Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sword drill and other sermon antics

Sermon for August 23, 2009
Fr. Timothy Fountain

The Whole Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.
• + Remember, our worship is “worth-ship” toward God. If we don’t focus on God's greatness, we lose access to His power. And our own strength is not adequate for what we are facing.

Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
• + Our human enemies are not our enemies. We are all victims of the devil’s deceptions. The devil is “the enemy of human nature” (St. Ignatius).
• + Forgiving, peacemaking and reconciling capture territory from the devil.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
• + Whether or not we choose to recognize it, we are on a spiritual battlefield every moment of every day.
• + The question is, will we fight or be destroyed? There is no safety in hiding – our enemy will keep coming for our souls.

Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist,
• + Don’t think of a belt that holds up your droopy pants. Think of the thick belts weightlifters wear.
• + In battle, we come under great pressure and sustain wounds. A well-cinched belt supports our “guts” and can save our life when injured.
• + “Truth” is what we express in our Creeds – the Nicene Creed we say as the whole church on Sunday and the Apostles’ Creed which we say as individuals, at Baptism, Confirmation and Daily Prayers.
• + We need some supportive truth because we are bombarded with “information overload” today. Via the internet alone more information moves in very short chunks of time than has moved thru all of recorded history. Too many voices screaming too many “facts” to claim too much of our attention. We have to cinch ourselves up with the core truths of our faith, and let these give us inner stability in a world of constant unknowns, changes, mistakes and deceptions.

and put on the breastplate of righteousness.
• + The breastplate, like today’s Kevlar vest, protects our vital organs – in particular the heart and lungs. The heart signifies our most important choices and breathing is the sign of life in the Holy Spirit. We must keep these in good shape if we are to know eternal life. They are protected by righteousness – doing all things God’s way.
• + But righteousness is not something we can do on our own. As Paul teaches us in Philippians 3:9, our eternal life is protected by “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” We have to “put on Christ,” in Baptism, Confirmation of Faith, constant prayer and following Jesus’ example in our lives. Christ is our righteousness – his life was the only one done “all God’s way,” and so our faith in him creates our breastplate.

As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
• + Ancient armies walked. They needed something decent on their feet – arriving to the battlefield with injured feet would be a great disadvantage.
• + Let me ask: What helps you come into the day ready to represent Jesus, putting him first in your words and deeds? Do you pray and read the Bible? Do you study Christ’s life? The verse says, “whatever will make you ready.” You have choices. So, what are you doing to put Jesus first in your life?
• + Notice again that our victory over evil is to bring good news of God’s peace. This is not about beating down people we dislike – it is about bringing the ultimate blessing and thereby overthrowing the devil.
• + In Romans 16:20, Paul rallies us with as he declares, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” So let’s have the right footwear, because bringing God’s peace to people is how we run right over the devil.

With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
• + Listen carefully. This verse is all about our work as the church – all of us standing together in a common faith. There’s room to think differently about some things, but too many opinions about too many things will split us up.
• + Ancient armies fought in tight formations. Victory depended upon close order, unified effort and coordinated group movement. Shields could be interlocked in a formidable wall of protection – or even to push through a stubborn enemy.
• + Meanwhile, the enemy would rain projectiles on the formation, trying to break it up. The devil has us under constant barrage. Doubts. Problems that test our faith. Highlighting differences that can make us lose patience with one another. Temptations targeted very accurately at our weak points. The great American myth of “me and my private spirituality” – the devil would like nothing better that to take any of us on one-on-one.
• + The shield of faith – our Creeds and Prayer Book express common faith – blocks and snuffs out the devil’s projectiles. Leaning on one another and putting our shields together as the church provides greater protection and eases the strain of lifting our shields.

Take the helmet of salvation,
• + Muhammad Ali once described taking a good punch to the head as, “going into this strange little room.” If you’ve ever had your bell rung in sports or an accident, you know what he means.
• + We wear helmets to protect our senses – to keep us able to think and perceive accurately.
• + Our accurate thought and perception is protected by the assurance that in Christ we are “saved” – made children of the heavenly Father and inheritors of His kingdom.
• + This is essential because we will make mistakes all through life. We will do evil and cause conflict where we should be making peace. We will try to do all kinds of things our own way and ignore the word of God.
• + The devil knows this and will always remind us of our hypocrisy and shortcomings. Ancient armies used to trash talk each other as they formed up for battle, hoping to intimidate (remember Goliath!). Salvation keeps your head straight, keeping your senses tuned to your Father’s love, Christ’s hand upon you, and the Holy Spirit moving you within. You are saved, not by your own righteousness, but by Christ’s. Stay focused and confident in that.

and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
• + The Greek word for this weapon of attack describes a short sword. It is a weapon that requires you to step into the enemy – you can’t wave it at a distance.
• + This verse tells us that we are to engage all that separates us from Christ – the world, the flesh and the devil – with the word of God. This is why I nag so much about Bible reading. If you are not studying and applying God’s word (you have to pick up and use the sword!), you are spiritually disarmed. You’ve let the devil steal your sword, and you can believe he will attack when you’re standing around empty handed.
• + Remember the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness? That was an epic sword fight. The devil would thrust with the word of God – he quoted Psalm 91 to suggest that Jesus jump off a building so angels would catch him. Jesus parries and thrusts back with Deuteronomy 8:3, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.”
• + Let’s do a sword drill. I say to you: “Jesus said, ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).’ So I tell you that if your heart is to be with God, you need to sign over your house to this church.” OK, my sword is coming at you – whaddaya do? [Your sword is II Corinthians 9, “Let no one give under compulsion, but only what he’s made up his mind to give. For God loves a cheerful giver.”]
• + Let me be frank. I hear too many excuses for lack of Bible reading. “It’s boring, I don’t have time, I don’t get it, etc.” Let me just say this: I’ve lost about 20 lbs. (I know, I still look like a wreck, but I feel much better!). I’ve done this by eating the stuff I find boring. I’ve done it by taking the time to prepare healthy food instead of grabbing what’s handy. I’ve followed doctor’s directions that I don’t fully understand but that I choose to trust. OK? Stop the excuses. Read your Bibles more. Pick up the sword God’s assigned you and learn to use it on the issues in your life.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
• + More fighting in formation. These verses are about Christians joining in effective prayer. Your private prayer is essential, too – Jesus says that it pleases our Father and He rewards it. But we’re also called to pray together, and join with many others near and far in battle formation.
• + These verses also remind us that formations have their officers and NCOs to give direction. Ministries need to pray for their leaders or directors. Bible group for host – Altar Guild for director – Sunday students for teacher – congregation for vestry – parish for priest – diocese for bishop. During the week, pray for me to bring the words God wants you to hear on Sunday. I pray for you, that you will know the mystery of the gospel. In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Alice C. Linsley said...

"Ancient armies fought in tight formations. Victory depended upon close order, unified effort and coordinated group movement."

In the Church Militant this is still the key to victory.

Great sermon, Father!

Anonymous said...

I'll second Alice, great sermon! (better than mine).

Fr. Bill in LA