Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – January 31, 2021
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you’ve turned on a radio at any point in the past two years or so, you’ve probably heard the song “You Say” by Lauren Daigle. It has been the number one song on Christian radio for a record 73 weeks in a row (and counting!) and has even been in heavy rotation on secular stations. The incredible popularity of this song is due, no doubt, to Lauren Daigle’s incredible vocals. It is a powerful, powerful song. (I’ve been listening to it for two years and it still manages to put a lump in my throat just about every time!) But I think another reason this song is speaking to people so broadly and for so long is because the song captures a conversation that goes on in all of our heads.
Diagle sings of the voices she hears in her head, voices that are lying to her, voices that are trying to drag her down into despair. These voices tell her she is beyond hope. They tell her that she is an irredeemable failure. They tell her she is alone and unlovable. Do you ever have that conversation in your head? I think most people do. (I feel a responsibility to add here that literally hearing voices is a symptom of a medical condition that needs more than a sermon or a song. It needs medical attention. I’m speaking more euphemistically here, as is Lauren Daigle.)
So Daigle begins by singing of these inner voices trying to drag her down, but when she gets to the chorus, she sings of another voice breaking in: “You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing. You say I am strong when I think I am weak. You say I am held when I am falling short. When I don’t belong, oh you say I am yours. And I believe, oh I believe.”
This song is about an unclean spirit being silenced and chased out by an authoritative voice. It is about the devil, the father of lies, being sent back to hell by the authoritative voice of the Son of God. And so, this song can be thought of as a sung version of the gospel reading we hear today.
Jesus was in the synagogue. He was the preacher that day. He astounded the congregation by teaching with authority. You know how most preachers will back up what they say by appealing to other teachers like, oh, I don’t know, Martin Luther, or somebody like that. Rabbis did the same thing. Their sermons were footnoted. They appealed to other authorities to make their case. But Jesus didn’t do any of that. He spoke with his own authority. He spoke with the authority of God himself. Even outside of the synagogue, Jesus went around forgiving sins. People said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And Jesus would ignore them, as if to say: “And your point is?” Jesus spoke with the authority of God, because he is the Son of God!
When God’s Word is spoken with authority, it tends to flush the demons out like grouse or pheasants being flushed out of the bushes, and this day in the synagogue was no different. There was a man there with an unclean spirit. He had a spirit that was not of God. Christ’s word flushed this demon right out. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” it said. “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” Only Jesus surely wasn’t so polite as to say, “Be silent.” Jesus wasn’t a librarian shushing noisy teenagers! He was rebuking here! He was speaking strongly! And so a better translation would say that he told this unclean spirit to shut up and go to hell. That’s what it means to rebuke! And the demon left. The voice plaguing this poor man was silenced, and the people were amazed.
I heard some very sad news this week. The Commandant of the Corp of Cadets at Texas A&M University, where my son goes to school, announced that a freshman cadet had died. I found out from an Aggie Parent Prayer group my wife and I are in that this cadet took his own life. It wasn’t anyone my son knew, but it has shaken all of us.
I am both grateful and haunted by the fact that my son was at a Christian retreat at a church in College Station last weekend. While my son was at a church, hearing the Word of God, this young man was battling these unclean spirits. At the very same time my son was hearing the authoritative Word of Christ, this young man was hearing the lies of the evil one. I can’t help but wonder what that unclean spirit said to him. I can’t help by wonder what lies he was told to bring him to such a state of desperation and despair and hopelessness. I find myself wishing that someone could have kicked in his door and told those voices to shut up. I wish I could have been there to say, “God damn you!” to those unclean spirits, those damned demonic liars in his head. I’m not swearing here. I’m not using the Lord’s name in vain. I mean it quite literally! I mean it as a prayer. I would have called on God to damn those voices, to send them back to hell where they belong. Isn’t that what Jesus did to the voices plaguing the man at the synagogue? Isn’t that what the unclean spirit was worried about? “Have you come to destroy us?” it said. It knew exactly what Jesus was going to do! If I could have, I would have said to those voices dragging this poor boy into despair, “You shut your God damned mouth and let him go!”
I couldn’t say it there, but I can say it here.
I hope none of you are in as much despair as this young man apparently was, but I know that sometimes you have the same conversation going through your head that Lauren Daigle sings about. I have it going through my head sometimes too. Sometimes that unclean spirit, that voice that is not of God, gets into our thinking, into our internal conversation. It tries to drag us down, to rob us of our hope, to rob us of our joy.
But today we hear a different voice. Today we hear a voice with far greater authority than that liar in our head. Today we hear the voice of the Holy One of God. Today the unclean spirit is cast out by the Holy Spirit as we hear God’s Word for us.
It isn’t as though God only whispers sweet nothings to us. God’s Word convicts us. It reveals our sin. It makes us squirm from time to time, to be sure. It is supposed to! But the difference is that God convicts us only in order to drive us to Christ, where we find grace, forgiveness, mercy, hope, and love, where we find the savior he has sent for us.
In contrast, the unclean spirit seizes on our sins, our failures, our shortcomings, and tries to tell us that because of all this, we are hopeless, and alone, and unlovable. I usually try to practice and encourage good manners and polite speech, but if that’s the voice you are hearing this morning dragging you down, invoke the authority of Jesus Christ and tell that demonic liar to shut his mouth and go to hell.
And then listen to your Lord Jesus. He says you are forgiven. He says you are loved. He says you are his.
And we believe.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church