An excellent presentation by Pastor Mason Beecroft.
Last year I was invited to give a lecture in the Wiseman Series at First Presbyterian in Tulsa. Oswald Hoffman was a regular presenter. Well, for whatever reason, they asked me to return this year. Here is what I offered today.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, greetings to you from the people of Grace Lutheran Church. Dr. Miller, thank you for the opportunity to participate in this series again. I must say I was surprised when you asked me to return. I rarely get a second invitation to be a guest preacher. My poor congregation is stuck with me, but you are under no such obligation. Jim, you were either desperate or you really are true friend. I do hope it is the latter. Please know that I deeply appreciate the ministry of First Church and your clear proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ here in Tulsa. As I looked at the selection of speakers for the series this year, I was struck by the diversity of traditions represented. I pray that what I share with you today will both give you insight into some of the emphases and peculiarities of Lutherans in general and Grace Lutheran in particular, and yet resonate with all those who bear the name of Jesus Christ.
At Grace, we are what I would call pre-Vatican II Lutherans, meaning, among many other things, we still follow the historic one-year lectionary, an annual cycle of readings that has been used by Western Christians for over 600 years, even though its development began much earlier. In this series of readings, the third Sunday in Lent (which is this coming Sunday) is known as Oculi Sunday. Oculi, the Latin for “My eyes” comes from Psalm 25, the appointed Introit, the Entrance Psalm of the day: “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn Yourself to me and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted.”
Approximately 1,500 years ago, on Oculi Sunday, if you found yourself in Rome, you would witness a large procession winding its way through the city. The procession would be led by catechumens, people who were preparing for Holy Baptism at the Easter Vigil. Before this day these candidates would have gone through instruction in the faith and been subject to a series of exorcisms. A late fifth-century letter from John the Deacon offers some insight into the faith of this community: “There is no doubt that, until born again in Christ, one is held bound by the power of the devil. Indeed, one thus bound should not approach the grace of the saving bath, unless, renouncing the devil as part of the early rudiments of faith, one is extricated from his snares.” So on Oculi Sunday, as they entered into the sanctuary after the procession, they would pray, “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn Yourself to me and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted.” The catechumens, along with all the faithful, were confessing that their hope and salvation was in Jesus Christ. They were turning their eyes to the Lord and seeking His mercy for they were desolate and afflicted by sin and death and the power of Satan. So they confessed the faith of the church and renounced Satan and all his works and all his ways. This then marked the beginning of a series of tests for the catechumens called scrutinies to determine their desire to remain faithful to Christ. John the Deacon continues, “For we thoroughly test their hearts concerning faith to determine whether, since the renunciation of the devil, the sacred words of the creed have become fixed in their minds.” The intensity of their preparation heightened in anticipation of entering the waters of Holy Baptism at the Easter Vigil, which was the transfer of their citizenship from the realm of Satan, with its sin and death, into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, where Christ rules with forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.
Now I imagine to our modern ears, this may sound just a tad elaborate, maybe even a bit superstitious. Yet I believe the ancients have something important to teach us. In fact, I believe it is what our Lord Jesus Christ would want us to learn as well, especially as we approach the Third Sunday in Lent. So Jesus instructs us today through the appointed Holy Gospel for Oculi Sunday, St. Luke 11, beginning with verse 14. By the way, Grace members, I am not preaching this on Sunday so please don’t think you can sleep in with a good conscience.
St. Luke 11:14-28: Now [Jesus] was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.