Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sermon for 16 October 2016, Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Ephesians 6:10-20
The Full Armor of God
Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity, 16 October 2016
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

To the saints who are… faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:1b-2) Amen.
In the legend, Lancelot is a noble knight of the Round Table, brave and gallant, known throughout the land for his heroics.  Guinevere is the wife of King Arthur.  Lancelot and Guinevere had “fallen in love” on the day Lancelot was knighted.  He had apparently forgotten his sword, and upon noticing, Queen Guinevere was able to provide it to him unnoticed, saving Lancelot from great embarrassment.  Lancelot and Guinevere are allowed to continue a sinful, adulterous relationship for many years.  Eventually, some of the knights grow envious and jealous of Lancelot, and decide to reveal the affair to the King.  Even in fiction, most of Lancelot’s problems would have been prevented if he had only kept his armor on.
In our day, we insure our property, protect our possessions, guard our family members, and take care of our own bodies. But what of heart, mind, and soul? In those areas we often let our guard down.
“Two little eyes to look to God, Two little ears to hear His word, Two little feet to walk in His ways, Two little lips to sing His praise, Two little hands to do His will, And one little heart to love Him still.”
What happens when eyes, like Lancelot’s look elsewhere? How does what we hear from the world change our mind? When do our own feet lead us into temptation? Who or what do we praise in the place of God? Why do our hands move to sin instead of serve? What of heart, mind, and soul? In those areas we often let our guard down.
Conceived and born with original sin and also sinful because of our own thoughts, words, deeds, actions, and inaction, we have no strength. We are easy prey. True strength can only come from outside of ourselves. We don’t want to admit it, but we are outmatched, overwhelmed, and far out of our league.
The Lord is a warrior. The Lord is on Your Side. Christ is the Victor over sin, death, and the devil. And a good thing, too! We need exactly that kind of help!

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
We are tempted to think that our enemies are the human beings that face us on the other side of a conflict. Not so—especially in the church. True, human beings can be used to carry out evil, but the devil is still the author of evil schemes. By no means does this let someone like Nero or Hitler or Bin Laden off the hook! They are guilty of their own sin, atrocities, and ultimately, unbelief. The Devil is no mere symbol or legend. The devil is the father of lies, a spiritual force, ruler, authority, and cosmic power. We are no match for Him, but Jesus is. The devil is only an angel—a fallen angel. God is the Creator and Victor. You need the Lord and the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
Stand. Stand. Stand. Sometimes it is all we can do to stand upright. In this text, God is not asking you to take the next hill in battle. You are given to stand firm and preserve, protect, and defend what He has given you. Like a tree planted by streams of water we stand. Like Martin Luther we say, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” On Christ the solid rock we stand—all other ground is sinking sand. We stand upon Christ and His Word.
A Church Body’s official public confession is important. When you hear the headline that “Lutherans” approve of homosexual activity, so-called marriages and clergy, do not mistake the public teaching of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. When you hear that “Lutherans” share communion and pulpits with the Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America, the Moravian Church, and the Presbyterian Church in the USA, do not mistake the practice of the ELCA with our LCMS.
I say this not out of smugness. Nor do I claim that all pastors, congregations, or people of the ELCA are “liberal.” Two-thirds of the delegates at their recent conventions appear to be. Not all in the LCMS are Biblically conservative.
We should greet such headlines and news with repentance, prayer for all involved, and by making a clear confession that the LCMS stands upon Christ and His Word, not popular opinion or political correctness.

14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
This is the armor of God. Is it any wonder that many Christians include this reading from Ephesians 6 in their devotions every morning? Seven pieces: truth, righteousness, gospel of peace, the faith, salvation, the Word of God. [And prayer in the verses after our official text.] The armor is buckled on in order. (Borrowing from Lenski…)

14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth… Divine truth grounds us in battle. And yes, there is such a thing as one truth—not just a “truth” for me and a “truth” for you. God’s truth exists and rules over all.
...and having put on the breastplate of righteousness… Dr. Luther saw this as the moral righteousness of the Christian. To be sure, this should be the carefully guarded possession and lifestyle of all the Baptized. This is also the righteousness of Christ we put on by faith. As a breastplate protects all the vital organs, God’s verdict in Christ acquits us of all sin and guilt and declares us righteous for Christ’s sake. It is the central part of all saving truth, spiritual Kevlar. The heart of the message of the Word, righteousness in Christ, makes our heart invulnerable to the devil.

15...and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. Eager courage that is due to the Gospel fills you with the peace of God. “World Peace” is elusive. You have peace with God won for you by the Prince of Peace and delivered by the Holy Spirit. We are given to be at peace with all, but we always need to be ready when others war on us. Until the Lord calls us home, we are the Church Militant—the Church at War with the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.

16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one… The shield needs to be carried, too. Reason is a poor substitute, a man-made shield that readily catches fire. “Faith” can refer both to the content of the Holy Christian faith, what we believe, as well as the believing trust in Christ that the Lord gives you as a gift. The arrows are temptation—especially the temptation to doubt, the oldest temptation there is: “Did God really say?” It worked so well against Eve, the devil still has that arrow in his quiver. The burning arrows of devilish doubt are ineffective against faith—faith created and nurtured by Baptism, Absolution, the Word of Gospel, and the Lord’s Supper.

17…and take the helmet of salvation… Our present salvation in Christ protects the head from a fatal or disabling blow, a faith-destroying blow. So far the defensive armor.

…and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God… This is the only offensive weapon in our arsenal. Spiritus Gladius Verbum Domini. The Word of God is the sword of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God is living and active like a two-edged sword. Hebrews fits well with this message of Ephesians.
God’s Word is our great heritage. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. The Word is the best evidence we have that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The Spirit’s Sword is invincible. Resist the devil, especially with the Word, and he will flee from you. Remember the Word in your day of temptation. Yet, the Word is not only used on offense.
Remember the defensive armor? As truth the Word belts us; as the Gospel of peace it puts the readiness of courage into our hearts; as the faith, the doctrines which we believe, teach and confess, it shields us against any and all of the wicked one’s lies. In addition to all this, the Word and utterance of God smites and defeats our [old evil] foe himself. (Lenski)

Seven. 18…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. Often, this is the forgotten part of the whole armor of God: prayer. Bird: Hear us Father, when we pray, Through Your Son and in Your Spirit. By Your Spirit’s Word convey All that we through Christ inherit, That as baptized heirs we may Truly pray.
To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
A prayer list is included in our newsletter each month, even though we do not always pray specifically for everyone by name in the Prayer of the Church. You are given to pray for the whole people of God and for all people according to their needs.
Pray for those in authority and for your enemies. Every candidate and political leader is covered that way—go ahead and giggle. J We regularly pray for our sister congregations in the Wyoming District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. As a congregation, we pray for and regularly visit our shut-ins. We pray for our young people, especially those who have recently begun or continue Catechism instruction. We pray for our families and congregational family, especially those who have been away from the Lord’s house and His gifts. We pray they will accept an invitation to come home.
And we pray for peace. Since the 6th Century, Christians have prayed in the following way. Dr. Luther adapted this prayer and saw to it that it was set to music (LSB 778). It is a fitting prayer in times of war and uncertainty.
Grant peace, we pray, in mercy, Lord; Peace in our time, O send us! For there is none on earth but You, None other to defend us. You only, Lord, can fight for us. Amen.

Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. (Ephesians 6:23) Amen.