Monday, 27 August 2012

Stand With Jesus

Ephesians 6:10-20

Pentecost 13B, August 26, 2012
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
War is all around us. You can’t listen to or watch the news without hearing about war and conflict. Nation against nation, countries tearing themselves apart in civil war, age old battles over land continue to take new lives, murders in the street and domestic violence fill the media.
The Bible even records the accounts of many wars just like these. Even in the New Testament, which we often think of as the tame end of the Bible, St. Paul talks about a battle that is raging in this world. This war is a battle the devil wages against the disciples of Jesus.
The reason for this battle takes us back to the beginning of the Bible. God created humans to live in perfect harmony and peace with Him and with each other. God also created angels for the same purpose, but some of those angels rebelled against God and rejected His love. These angels are known as unclean spirits, demons and devils, and their leader is Satan.
Satan loathed the peace and love that existed between the first humans and God, so he tempted them to rebel against God and His Word by eating the forbidden fruit. This was the beginning of the war between the devil and man, and thus, between humans. Confronted with his sin Adam first blames Eve then God for his actions (Genesis 3:12).
Filled with guilt and stained with sin God had to cast Adam and Eve out of the garden so they could not eat of the tree of life and live forever in their wicked sinful state (Genesis 3:22-24).  
However, God didn’t cut man off completely. God gave them clothes and blessed them with children and livestock even while the war between humans worsened (Genesis 2:4:1-4). The witness of the Bible is that God continued to speak to His people, for in the early pages of Genesis we read about Adam and Eve’s descendants trusting in the Word of the Lord.
Satan’s attacks on God’s people continue to this day. He loathes the love that God has created between Himself and you. The devil wages war against you, attacking your faith by tempting you to sin, then accusing you of sinning in a way that is unforgivable so that you enter into despair and fall away from God. Adam and Eve could not win in their fight against the devil, neither can you.  
This is why in the closing words in his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul says be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might, not in your own strength. We cannot win against Satan. He is far too strong and he is a master at his trade. He has been leading God’s people into sin and death since the beginning. You won’t win if you fight him. The Good news is that you don’t have to. The most important words Paul speaks in this section of his letter is ‘stand’.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Three times he tell us to stand. Why? Because the battle is not ours, it is Jesus battle and He has defeated the evil foe for you.
Jesus has defeated the devil by His cross. In what looked like a defeat, God’s Son in human flesh died on the cross of Calvary. But any victory cry Satan and his devils had was soon turned to torment, for on the third day Jesus rose from the grave, again taking up all His divine powers and ascended to the right hand of the Father to rule over all things.
Jesus has won the battle against the devil for all people and those who are baptized and believe in Christ Jesus receive His victory as their own. By faith in Christ God counts you sinless and perfect, just as His Son is sinless and holy.
Living as a holy child of God is not easy. Yet it is not the stuff that we can see that poses our greatest challenges. It is the unseen forces of evil that are our greatest threat. Paul describes the war this way; for 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.
The Armor of God
The armor that Paul talks about here are the tools that God gives so that you are able to stand against the schemes of the devil. The picture here is of an occupying soldier, not a combat warrior. The warriors fight at the front line battling the enemy and vanquishing them. The occupying troops come in behind the front line crack troops to live in the conquered territory and establish order. Even the sword the occupying soldier carries is seldom used because the battle is over, but is a sign of the authority he has been given to keep the peace.
Another way to understand Paul’s picture is think of the Queens Guards at Buckingham Palace; the soldiers with the big fluffy hats and bright red jacket. They are dressed in full uniform and carry a loaded weapon, but rarely use it.
The armor of God is not designed to resist physical enemies. It won’t keep a cold at bay or stop a bullet. They are spiritual weapons given to protect God’s children from spiritual attackers.
1)   The belt of truth. Satan is the father of lies. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). The truth is that Jesus was won the battle for us, the devil has lost. The truth is you are counted as a winner with Jesus by your Baptism. These truths alone can defeat the lies of the devil when he whispers them in your ears.
2)  The breast plate of righteousness. The breast plate covers the vital organs of the soldier. You are covered with Christ’s robe of righteousness given to you in Baptism and held in place by faith. Trust God at His Word, in Christ you are a new creation (2Corinthiains 5:17).
3)   Shoes fitted with the gospel of peace. Ironically it is the Gospel of peace with God that both brings us under attack and prepares us for it. If Jesus had not died for our sins, we would still be in our sins and remain fully under Satan’s control. But Jesus did give Himself into death. The price of all sins has been paid and by faith in Jesus as our Saviour from sin, death and the devil, we come under attack. Yet the Gospel prepares us for the battle, because nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).
4)  Shield of faith. Arrows were dipped in tar and set alight. To defend themselves, Roman soldiers dipped their leather covered shields in water before battle to extinguish the arrows. This is an allusion to the refuge we have in our Baptism. The shield of faith is only of value if we use it against the devil’s attack, read God’s Word and go to the Divine Service and receive God’s grace in the Absolution and Holy Communion. In the Large Catechism Luther pleads, ‘If you could see how many knives, darts and arrows are every moment aimed at you [Ephesians 6:16], you would be glad to come the Sacrament as often as possible (LC, V 82).
5)   Helmet of salvation. God has granted you salvation. He will not let you fall from grace but day and night reminds you of His love in Christ.
6)  Sword of the Spiritthe word of God. It is the Spirit of God that gives power to the Word of God by which we find peace with our Lord, the assurance of God’s grace and power to resist the devils temptations. Think of how Jesus resisted Satan’s temptations with only the Word of God (Luke 4:1-13).
We also pray to God according to the His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing He will hear and answer our calls for help. It is the Spirit that also prays for us when we are weak and do not know what to pray (Romans 8:26, 27).
All this talk of cosmic powers, present darkness and spiritual forces of evil can create fear in our hearts and minds. Fears that we will be lost in battle, fears that we will be crushed, or fears that Jesus is not strong enough. Behind this bad news of wars in this world and spiritual forces at work seeking to overcome us, is the Good News the Holy Spirit brings us. The Spirit announces rescue and victory through the cross of Christ. In Word and Sacrament the Spirit delivers Jesus’ victory. You can rest in Christ the conqueror, because He has defeated Satan and his cronies, and He is taking care of the evil powers and cosmic forces right now.
God gives His armor to protect your faith in Christ so that you would not fall for Satan’s schemes and lies. And if you do fall into temptation and sin, God’s Law will reveal that every power of your own is worthless against the devils tricks, and His Gospel will turn your eyes to Jesus to trust in the forgiveness and He supplies. The risen Christ once said to Paul when he was struggling in his weakness, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2Corinthians 12:9).
So Stand with Jesus and His sure victory. Stand when on the Rock temptation comes. Stand on the evil day. Stand firm in faith that God will protect you by His all-conquering Son. Stand with Jesus, for where else can you go for protect and peace, He alone has the words of eternal life. Amen.
Let’s pray. Almighty God, send Your Spirit to strengthen our faith that we would remain standing on Christ, our Rock and our Redeemer, and when our faith falters hold us in Your hands that we do not fall away from You. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Christ, the Wisdom of God

Ephesians 5:15-20

Pentecost 12B, August 19, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The last two Sundays we have been hearing God’s Word from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. So far we have heard that we are made God’s children and unified with Christ in Baptism by the one Holy Spirit, and that as God’s children we are to imitate Christ, loving as He loves and forgiving as He forgives.
In this week’s epistle reading Paul continues to plead with the church in Ephesus, and us, to live as the people we have been born again as; the redeemed and forgiven children of God. Not as the people we once might have been, following our sinful ways or living according to what is right in this world.
In light of our salvation Paul says, Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, as the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Look carefully then how you walk. The walk referred to here is the walk of faith that by the grace of God began at Baptism and goes all the way to eternity. But this journey is not an easy one, for the days are evil.
The devil and his demons are at work in the world to lead the children of God astray. Satan wants to distract you. He wants to direct you off the path of faith, down the path of sin, unbelief and despair. He knows he can’t snatch you out of God’s hand, His hold is too tight. So the devil works to coax you away from God by sowing seeds of doubt in God’s grace or by leading you into temptation and accusing you of unforgivable sin.
Don’t listen to the devils lies! Stay with God, flee to Christ in whom you were joined to in Baptism. Listen to God’s voice proclaimed from His Word, and then you will be wise and understand what the will of the Lord is.
From God’s Word we all know God’s will; regarding the Law it means to keep the Ten Commandments and regarding the Gospel; God’s will is that we believe in the One whom He has sent as our Saviour from sin (John 6:29). God’s will is that you have His Word fixed in your mind so that you look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, as the days are evil.
Only by the grace of God are you kept from wandering away from the Lord. He gives His grace through Word and Sacraments. Listen to, read, study and memorise God’s Word that you might not sin against Him. Receive Christ body and blood in Holy Communion for the forgiveness of your sins, that Christ grows in you, deepening your faith and strengthening the bond of peace between you.
God’s will is many things, and it includes His desires that all people be saved (1Timothy 2:4). So Paul says, make the best use of the time. Be strengthened in your faith through the gifts God gives in the Divine Service, then go in the power of the Lord to live as the child He has made you to be. Let the light of Christ shine in your home in the way you speak and act, in your devotions and prayers. Let the light of Christ radiate into the life of your neighbour.
Paul tells us to make the best use of the time, because he thought Jesus was returning immediately. And he was right of course. Christ can return at any moment. This shaped the way he lived and encouraged other Christians to also live. In his letters we can hear the voice of a man who has an urgent mission to tell his neighbour, and the world, that by the cross of Christ God loves them in the most amazing way. For without the Gospel message many will perish and never taste God’s amazing love in Christ.
I think that we have become complacent, because we look back over 2000 years of Christian history and see Jesus has not returned. We then apply that to the next 2000 year or so and assume Jesus’ return is a long way off. But, that is not true. At any moment the trumpet could sound and all people have to appear before the judgment seat of God, who desires that all people be saved.  
God is on mission in this world through you and I. Through the Spirit living in us by faith and Christ whom we receive in the Sacrament, God is looking for opportunities to share the Gospel. His Spirit prompts us to serve one another in love, to share the Gospel and witness to our neighbour about Jesus and what He has done to save all people from sin and grant life everlasting. Let God do His work through you that you may bring honour and glory to Him.
When the journey of faith gets tough do not get drunk with wine (or beer for that matter), for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
How do you be filled with the Holy Spirit? Simple. Go where God’s Spirit is; God’s Word and Sacraments. The Spirit works through the Word to create and nurture faith in Christ so we know that when we hear God’s Word that His Spirit is at work in our hearts. If we think the Holy Spirit is speaking to us outside of the Word we need to be careful, it may be an unclean spirit whispering lies.
God’s life giving Word is so precious to us we cannot help but put it to music and give thanks to our gracious and merciful God. The prophets put the faith to music and wrote the psalms. Christians of every age have put God’s Word to music so we can sing hymns and spiritual songs about our loving God and His Jesus who died on the cross for our sins. Sing the Gospel with thanksgiving in worship and your devotional life to lift your down cast souls and that you may be encouraged.
Gospel centered psalms, hymns and spiritual songs proclaim what God in Christ has done for the world. They speak of our lost condition and God’s love to rescue us from sin. They preach the cross of Christ, His blood shed for our forgiveness, the joy of the resurrection and life everlasting. They declare the power of forgiveness in the absolution and the Sacraments.
Martin Luther speaks highly of singing God’s Word, saying, ‘the evil spirit is not at ease when one sings or preaches God’s Word in true faith… it drives away the devil and makes people cheerful’ (What Luther Says #3091, 3098). During some of the darkest times in his life, Luther sang God’s Word to lift his eyes to heaven to focus Christ and His victory over sin, death and the devil. This is why he wrote his famous hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God (LHS 195).
All this – walking carefully in faith, making the best use of our time and singing the Gospel – are the actions of the wise. Those live by the wisdom of God listening to Him in His Word and walking in His ways. The wisdom in the Bible is about far more than great advice. The wisdom it proclaims is Jesus.  1 Corinthians 1 says, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24)… and Christ Jesus, who became for us the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Jesus is the wisdom of God not just because He is God and knows all things. But in Christ there is a wisdom that humans could never imagine or achieve. God’s Son became one of us in order to die for all of us. In Christ, God died for you, achieving your salvation. Jesus took all the sins of the world on His body and paid the price we deserve, dying on the cross for us all.  
We could never achieve salvation by ourselves. We are full of sin. In God’s wisdom He does it for us. Salvation is a free gift. Now that is the wisdom of God.  We couldn’t even dream up the idea of God dying for us. But that my friends is the truth. Jesus died to save you from sin and eternal death and rescue from you the accusations of the devil. In Him you have pardon for sin, peace with God and the hope of heaven.
In light of God’s grace, look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, as the days are evil. Walk in God’s ways as the wise ones of God, redeemed by Christ. These days are evil, I don’t have to convince you of that, and the devil would love to entice you into sin and accuse you to the point of despair. But you know God’s will, you know the commandments and you are filled with His Spirit through Baptism. You also know the Gospel, the good news that you are God’s child by Baptism and faith. You are marked with the Holy Spirit as the redeemed of God. Your Saviour Jesus dwells bodily in your bodies through His body and blood given and received in Holy Communion.
Christ is leading you to live the life He saved you to lead. The Spirit brings God’s Word to life for you, directing your steps in Christ’s footsteps so you walk in wisdom. Live free from the power of sin, filled with the grace of God. Love your neighbour as yourself. Love them as much as God leads you to. 
Wisdom comes from God alone, for He alone is all wise and knowing. Salvation comes from Christ alone, the wisdom of God for us. Be wise, even as you have been made wise. Amen.
Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, the wisdom and power of God, make our bodies holy by Your Word, Your Spirit and Your body and blood given in the Sacrament, that we may walk in Your footsteps and follow You into eternal life. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.