Service: 6:30 pm Evensong
Preacher: Revd Sheila Murray
Readings: Joshua 1:1-9 & Ephesians 6:10-20
Printed version of Semon
I don’t know how many of you have seen the Star War films, or Lord of the Rings or any of the Harry Potter stories, these films are about the battle between good and evil.
Our passage from Ephesians 6 is also about the battle between good and evil, and it is full of strong imagery about amour. But this isn’t a computer game or a fantasy adventure film. There is a battle going on and Paul says that Christians need to have the right tools for the fight.
This is about having a living faith, and about the choices we make. Paul here is writing to people who believed implicitly in evil spirits – he uses words throughout this letter of powers, authorities, world rulers – and these people were not only facing physical battles, attacks from men, but also attacks from spiritual forces who were fighting against God. Some of us might find that hard to comprehend. But I know when I have been for example in the town of Glastonbury, I have felt the oppression of evil; as I walked through the town I felt a real dis-ease and a heaviness coming from certain shops.
Paul, writing from prison to the people of Ephesus was trying to find a way of helping them cope with their difficult lives. While he was writing this letter he was chained to a Roman soldier, who was there to make sure he didn’t escape. And probably the soldier’s amour suggested imagery to him that he could use – and he suggested to the Ephesians that they too could have armour to help protect them. So he takes the various items of the soldier’s armour and translates them into Christian terms.
We have the belt of truth – The belt which went around the soldier’s tunic, from which his sword hung – giving him freedom to move around. Satan fights using lies, and sometimes these lies sound like truth. Paul here suggests that the Christian can move freely because they know the truth, they are not groping around trying to guess what to do. As believers we can hold onto God’s truth and defeat Satan’s lies.
Then Paul talks about having the breastplate of righteousness. In the soldier’s armour the breastplate is meant to be impregnable. It covers the heart. Satan often attacks our hearts – our emotions, our self-worth, and trust. God protects us with his love and his approval. And we know he loves us because he sent his Son to earth to die for us.
Our feet, according to verse 15 need to be fitted with readiness that comes from the gospel of peace – readiness to tell others about Jesus. Satan wants us to think that the task is too big, that we are no good at it, but Jesus has other ideas, and wants, indeed commands us, to spread the Good News – all of us, not just clergy or evangelists, need to be prepared to talk about our faith. When I was growing up in church as a teenager, it was suggested that we had at the back of our minds two stories – the story about our faith, what God means to us, why we are a Christian or how we became a Christian – what brought us to the faith we have in God; and also to have a story of how one of our prayers has been answered. So that when someone maybe completely out of the blue asks us, we have something to say – we were also told not to learn this off by rote – but just to be ready to share when called upon. Do we each have a story we can tell if asked?
Paul then talks about the shield of faith with which you can extinguish flaming arrows of Satan The shield Paul talks about here is a huge oblong body shield. As Christians when reading our Bible we should be learning more and more about God’s perspectives on life, on our world – and this can help us to look beyond our own circumstances, to hopefully see a bigger picture. The picture that God has through Christ won the victory over Satan.
Its very easy to just come to church on a Sunday, to listen to the sermons, go to homegroups, but for none of it to make any difference in your life. When I went Trull Church, the sermons there were often 25-30 mins long, they were usually very interesting and challenging, but many of us realised that once we walked back out through the door at the end of the service, those words that we had heard were left behind, and made no difference in our lives. And it is so easy to do that. One way they tried to overcome this, was to persuade all the home groups to go over the following week, what had been said in the sermon, and to look deeper into that particular passage. I know that particular way of connecting again during the week with the bible passage isn’t going to work here at St Mary’s as our homegroups don’t meet every week. But we could do this on our own –during the week we could revisit the passage that had been preached on, to dig deeper, and ask ourselves, what else can I learn from these words, or was there a point made in the sermon that I really want to understand better, and by doing this we can deepen our faith and our understanding of God, thereby having a bigger shield in order to protect us from Satan.
Next we have the helmet of salvation. Satan wants us to doubt God and our salvation. The helmet is there to protect our minds from doubting God’s saving work. Our salvation in Christ allows our sins to be forgiven and strength to continue to conquer sin in the future.
Lastly, we come to the sword – the word of God. This is the only weapon of offence in this list of armour. And there are going to be times when we have to take the offensive against Satan and by using words of scripture we can fight Satan and his temptations. Think of Jesus in the wilderness –he used words of scripture didn’t he to deflect Satan’s temptations. Know your bible. Learn some verses that you can use. When I was a child I went to Crusader classes on Sunday afternoons. And once a month we had “sword drill” when we would tuck our bibles under our arms, and then draw them out, and the leader would give us a bible reference which we had to look up, read out loud and then we had to go home and learn it, and the following week we would be tested on it. A great discipline. How well do we know our Bible?
We need to be prepared for battle. There is, I believe, a battle going on every day in our lives when we have to fight against temptations, little lies, little whispers, “You don’t really need to do such and such” “Aren’t you too tired to pray tonight” “Its all right if you don’t read your bible today, you can catch up tomorrow” and of course, our lives are too busy to do that catching up. And so on.
Please make time, time to build up your defences, time to put on the armour that Paul says is such a crucial part of our lives. I know of some Christians who every morning go through this list and actually put on these invisible items – the Belt of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, The shoes of readiness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.
Be prepared, we are involved in battles every day of our lives – don’t let Satan overwhelm you. Amen.