Pentecost 15, 2018, Ruma/Evansville, Il Ephesians 6:10-20
We have entered that season when wars are being fought on the gridirons across the nation. The one thing that the offensive line coach and the quarterback wants is for the line to stand firm, and hold their ground against the onslaught of the defensive line and linebackers.
If there is one thing that St. Paul wants the church to do is to stand, stand firm, and withstand the onslaught of schemes launched by our enemy the devil and the powers of darkness and spiritual forces of evil. Our watch word this morning is: Stand firm in the Lord.
We can trace the image of standing firm in the Lord all the way back to the time of Moses when the people of Israel were not standing firm but cowering with their backs to the Red Sea, trapped between the waters and Pharaoh’s army. The people of Israel lifted their eyes; filled with fear and cried out to Moses, “What have you gotten us into? We told you it was a bad idea to leave Egypt.” And Moses said, “Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation, the deliverance, of the Lord which he will work for you today…” In reality, the Lord was leading the Egyptians into a trap which would finish them off. The Lord had already beaten them. It started when the Hebrew women outsmarted the Egyptians order to kill all baby boys and saved them. It continued with all the plagues he sent, and finally, the death of the firstborn male in every Egyptian family, in the flocks and herds as the angel of death passed over. Pharaoh’s attacking army was their last gasp effort to keep the Israelites enslaved. At God’s command, Moses lifted his staff over the waters. The sea parted, and Israel marched across on dry land. The people joined in singing to the Lord, “For he has triumphed gloriously, the Lord is my strength…He has become my salvation.”
That was all a prelude to Jesus glorious victory over sin, death and the devil. St. Paul applies the triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ to his church, gathered throughout the world to hear his word and praise him for his deliverance from all the spiritual forces of evil. It all began when Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem. It continued following his baptism when he was led into the wilderness to take on the devil and his schemes. This was the pattern for Jesus whole life battling against sin and death and cleansing people of unclean spirits. All the way to the cross he took on the forces, seen and unseen which keep us out of God’s gracious rule. Therefore, stand firm in the Lord
Though the devil and forces of evil were defeated in the cross and resurrection, they still can attack us. Feeble as their strength may be it is still too much for us just as Pharaoh’s army was too much for the Israelites unless the Lord provided the victory. Until the church is gathered around God’s throne in heaven we are vulnerable to attack by the forces of evil using our weaknesses against us. In a Friday morning Bible Class I teach, we are studying the lives of Jacob and Joseph in Genesis. These stories portray God’s people who are often deceitful and involved in highly questionable moral behavior. Bob commented Friday, “It seems the line of people who are Jesus’ ancestors are a bunch of misfits.” “Yes,” I said. “And the disciples were misfits,” Bob added. I said, “Yes, and now he’s got us.” A church goer said after the church one Sunday, “I didn’t like that service.” Someone replied, “that’s all right if you didn’t like it, we weren’t worshiping you.” With reason we prayed in our Collect Prayer, that God would “bring to completion every one of our good intents.” When I scan back over my life I think of all the times I intended to so something and failed to follow through. Therefore, we asked God to nourish us with his grace that we might, “bring forth the fruit of good works.”
Wisely, St. Paul says to stand firm in the Lord’s territory, that is the territory of the resurrection. To find our strength not in ourselves, but in the Lord, who is in us and we in him, united with us, battling against the forces of evil until that day he puts them under his feet when he returns in power again. In the meantime, Paul encourages to put on the armor which we already possess which will enable us to stand firm. He uses the image of a fully equipped Roman soldier.
But when did we the church get these items of protection? Well, I got mine on a Sunday in June 1941, in a little country church in northwestern Wisconsin, at the same spot where Christ’s people have been given their armor for 2,000 years. At the baptism font. Even before we were washed in the water we, answered a series of questions, “Do you renounce the devil…all his works…all his ways?” When we were baptized we, like Jesus are thrust into battle with the unseen scheming forces seeking to divide us from Christ.
First, put on the belt of truth. We wrap ourselves in Christ, who is ever faithful to his promises to be with us forever.
Put on the breast plate, the chest protector, of his righteousness. That is, Christ’s holiness which we received in baptism. God knows and so do we that we haven’t been holy this past week. Therefore, in remembrance of our baptism we worship the Lord under the sign of the cross which in baptism was made on our head and our heart to mark us as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified.
Now we put on the shoes of the good news of peace in Jesus Christ. The gospel of peace is for the whole creation, according to God’s plan, peace on earth announced at his birth and peace in heaven proclaimed on Palm Sunday. So, he greeted his disciples with peace in his after-resurrection appearances. And so also, the last words we will hear today before we leave the service are: “The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.”
In the shield of faith dipped in the waters of baptism we extinguish the fiery arrows of the evil foe, those doubts. Those why me questions. Those thoughts of is Jesus really with me in this dark time, in my illness, in the time when life teeters on the edge.
Take the helmet of salvation, which unites us with Christ in his death, resurrection and ascension.
Finally, the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. The sword is the word with which we defend ourselves, as Jesus did when tempted in the wilderness. For its true heaven and earth may pass away but the word of the Lord will endure forever. It’s through the word added to the water that gives baptism its power. It is the word, “this is my body, this is my blood” added to the bread and wine which gives the sacrament its nourishing strength unto eternal life. It is the word, as Luther wrote in his hymn a Mighty Fortress, the evil foe, is judged, the deed is done one little word can fell him.
As God said to Judah and Jerusalem when all seemed to be lost: “Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. The Lord will be with you.”