wisdom, it is when that spirit is driven out that we may find ourselves in great danger.

But we can protect ourselves against our last state being worse than the first, as Jesus puts it. When we set out to confront our sinful nature, our unclean spirits, we should at the same time set out to meet God.

We begin our journey with the knowledge that Jesus Christ is our salvation and our journey into the depths of our soul is made hand in hand with our Saviour. He is our strength, and as today’s Gospel makes very clear, we have no other way of dealing with our devils than through Jesus Christ himself. Without Him, the swept soul is an illusion, a vacuum not just waiting for, but inviting evil to rush back in.

Satan will not leave us alone for long. He always tries to regain control. We know that because we know what Jesus himself suffered. First in his forty days and nights in the wilderness he was tempted, rejecting the blandishments of the devil at every turn. Then when Peter was trying to dissuade him from going to Jerusalem to face the Cross, Our Lord turned to anxious Apostle with the stinging rebuke, Get thee behind me Satan: thou art an offence unto me. In Luke 22:28, Jesus says to his disciples, Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations, which tells us that he was not left alone by the devil.

Finally, and perhaps worst of all, Jesus faced the devil in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the tempter tried again to turn him from the way of the Cross. Luke 22:44 tells us that this temptation was so intense, that Jesus was in agony, and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.

Our Lord responded to this terrible attack by praying more earnestly. And he followed the way of the Cross to finish the work of his incarnation and save us.

Then, and on so many other occasions, Jesus shows us that the way we must follow is the way of prayer. Christian warfare is constant, a never ending battle with the results of our sinful nature and the temptations the devil puts in our way.

That is why we should take the opportunity, this and every Lent to make that journey into ourselves to find those sinful traits which beset us.

It may not be an easy or a pleasant journey. The first shock we may receive when we encounter these things is that we do not really, truly want to be rid of them. Honest examination of ourselves may reveal that we actually enjoy them. But such enjoyment is perverse and is both exploited and fed by the evil one.

So we pray, not that God the Father will remove the temptations from us, for then we cannot mature as Christians tempered in the fire. We pray that God will grant us the strength to meet and resist the temptations thrown at us, neutering those besetting sins and keeping our souls cleansed of the evil. We pray for Jesus to take our hand in his and give us his strength. We pray that God will fill our souls so that we may dwell in Him and He in us. We pray that in rejecting the merciless cold of the devil we may be set on fire for God.

In the writings of a desert father is found this story:

The disciple of a great old man was once attacked by lust. The old man, seeing it in his prayer, said to him, “do you want me to ask God to relieve you of this battle?” The other said, Abba, I see that I am afflicted, but I see that this affliction is producing fruit in me; therefore ask God to give me endurance to bear it”. And his Abba said to him, “Today I know you surpass me in perfection”.

Theophan the Recluse wrote, A soul untried by sorrows is good for nothing.

Frère Ivan said, When prayer dies, we die with it.

St. John Chrysostom wrote, It is not enough to leave Egypt, one must also enter the promised land.

We face our temptations, and with God’s help we resist them.

We pray constantly for the Grace to do this.

And through the Grace of God, we keep evil out of our souls by filling them with the goodness of God.

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you.

Where God dwells, there is no place for the evil spirits.

Peter Jardine+
Lent III, 2005