Sermon Series: Ephesians

September 8th, 2011

6 Week Series

Week 1: The Interesting Thing About Religion is God

Ephesians 1:3-14

The apostle Paul speaks in the first chapter of Ephesians, movingly and confessionally, about God. From the beginning, as we read this letter, our hearts and minds are given a new focus. The mystic Evelyn Underhill, writing to the archbishop of Canterbury in 1930, noted that “the interesting thing about religion is God.”

Now this idea goes somewhat against our grain: church, spiritual life, and mission can become what we do—our activity, our action, our feelings, our preferences, our emotions, our beliefs. Ephesians orients us toward God. In the first chapter of the letter it is God who is at center stage. These verses are crammed with all that God has done for us.

God has blessed us in Christ; God has chosen us in Christ; God destined us for adoption; God’s glorious grace has been freely bestowed on us; God has made known to us the mystery of his will; God will gather up all things in Christ; God lavished his grace on us; God accomplishes all things according to his divine counsel and will.

This text is an inspired hymn of praise, a doxology to the God of the universe. Within these few verses we become aware of God’s providence, God’s watchful care. Do you remember the children’s song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”? Do you believe that?

God provides. God is at work in our lives before we are aware, before we can respond. God has a plan for us, and that plan is rooted in John Wesley’s concept of preeminent grace, the grace that is prior to our response.

There is God’s providence, and there is also God’s power. We experience God’s power as it makes us holy, whole, and blameless. We find the source of this power in the phrase “in Christ,” which occurs ten times in these eleven verses. To live “in Christ” is to live to the praise of God’s glory as we fulfill the mission of the Son who came to glorify his Father (John 17:1).

What meaning does the power of God have for you and me? At the end of the letter we read that Paul is an “ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6:20). Even in prison, even awaiting trial, Paul could cling to and claim the power of God.

Some of us sense that we are powerless in this life, that we have lost control of our destinies, that our lives are closing in on us. The world has become smaller since September 11, 2001. Corporate decisions seem to have become removed from us, the challenges seem more immense, the needs greater, the resources fewer. Paul does not write from an ivory tower. Rather, Paul writes as one who is in bondage, and yet Paul knows the power and claims the power of God.

God provides for us. God’s power is with us and for us. God has a purpose for us, that we might live “to the praise of his glory.” At one time the church taught the faith through a series of questions and answers. The Westminster Confession poses the question: “What is the chief end of humanity?” The answer is: “Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

What is our purpose? Why are we here? We discover answers to these questions as we worship God, the God of Ephesians 1, who gathers all things together in Christ. This God has a purpose for each and every one of us, and that purpose is always within the loving context of God’s love for us. We come away from worship, we hope, wondering about that.

Consequently, worship is sheer gratitude, grace. On the other six days the world teaches us to view life from a particular perspective: the bottom line, what I can produce, how I appear, who I know, the family in which I grew up. On the seventh day, we worship God and we connect with something greater. We discover that the God who is out there—in the cosmos—is also the God who is also within us. This is the majesty and the intimacy of a relationship with the living God, who surpasses our understanding. Yet this God also numbers the hairs on our heads.

Some of us are listening to this message and we are anxious about the future; uncertain about the journey before us; apprehensive about how to move forward in relationships, at work, in life. Despite our anxiety, however, we can connect with a God who provides.

Some of us are listening to this message and we have failed, we have sinned, we have fallen short. We know that in our own strength we cannot please God. We cannot connect with a God whose power is at work in our lives, bringing about our salvation, our transformation, our healing.

Some of us simply know, deep in our gut, that there is more to life, that there is some reason we are here on this planet. We can connect with God’s purpose that can help us make sense of who we are and why we are here.

Later, in Ephesians 3:20-21, there is a prayer that gathers up everything hinted at in the first chapter of the letter, and in this message. It is a benediction that speaks of providence, power, and purpose: “Now to [God] who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to [God] be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.”

The interesting thing about religion is God. We connect with this God through our needs for providence, power, and purpose. May we come to know and worship God, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Week 2: The Miracle of Being Included

Ephesians 2:11-22

As a child, I loved to play baseball. We would often gather at a field adjacent to an elementary school to play. We would bring bats and gloves, someone would also have a baseball. There was nothing organized about it. One of the older kids would devise some system for composing the teams. Captains would be identified, and then they would choose the players for their teams, alternating, one after the other. I remember standing, my hand pressed into the glove, waiting to hear my name; wondering if I would be included, if I would make one of the teams. Or would I instead be sitting under the shade, watching from the sidelines?

In life, there are insiders and outsiders. The welcome mat is placed for some and not for others. Some are accepted—others are rejected. Perhaps you have had the experience of being on the inside, of knowing acceptance. It is a secure feeling. Maybe you have also known rejection and exclusion. It can be frustrating and disillusioning.

What do these questions have to do with us, reading this letter to a strange place and to a people identified by the word “Ephesus,” twenty centuries later? The answer, if I may be so bold to say it, is everything. The primary issues are our acceptance before God, our access to God, and our acceptance of one another. The good news, Paul confesses, is that there is “wideness in God’s mercy.” The good news, Paul insists, is that Jesus Christ has destroyed the distinctions between insider and outsider, accepted and rejected.

This is good news for us. You see, we are the outsider to whom Paul refers, we are the Gentiles, we are the ones who once were far off, but now have been brought near. There’s wideness in God’s mercy. This has happened through the blood of Jesus, through the blood of the cross—a cross that represents the peace that God has made with the world; a cross that represents all divisions; a cross that communicates God’s desires for the world.

The wall of division was the wall of temple and law, which separated the holy people from the unclean; which prevented many people—most people—from God; which limited the access. God was hidden within the walls, but this could never be God’s ultimate purpose, for it is true, there is wideness in God’s mercy.

In Jesus Christ, God looks upon the multitudes and has compassion (Mark 6), and says, “You are included.” In Jesus Christ, God looks upon the Gentile, and says, “You are included.” In Jesus Christ, God looks upon the stranger, and says, “You are included.” In Jesus Christ, God looks upon children, and says, “You are included.” In Jesus Christ, God looks upon women and says, “You are included.” God looks upon the prodigal (Luke 15) and says, “You are included.” In Jesus Christ, God looks upon us, you and me, in all of our conditions, and says, “You are included.”

This is the radical message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are no longer insiders and outsiders. There are no longer the accepted and the rejected. There are no longer the holy and the unclean (see Acts 10). There are no longer some who play the game and others who are banished to the sidelines! Jesus has broken down the dividing wall between these groups. The two groups have now become one.

We are included, and the visible sign of this inclusion is the cross of Jesus Christ. It is a reminder that nothing can separate us from his love. It is a reminder that we were bought with a price. It is a reminder that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It is a reminder that God’s love is expressed to us in the miraculously good news that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 RSV).

What does it mean for us, then, that the excluded are now included? What does it mean for those on the inside and for those on the outside? For those on the inside—in the day of Jesus this would have referred to those who officiated in the temple and knew the laws—we open ourselves to the possibility that God is not confined to our traditions, codes, and formulas. The cross takes precedence over circumcision, in the inclusion now of Gentiles. The cross expresses the heart and character of a God whose covenant was intended for the blessing of all the families of the earth (Genesis 11). So then we broaden our circle a little, remembering that there is wideness in God’s mercy.

For those on the outside, the cross can be good news, if it is embraced. Sometimes we become accustomed to being outsiders, standing apart, not taking our place in the circle. Yet the history of God’s salvation continues, weaving together insider and outsider, offering new interpretations of law (“You have heard it said . . . but I say to you”). The outsiders are welcomed, transformed into insiders. We become “one body through the cross.” There are no longer two groups.

Jesus comes into our world to make peace, to unify, to integrate. This great work was accomplished in his body, on a cross, and continues in his body, the church. At times we forget, and we lapse into our comfortable divisions, looking toward those who look and think like us and turning away from those who are “strangers and aliens” to us.

This is never God’s dream for the church. God wants something more. The miracle of being included, when it happens, is a foretaste of something greater. We know it when we see it. We rejoice when we experience it. There is a wideness in God’s mercy. In Jesus Christ, fully divine and fully human, there is the creation of one new humanity. In a divided and conflicted world, this is surely good news!

Week 3: Becoming a Grounded Person

Ephesians 3:14-21

It begins with an action, a posture. We humble ourselves before God. We get down our knees. In this way our faith is embodied. The writer of Ephesians has spoken, for two and a half chapters, about the power, providence, grace, and glory of God. We perceive God’s revelation as cosmic and personal. We understand God’s reconciliation as both accomplished and yet to be completed. It is a mystery that we comprehend only in part, and yet it moves us to thanksgiving and praise.

Therefore, we bow. This is not in our nature, if we are honest. We want to be respected. We wish to be acknowledged. We yearn to be honored. To bow before something, or someone, goes against the grain of our temperaments. Yet we sometimes find ourselves in the presence of the Holy. This One unto whom we bow is the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” Many of the New Testament letters ascribed to Paul speak of congregational conflicts; leaders are named, situations are identified. We feel like we know the churches at Corinth and Philippi. Ephesians is a different letter. It reminds us that God is not only attentive to local matters; God is also interested in the planet.

For that reason we bow in humility before God. We confess our small part in the grand scheme of things. We say, with John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). We sing, with the swaying chorus, of an “awesome God.” Our speech and our singing finds its way through our bodies and we discover that we are on our knees before God.

When was the last time you were on your knees?

On our knees, we find ourselves returning to the source. Sometimes we pray for others. Sometimes we pray for ourselves. Ephesians reminds us, “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit.” We sometimes find ourselves on our knees because we come to the end of our own power, our own strength, and we confess a need for something more.

Listen to this parable:

A young pastor serves in a rural community, and one of the patriarchs of the congregation is a farmer, wise and powerful among his neighbors. Along the way the pastor comes into conflict with the patriarch and communication becomes difficult. The pastor makes a point, on occasion, to drive out to the farmer’s home to keep the conversation going. The visits are never easy. There are always long silences and nothing tangible seems to be accomplished. As the pastor approaches the farm, she sees a sign that becomes a reminder to her: “Pavement ends.”

When the pavement ends, the road becomes rough. When the pavement ends, the turbulence is greater. When the pavement ends, we depend on God.

Can you think of a time in your own life when the pavement ended: a financial crisis, a family tragedy, a church conflict, a health issue? When the pavement ends, we are forced to do things differently. We open ourselves to God, who, we discover, has already been reaching out to us. The gift is like a bequest of riches, which we had not known about or had forgotten, like an inheritance that we had ignored. The gift strengthens us, in our inner being, with power. We are encouraged. We are supported. We are uplifted.

Humility connects us with the uplifting power of God. As we become more grounded, we become more able to “rise up and walk,” in the words of Jesus (Luke 5:23). In the Christian tradition, it is often noted that the deadliest of sins is pride. Pride is our inability to ask for help. Pride is our refusal to accept a gift. Pride is our rejection of God.

The removal of pride makes a space for something else, something greater: “I pray . . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” Christ takes the place of pride in our lives. The love of self gives way to the love of God and neighbor. The illusion of wanting to be in control is replaced by the image of the One “who loved [us] and gave himself for [us]” (Galatians 2:20). The arrogance of desiring first place is corrected by the great reversal of the gospel, where the last are now first.

In my pride, I might be tempted to drive at full speed, even when the pavement ends. In my pride, I reject the natural limits and boundaries that shape my life. In love, I give thanks for circumstances that ground me. In love, I praise God for creation and my place in it.

In pride, we claim more knowledge than we actually possess. In humility, we stand before a mystery. The writer continues, “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” We bow, finally, before a mystery. God creates, redeems, sustains, and sanctifies the world.

As we become more grounded, more humble, God draws near us. We come before this God in prayer and in worship, in adoration and praise. We ask for the knowledge to comprehend, in part, the riches of this holy and majestic God. And even beyond such knowledge, we pray for the gift of love. We love, because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Thus we bow, on our knees, grateful for the gift. May our lives be a living doxology, with the words at the chapter’s conclusion: “Now to [God] who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to [God] be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Week 4: A Mature Church

Ephesians 4

I want to share a pattern of ministry that I am only beginning to embrace, to accept, and to feel comfortable with: that what I do with others, what I give to others, is more important than what I do myself. I have served churches where everything revolved around me. The problem, of course, is that a pastor moves on to a new setting of ministry. What happens then?

The pattern of ministry, the response to my question, is laid out for us in the scripture. “The gifts God gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints, to train Christians” (The Message) for the work of ministry, or the task of servanthood. This perspective takes the focus off me, as a preacher, and puts it appropriately on all the people. We are like a team—a team with a mission. The mission takes us into the exciting and dangerous world of spiritual gifts. We might play different positions, with different intensities, at different times, but we are called to be on this mission team, to use all the gifts of God for all of God’s people. It is very difficult to achieve any kind of success when we use the gifts of only one person, or merely a few.

As a young adult I had a real passion for wanting people to come to faith in Jesus Christ, through a personal relationship. I was involved in witnessing in some pretty direct ways to those closest to me and to total strangers. At times I was spiritually arrogant. I have asked God to forgive me for some of the ways I interacted with people. I have come to discover that a core piece of the evangelical task is to call people to maturity in Jesus Christ. The equipping of the saints is for the maturing of the body of Christ, so that we are no longer tossed back and forth, getting tripped up by trivialities; so that we can speak the truth in love to one another; so that we can grow up into Jesus Christ, who is the head.

Those are the key words for me: “grow up.” Sometimes we as a church are simply called to grow up! Now, we know how to do this with our children. We expect children to progress, to discover their identities, to blossom and flourish, and then, many would add, we expect them to leave home!

How does a church grow up? It becomes more like Jesus, whose roots are sunk deeply in prayer; whose life was invested profoundly in the calling of disciples; whose heart was with the last, the least, and the lost. This is our mission too—the mission of Jesus.

Paul focuses on growth—the church growing up into Jesus. With children, we focus on their strengths and on what they do that is positive, and we call that forth. And that has been a learning experience for me in the church. I do not focus, or dwell on, or become obsessed with what is wrong. I don’t avoid conflict! Rather, my focus is on the signs of life and health; on the individuals and groups that are being led into the mission of Jesus that is within the church and beyond it; on those persons who are being knit together, promoting the growth of the body, building it up in love (Ephesians 2:16).

It is easy in parish ministry, or even in life, to focus on the pathology that is present in the church, in other people, and in us. It is more helpful to work toward the creation of a community that is becoming more Christlike, a body that is stronger, a people in love with God and one another. This is our necessary work as a maturing church.

The shifting pattern of ministry includes first the conviction that the ministry belongs to all of us, and second, the understanding that the focus is most helpfully on growth and maturity. A third essential learning from the fourth chapter of Ephesians is our continuing need for conversion.

I can recall the time and place when I made a commitment to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I felt touched and convicted by the words of a preacher, which were very simple. It was a conversion. It was a call to leave the old life behind, and to enter into the new world. This was almost thirty years ago. Since then, I have had other conversions. Why? Because it is very difficult to leave the old life behind in its entirety.

Conversion is the difficult work of God within us, and we resist it! The grace of God that comes to us by faith (2:8-9) is therefore a work of continuing conversion. This new life is described in all too specific language in the latter portion of this fourth chapter of Ephesians: put away your former way of life, your obsessions with sex and money; be renewed, live faithfully, be holy, that is, live differently from the world; speak the truth in love in a way that shows your love for others; be honest, don’t steal, work hard, so that you will have resources to help others; forgive, because after all Christ has forgiven you.

This is a rich description of a new life, and a vivid reminder of our need for continuing conversion.

The mission belongs to all of us, and effective participation in the mission will require the gifts of each one of us. God is calling us to grow up, to become more like Christ, as we are strengthened to be his body, the church. The Christian life is a process of lifelong conversion. We are being invited to leave the old life behind and enter a new world. Amen.

Week 5: Life as a Teachable Moment

Ephesians 4:29–5:2

We moved a few summers ago. We did a lot of packing and putting things in boxes. Some things we had accumulated and could throw away. Do you know what I mean? I was also amazed at some of the things I found. Some things I knew about, some I had forgotten. I have a flyfishing rod that I asked for one Christmas. It has never been used. It is a reminder that I need to break away one afternoon. I have a baseball glove. As a teenager, baseball was my life. I used it to pitch in the state all-star game (we lost). Now the glove is stiff and hardened because I haven’t picked it up in years. Still, I would never throw it away.

And then, in a box, I found some letters from my grandmother, most of them from when I was off at seminary, about twenty years ago. In some she was giving me advice. In some she was telling me about her life. In some she asked how I was doing. In some she told me what was going on at home. As I held those letters I remembered that she would often put money in them—maybe a one-dollar bill, maybe two dollars—not a large sum of money. I thought about that as I held those letters. They were always signed, “Love, Nanny.”

We find strange things when we begin to look for them. That is true when we open boxes, and it is true when we open the Bible. The Bible also contains letters. I’ve heard it said that we can read the Bible like a newspaper, and we can read the Bible like a love letter. The news of the world hardens us; we stand apart from it. A love letter calls us into a relationship.

That’s the spirit of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. These letters call us to a way of life: do our words build others up? Are they grace to those who receive them? We put away an old life and take on a new life. We imitate God and live in love, remembering that Christ loved us and gave himself for us.

Paul speaks in this passage about gentleness. It is sometimes translated “tenderness” or “meekness.” One of best meanings I have come across is this: gentleness is a teachable spirit. It is a life not hardened, like that baseball glove that is now stiff and inflexible. Gentleness is a life still being shaped and molded, like clay in the hands of a potter.

One sign that the Holy Spirit is growing in our lives is a basic quality of gentleness, of humility, a teachable spirit. We have something to learn. We are open to receiving. This is a sign that God is present in our lives because this is consistent with the very nature of God. This is the way God comes to us—in humility, in weakness, in vulnerability. Any relationship of love requires that we open ourselves to all kinds of things: love and joy, pain and suffering, delight and laughter, despair and tears.

It would be easy to shut all of that out, to say, “I don’t need God,” or, “I can figure life out on my own.” And God could overpower us. But God speaks not with thunder and lightning but in a still small voice. God comes in meekness, in gentleness, in humility.

The power of God is weakness and humility. It is the core of the gospel, “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and [Gentiles], Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). And Paul goes further: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

The gentle power of God always comes to us as a gift, like a one-dollar bill inside an envelope, which communicates a profound truth: we are loved. We open this love letter and we are reminded that Christ loved us and gave himself for us, on a cross, the ultimate sign of weakness and humility.

A teachable spirit allows the reality of God’s love to come into our lives. That changes us, and change is difficult. There is a lot about the old life we like. Maybe we like to be in control. Maybe we don’t want to appear weak. Perhaps we can’t let go of a grudge or bitterness or anger or resentment. Maybe we’ve become hardened because it was the way we learned to survive. Maybe we are disappointed with God and we’ve built up a wall, and we intellectually believe, but if we are honest we’re not sure if we trust.

A teachable spirit is like opening the window and allowing the wind to come in and move over us. There are a number of words for what this is like: surrender, yielding, trusting.

There is a power to help us surrender. There is a prayer in my own tradition that echoes the prayer of Jesus in the garden. These are the words: “I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt; put me to doing; put me to suffering; let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.”*

“I am no longer my own, but thine.” That is surrender. That is gentleness. That is a teachable spirit. When the spirit of gentleness is growing in our lives we care less and less about success or significance. We become living sacrifices, as Paul writes in Romans 12. We have been crucified with Christ, as Paul would later write to the Galatians, continuing, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20a). That is a teachable spirit.

*The Book of Worship for Church and Home (Nashville: The Methodist Publishing
House, 1964), 387.

Week 6: Spiritual Warfare

Ephesians 6:10-20

The end of the Letter to the Ephesians connects to its beginning. In the first chapter we read of “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe,” a power displayed when “God . . . raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (1:19, 20). Despite the triumph of Christ in the present age, however, it is necessary that we stay alert, even vigilant. The battle continues with “principalities and powers” (Ephesians 3:10).

For this reason, Paul writes of our need to put on the “whole armor of God.” The battle for a Christian is against the forces of evil. I must confess that I am both drawn to and repelled by Paul’s militaristic metaphor of the Christian life. We do live in a violent world—children are abused, the innocent are bombed, teenagers commit suicide as an act of martyrdom, random shootings fill the evening news reports. A part of us wants to ask for a different way of envisioning the Christian life—one that is more peaceful, more serene, more compassionate. Yet I also know that much is at stake and that evil is present in our world, and indeed in my own life. Paul writes about spiritual resistance, an act of faith that can take both passive and active forms.

The “armor of God” consists of the resources that are at our disposal in the battle against evil. These resources are identified as truth, peace, and faith. How can these resources help us as Christians?

First, we are truthful people. Our witness has integrity because it points to the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and Jesus confessed to his disciples, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Often we are tempted to tell only a portion of the truth, or to distort the truth for some purpose that seems justifiable to us in the moment. However, truth is always the most powerful weapon; in time, lies and falsehoods come to light and the truth is disclosed. Those who speak the truth, through words and actions, possess great power in confronting evil.

Second, we are peaceful people. The prophet Isaiah announced the coming of the “prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6); Zechariah spoke in the Gospel of Luke of a child who would “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79); and the beatitude of Jesus states simply, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). It seems paradoxical to speak of peace as a weapon, and still God always uses peace and love to overcome violence and hatred. The cycle of retribution and vengeance—responding to evil with evil—is not the will of God. I have heard it said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth produces people who are blind and cannot eat!”

Third, we are a faithful people. “We are justified by faith,” Paul writes (Romans 5:1). “By grace you have been saved through faith,” we read earlier in Ephesians, “and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is belief and trust, intellectual knowledge, and emotional risk. Faith is hearing the word of God and obediently following its meaning. Only faith allows us to trust in the unseen providence of God, which works within human events and beyond them. Only faith allows us to trust in the unmerited grace of God, which works alongside human efforts and in spite of them!

We are in a battle, and we do not engage in the spiritual warfare unequipped. We have been trained in the knowledge of truth, in the practice of peace, in the wisdom of faith. The “whole armor of God” includes each of these resources. Without any one of them, we place ourselves in danger. With the whole armor of truth, peace, and faith, we can “stand firm.”

Every Christian comes to a moment in life when it is necessary to stand firm. We face a decision that seems like a compromise to us. We encounter racism in the workplace. We are exposed to values in the culture that are at odds with our Christian convictions. We need to set boundaries for our children. There are pressures in every facet of life that threaten to knock us off course.

If we are going to stand firm, we will need a strength that comes from beyond ourselves. Our friends in Alcoholics Anonymous refer to this as a “higher power.” In the Letter to the Ephesians, the Christians are urged to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” The challenge for the Christian is to stand firm, to engage in acts of spiritual resistance. The comfort to the Christian is that God provides a way to do this. God equips us with the armor. We become aware of the armor that we need, of course, as we read scripture, “the sword of the spirit, the word of God.” We can only know ourselves—our strengths and our weaknesses, our gifts and our limitations— by reading the scripture. We can only know our world—its beauty and its terror, its goodness and its evil—by reading the scripture. We would not go into warfare without knowing as much as possible about our own resources and about the enemy. In the same way, we proceed in the spiritual life only as we avail ourselves of the resources God has given to us, and these are revealed to us in the Scriptures. Let us stand firm in the faith. Let us live truthfully, peaceably, faithfully. Let us hear the word of God and obey it. Amen.

Adapted from The Abingdon Preaching Annual © 2005 Abingdon Press

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