Topic: Biblical Verse: Ephesians 6:10–6:20
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 29, 2021
As the month of August draws to a close, today’s sermon begins with a quote: “I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time – when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness...” Wow – that’s pretty bleak. But who said this? Carl Sagan, the late astronomer, planetary scientist, and astrophysicist (Carl Sagan - Wikipedia). The quote comes from one of his many books, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, written a little over 25 years ago in 1995. It is no secret that Carl Sagan was a great skeptic of the Christian faith. Although he did not consider himself an out-and-out atheist, he saw in science much that had been attributed to God. But his point is well-taken – even prophetic. Is this what we have become as a people? Are we sliding back into superstition and darkness? How do we stand firm in faith when so many things around us seem to be falling apart? In light of situations and events happening here and around the world, it seemed good to focus on today’s Epistle lesson where Paul the apostle writes to believers about the reality of spiritual warfare and putting on the whole armor of God against the spiritual forces of evil. This becomes the theme for preaching today under the theme, “Standing Firm.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians concludes with these stirring words for believers to “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” (Ephesians 6:13). Paul’s words here are comparable to what a general might say to his troops before entering into battle: rousing and inspiring words that are a call to action. At times in our own lives, it can feel like we are entering into battle even before we walk out the door of our own house in the morning. That may feel especially true after this first week of school with all the challenges that went with it So how do we equip ourselves? What do we do to protect ourselves? This is bigger than us – a lot bigger than us – as Paul writes: “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” (Ephesians 6:12). And that, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with our world. It is in the grip of evil; not just evil plans and purposes of evil men and women, but something far more sinister. These are spiritual powers, unseen by our eyes, that are bent on the destruction of all that is good; of all that is godly. Each generation grapples with the reality of evil which seeks to get the upper hand. Jesus himself makes this clear about the evil one: “The thief has come only to steal, and kill, and destroy, but I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). So if Jesus has come to give us this abundant life, why is there so much evil in the world? Why is there so much selfish greed and corruption? Why is there so much injustice and inequity? Why is there so much violence and bloodshed? Why? It’s not always easy to stand firm when we see such things happening day after day.
The truth is that the victory over evil, over sin, death, and hell has been won through Jesus’ death upon the cross. In shedding his blood as the atoning sacrifice for our sin, in offering his life in place of ours, Jesus shattered the power of evil once and for all. When Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), the work of buying us back from death and destruction was finished forever. This is good news that helps us see beyond this present moment; beyond the incredibly depressing newsfeed that we take in each day. The work of our redemption is indeed finished, thanks be to God. But here’s the thing: the enemy forces have been defeated, but they have not yet been destroyed. Those hostile enemy forces, those “cosmic powers over this present darkness,” are still loose in the world, and they have you and me in their crosshairs as high value targets. All who belong to God, all who are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, can expect this. We don’t have to go looking for the enemy; the enemy will find us! Here is a call for steadfastness and endurance in the faith! Here is a call for each one of us to stand firm in the power of the crucified and risen Christ!
In the face of spiritual warfare, we quickly realize that our own puny powers are nothing against the enemy. We may feel like David against Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Our strength and our hope do not lie with ourselves, but with the One who has promised “I am with you always, to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20), and “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5; Joshua 1:5). The One who loves us and who has laid down his life for us goes before us to lead us and behind us to protect us. He is beside us to befriend us and beneath us to uphold and strengthen us. It is his almighty power, his grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16), that will win the day. Whatever our spiritual warfare may be, whatever giants we may be facing, the enemy’s intended outcome is always the same: alienation from God, destruction of faith, and overthrow of life. “Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). To help us in the battle, the Lord has given us resources and tools – our own spiritual armor: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace as shoes for our feet, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, as well as prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:14-18). These are our spiritual tools – like tools in a toolbox, they are at the ready to serve their intended purpose whenever needed. But tools are only good if they are used. They are of no value or help if we leave them lying around and do not use them. Truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, prayer – these are our God-given tools; weapons to be used against the power of the enemy. Against these the enemy cannot stand, but will fall to the greater power of Jesus Christ, whose Name is above every name, “so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
Paul’s closing words in the Epistle lesson remind us that we’re in this for the long haul. We are running the race of faith throughout our whole life. We’re not just sprinters; we’re marathoners. And so we need to pace ourselves for the long haul, as Paul tells us: “To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…” (Ephesians 6:18b). To persevere means to stick with it; not give up; keep on keeping on! When we find it hard to stand firm in faith, when we feel like we’ve just had enough and we’re ready to throw in the towel, go back and reclaim those spiritual tools in your toolbox. These will help you to keep alert with all perseverance, and even if we may suffer as an ambassador in chains like Paul, even then the Lord would open our mouth to “boldly proclaim the mystery of the Gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). May the Lord Jesus Christ help us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that we may stand firm in faith. Amen.