“Stand Strong!”

Ephesians 6:10-20, August 22, 2021

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

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“Hear now this ancient writing from the letter to the Ephesians, chapter six, verses ten thru twenty.”

Ephesians 6:10-20

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  12 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.  13 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.  14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  16 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.  17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  18 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.  19 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, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains.  Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

“Having hearts these words with our ears, let us now open our hearts to their meaning to us, in our present time and place within history.”

“Stand Strong!”

Our scripture this morning speaks strongly of our responsibility as the people of God, to “Stand Strong!”  Meaning we are to use the power, the strength of our God, to stand up and speak the truth of ‘who’ and ‘what’ God is, and how this influences us in everything we do and say, as well as all those that we touch and all whom we interact with.  The Apostle Paul is saying, clearly saying that we are meant to resist and fight the influences of evil all around us!  A strong message and one he does not want his listeners to forget.  Paul even gets into the analogies of how we dress as he speaks of all the elements of strength that are at our disposal… as we are followers of the Son of God!  He is telling us we need to become bold!  A strong message from the Apostle, and his followers… like ourselves, we are forced to consider how to work with his words.  Leaving them, his listeners, to use his message to direct the mission and actions of their small struggling church – with confidence and boldness in Ephesus.  It is a fact that Paul was a great motivational speaker as well as a writer.  His letters have been guiding Christian Churches for Centuries!

If we are taking the Apostle Paul’s words to heart it is important for us to know a little bit of the background of Paul’s writing.  What influenced him and what motivated his words, other than simply saying he was ‘inspired by the Holy Spirit. Have you ever visited Ephesus?  Neither have I, but a simple search on the internet gives us some clues about this ancient city. According to one source, “Ephesus is located on a very fertile valley. Ephesus, once, the trade center of the ancient world, a religious center of the early Christianity and today, Ephesus is an important tourism center in Turkey.”  /www.Epesus.us/ And according to Wikipedia, “the Apostle Paul lived in Ephesus, working with the congregation, and apparently organizing missionary activity into the hinterlands.”  Because of his work with new churches, his successful efforts at evangelism, Christians like us, we are still studying his writings.  They give us a perspective of his challenges and those of the young struggling churches he was working with.  It is always wise to consider what motivates a writer, a speaker like the Apostle, to address topics and subjects the way they do.  Clearly, Paul saw what he believed were leaders of evil itself.  Listen again to his words, “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.” /Ephesians 6:12/ As we seek new direction from his bold words let us consider the tools, the resources which he urges us to use.

As we look for some direction, some pathway or route which we can use as a guide in our thoughts this morning, let me put forth a question, since Paul made an analogy about what we are wearing.  Tell me, what shoes are you wearing?  Seriously, look down at your feet and look to what you have chosen to wear… so as to cover and protect your feet today!  Are they bed slippers, hiking boots, sandals, or leather dress shoes?  What shoes are you wearing right now?  How did you come to choose them?  Isn’t it that we pick foot attire based on what the weather is and or what we intend to do during the day?  David Cameron writes for us some food for thought on this topic.  “The shoes of the gospel of peace interest me. (He says.) My son has autism and doesn’t speak, so much of the communication in our house is non-verbal.  When my wife and I come down each morning the first thing my son does is check our shoes.  He’s learned that the shoes we have on speak volumes about the kind of day we have planned.  Dress shoes mean work. Scuffed slip-ons mean a casual, more relaxed day around the house.”  My Dermatologist knows I wear sandals most of the time by the tan lines on my feet.  Yet, for church I almost always wear a pair of dress shoes.  When I work in the yard I often put on old sneakers or work boots.  Depends a lot on what one is doing or planning to do as we choose our footwear.  Paul’s analogy about what we put on our feet is simply saying to us, ‘put on whatever is needed so that you might proclaim the gospel of peace.’  Golfers put on golf shoes which helps anchor their feet thereby giving them better balance as they swing their golf clubs ‘hoping to send that little white ball’ in the right direction, as they seek to achieve their efforts at a ‘hole in one!’  Personally, I am delight with hitting par!”

Sarah Henrich, a theologian, and writer, offers these thoughts for us to consider.  “As the letter to assemblies of believers in Ephesus and throughout the great cities of Asia Minor draws to a close, the author offers a final extended metaphor for how a person of faith in Jesus as God’s own anointed one, Lord overall, might shape the life of believers.”  Her words suggest a question for us to consider as we reflect on Paul’s metaphor.  ‘How are we to live out our faith?  What shoes we are wearing today, is just a metaphor to get us to consider the author’s opinion.  Let us take his words, let us consider the Apostle Paul’s words literally for a moment.  He wants us to put on the ‘whole armor of God.’  Just what does that mean, in layman’s terms.  It means use your faith, rely on the Holy Spirit, trust in the teachings of Jesus.  Look to the scriptures for guidance.  Work together with others who are willing to give of their time and talents to serve the mission of your local church.  Give of a portion of your treasures to fund the good works of this church.  Support the mission work, which is still active, even during this time in history. The armor of God is putting our trust and faith in the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Redeemer.  Therefore, we have the Shield of Faith, the Helmet of Salvation, as well as the Sword of the Spirit!  This represents the basic gear which we ought “put on” if we are to be a “viable part” of the battle against the elements of evil in our society, our culture, and our very way of life itself.

Susan Hylen, Associate Professor of New Testament at Emory University, goes on, taking us more deeply into her thoughts.  “While modern Christians are likely to have a view of heaven as a paradise in which no evil dwells, the writer of Ephesians is drawing on a different set of cultural assumptions, one in which a struggle between cosmic forces occurs within the heavenly realm.  Christians, who already reign with Christ in some sense, are obligated to participate in this struggle.”  Getting into her thoughts will take some prayer for most of us; prayer of course is a key part of the ‘armor’ of God which we have been discussing.  Our prayer group, led by Margret-Ann in conjunction with our KITT, Keeping In Touch Team, led by Judy, and our Spiritual group led by Mary-Beth comprise the heart of our core team that build on fellowship, kindness, and prayer resources, which all have the origins in the basics of being good Christians, good loyal followers of the words and works of Christ.  The cultural assumptions at the time, of the writing of Paul’s letters, may be rooted in different elements based on the span of time that bridges the First Century with the Twenty-First Century; yet we can be assured that the struggle still bares the same marks of human nature gone awry.  The struggle between good and evil has not shifted, any-more than that of the skirmishes of human nature itself!  Yes, we are obligated to participate in this struggle if we are to survive into future generations which we pray are following in the footprints of righteousness and truth!

William Loader, a theologian I have come to respect speaks to us of “coming together” in prayer.  “Prayer and solidarity, ongoing connectedness with God and mutual support, belong to the kind of spirituality we need to sustain courageous and authentic Christianity.”  His words give us the ultimate challenge to this discussion which started back around the year fifty AD when Paul was working in Ephesus.  His letters from prison speak strongly of the ideals lifted-up by Professor Loader.  Coming together in prayer is key; the key that unlocks the pathways of which we have been speaking.  When we earnestly pray, we are displaying our faith and trust in God.  The ultimate armor, the essential under-coating of any suit of clothing which shall be put to its test as we confront the fear, the hatred, and disbelief of those who oppose the vital work of God in this very community we serve.  In our Church Council meeting last week our meditation, led by Michael, our chairperson of our ‘Resources and Finance Committee’, spoke of never giving up, never stop doing or trying.  Great or small, no matter the size of our task or challenge… we must keep trying, even when our last efforts fall short.  This is the boldness which the Apostle is pushing us to be!  We must do this as a community working together as a properly running instrument.  When one element of our community slips another needs to immediately pick up the slack and push ever forward.      

Together we “Stand Strong!” 

Amen.

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