Sermon for Pentecost 3, Proper 5B, preached on Sunday, June 10, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
There are some people you just want to be around; you want to be in their presence. Professional athletes, musicians, movie stars, politicians; we want to be around these famous people; to be close to their greatness, to bask in their glory, even for just a moment. This is how it should be with God. We should want to be in God’s presence, basking in His glory forever. But because of our sin, we hide from God. We separate ourselves from His presence. This is what our first parents did in the Garden of Eden.
Adam and Eve just committed the first sin. They disobeyed the Lord and ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They listened to Satan and his lies. They gave in to his temptation. Taking the first bite, their eyes were opened and they saw they were naked. They felt great shame; they felt guilt. Thinking it came from their nakedness, they tried to cover it up; but that didn’t work. Their leafy clothes couldn’t cover their guilt because their nakedness wasn’t the source...their sin was.
Hearing God in the Garden, they ran and hid. They hid like a child who just broke their mother’s favorite vase. They hid from God the Father, the One who gave them life, the One who wanted them in His presence. They hid because they were afraid.
Adam claimed this fear came from their nakedness, but they’d been naked the whole time, so why was it now a source of fear? It was because in their nakedness they saw their guilt and shame. They feared the punishment of their disobedience. Adam remembered God’s word of warning about eating from that tree: “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). Adam and Eve realized they couldn’t stand before the holy Lord. They didn’t deserve to be in His presence. So...they hid. And so do we. We run and hide from the Lord. We stay away from His presence. We do this when we stay away from where God promises to meet us in weekly worship where His Word is spoken and His Sacrament given.
There’s an old joke (although it’s not a funny one) that people give as the reason why they don’t come to church. They say, “If I crossed the threshold of the church, God would strike me dead.” In these words you hear an acknowledgement of sin; a realization that it has no place before God. Sin must be punished with death.
When we really take the time to look at who we are, we realize we’re sinners deserving this punishment. There’s no way we can ignore our sin as it’s reflected in the mirror of God’s Law. We see our great shame and guilt. We stand naked before this mirror, seeing every ugly sin we’ve committed, seeing all the good we should’ve done but didn’t. We know we don’t deserve to be in God’s presence. With great shame and guilt we run and hide, we stay away from God’s house. We stay away thinking God could never forgive us. We stay away, not wanting to confess our sin and admit our guilt. We stay away thinking we have to cover our sin up, making ourselves holy before we come to God. And this is exactly want Satan wants. He wants you to stay away.
We think the devil wants us to sin big, to live a life of anarchy and pure evil. But that’s not his goal. What Satan really wants is for you to be separated from God. He wants you to think your sin is too big for God. He wants you to hold on to your shame and guilt instead of confessing your sin. He wants you to believe you have to first become holy yourself. Satan wants you to run from God and hide. He wants you to be trapped in your sin, shame, and guilt.
In the Garden, the devil thought he won. He thought Adam and Eve were separated from God forever. But God wouldn’t let this happen. He wouldn’t let His children be taken from Him, so He promised the Savior who would bring them back. In God’s curse of the serpent, He spoke the first words of the Gospel, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15, NIV). God’s Savior would be stronger than Satan. He would defeat Satan; He would crush him. And He’d bring God’s people back into His presence. This is the very thing we see Jesus doing in the Gospel reading.
Christ cast out demons. In fact, the very first miracle of Jesus that Mark records is Christ healing a man with an unclean spirit. The scribes from Jerusalem however accused Jesus of being the one possessed. But this can’t be. Jesus explained saying, “How can Satan cast out Satan?...If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand,” (Mk 3:23, 26). Christ wasn’t possessed. What the people witnessed wasn’t Satan fighting Satan. What the people witnessed was the promised Savior. When Jesus cast out demons, He was showing that He was the promised seed of the woman. He was showing He is stronger than Satan, that He came to redeem those enslaved to the devil, enslaved to sin and shame and guilt. Christ came to redeem you and me, so that we might be in God’s presence forever.
Christ defeated the devil, He crushed Satan’s head, not with a sword or a hammer, but with His sacrificial death on the cross. In a great turning of events, the serpent's strike was his defeat. As Jesus hung naked on the cross, He took your place, dying your death, the just reward for your sin. The sinless Son of God paid the penalty of your sin. He traded His life for yours, so that you might be forgiven, so that you might receive His righteousness, the very righteousness that covers the nakedness of your shame and guilt.
Christ brings you back to God. Through His blood He brings you into the nearness of God’s presence. He brings you into His presence in this very place as He comes to you in His Word and in His Sacraments. In the waters of Baptism, the unclean spirit of your Old Adam is cast out and the Holy Spirit enters, giving you faith and forgiveness. In the hearing of Scripture, the Lord proclaims all that He’s done for you. In the words of Absolution, He takes your guilt and shame away. And in the Supper, through the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood present in the bread and wine, you are brought into the presence of God, participating in a foretaste of the feast to come. In all of this you receive a glimpse of God’s glory, the very glory that you’ll see in full in the everlasting life He’s given to you. And this is exactly what God wants.
Satan wants you separated from God, but God wants you in His presence. That’s the plan He’s always had for you. This is why He promised to send His Savior and this is why He fulfilled that promised. God doesn’t want to be separated from you. He doesn’t want your sin to keep you from Him. He doesn’t want you to run and hide in shame. He doesn’t want you to stay away because of your guilt. He wants you to come before Him with faith, confessing your sin, receiving His grace, mercy, and forgiveness in Christ. He wants you in His presence forever. In Jesus’ name...Amen.