Sermon from 22nd Aug 2021 (Pentecost 13)

Ephesians 6:10-20 (EHV)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can stand against the schemes of the Devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 For this reason, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to take a stand on the evil day and, after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness fastened in place, 15 and with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace tied to your feet like sandals. 16 At all times hold up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the Evil One. 17 Also take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 At every opportunity, pray in the Spirit with every kind of prayer and petition. Stay alert for the same reason, always persevering in your intercession for all the saints. 19 Pray for me also, that when I open my mouth a message will be given to me that boldly reveals the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may speak about it boldly, as it is necessary for me to speak.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that no matter what comes our way, we may be able to stand firm in our faith as we clothe ourselves with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Living in this fallen world is hard. Living in this fallen world while trying to live out our faith in Jesus Christ is even harder.

There’s so much brokenness and pain and heartache and struggle that we might feel we live in a constant battlefield where the ultimate victims are our love, our innocence, our trust, our peace, and our hope.

In response to the pain and suffering we experience on the battlefield of life as a result of each other’s hands and mouths, we may be tempted to protect ourselves from further pain by either attacking those around us or by isolating ourselves from them.

Sometimes we do this by seeking to inflict pain upon others by exaggerating the truth or telling lies so the other person gets in trouble. Sometimes we protect our heart from further pain by avoiding people or places which might hurt us again. Sometimes we seek to force our own version of peace on others by insisting on our own way. Sometimes we use others as our shield by telling them about our pain, hoping they’ll defend us. Sometimes we dwell on the pain that’s been inflicted on us so that we find it hard to love or trust again.

In this way we surround ourselves with our own version of protective armour as we tell lies, hesitate to open ourselves to love, manipulate others to get our own way, use others as our shield, and dwell on the evil done to us.

The result is that marriages fail. Families divide and separate. No-one wants to serve or place themselves in a position to get criticised. Pastors resign. People leave the church. Congregations divide or diminish as people despair of such loveless Christian witness. We’re not just forced into isolation by government decrees, but we isolate ourselves to become an easy and unsupported target by the evil one!

As Christians we forget who our true enemy is who seeks to divide us. And it’s not you or me.

We fight against the devil who is a most diabolical adversary. He slanders and deceives us so successfully that we’re tempted to see each other, and even God as our enemy. Instead of guarding ourselves against him, we guard ourselves against each other.

Not only this, but we’ve got this inborn virus of sin which affects everything we think and say and do. While sin is also our enemy, this isn’t the enemy we guard ourselves against. Instead of being angry at the sin, we’re often angry with the person who did the sinning. As a result, we see each other as enemies, and we’re tempted to attack or separate ourselves from each other, despite the fact we actually need each other.

Martin Luther, when explaining what we’re praying for when we ask God to lead us not into temptation, says:

‘We ask in this prayer that God would preserve and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, and that, although we may be attacked by them, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.’ Small Catechism, 6th Petition

And this exposes the true target of the devil and our sin: our trust in God.

Now, you might wonder what our faith in God has to do with the way we treat each other. But consider this: When you’ve been hurt by fellow Christians, when you’ve been betrayed by them, when you’ve seen them acting as hypocrites, or when you’ve experienced abuse from them, have you ever been tempted to withdraw from the church community? When you withdraw from the community of faith, do you realise you become an easier target for false belief, despair, bitterness and hopelessness?

You see, while you seek to stay away from fellow Christians who hurt you, you may also stay away from being fed in your faith. Even though the people of God will continually disappoint you, you need them, and they need you. God created us to live in community and, despite all the attacks of evil, we’re still commanded to love God and love our neighbour.

So, what are we to do as a result of experiencing these wrestles with the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh? How are we to respond?

Well, St Paul has already described various responses in his letter which are unfitting for Christians, such as lies, deception, anger, stealing, corrupt talk, bitterness, slander, and so on. Those are all weapons used by the devil to divide us and are never welcome in the body of Christ. Instead, we’re to build up, encourage and forgive each other.

Similarly, we’re not to fight back. We’re not the champions who are to do the fighting. Instead, St Paul clearly says several times in today’s text, we’re ordered to…stand.

Now, in any battle, standing still is an invitation for disaster, unless of course you’re properly protected.

In this case, St Paul describes the armour we’re to put on which will protect and defend us. This is because for us fights the valiant One, our victor Jesus Christ. After all, it’s not our battle – it’s his!

He’s the Champion who has overcome death. He’s the Victor who’s overcome the devil. He’s the mighty One who’s overcome the world. He’s the One who died for the forgiveness of our sin. We’re to faithfully stand and let him do all the fighting.

But, what are these divine protective items you’re to wear?

Well, firstly you’re to stand with a belt of truth around your waist. When you remember Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, it’s like you have a belt of Christ guarding you with his truth. You’re secure in the truth of his humanity and his sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins. When troubled by sins, even sins involving your waist or what’s below it, the truth of Christ’s forgiveness and cleansing will stop you from wavering in your faith in his mercy and compassion.

Secondly, you stand wearing a breastplate of righteousness, guarding your most sensitive and vital of organs – your heart. Since you can’t live the right way or even live in a relationship with God the right way, you’re given Christ’s own righteousness. In this sense, whenever the deceiver accuses you and reminds you of every sin you’ve ever committed in such a way you doubt whether God could ever truly forgive you, you’re to remember that whenever God looks at your heart, it’s been covered over by Christ’s own righteousness.

Thirdly, you stand with the Gospel of peace tied firmly to your feet. The foundation on which you stand in faith is the Gospel. You stand in the peace of God knowing Christ died for the forgiveness of all your sins. As you stand in God’s peace, you’re also ready to proclaim the Gospel of undeserved forgiveness and cleansing to those around you. In this way, instead of engaging in war, you engage in peace!

Fourthly, you stand behind a shield of faith, and in this case it’s a shield which guards you from your eyes to your knees. Now you could argue this is your own faith or trust in God which guards and protects you from the devil’s darts of deception and lies, but it’s more likely to be the faith which has been handed to you which protects you. This is the faith of the church we confess in our Creeds.

Since this shield isn’t attached to you, it’s not just an individual trust (which usually wavers between faith and non-belief), but a corporate trust. This means, when your faith is wavering, you might need the person next to you to hold before you the shield of faith.

This is the reason Martin Luther recalled, and was comforted by, his recitation of the Apostle’s Creed every morning and every night. He shielded himself, not with his own personal faith, but with the historic and enduring faith of the whole catholic and apostolic Church who stood alongside him.

Fifthly, you stand wearing the helmet of salvation. You stand knowing you’re saved by Christ. He is your Champion and your Saviour. Keeping this truth in mind, your thoughts are protected from straying from the truth into despair. Instead of dwelling on evil, you remember that everything won on the cross by Jesus is given to you as a free and undeserving gift through faith. You keep remembering forgiveness is yours, Christ’s cleansing and holiness is yours, peace is yours, and eternal life is yours.

Sixthly, you stand with a sword of the Spirit, but the type of sword St Paul talks about here isn’t a huge sword like the knights of old used to swing. Instead, it’s a short stabbing sword, perhaps only the length of a foot-long ruler. Now, most swordsmen know you can’t fight with that! But that’s the point!

You’re not to fight, but you’re to stand! This stabbing sword was only used when the attacker was so close a long sword would be ineffective and unwieldy. In this case, this short sword is the Word of God.

Remember when Jesus himself was being tempted by the devil in the wilderness? What was his weapon of choice against the wiles of the devil? The Word of God!

Although the devil himself also used, or rather, misused, the Word of God (after all, the devil is a more expert theologian than you are), Jesus was able to defeat him with his own Word first given through the prophets. As Luther sings in ‘A Mighty Fortress’, one little word can fell the devil. Just one Word of God is needed to send the devil scurrying for cover.

Although many neglect the Word of God, you’re to read the Word of God, learn it, meditate on it, understand it, and speak it. The Word of God is an essential piece in the armour of God, so don’t leave it gathering dust in your homes!

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the whole armour of God is Jesus Christ himself.

Your waist is surrounded by the truth of Christ. Your heart is covered by the righteousness of Christ. Your feet are founded on the peace of Christ. Your whole being is shielded by Christ who stands before you, beside you and behind you. Your mind is to dwell on Christ. Your defence against the devil is the Word of Christ. You put on, and stand in, Christ!

Lastly, while standing encased and guarded in the whole armour of God, which is the armour of Christ, you pray.

In this case you don’t just pray for yourselves, but you for each other. Pray for the person next to you. Pray for those under attack. Pray for pastors, for missionaries, and for teachers who are on the spiritual front lines. Pray for governments, and for those in authority. Pray for your children and grandchildren. Pray for those who are sick or dying. Pray for those drowning in despair or depression. Pray for those who have sinned, but also for those who have been sinned against. Pray for your enemies. Pray for those who don’t come with you to church. Pray patiently and persistently, never giving up or tiring.

While we might forget what or who the true enemy is who seeks to separate us from God, we’re to stand firm in faith, clothing ourselves with Christ with a constant prayer on our lips.

Living in this fallen world while trying live out our faith in God is hard, but continue to stand firm in faith, wrapped in, and guarded by, your Lord Jesus Christ.

Stand and witness your Champion, Jesus Christ, as he fights for you, dies for you, and lives eternally for you. Then, wrapped in the armour of God, you’re to look forward to standing with Jesus himself in heaven with all the other soldiers of the Cross who have endured the war. Until that time, may…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.