Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sermon -- 15th Sunday after Pentecost (September 2, 2018)

EPHESIANS 6:10-20

WE DRESS FOR BATTLE AND STAND, BY GRACE.

In the name + of Jesus.

     When a reading begins with the word, “Finally,” it helps to know what led up to the “finally.”  Throughout the letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul reminds us of who we are.  We are God's people, by grace.  We were chosen by God before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless before him.  In time, God sent his Son, Jesus, to deliver us out of sin and death by taking our sin and dying our death.  Since Jesus has risen from the dead and since we are baptized into Jesus, we too shall have victory over the grave.  We have all been united into this one faith by grace.  And by grace, we are set apart to honor God, to serve our neighbor, and to confess God's word with our words and with our lives.
     God's grace has supplied us with all we need for godly living now and for the glory to come.  While this news gives us endless peace, it does not mean that we get to live our lives in endless peace.  On the contrary, our enemy still targets us, tempts us, and attacks us.  We live in the Church Militant, which means that we face battles every day.  Every day is a fight to do what is right.  Every day is a struggle against our own sinful flesh so that we do not give up whenever we get weary or frustrated, or even when we fall.
     We live in the Church Militant.  We have a real enemy who fights against us.  Therefore, St. Paul encourages: “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.” (Ephesians 6:10-11)  We tend to think of our enemies as people who steal our possessions, who harm our reputation, or who inflict harm in our bodies or our family members.  These are most certainly evils, and the Ten Commandments condemn such actions.  No one wants to be robbed, slandered, wounded, or killed.  The devil spurs people on to do these things, and they cause grief, pain, and frustration for those who suffer them.  As painful as it is to lose such blessings, no one is damned because they do.  St. Paul reminds us: “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.” (Ephesians 6:12)  Therefore, you are urged to put on the full armor of God so “that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)  
     The devil seeks to lead us out of the kingdom of God not with weapons, but with words.  He distorts God's promises so that we trust lies.  He tempts us to believe that following God's word is too hard, too expensive, too unreasonable, too unpopular, and too boring.  It is far easier to announce that you love all people and applaud whatever it is they choose to do.  After all, why would you be opposed to loving people and seeing them happy?  But what makes sinners happy is their sins.  God sees nothing lovely about applauding actions and attitudes which usher people into hell.  So, if the devil even distorts what it means to show love or to be happy, his schemes can not be trusted.  They must be exposed, and then they must be opposed.  The struggle continues.  Therefore, put on the full armor of God, because it is needed.
     We dress for battle and stand, by grace.  We do not have the strength or the savvy to overcome the devil's schemes.  So, our Lord gives us the battle plan.  Here it is.  Ready?  “Stand there.”  St. Paul instructs us: “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore...” (Ephesians 6:13,14)  The Lord does not instruct us to charge into battle, to conquer new territory, or to destroy demons.  We aren't strong enough.  But Jesus is, and he has already won the victory over the devil.  Therefore, we stand in Christ so that we remain alive, protected, and safe.  We dress for battle and stand, by grace.
     Although it sounds like a foolish battle plan, it is quite common throughout the Bible.   The most familiar example is when the Israelites had marched out of Egypt.  They reached a point where the Red Sea was before them and the Egyptian army was behind them.  They were stuck.  They expected slaughter and defeat.  The Lord, instead, divided the Red Sea waters and ordered Israel to continue their march.  Israel passed through the sea on dry ground.  However, when the Egyptians pursued them, the waters return to their place.  The Egyptian army was dead, and God's people got to celebrate a victory in which they did not even draw a sword.  The battle went just as the Lord had promised: “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:14) 
     We dress for battle and stand, and we take our refuge in Jesus Christ.  Jesus has fought the battle for us against sin, death, and the devil.  He single-handedly acted to deliver us from every enemy.  He did not go forth with armies or weapons or even armor.  Jesus took on frail flesh which carried all our sins.  He was pierced naked to a cross where he took every one of the devil's accusations upon himself, though he had no guilt of his own.  The devil was all too pleased to work through wicked men to orchestrate the crucifixion of Jesus.  The devil was convinced that the death of God's Son means damnation for us all.  Jesus went into death for us, but he rose on the third day.  The devil had not overcome Jesus, and death could not contain him.  Jesus has paid for all our sins.  He has crushed the serpent's head.  By his sufferings, death, and resurrection, Jesus has delivered you from all your enemies.  Sin cannot condemn you.  Death cannot keep you.  The devil cannot have you.  No matter how much the devil taunts, attacks, and tempts you, your refuge is Jesus.  In him is life and peace and everlasting victory.
     Therefore, we do not need to charge into battle.  The battle has already been won by Jesus.  Although we remain in the Church Militant,  although Satan still flings his fiery arrows, we need not fear.  We dress for battle, putting on the full armor of God.  And we take our stand.  St. Paul describes our protection.  “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God....” (Ephesians 6:14-17)  
     We dress for battle and stand, by grace.  The Lord Jesus has supplied us with armor to withstand every temptation and attack.  They are all defensive in nature.  The full armor of God is designed to protect us.  For, Jesus does not ask us to go forth to make ourselves anything different than we already are.  We are God's redeemed people who have been set apart as recipients of God's mercy and grace. 
     We are dressed for battle, having been clothed with Christ himself.  He is our refuge against all our enemies.  Jesus has taken the blows from sin, death, and the devil for us.  When we take our stand in Jesus, we remain safe.  This means we devote ourselves to God's word, knowing his truth and growing in faith.  The better we know God's word, the more we will recognize a deceptive voice when we hear it.  When we go to receive absolution, the voice of Jesus through his minister overrules every taunting word of Satan.  Satan tries to make your sins stick to you, but Jesus declares, “You are pardoned.  Go in peace.”  The absolution extinguishes every flaming dart of the devil and quenches it in baptismal waters.  When we flee to Holy Communion, we will be strengthened and comforted.  For this is the feast by which Jesus nourishes us and sustains us so that we will continue in the battle of the Church Militant. 
     For now, we dress for battle and stand, by grace.  We take our stand with Christ, and he remains our refuge against all our enemies.  Sin does not condemn; we stand in God's grace.  Death does not own us; we stand as children of the resurrection.  The devil cannot harm us; we stand in Christ who has destroyed his kingdom.  And soon, the battle and struggle will end.  Jesus will deliver us into the Church Triumphant where our enemies will never afflict us again.  And there, we will take our stand in God's glory and everlasting peace.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.