Lent 3 – Separating light from darkness

Lent 3 - michelangelo 800px-Dividing_Light_from_Darkness

Ephesians 5:1-14       St Luke 11:14-26


At one time you were darkness, now you are light in the Lord.
Walk as children of light.


For three Sundays now our Gospels have focussed our minds on evil as Jesus confronts demons: first in his own temptations, where he confronted the chief of demons, satan himself; last week, in healing a Canaanite woman’s daughter who was “grievously oppressed by a devil”; and this morning Jesus is confronting and casting out a demon that was making a man mute.

This attention by the Church, by appointing these Gospels to focus our minds on evil powers may strike us as odd, given our post enlightenment, secular age when such things in contemporary culture are relegated to the subject of horror films for our entertainment alone.

But there is a whole history in the Church of attention to “the devil and all his works”:

  • The Desert Fathers, in the fourth century went into the dessert, not to get away from the city where demons were active, but to confront the demons in the wilderness head on, where their subtly could be more easily unmasked.  They left an enduring legacy for the Church on the psychological subtlety of the way demons attack the soul through our passions. [see Evarius' The Eight Principle Thoughts and Cassian's The Institutes and The Conferences]
  • Dante’s Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy, is a medieval synthesis of the whole of the Church’s teaching on the way that evil comes upon the soul. Dante shows how evil begins its work through subtly undermining us through our simple passions; then in the circle of the violent, middle hell, the will is more actively engaged fighting against creation, against our neighbour and against God; and finally in the darkest circles of hell we find our higher intellect, that which is given us to see God, being used to actively to attain selfish ends through the manipulation of other people’s passions, and at the lowest pit of hell, the betrayers of friendship, of country, and of God.  The work is a profound investigation of evil in all its guises and helps in the unmasking of evil machinations in our midst.
  • C S Lewis attempted a modern investigation of the work of evil in his short work “The Screwtape Letters”. Here a more senior devil advises his younger inexperienced nephew about how to do the work of undermining the person whom he has be assigned to destroy.  It was written in 1941 to help unmask ideas in that world that were prevalent, and that remain today.

Such works help us to unmask the evil in ideologies in the today’s world  that mix truth with lies. Neo-Marxist ideology suggests that if there are inequalities they must be because of power.  It has spawned such policies  as “diversity, equity and inclusion”, or “critical race theory” which appeal to our desire for fairness but end up undermining ideas of merit and competence and increasing racism. Or there are ideas that create confusion about God’s purposes in sexual difference - a kind of hatred against creation itself.  An investigation of evil can help us understand what ideas are behind the drop in birth rates, the ease of abortion and the tolerance and spread of euthanasia as an option to end our lives.
We are most subtly confused, by appealing to our compassion, one of our highest attributes, to believe subtle lies and even to commit heinous acts.  In a world where we see great good – such as the lifting of large swaths of the world out of poverty in recent years, the incredible availability of knowledge and communication through the internet, unheard of opportunities for education, and advances in medicine and engineering – evil is actively seeking to undermine every good.

I don’t need to speak about my own confrontations with evil in my youth, or my ministry experiences where I have had to consult from time to time the Diocesan exorcist for pastoral situations. Clearly the most pervasive and ongoing battle with evil in my life and ministry, is to speak the Word of truth into our daily struggles to understand our fallenness, the lies that entangle us, the deceits that would divide us and undermine our individual and corporate health as a church.

Evil is ever present.  But we can, by the grace God, overcome it.

St Paul says in 2 Corinthians [2:11] that he writes to the Corinthians, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.  We must not be ignorant of evil.

Today Jesus confronts us in the Gospel with the activity of the devil and all his works.

Jesus casts out a demon that was mute.  And some questioned by what power Jesus cast out the demon – was it by demonic power?

Jesus responds by telling us some things about satan: that he is strong; that he is fully armed; that he creates a kind of peace, but it is really a complacency, a false security, when he has overwhelmed a soul.

Jesus says of himself that he is the stronger man who takes away the armour in which the devil trusts.  That armour which the devil trusts in is lies.  Jesus is the Word of God, the truth incarnate, and that Word shatters the armour when it is spoken – it undoes the lies that the devil has bound some individual in or some societies.

And Jesus will “divide the spoils” – he will take the souls that are now free and them to use their gifts to God’s glory.  The mute man, could now open his mouth to praise God.

Jesus then goes on to give us a warning in the event that we are released from a lie.

If there is some way in which our soul has been bound – and we are released from that binding through the Word of God – do not be complacent!  Our soul now becomes the target of even greater assault.

So, for example, when a person is confirmed, he or she makes a profession of the Christian faith, first renouncing the world, the flesh and the devil, and then promising to believe in God and to follow Him.  The bishop then prays that the person would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, for this very reason.  As we leave the kingdom of darkness, and choose to follow the Light, we will experience active resistance.  If we do not fill ourselves, that is, open ourselves to being infilled with the grace of God, with His Holy Spirit, then seven other spirits more evil than itself, enter and dwell there.  And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

But Jesus promises today that we will be blessed if we “hear the word of God and keep it.”  It is a call to an ongoing vigilance to order our lives trusting in God and actively being obedient to that life of faith.  As St Paul says in the next chapter of Ephesians, we are to arm ourselves for this moment by moment battle with principalities and powers, by faith, by the Word of God, by the gift of His Spirit, and by obedience to that Word.

St Paul says the same thing in today’s Epistle, “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.”

Do you see there is a recreation happening in us in Christ – the separating of light from darkness.  It is what we purpose to do now, and Sunday by Sunday, as we look within, expose by the Spirit our sin, and the lies that have bound us, confess it and fill ourselves with Light – with Christ’s risen self, His Body and Blood given for us.  Then we will become more and more like Christ, who gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Amen +





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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2