August 22, 2021 - Sermon - Rev. Mark Simone

Sermon Text

Scripture  Ephesians 6:10-20

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[a] 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,[b] 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,[c] 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.


    I like mystery books and detective stories. I read about a book a week and sadly, this is my current favorite refuge. Sometimes I feel like I should be reading much headier material, because in murder mysteries, well, someone, and often many someones, has to die,

 Recently I bought a book by an African American woman, Rachel Howzell Hall, and I am reading her book These Toxic Things. It is a perfect escape novel, and she has developed quite an intricate web of overlaying mysteries. I can’t fathom how she is going to pull this all together, but I look forward to the end of her mystery.


    One thing that struck me about reading the novel that happened to be written by a Black woman is the seamless way she weaves her Black Experience and culture into the story line. In a number of places, she has overlaid her faith in the face of the murder, mayhem and mischief of her ensemble.


    One spiritual insertion that really stuck out to me was this sentence as she admits her fears of her nemesis, “Am I still scared that Michael Anthony may pop up at any second, a Negro Rumpelstiltskin aiming to finish the job of killing me? Yes, I am. But now I am armed – with weapons, with mom and dad, and with the whole armor of God.”


    I loved it that she invoked that which we just read from Paul’s words in Ephesians as part of her tools for protection. 


    And, I love this portion of scripture from Paul. It is so intentional and practical. He is offering us a new perspective on the very real combat that he points out so frequently in his writings. He is telling us that God is control, but that we are an essential player in that larger plan. The Church is part of God’s plan to exact peace and justice in the world. The Church has a role. We have responsibilities. It falls to us to take Spirit inspired action when we see injustice and chaos in God’s dominion here on earth.


    That means that we are important to God to God’s work every day – not something we are told very often. That means that there is an investment from God into our lives and spirits. 


    I also love it that Paul takes the armor of the oppressor, the Roman soldiers, and uses the items of a soldier’s uniform to make his point. He tells the Ephesians to put on the same gear that protects a soldier and allows him to take action. Paul is not able to make any similar reference to the military uniform of the Jews, for there was not one. They had temple authorities, but nothing comparable to the Romans. In fact, when trouble developed, the Jewish leaders would call the Romans to suppress it.


    He instructs the Ephesians to put on the whole armor of God. And he breaks it down into easily identifiable items. He says put on a belt, a breastplate, shoes, a shield, a helmet and a sword. It sounds like the kind of object lessons that we might develop when working with kids or teens. Use something that is known and recognizable to make the point. 


    Each item represents an action that we are to pursue in our calling. We are being equipped to accomplish great things with and for God. We are to wear truth, righteousness, sharing the Gospel, faith, salvation and the Spirit and Word. 


    The uniform is used to connect the actions. We are told to live in truth. We are reminded to be righteous, which in this instance means to live correctly and with innocence, as according to God’s law and Christ’s teachings. We are to share the Good News that Jesus loves and accepts everyone, and through him we have the abundant life. We are to use faith as a protection against the work of the Devil. Our thinking is to be toward salvation – our own and for others. And we live in the Spirit and the Word.


    Again, God is equipping us to take action in the world. I don’t always agree with every position that our United Church of Christ takes. But I can get behind the reality that our denomination is geared for action. From aid to the Haitian people to speaking out against racism, injustice, sexism and more. I am proud, and often overwhelmed, by the weekly communications I receive from the UCC about the works we are all doing together in this world. I spent too much time early in my walk with Jesus be part of churches that talked about the ills of the world, judge the actions of others and then went out for coffee after church, doing nothing more. So much better to be part of a church and denomination that takes action.


    Which I why I love our new Generosity Impact Moments which show how we as a church make a difference in the world. We are always doing something mission minded here at Federated. The GIM celebrates and recognized that work for others.


    Paul wants us to face the fact that there is a struggle, a very real conflict, into which we are called. Our calling is to stand strong in Christ and turn the tide of evil in the world. 


    When I would take the youth group to Laser Tag, I always used the code name – every player has to create a code name that is different than your own name, of dunamis. Dunamis is the Greek word for power and might. It is the word often used for strength. We get our word dynamite from this word. Explosive power and strength. I am Dunamus!


    Sister word to dunamus is found three times in our scripture this morning. In verses 12 13, and 16 we find the phrase “that you may be able to” which is translated as an action from dunamai. While dunamus is a noun, dunamai is an action verb. Paul is assuring us that in Christ we will have the means, the dunamus – the power of strength, to bring forth the action of dunamai, the ability to act out using God’s power and might. 


    Ephesians was written to believers for whom their allegiance to Christ set them at conspicuous odds with the allegiances of others in their families and cities. Becoming Christians was in some ways an enormous self-alienating decision. Paul is telling them that their choices will bring consequences. Yet, those consequences are not to focused against people, but against battles that are going on spiritually. This armor from God is not to be used in human struggles, but in spiritual struggles.


    Think, for example, in terms of the issue of slavery in the United States. As our nation determined that slavery was a moral issue, actions began to be taken to kill off that spiritual evil. As Paul defined in verse 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.” Paul maintains that there are spiritual influences about us constantly that influence actions which uphold evil and reject the truth of God. Therefore, God equips us to fight against these spiritual forces.


    A few weeks ago, I shared in our service a video from a friend in South Africa that showed dozens and dozens of Christians surrounding a shopping mall as looters were tearing the mall apart and stealing. Those believers were gathered to battle the spirits of greed, lawlessness and destruction that had overcome so many as they rioted. The Parliament of South Africa had made the decision to imprison former president Joseph Zuma for unprecedented corruption that he led in his government. Rather than stay home and wring hands, the Christians put out a call to join hands and to pray for peace and the end of chaos. It happened all over South Africa and the looting and destruction stopped. Reports came in that many began returning what they had taken and apologized for their poor behavior. Believers utilizing the Armor of God pushed back the tide.


    As we see in Ephesians, no matter what hostility is displayed by their community, they are to understand that hostility as emanating from larger, darker, spiritual forces. Such forces cannot be fought by the believers themselves but are rather to be resisted. Faithfulness to God places one in the midst of a battle one is unable to fight aggressively on earth.


    It is good to take note that the armor of God is to help us stand fast. It is not a uniform for aggressive action that could hurt others in any way. The Greek words that we read as “standing fast” are to call us to take positions against evil and withstand it as it threatens humanity. The armor is nearly entirely for our protection and defense. We have a sword for attacking, but that sword is the Word of God. Think of the times Jesus used the Hebrew Scriptures to correct an injustice. Our actions give testimony to the Power of God and the confidence that God has already won the victory over evil. For our part, we are to engage in the daily continuation of the presence of light in times of darkness.


    Just yesterday I heard of a man who had spent time in Afghanistan. He talked about the single family that he helped during his time there. They had daughters and he helped them to be educated, which is strictly against the Taliban directives. Asked if his efforts were wasted, he said not at all. His was a story of light defeating darkness, one female child at a time. He believed that whatever the outcome, those girls were better equipped for life because they could read, write, and think. He helped those girls get a view of a different way of living and thinking. He defeated evil in one small part.


    Of course, we can be cynical as the story in Afghanistan unfolds. We can say what was the use. What was accomplished? Well, he showed one family the power of love and care. He gave them a time of hope. He made a difference.


    And so can we make a difference in our world. We have the Armor of God to protect us from the fiery darts of the enemy, Paul says. We have God’s eternal presence with us in all we do. So, let’s engage this Armor and let’s begin to discover how we may use each part.


    We can be more friendly. We can reduce our judgmental thinking and explore acceptance – even when we simply do not understand. We can accept someone based on their story and perceptions, even if it makes no sense to us.


    I confess that I am often uncertain and even confused by the awareness that some are having about their personal gender identification. I don’t get it or understand it. But that does not mean that I can’t be loving and accepting of each and every person whose lives I encounter as they face this challenge in their hearts. The light of Christ compels me to include all people and make the circle as large and wide as I can faithfully make it. We are the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus, who died that all might receive God’s forgiveness and love. 


    This is heady stuff. It is not easy. It often is not convenient. It calls us into levels of commitment with God that will certainly press all of us in uncomfortable ways. But there are good outcomes, as we can behold in this story.


    An elderly woman had just returned to her home from an evening service at her church, when she was startled by an intruder. As she caught the man in the act of robbing her home of its valuables, she yelled, "Stop! Acts 2:38!" [Turn from your sin]
      The burglar stopped dead in his tracks. Then the woman calmly called the police and explained what she had done.
      As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar, "Why did you just stand there? All the old lady did was yell a scripture at you."
      "Scripture?" replied the burglar, "She said she had an axe and two 38s!"