Pentecost 13, Year B

Ephesians 6:10-20

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 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. 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. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 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. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

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. [i]

[i] This letter may have been composed by St. Paul the Apostle in prison, by dictation to a secretary. However, some scholars suggest that the letter, circa 90 CE, was written by one of Paul’s students or “disciples”, influenced by Paul’s genuine letter to the Colossians, noting Ephesian’s 73 verbal parallels with Colossians; it is said that , when parallels to genuine Pauline epistles are considered, 85 percent of Ephesians is duplicated elsewhere. Thus, perhaps, Ephesians was written  in the tradition of Paul, but not by him. Such was common in that era. See, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Letter-of-Paul-to-the-Ephesians, and Introducing the New Testament, (2001), Achtemeire, et al., Eerdmans Publishing, pp. 378-379.

 

 

PRAYER:

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

-AMEN

 

SERMON:

 “Be strong in the Lord and … for our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against … the cosmic powers of this present darkness….”

In Paul’s day many Jewish people viewed life in apocalyptic[i] terms.

They expected their age[ii] to  end and a new age[iii] to begin… [iv]

At any time. [v]

But Paul saw things differently.

For him, the New Age began with Christ’s resurrection,

Even though the old age was still in play. [vi]

Paul saw that Jesus would unite all of Creation. [vii]  Eventually.

Paul knew that peace couldn’t come

While people pretended to be Lord over Creation.

He knew that Peace would only come,

when all things came together, under Jesus Christ. [viii]

He might have thought that was coming any day.

But that day didn’t come, then, and it hasn’t come yet.

But Paul warned to be aware!

Don’t get caught by surprise he warned us.

The Devil constantly strives against Jesus’ good work.[ix]

 

As a young Roman Catholic I learned all about the fun stuff:

It seemed to me that the Devil was everywhere.

I saw Jesus as my Judge, and I could scarcely imagine

Jesus as my ally against temptation.

 

And there were all kinds of rules.

The Eternal Fires of Hell. Sin and punishment. Etc. Etc.

Naturally, none of that stopped me from doing

the usual dumb teenage boy things. But, I sure did feel guilty!

 

Today, I can kind of  look back, and I can sort of look ahead.

All that stuff seems like a hundred years ago.

(Maybe it was!)

 

I’m not afraid of Hells’ fire. I’m believe that I’m saved.

But, being saved isn’t the same thing as having the courage

to do all the hard stuff God is calling me to do.

Whatever God is calling me to do is still a bit fuzzy[x].

 

But, if I’ve learned anything in my journey,

It’s that life not so much about what I do or don’t do.

It’s about my struggle to meet Jesus’ halfway.

Jesus is a very fair judge. I’m not afraid.

 

Our so-called “real world” measures us by what we do, or don’t do.

By what school we went to (or didn’t).

By where we live and what we drive, or who we married.

But God uses a different yardstick.

 

God wants to know if we really struggled to meet Jesus… half-way.

He wants to know if we made a good effort to let go

of the powers and principalities, and our

prejudices, partisanship, and tribalism.

 

Jesus died on the cross, to save us from Hell’s fires.

And he died to show us what it looks like to push back,

against unjust systems … the powers and principalities,

that thrived in his ancient world,

and still thrive in our world, today.

 

St. Paul’s letter reminds us that Jesus’ Church was intended to be

radically counter-cultural…

 

Paul reminds us that Jesus’ message was about

each of us making a difference. It was about each of us

doing whatever God gives us the power to do,

to change the unhealthy balance of things.

No more. No less.  Right here. Right now.

 

We are surrounded by huge churches, and huge budgets,

and huge signs and huge parking lots,

and yet in Killeen – on our doorstep — is

poverty, and loneliness, sadness, and grief.

 

Remember WWJD?

What would Jesus do?

Aren’t we supposed to at least try to meet Jesus half-way?  

 

A theologian, named Walter Wink,

wrote about Biblical “powers and principalities.”

He saw that evil spiritual forces influence us,

and frustrate God’s will.

We lose ground, he said, when we abandon our divine vocation.

 

Our modern human system is mind-boggling.

Children carry $500 cell phones. We can fund Medicare.

We can spend billions on highways and skyscrapers.

We launch billionaires into outer space. xii

 

But our systems, our huge churches, and our leaders, will never

finish the work of building God’s Kingdom.[xi]i   That’s our job!

 

God calls each of us, to join in the great Christian work

of bringing Jesus, to the world.

 

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh,” Paul wrote, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness….” xiv

 

Because we claim to follow Christ, we are called to action.

Whatever we do, in this struggle, really matters.

 

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but…against spiritual forces of evil.”

 

Standing alone we will not win the spiritual battle,

against corrupt institutions and a culture of deceit.

Jesus calls us to join hands as one Christian community,

to pray together, to work together, to support one another.

Are our struggles here[xii] real ? Oh, Yes.

Have we dug our own hole ? Yes, we have.

 

People have always tended to get stuck in the really dark places.

Where the Enemy prowls around, provoking violence

and random injustice … the subtle thorns

which make life more painful and difficult. xv

 

Yet, we are each wonderfully made.

There is no better evidence that Jesus truly loves us.

 

Jesus calls us to love and value both ourselves and each other.

He will stand with us,

as we struggle against the powers and principalities.

One community.  One church. One family.

One community.  One church. One family.

 

AMEN

 

[i] Even today there are echoes of that view, in the constant chatter about the “end times,” in some Christian circles, or global warming (or cooling) or collapse, in secular circles.

[ii] Their “real world.”

[iii] They called those ages “aeons”  from the Greek word for “age”.’

[iv] … a transition of some kind, but one fully replacing the other.

[v] . Many Christians apparently see the world as still in the midst of that tension, even if they may not say so in such terms.

[vi]  As anyone could see.

[vii] See, Introducing the New Testament, supra. Pp.385-386

[viii] Supra, pp. 387

[ix] Ephesians 6:16 et seq. Yes! Evil arises in mere human error. But it also arises because the Devil wants to destroy Jesus’ good work. Of that I have no doubt.

[x] .. like bad TV reception in the old days…

[xi]  for 90 seconds!

xiii Neither Paul, Peter not Jesus taught that we are to “repay evil with evil.” Rather, the Greek biblical word is “antistenai,” which means to resists, or  “withstand”.

xiv See, Ephesians 6:10-20 ab out “the powers and principalities”.

xv Addictive personal Technology, hyper-individualism, self-centeredness and consumerism, etc.

[xii]  It is God’s will that life has blossomed here,  out of a mystical combination of chemicals and proteins, on this beautiful blue and green planet, our Island Home.