Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (September 2, 2012)

Wordle: Untitled

“Soldiers of Christ” (Ephesians 6:10-20)

            Whenever our nation has had a military draft, there have always been “conscientious objectors”…those who objected to serving in the military for political, philosophical, or religious reasons.  During the Vietnam War, there seemed to be more, perhaps because of the controversial nature of the war. Some refused to serve in the armed forces.  Some were jailed. Others fled to Canada or elsewhere.  They wanted nothing to do with fighting in Vietnam.
            When you and I became a Christian, we became engaged in a war.  In the waters of Holy Baptism, we are made to be at peace with the Holy Trinity.  We’re on his side now.  But that also means we are thrust into battle with everything that is opposed to God.  We are now at war with the “unholy trinity” of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.
            Today’s Epistle lesson teaches us that we are “Soldiers of Christ.”  As soldiers of Christ, it’s important to 1) remember the seriousness of the battle, 2) use the armor that God has provided, and 3) keep in touch with “headquarters” during the fight.
            No good soldier takes his opponent lightly.  He must always be aware of the seriousness of the battle.  Even the strongest, most well-armed soldier can be taken out by a lesser opponent if he lets his guard down.  Likewise, as Christians, it’s important for you and I to know the seriousness of our battle.  We forget we are at war.  We become apathetic and complacent.
            It’s also important to know the nature of our enemy so we may fight with proper tactics and weapons.  Our text says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.”  But what meets the eye are those “flesh and blood” enemies, those people that cause grief.  Our first instinct is usually to fight back, take revenge, defend ourselves and our reputations.  However, about these enemies Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
          St. Paul continues in our text, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).  Flesh and blood adversaries are not our real enemies.  Our real adversaries are evil spiritual forces.  They’re not as easy to spot as flesh and blood enemies.  They are fighting us in a spiritual “guerilla warfare.”  They are sneaky, undercover, and dangerous.  They tempt others to sin against us.  They tempt our own sinful flesh.  Therefore, we need to be alert and watchful.  1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
          In this day and age, the danger is that we do not take the devil seriously.  He’s not the guy with red horns and a pitchfork.  Instead, he “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).  I imagine if he would appear to us today, he would appear as a sharp-looking, smooth-talking, very likeable salesman (or perhaps a pastor!), doing a convincing job of selling his product to us.
          The devil and his demons are real.  They must be taken seriously.  And we must never let our guard down, thinking that we will never fall to their assaults.  Think of what Satan did to Adam and Eve, to King Saul, to King David, to Judas, even to Peter … to so many others who started out strong yet fell in battle.  Never say, “It won’t happen to me.”  Remember St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
          Thankfully, God has provided us with “armor” so that we can stand up against the wiles of the enemy in battle.  Our reading today tells us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:10-11).
          Our sinful flesh constantly tempts us to think that we can stand by using our own armor, our own strength, our own resources, our own abilities.  We ignore the armor that God has provided.  Without the strength of the Lord, however, we would not be able to stand up.  If we reach down inside of us to find strength for these spiritual battles, we will only find weakness, as Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).
          Don’t use your own armor.  It has too many chinks in it.  Like Achilles from Greek mythology, whose only weak spot was his heel, and who was killed by a poisoned arrow aimed there, Satan knows where our “Achilles’ heel” is.  He knows our weakest spots.  He finds our pet inclinations, the desires that we struggle with the most.  He attacks us there and most often is quite successful.
          Therefore, we must not use our own armor.  We must wear God’s armor.  It has no weak spots, no “Achilles’ Heel.”  God’s armor will guard all of the chinks in our armor.
St. Paul describes how a Roman soldier would have been outfitted. In so doing, he teaches us about the “spiritual armament” that God provides to his Church Militant…believers in Christ who fight the good fight of faith in this life.
          “Truth” is compared to a belt around the waist that is used to tie all the equipment together. God’s truth revealed in Scripture protects us from the lies with which the devil tries to undo all of the protection that God gives to us.
          “Righteousness” is compared to a chest protector, or body armor.  Today we might call it a “flak jacket.”  Righteousness is the news that in Holy Baptism and through the preaching of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has declared the believer in Christ to be righteous in his sight.  Just as a flak jacket protects the heart, the righteousness that God bestows upon us protects us from Satan’s accusing attacks upon the heart of our faith in Christ.  He will accuse us by saying such things as, “How can God forgive such a great sinner like you?”  But we can turn around and say, “Yes, I am a sinner. But God does not condemn me.  In Christ, he has forgiven me.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Cf. Rom 8:1)
          Our feet are fitted with the “readiness given by the gospel of peace.”  Because of God’s truth and the righteousness that he bestows upon us in Christ, we are at peace with him.  We can march out and tell others the Good News about Jesus.  Imagine that!  Combat boots are the shoes that bring peace.  But that makes perfect sense.  When the Gospel is preached, Satan is defeated.  He wants people to remain in conflict with God.  The Gospel declares that in Christ we are friends with God. And wearing the Gospel of peace upon our feet, we can walk right over and through all the thorny and rocky temptations that the evil one puts in our way.
          “Faith” is compared to a shield capable of warding off flaming darts or arrows.  Faith is trust and confidence in God’s love and forgiveness that the Holy Spirit works in us through the means of grace.
          “Salvation” is compared to a helmet or headgear.  Salvation is the deliverance from the power of the devil brought about by Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary and the Garden Tomb.  It is also the final deliverance when Jesus returns and we will share in his resurrection victory over sin, death, and the devil.
          Finally, there is the Word of God.  The Word of God, God’s Law and Gospel through which the Holy Spirit works, is compared to a sword. The author of Hebrews said it this way: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).  The Word of God is an offensive weapon upon the hearts of all people, as the Law convicts us of our sin and the Gospel directs us to the Savior.
          Endowed with God’s armor, it’s important to keep in touch with “headquarters” during the fight.  Paul calls his hearers to pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Eph. 6:18).  No one can live by taking a breath only once in a while.  A person cannot read by a light that flickers on and off.  A ship cannot sail with only an occasional puff of wind.  So also a Christian cannot maintain spiritual life and health by praying only once in a while.  God wants us to be constantly in touch with him in prayer.
          “To that end,” Paul continues, “keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:18-19).  While we can certainly pray for ourselves, prayer is never to be completely self-centered.  Remember the other soldiers in God’s army and pray for them.  Expect them to pray for you, too, as Paul expected that the Ephesians would pray for him … especially that God would give him strength to preach Christ crucified.
          The Roman soldiers that Paul had in mind had an invincibility because of their discipline and their valor.  They were the great fighting machines of that day.
          Soldiers of Christ are only invincible because of the armor that God has provided for them.  So be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Be aware of the seriousness of the battle.  It’s a war against a powerful adversary, but one whose days are numbered because Jesus Christ already defeated him at the cross.
          Use the armor that God has provided.  Don’t rely on your own strength or abilities.  Only God’s armor and God’s strength can give us victory in our battles.  Put it on.  Make use of it at all times.
          And keep in touch with headquarters during the fight.  Pray in the Spirit everywhere and at all times … for others, for yourself, and always with the end result that God’s Kingdom would be extended and his will be done.

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