Ephesians 6:10-20 (p.184)
Oops (Life can be hard)
My brothers and sisters, we all know that life can be hard. Life can be very hard. And to make it worse… most of the time it doesn’t make any sense at all. In seminary, they have a fancy term to describe it… the “theodicy” question. It is that age old question… why would a good God let bad things happen? Having this fancy label, they have paired it up with fancy explanations and fancy justifications. However, after all the talk and debate, at the end of the day there is still hurt, there are still challenges, and there is still temptation.
We don’t have to look very long to find hurt. It is right here in this town. It is right here in this neighborhood. It is right here in this church. Perhaps, it may even be closer, and you may be the one who is hurting. And there is so much hurt. I’ve heard far too often of people who have just simply stopped watching the news because they can’t stand to keep listening over and over to the pain, the violence, the hurt. Others of us put up blinders and are entirely aloof to the suffering of others.
Yet… whether we realize it or not, the hurting still surrounds us. We can’t turn a blind eye on the hurting forever. We can’t ignore the pain in our own lives forever. Eventually, something will happen and we will be awakened to the pain once again. Eventually, something will happen that makes us turn our eyes once more, and stare pain and suffering directly in the face.
We are upon the one year anniversary of hurricane Katrina: the single most devastating natural event ever to happen on US soil. 1 year ago, I wouldn’t have had to paint a picture of the pain and suffering of this world… because it was right before us. It was palpable. Now a year later, the healing has barely even begun, and the one message I hear over and over is “Don’t forget about us.” Yet we do forget.
Ugh (Life can be really… really hard, and our strength/patience may run out)
Either we forget, or we ignore it. We ignore it like we ignore the challenges and temptations of this life. We ignore it like we ignore the doubts that linger in our minds. We ignore it like we ignore the fears we carry. It becomes almost like a package deal which we collectively choose to ignore. You see… life’s hardships don’t stop with the hurt, they just begin there. We also face challenges and temptations, doubts and fears. And I could go into each one in detail and barely even crack the surface.
And the worst part of it all… is that there isn’t enough help out there in the world. Our strength runs oh so very thin and our patience is often stretched to the max. We look at the world’s pain, hurt, challenges, temptations and wonder where to even start. We look at our own pain, face our own doubts and fears and wonder… how we can go on. Or worse yet… we look to the world and its troubles; we look to ourselves and our troubles and ask, “Why even bother.” It takes so much strength just to stand, and we don’t have even near enough.
It takes so much strength to go on… so much strength and patience to fight the same doubts and fears over and over again. It takes so much strength, to pick up and carry on after something devastating. It takes so much strength, just to get up again. And we don’t have it. The strength is not in us. And it definitely isn’t out there. Congress just this last week looked into pouring even billions more into New Orleans, and it sounds like that wont even be enough. I don’t believe any amount of money would ever be even near enough. Where is there strength?
Aha (Our Strength doesn’t come from us, it comes from God)
There is an old story about a pastor traveling on a bus down a very bumpy road. A college student was seated next to him. Almost out of the blue, the pastor asked: “Are you spiritually ready for the temptations that you will face in college?” The young man answered: “I don’t have a problem with temptation. I have a strong willpower.”
The pastor then took a pencil out of his pocket and said: “I can make this pencil stand up on the cover of this Bible even though the bus ride is bumpy.” The young man said, “I’ll believe it when I see it. I don’t think you can do it.” Then the pastor placed the pencil on top of the Bible and held it there. “Look, I am doing it,” the pastor replied.
The college student chuckled and said, “Yeah, but you didn’t tell me you would hold the pencil up with your hand.” The pastor responded, “I shouldn’t have had to tell you. Have you ever seen a pencil stand up on its own without someone holding it?” Then the pastor let go of the pencil. Of course, it instantly fell over and the pastor said: “The only reason you stand, is because God is holding you up with His hand.”
Brothers and sisters, this is from where our strength comes… from God. Perhaps some of you jumped ahead of me this morning and saw this was the direction we were going, for it is the direction laid out for us by Paul in the very first verse of our scripture lesson today. Help me to remember… what does he say? Be strong… how. (wait for answer). Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. He doesn’t tell us to stiffen up our backbone, or to dig deep, or to reach out to the world for help… he says, “be strong in the Lord.”
Now I would like to paint you a quick picture. Paul is writing this letter to the church in Ephesus from a prison cell in Rome. Now… calling it a cell is a huge overstatement. From what we know of the prison system Paul was kept… it was likely an underground cave… dark… dank… no where to sit or rest… and he might have even been chained to a wall.
It is not exactly living the life of luxury. No, quite the opposite. Paul was in a state of suffering when he wrote this. Imagine what it must have been like. I can imagine him feeling tested. Perhaps he struggled with doubt. It’s possible he looked at his situation and was tempted just to give up. And yet… Paul found a source of strength that was far greater than any challenge he faced. He found the strength of the Lord to carry him on. With Christ as his strength… Paul could do anything.
Yeah (through God, we have strength… we have armor)
I imagine Paul contemplating all these things, and thinking about everything God had already given him to keep him standing strong. He might have even had a list. And then I imagine him looking out a small window through his cell door.
You know what he would have seen. Roman soldiers, in full armor. There… standing right in front of him… the greatest military force the world had known up to that point, in full armor… completely protected, safe, and strong. And I can imagine Paul thinking… there… that is what these gifts from God are like. It is like being completely covered in armor for head to toe. Was there anything stronger… anything safer?
An all purpose utility belt… well wasn’t that much like the scriptures… with everything you need right there at your disposal - the belt of truth.
A breastplate to protect all your vital organs… well wasn’t that like protecting your heart by protecting how you live - the breastplate of righteousness.
Boots to keep you standing firmly despite the slippery terrain… well wasn’t that like the peace of knowing God held the future - the boots of peace.
And then there is a shield to cover you head to toe… and wasn’t that much like a strong faith to protect from temptations - the shield of faith.
A helmet to protect your head… much like the assurance of salvation to protect ones mind from doubt - the helmet of salvation.
And finally a sword… the Holy Spirit… God’s holy word that both defends and cuts against that which stands against us - the Sword of the spirit.
Paul knew that he had a tremendous strength at his disposal… and yet he also knew the strength was not his own. The armor that protected Paul… the armor that protects us… is not ours… is not of our own making. It is the armor of God. It is in the Lord that we have great strength… and it is through the armor of God that we are protected. Truth… Righteousness… Peace… Faith…. Salvation… and the Word of God stand as our aides… tools that we have received from God.
Whee! (we can call upon God to be our strength and our armor)
And it is here that Paul calls us to do two things. It is here that the rubber meets the road. It is here that we receive the call to action. He calls us first to stand, and second to pray unceasingly.
Now, by “stand,” Paul did not mean a physical stand, or a state of idleness, rather the greek word óôçíéá that Paul uses means much more. It means “offer resistance,” “hold ones ground,” “to stand firm.” Ultimately, it means… in the face of great trouble, in the face of great pain… great temptation… great struggle… do not waiver. But know that the Lord your God is your rock… your strength… and your shield. Rest in knowing that we have a Lord that knows our suffering, and has already resolved all suffering ultimately in the act of the cross. It is the only strength we really have… apart we can do nothing, but in the Lord we are able to do all things… through the strength of a Lord who has strength enough for us all.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.