Ephesians 6:10-20; Luke 10:1-12; 16-20
I like to tell the story of a knight who returned to the castle one evening. He was a mess. His armor was dented. His horse limped along, and he was listing to one side in his saddle.
As he approached the castle, the lord of the castle saw him coming, and cried out, “What hath befallen you, sir knight?”
Straightening himself out as best he could, the knight replied, “Ah Sire, I have been laboring diligently in your service, fighting all of your enemies to the west.”
“To the west!” cried the lord, “But I have no enemies to the west.”
“Well,” said the knight, “you do now!”
I think it’s safe to say that all of us have had struggles of one kind or another. In this life – you will have struggles. And sometimes –like the knight in our story – they are of our own making. And sometimes not.
So what I want to ask you is this. What’s bugging you today? Anything? Is there something that’s eating at you and bringing you down? Anything going on in your life right now that’s got you down? Struggling with or worried about something?
I’d like to talk with you today about the struggles that you face – about the struggles that we all face. Because whether you realize it or not – we all have to deal with difficult situations – tough times – of some sort – in our lives. Every one of us. Call it a struggle – call it a battle – sometimes it might even feel like there’s a war going on. But I want you to know that I know that life for you isn’t always easy.
We make decisions every day. And we also know that there are consequences to the decisions that we make. Last week we talked about choosing between being wise and being foolish. We’ve all been guilty of doing – well – dumb things – embarrassing things – maybe even foolish things. But we also know that through those experiences – especially when we’ve really messed things up badly – that we gain wisdom. A little bit better understanding of how life works – and what doesn’t work. Those are lessons learned and wisdom gained. We’ve all been there.
Now – some of the things we struggle with are of a spiritual nature. Or maybe I should say that most all if not everything that we struggle with can be said to have a spiritual component to it. Things like –
· Living in hope vs. despair
· Showing love vs. apathy (remember the opposite of love is not hate; it is apathy)
· Saying no to temptations to sin vs. giving into temptations to sin
· And yes – learning to make wise or foolish choices – being wise or being foolish – is a struggle that is of a spiritual nature.
· Trusting God vs. trusting ourselves or the things of this world
These are some of the things that we struggle with – might I be so bold as to suggest – the things that make war against us – things that would try to separate us from God – and in the process – separate us from each other. But I want you to know that we do not face these struggles alone – and why our reading today is such good news.
As we conclude our six-week series in Ephesians today – I want you to know that the Apostle Paul – the author of this letter to the church at Ephesus – knew what it was like to have these struggles. Remember – when he wrote this letter he was under arrest – in prison. His crime was that he was a disciple of Jesus Christ. As he tells us at the end of today’s reading, he reminds us that he is “…an ambassador in chains.” And yet – in spite of all that he had to put up with for the sake of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ – he writes a letter from prison that reminds us of God’s love and grace – and God’s faithfulness to us – especially in times of trouble.
So to that end – he includes here in our reading today – he talks about something that we still refer to today as “the whole armor of God.”
Now I don’t know exactly what a Roman prison cell might have looked like. It is possible that Paul may even have been chained to a Roman guard. And if he was – you could say that Paul had a captive audience – yeah, pun intended – chained to a Roman guard to whom he could share – and most likely did – the Good News of Jesus Christ.
But just looking at that guard – chained to him or not – Paul could see what the guard wore for a military uniform – a military uniform that, for the most part, was designed to protect the soldier in battle.
So Paul takes this uniform – this Roman armor – and he says, “You know – as Christians – we’ve got the same thing. We need to be protected against what the enemy throws at us.” And then he goes on to describe the enemy in this long list. He says our struggle is “…against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Pretty gruesome sounding if you ask me.
There’s a connection here to our gospel reading from Luke. Jesus sends out 70 followers out in his name to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God. And when they return – they are just so excited. And they tell Jesus, “Even the demons,” – in other words, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places – “Even the demons flee at the sound of your name.”
“Yes! And not only that,” says Jesus. “But I saw Satan fall like a flash of lightning.” What this episode in the life of Jesus and those he sent out tells me – what Paul is writing about in our reading in Ephesians today – is that – as followers of Jesus Christ our struggles – no matter what they are – are of a spiritual nature. That there is an enemy – call it Satan – demonic – the cosmic powers of this present darkness – evil – whatever – there is a struggle going on – a struggle for the hearts and minds of people like you and me – and we need to be properly equipped.
So let’s take a look at this armor that Paul is talking about when he tells us to “Put on the whole armor of God.”
First of all, there is the "belt of truth." Remember what Jesus said: "I am the way, and the – truth – and the life.” This is at the core of what we believe as Christians. Jesus is the truth – and like a belt – the truth kind of holds everything together.
And then there is "the breastplate of righteousness." The breastplate for the soldier was designed to help protect the vital organs – including the heart. We talk about our lives – or sometimes our hearts being “right” with God. Therefore righteousness – or right living – becomes critical. We need to guard our hearts.
Then he talks about our shoes. A runner can’t run a race without the right shoes. And several times the Scriptures talk about our walk with the Lord as a race. “I have run the good race, I have finished the course,” is what Paul writes to Timothy towards the end of his life. And here Paul is talking about shoes as a way for us not only to run the race – but to be ready – to be ready to go wherever we need to go in order to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Peace.
And then there is the shield. The shield of faith. Remember faith is a gift. And faith believes – faith receives –and faith trusts. That’s kind of a Milleville definition of faith. But it is this gift of faith that Paul says acts like a shield to protect us when the enemy makes war against us – Paul says he throws “flaming arrows” at us – again – to try to separate us from God – and in the process – from each other.
Then he talks about the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. These complete the armor. And he tells us to put these on so that we might stand. Four times he tells us to stand – to take a stand – to stand fast in the face of challenges – struggles – attacks.
Last – he tells us to pray. You know – prayer is a powerful weapon. Paul urges us to "Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication." When you pray – it keeps you in constant communication with God – who is indeed the source of your strength. And then when WE pray for and with other people, we create a community of faith. This is why Paul wanted people to pray for him when he was in prison. It was a comfort for him. He knew that the community of faith stood behind him in his hardships as well as his victories. And he received strength. We can all receive strength from prayer.
Folks – life is a challenge. It has always been a challenge. May I suggest to you that we need Paul's words more than ever. Disciples of Jesus Christ were never promised that we would life a life free from worries and struggles. But when we put on the whole armor of God, we will be better prepared to face whatever it is that life – or the powers of evil – throw at us.
The struggles we face are real. But we stand stronger when we stand together. All of us. The entire faith community. We’re here to support each other – and pray with and for each other – when times get tough – and to celebrate the good things in life that the Lord brings our way as well.
So stand strong. Stand firm – together. Together in the Lord and in the power of his might. When life is at its worst – don’t give up! The Lord is with you. As Joshua 1:9 reminds us – by the way, this is a verse that many of our young folks chose every year as their confirmation verse:
“Do not be afraid. The Lord is with you wherever you go.”
Put on the whole armor of God. Stand strong so that you may finish strong.