Summary: Our struggles can be brutal, we slip, we confess, we are forgiven. We do not cave in and submit to sin but we surrender to Christ.
13th Sunday after Pentecost -- Aug 30, 2009 Text Ephesians 6:10-20
Grace mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
Generally when I am asked to deliver the sermon I have a lot of advanced notice. This is both good and bad. It does allow me plenty of time to prepare but my perfectionist side tends to sometimes over refine the work and I get lost in the process. For today I have actually prepared two sermons and will resist the temptation to deliver both.
I have a process I use when preparing to preach. I first pray for wisdom and insight. I then read the appropriate lessons for the day and pick one that I want to work with. This may take several days to make a selection. I then look for parallel passages that might shed light on the verses. I read commentaries and footnotes, I read other’s sermons on the subject and I check back to see if I have written on the verses. To use the word’s of another “I milk a lot of cows in the process but I churn my own butter.”
In my archives I found that I preached on today’s text in another congregation back in the year 2000. I read it and, although it would still be appropriate for today with a minor adjustment to an illustration, it didn’t quite sound right and it did not feel quite right. It reminded me of an old pair of shoes that one might have, at one time, worn daily -- and be quite comfortable in -- yet had not been worn recently. We are comfortable with the shoes we are now wearing and the old ones while, still adequate, do not feel quite right -- not uncomfortable just not as comforting. What changed ? the verses? The Bible? Or me.
I remember a similar situation in my profession. I left the now defunct St. Francis Hospital in 1976 as director of pharmacy to eventually become self employed. When I returned twenty years later as a part time staff pharmacist I was asked to read the departmental policy manual. I started reading what was vaguely familiar and found that I didn’t recognize some of my own work done twenty years back. Once again in the twenty year gap my perspective had changed.
A lot has happened in the ensuing nine years since I wrote on these verses. I have attended numerous Sunday School classes, attended Crossways Training, taught a few classes, heard a lot of sermons here and on the radio, read hundreds of sermons on the internet and read and re-read God’s word - the Bible - many times. I have also been trained as a Stephen Minister. Additionally I more clearly recognize myself as a sinner in a spiritual struggle with my sins. I more clearly recognize and acknowledge an ongoing life long need for continued sanctification, continued exposure to God’s word and -- a need for continuous growth in my relationship with my savior.
While in Florida this last winter I heard a sermon that speculated on the nature of “Paul’s thorn.” Paul said that he suffered from this thorn -- three times he asked God for it to be removed. I have returned to this sermon several times since hearing it on Ash Wednesday. I have since re-read more of Paul’s writings in an attempt to comprehend his struggle.
My motives for reading the word and my perspective have changed over the years. I am a little embarrassed to say that my first serious reading of Paul’s letters was from a copy of the Bible that was written in both German and English and I was reading it to enhance my ability with German. My use of The German language did improve but the Holy Spirit had a far better plan.
Lately I am reading the Bible with an increasing awareness of my own struggle with sin and I am also reading with the perspective and spiritual view of a Stephen Minister who is also ,wounded by sin ---a wounded healer.
I suspect Paul was thinking of His own thorn when he wrote today’s verses in Ephesians. I see no need to damage his reputation by speculating on the nature of his thorn. By doing so we may find ourselves on the wrong side of the Eighth commandment.(false testimony Deut. 5:20) If he thought we needed details, he would have provided them.
He gave us what we need to known in Romans 7:15-25. The important part is that he had his struggle as is evidenced by this writing: