25 November 2018 Getting Dressed for Church Martin Baker
Over the last weeks we have been hearing from the letter tothe Ephesians
There have been some particular themes that have comethrough
We first of all heard that God unites everything in theuniverse through Christ. We heard that God has created a new humanity wherethere had been division. We heard thatGod calls each of us into different ministries and equips us with diverseskills. And that that this verydiversity, in skills, callings and maturity - rather than being a source ofdivision - was the very sign of the unique witness of the church in the world.
Today we are reminded of the ongoing challenges we face. Theforces of evil and hatred and fear and greed are still present and they haveawful consequences. We are challenged tostand firm against them. We hear how God gifts us the resources to confrontthese forces - first of all as Christfollowers acting together.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of hispower. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to standagainst the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[a] struggle is not against enemiesof blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, againstthe cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces ofevil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armour of God, sothat you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything,to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around yourwaist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feetput on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 Withall of these,[b] take the shield of faith, with which you will be able toquench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation,and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer andsupplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication forall the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may begiven to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,[c] 20 forwhich I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as Imust speak.
Let us pray….
Paul starts this passage with these words
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of hispower. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to standagainst the wiles of the devil.
We don’t speak a lot about the devil in our church here. Andmaybe that is a sign of the work of the devil . We don’t want to name evil .Maybe we don’t want to think about the devil. If we do not think about Mephistopheles,Satan, Beelzebub, Baphomet, Abaddon, Balaam, Lilith, Yen Lo Wang – the names goon an on - if we ignore the devil, he, she, they or it, might leave us alone.
There are two challenges.
First if anyone mentions the word devil to me I goimmediately into my memories and fondness for mostly B grade movies.
Heads twisting around. Deep, fairly unpleasant voices. Redglowing goat like figures. Horns. Sabrina the teenage Witch is the latest hiton Netflix - and depicts the devil very much in these terms. But it is just oneof many. True Blood vampires. All verypopular.
The big thing here is that almost all the literature and imagesgrew out pagan or mythological sources ,or from fantasy of poetry like Dantes Inferno– those images have nothing at all to do with scripture .Weshould reject those images, not because they are weird, strange or bizarre,they just are wrong and not from the Bible.
And perhaps what is worse, those images and the weirdness associated withthem can take us a long way away from our Biblical testimony.
Satan in the ancient Book of Job. He is the accuser. Actingon God’s behalf to test the faith and perseverance of Job.
Then in the Gospel of Mark Jesus tells off one of his closestdisciples, he says to Peter “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not havein mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
When Jesus, and later Paul talk about the devil, take aboutevil, they’re talking about something that is not strange, doesn’t dwell insome dark invisible place, but is utterly familiar and utterly overwhelming.
The Christians in Ephesus, they may have been taken to worship the emperor at the newlyconstructed temple of Domitian to test their allegiance. Ephesus was also a thriving commercial cityand the cultic centre of goddess Artemis. In fact the temple of Artemis was oneof the seven wonders of the ancient world. So we have this little group of Jesus followers in someone’s home, andjust down the road is this magnificent marble structure built to worshipArtemis, the twin sister to Apollo. Sowhich way are you going to go? Little house church worshiping someone who wascrucified under Roman law or the goddess worshipped in one of the most beautifulbuildings in the Roman Empire?
Those Christians had no need to think of some strange otherworldlyimage of the devil. Bow down before Domitian or suffer the consequences. Standfirm in your faith when everyone around you, maybe your wife, husband , childrenparents, are all lining up to worshipArtemis the goddess of virginity and hunting.
In the midst of all of this, Christians, Paul is saying, must go through transformation. They must shedtheir former pagan selves and lifestyle, and put on their new selves of livingin a new and right relationship with God and people . That’s what the wordrighteous means. A new holiness . Christian individuals,households, and communities had to live this new faith, Paul is saying, livingin love, forgiveness, and thankfulness. Worshipping the risen Jesus whosespirit can’t be contained in any building or structure - no matter howbeautiful.
Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able tostand against the wiles of the devil , Paul says. For followers of Jesus, everytime we think of the cross we think of those forces that conspired to tortureand execute the innocent son of God. And the question is, how that couldhappen? And why are innocent childrenwho reveal Jesus today , the least of these, why are they still dying throughthe acts of another? What do we do whenwe are confronted with this inexplicable reality?
How do we manage with the presence of the devil - those powers that seem to be so overwhelmingand go beyond any issue of simple morality or selfishness or greed?
Half the Anglican churches in Tasmania are now on a list tobe sold, in part to compensate historic victims of sexual abuse in that state. Children abused while they were in the careof Christians. And the inquiry is about to start in New Zealand.
Where do we find ourselves in the midst of all this?
We hear of Jesus being tempted by Satan - but the big thing to think about here is that nothingespecially extraordinary or weird or supernatural is going on here. In fact in almostan extreme way it’s the opposite. We are hearing about the things that make usmost comfortable the things that provide us with the most ready answers and solutionsthe things about which we are most familiarthe object that everyone agrees are worthwhile - these are the things that are part of Jesus’ confrontation with the devil.
When we study our Bible we find that evil is spoken about ina number of ways. Sometimes evil is represented as simply the tendencies withinourselves to do the wrong thing even when we know it’s wrong , sometimes as a personalbeing outside of us - even as a powerfulangel gone astray. Sometimes as a cosmic power sometimes as an organised forceworking to undermine the will of God for the world. Lots of images. The Biblicalmeaning is consistent. They are all ways of talking about the experience thatthere can be in us and among us strong opposition to love, health wholeness andpeace. The forces that divides us. The power that stops us trusting in God’spromises. These things are part of all our lives – and they are not strange,but familiar.
Paul goes on to say something really important.
12 For our struggleis not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against theauthorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against thespiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places
Paul is asking a lot from those early Christians and fromus. Think of those almost unnameableforces that undermine God’s creative intentions. Everything from the attitudes and culturethat leads to such carnage on our roads, the urgent need to unify in ourresponse to t our environmental challenges, the powers at work that allowcorrupt and violent leaders to cause so much destruction.
On one hand we can say it’s just a matter of individualchoice, but on another we can be overwhelmedby the powerful forces that seem bent on causing pain and destruction.
Never resign yourself to these forces Paul is saying, never thinkof yourself as being helpless and never think that a single person, flesh andblood, is the sole and simple cause of the evil that inflicts us or the world.
Neither Hitler nor Stalin nor Pol Pott could have done whatthey did without the collusion ofothers, and as we focus this week on the white ribbon and the causes of familyviolence, we think of the individualsbut also think of our culture and society , the values, the isolation, the silences , the experienceof powerlessness, all these things thatwork together, that allows those thingsto happen.
In the midst of all that’s going on Paul is asking from us somethingreally important. Put into practice thenew reality created through Christ - Godwins victory in ways that are not our ways, by bringing peace through the violent death of the cross. Even such terrible violence as that can beconfronted and overwhelmed by God grace.
Only God can and will finally defeat all the forces of evil.However, the gathered community of Christ followers, who would become thechurch, Paul is saying, is already thesign and the promise of what God will do for the world through Christ.
He says we have been given all that we need to stand strongagainst the efforts of anything that opposes God’s peace. This armour of God.
So the fundament affirmation through this letter is one of encouragementto these early followers of Christ.
When we commit to following Christ we also place ourselvesin opposition to all those forces that conspired to crucify him. Followers ofJesus can’t be bystanders in this challenge. There is no middle ground. Orappeasement .
These words, stand strong, persevere, and don’t give up, bebold. The language is plural. The you is for all of you.
We all have things we need to do for the sake of the Gospel.But think particularly of the image of the shield. The Roman shield was wide.Two thirds to protect your own body and one third to protect the body of theperson alongside you. Interlocked. Together. A new humanity diverse skills but comfortingovercoming being victorious in our love,in our actions of peace. That’s something we do best, together.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.