Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after
Put on God's armour now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy's attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground. So stand ready (verses 13-14a).
One of our first stops when we arrived in England on our recent holiday was Hastings. Hastings is famous, as you might know. This is the place where the history of England was changed forever. If you recall your history lessons at school, you might remember that in 1066 William, the Duke of Normandy defeated King Harold of England. It’s an amazing experience to stand on the spot where such a significant battle took place. Back in those days it was easy to determine who the enemy was. You could tell by the uniform they wore. In some battles one side wore red coats, the other wore blue coats. Battles were decided by confrontation on an open field. Whoever won the most battles won the war – it was as simple as that.
Maybe Paul was thinking of a battlefield when he wrote Ephesians 6 but somehow I
get the impression that the warfare that Paul is writing about is not so much an
open battle but more like a guerrilla war.
You know, the kind of war when the enemy is not so clearly seen;
he hides amongst the bushes;
springs out when you least expect it;
tries to ambush you when your guard is down;
uses dirty tactics to win at any cost,
uses lies, propaganda, deceit, deception and falsehoods to trick you into a false sense of security.
If you’ve seen interviews with veterans of the Vietnam War you will hear about these kinds of tactics. The battles were nerve wracking; never knowing where the enemy might be hiding.
In today’s reading from Ephesians, Paul talks about waging war against the Devil and his evil tricks. This is no ordinary fight, Paul says, the enemy is unseen but extremely skilful, powerful and successful in winning skirmishes against the followers of Jesus. This enemy is the ruler of darkness and will ambush even the most diligent with the dirtiest of tactics. Paul says, “We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
It’s much easier to defend yourself against an enemy that you can see and that at least is something of an equal but an enemy that you can’t see and that is far more powerful – what chance do we have?
Let get this into perspective and get a glimpse of this guerrilla war – the kind that is sneaky, elusive, jumping out from behind the bushes when your guard is down, deceitful, and full of trickery.
A group of friends is talking about the weekend just gone by and how they made the most of the fantastic weather on Sunday. As they related stories about fishing and how the kids really got the hang of it, and picnics and lazing in the sun at the beach or playing in the park with the kids, or just an easy morning in backyard with brunch and bit of gardening before lunch, you reflect on your Sunday.
You think, “It was a real effort to get the kids up, dressed, fed and into the car with a minimal amount of shouting. We finally got to church soon after start time. The service was fine, the music was okay, but our youngest was quite a handful – he wouldn’t sit still. We do this every week. Get up and go to church and come home and have lunch”.
Then I come to from my own thoughts as one of the group asks, “What did you do on Sunday?” Panic sets in. “How am I going to answer that one? Well, we’re always told at church to stand up for Jesus, so that’s what I’ll do.” So, I say, “We went to church!”
“Really”, comes the reply followed by an awkward silence. “I didn’t know you are church going type”. The conversation quickly changes and I get the distinct impression that the other person is thinking, “You poor thing. What a waste of a beautiful Sunday”.
And for a moment I find myself agreeing. Compared to the adventures my friends had on Sunday, my day seemed pretty boring, well from everyone else’s point of view. This doesn’t sound like a battle; it’s all rather tame. What I’m trying to say is that the battle lines in skirmishes with Satan are not always clear. What is God’s way is often hidden amongst a whole lot of other choices. Satan is waging a guerrilla war and often sneakily, secretly and shrewdly wears us down until we surrender.
The truth of the matter is I had spent my Sunday morning basking in the warmth of the grace of God, indulging in the beauty of his love and I had my line dangling in his Word and Sacrament and caught a whole lot. I shared morning tea in the company of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
You get the distinct impression that most other people are marching to the beat
of a different drum than you are. As you meet and talk with people you realise
that your values are different to theirs.
Your Christian faith somehow puts you at odds with what everyone else is saying and doing and yet at times you can’t quite put your finger on exactly what it is that makes you different.
Sometimes we find ourselves falling in line with the world’s way of thinking not realising until a Christian friend points it out, that we have drifted away from our Christian values. For example, the world’s way of dealing with harsh criticism and disagreement is to react with equal harshness, criticism, unforgiveness and violent verbal and even physical attacks.
That’s not Christ’s way. His way is to love those who hate you. Seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Don’t gossip or slander or backbite. Treat those who delight in hurting you with gentleness and love. In other words, be like Christ toward your enemies.
Paul is calling the Ephesians to stand firm against the Devil’s tricks and put on the armour that God gives because there is no way that they can stand against Satan by their own strength. Paul has already described the battle the Ephesian Christians are involved in within their own congregation when he talked about “imitating God” rather than following the ways of the world. He lists all kinds of life styles that belong to Satan’s kingdom and not to the Kingdom of God (e.g. sexual immorality, greediness, coarse language, anger that remains unresolved and so on).
The battle we face is no different to that of the Ephesians.
The priority given to
and gratifying personal needs and wants.
complacency toward Christ,
the mocking of Christian values,
the power that our worldly peers and friends have over on us,
the power of the media, social media and commercialism –
these are the principalities and powers of our world that tempt us, mock us, and sometimes subdue us.
We are locked in a struggle and often the battle-lines are not clear when we are
in the middle of a jungle guerrilla war.
That’s when we need to go back to the Word of God and go to God in prayer
to get our directions right again and to know exactly what side we are on.
Are we really on Christ’s side,
are we standing in the middle (to be caught in the crossfire is the most vulnerable place to be)
or have we been truly ambushed and taken captive by the enemy and brainwashed.
Paul uses a word that means ‘to wrestle’ when he talks about Satan’s attacks. It’s like hand to hand combat. It’s personal, close-up contact type of fighting and he will hit us where it hurts the most. That’s why God gives us the weapons and the protection we need to defend ourselves in these guerrilla-like skirmishes with the devil.
Paul describes the equipment that God gives us to enable us to stand our
ground in the battle with the devil –
the belt of truth, loyalty and faithfulness;
the body armour of God’s righteousness that frees from guilt and shame;
the sandals of peace and hope that keep us going in spite of the fierce battle;
the shield of faith and trust that stop the devil’s fiery arrows of defeat and unbelief;
helmet of salvation and God’s grace which protects us from failure and Satan’s accusations,
and the sword of the Spirit which is the promises of God that terrify Satan in every skirmish.
In other words, be fitted out with everything that Jesus has to offer if you want to stand against Satan and his temptations. This powerful enemy will jump out at any moment to strike a blow but he doesn’t like anyone who carries this kind of protection because he knows he cannot win.
Paul adds one more thing. Like any soldier in guerrilla warfare, be alert, be watchful and pray. Pray for all those involved in this war that they might not give in.
With all this in the background, what we do here on Sunday morning (and in our own private worship with God) becomes a matter of life and death. Now that might sound a bit dramatic and somewhat overstated but it is a fact. We need to prepare for the battle. Be strengthened to face whatever may come. So we spend time with God here at worship and in our own personal reading and prayer
· to hear what God has to say so that our faith is strengthened,
· to be renewed and strengthened for the week ahead through the forgiveness of our sins and Holy Communion and to be reassured that Jesus has defeated the power of Satan,
· to pray,
· to be encouraged in the face of the on-going battle,
· to be re-equipped for “battle”, to put on again the armour of truth, faith, the gospel of peace and hope that Holy Spirit gives to protect us,
Yes, we will lose some of the skirmishes with Satan but in the end it is in Christ we will win the war. When the devil is doing his worst in our lives and in the church – spreading lies, causing hatred, undermining faith, disrupting peace, creating discouragement, he is forced to retreat when those under attack turn to Jesus and trust and hope in him and are made right through his life, death and resurrection. Jesus has defeated all our enemies, even death. Paul triumphantly says, “We have complete victory through him who loved us!” (Rom 8:37).
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
23rd August 2015