21st Sunday after Trinity + Ephesians 5:10-17 + October 9, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn # 329 From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee 
Hymn # 447 Fight the Good Fight with All Thy Might 
Hymn # 429 Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart 
Introit - pg. 81

Readings
Hosea 13:14 
Ephesians 6:10-17 
John 4:46b-54

Collect for Trinity XXI
Lord, we beseech Thee to keep Thy household, the Church, in continual godliness, that through Thy protection she may be free from all adversities and devoutly given to serve Thee in good works, to the glory of Thy Name; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sermon on the Epistle Lesson

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         The Word of the Lord tells us that the Christian life is a struggle and fight. It is not a struggle against blood and flesh, however. The enemy which engages us is not another person. That would be easy enough because we know how to deal with flesh and blood people. When our struggle is interpersonal we know our enemy fairly well because it’s a person like us. But the Christian is not called into a conflict with other people. Quite the opposite. The Christian is to love his neighbor as he loves himself. Jesus tells you to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). The conflict to which all Christians are called is conflict with Satan and his angels. Jesus once told Peter, “Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31) and that is precisely what the devil desires of all Christians. Satan’s goal is not the destruction of life and limb. His goal is to destroy the faith that God has placed into your heart through the preaching of the Gospel. He wants to tear faith from your heart so you that revert back to your previous condition of spiritual death, despair of God’s mercy, or false belief about God.  That is what Jesus means when He tells Peter that Satan wants to sift him like wheat. Satan wants to grind your faith into a fine powder so that it can be driven away with the slightest gust of wind. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against something far more sinister.

2)         Our Lord does not leave us to our own devices as to how we are to engage in this combat. Christ our Lord calls us out of this world and away from this wicked generation and thereby gives us the armor by which He wants us to stand against Satan’s schemes. Paul compares these gifts to the outfit of a Roman Hoplite soldier. He does this to inspire you to courage in the face of your great enemy. The Christian is a solider. Brave. Fortified. Well-armed and aware of wiles of the Devil. This armor does not disappoint because it is a spiritual armor for a spiritual fight. Paul tells you to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” With these pieces of heavenly armor you will not falter in times when Satan tempts you to sin, when he lobs accusations against you to wound your conscience, and when he tempts to you doubt God’s Word and despair of God’s mercy. He says, “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth.” Truth is to be as belt around your waist. You are not to fall to the world’s belief that there is no truth, or that there are many “truths” that are all equally valid. You are not to look upon your Lord as one who deals in half-truths and possibilities. The Christian is to be girded with truth as an absolute, not as something that is subjective and individualistic. It is the firm belief that God’s Word is true over against every other word in this life, so that you can sing with David in Psalm 40:11, “Let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me.”

3)         After you gird yourself with truth as a belt around you waist, you are to “put on the breastplate of righteousness.” This is not moral righteousness. This is not your own personal holiness and good works which you are to wear as a breastplate. If you rely upon your own good works, good deeds, and good intentions in the moment of temptation and accusation you will certainly fall, for our good works are filthy rags and not fit to be worn as a breastplate to protect our vital organs. If you want your own righteousness and works to protect you in the hour of temptation the Devil will run you through easily. When someone wants to rely upon their own good works and personal holiness, the Devil easily dispatches that one by saying, “That is all well and good, all your good deeds, but how to you know they are enough to make you righteous before God, since He has demanded perfection?” The breastplate of righteousness cannot be our own rightness. It is must be that righteousness of Christ which is only taken hold of by faith, the righteousness Paul writes about and preaches about over and over, that we are saved by grace through faith and not through works, human will or decision, or anything we can muster. Relying upon Christ’s righteous, the Christian is able to answer Satan’s accusations confidently and say, “I know I am sinner and I know full well what I deserve! But Christ has died for me and given me His perfect righteousness, so that in God’s sight I am as innocent and pure as He!”

4)         Next Paul tells you to “shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” By this Paul reminds us that in all things our footing is sure. We have peace with God because we are declared righteous by faith. Romans 5:1 says that “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith is what makes us into children of the heavenly Father and heirs of all the blessings Christ wins on the cross. Faith justifies us and so all who believe the Gospel have peace with God. God is no longer wrathful against the believer because all who believe have their sins forgiven, and where this is no sin, there is no wrath. It is precisely this peace with God that puts us into conflict with Satan. The unbeliever has no conflict with the Devil. The unbeliever feels no temptation. He is driven by his sinful desires and has no inclination to fight them. The unbeliever has perfect peace with the world. But when faith comes and justifies the sinner, declaring him to be perfectly righteous on account of Christ alone, then the Devil cannot stand that one of his own has been stripped from him. This is why the Devil furiously thrashes against Christians and engages in this combat for their souls. They used to belong to him because all are born sinful. This peace with God brings us into conflict with the devil but it also allows us to withstand his thrashing about. You know that no matter what Satan does to you, or of what He accuses you, your fate is secure. You are baptized and by that water and Word you are sons of God. Your sins are absolved and no more. Your faith has been fed and nourished with Christ’s body and blood. Let Satan thrash and rage about. You possess the peace of God. You are freed from God’s wrath. What is Satan’s wrath compared to that?  

5)         Paul then says, “Above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” This is not your personal faith which are you to use to extinguish the fiery darts of the devil. Our English translations betray Paul’s language here. You are to take the shield of THE faith, not personal, subjective faith, but the shield of the Christian faith, the Christian truth, the Christian doctrine. When Satan lets loose a flaming arrow of temptation at you, you are to deflect it with the Christian doctrine, the Word of God, His truth. When Satan wants to lead you into temptation and sin you are to hold up the faith which teaches us to say with Paul, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Romans 6:2,6). When Satan attacks us with temptation to sin against others or our own bodies, we are extinguish those temptations with the Christian Faith which teaches all believers to say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). We cannot rely upon how strong our faith is at any given moment because frankly, at times our confidence in Christ is quiet weak. Instead we are to rely upon the Christian Faith, the truth spoken in the Scripture and we can rely upon it at all times since it is our solid rock and unshakable fortress in the day of trouble.

6)         Finally Paul tell us take to ourselves “the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God.” Our minds are to be protected by the thought of our salvation in Christ Jesus, so that as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5, we might bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.By this Paul means to teach us guard our thoughts against sinful intrusions and when we are tempted to sin in our thoughts, we are to identify them and fight against them, even fleeing if necessary. This is followed by the only offensive piece to this set of arms. All of this “armor of God” has been defensive up to this point. But we cannot defend forever, otherwise the devil will overpower us and bring us into sin, into doubt, and into despair. Christ gives us the Word of God, everything which proceeds from the mouth of God, as our weapon against the devil, the temptations of the world and those of sinful flesh and mind. We are to use the Word of God as our sword against all the lies of the Devil just as our Lord Jesus used the Word alone during His temptations in the wilderness. We cannot overpower our enemy in any way but through trusting the Word in truth faith and confidence. Each of us have our certain temptations which strike us more severely than others. The Word of God speaks to every sin a word of law and gospel that we need to learn to take to ourselves as a weapon against the Devil in the hour of temptation. The Word is the only weapon which Christ has given us so that we may stand against the sin and the Devil.

7)         Satan wants you, so that he might sift you as wheat, pound you to a pulp, and destroy your God-given faith. Dearly beloved of God through faith in Christ Jesus, put on the whole armor of God every day through continued faith, through patient study of the Word, and through prayer. The Lord has promised a way out of every temptation, not a way out of temptation altogether. The way of escape He provides is faith in His Word. Whether it be temptation to engage in sin, temptation to doubt God’s Word, or to despair of God’s mercy so that you think your sins are too great to be forgiven, God’s word speaks to every temptation, if we would but use it and believe. May God grant us such faith and resolve so that we “may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand,” not by our own strength and armor, but solely by the grace of God which He freely gives us in Christ Jesus.

May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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