Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sermon for Trinity XII – Proper 17B
All Saints’ Church
August 30, 2009

“The Battle of Life” is a metaphor which almost all men at some time in their lives realize and own as true. It suggests a picture which recalls to almost every man his own history, if his has been at all an earnest life. We may think that it has not been so with other men; we may look at some bright and smiling life, and say with something of envy, with something also almost like reproach in our tone, “Lo, life has no battle for him! Behold how smooth and easy all the world has been for him!” The man himself knows better. And we, if we come close to him, can see the scars, nay, we can hear the battle of his life still going on. But whether we come close enough to him to know the real truth of his life or not, we know the truth about our own. Life is a battle. Forever on the watch against our enemies, forever guarding our own lives, forever watching our chance for an attack upon the foe, – so we all live if we are earnest men.”

With these words the Rt. Rev. Phillips Brooks begins his sermon delivered on All Saints’ Day 1885 entitled “The Battle of Life” on the passage we just heard from St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians.

How many of us have ever really thought, really contemplated, really dwelt upon the reality that we are constantly at war? We are in a perpetual battle with forces we cannot see, but are as real as us sitting in our pews in this church this morning. Some times they come when we least expect it, and from directions we never could have imagined. Many times we can sense that something isn’t quite right, but we’re not sure what it might be. Often the battles occur when we think things are moving along smoothly, and all is actually well with the world.

So what do we do with a passage like this one – putting on God’s armor? Do we treat it as if it were only ancient Biblical language from days gone by, and think that language like this doesn’t apply to us anymore?

I would say that thoughts such as these are incredibly dangerous because passages like this one should cause us to take notice, and might offer some keen insights into our lives and our personal struggles.

It’s quite tempting to make comments or try and convince ourselves that we just don’t talk about stuff like Powers of Darkness, Spiritual Warfare, sin, Satan, and the like. That’s what those fundamentalist churches worry about. We’re too refined and dignified to think that those things are real and truly exist to do us harm.

My friends, these forces are real, they do exist, and we had better think about them in our Christian life.

Martin Luther certainly believed they were real as he wrote these famous words:

“And tho’ this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
The prince of darkness grim, We tremble not for him; His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure, One little word shall fell him.”

Our Lord wrestled with these powers of darkness before his ministry ever began. Should we not also expect to wrestle and struggle with these very same forces? Should we ever get so complacent that we would ever tempt the Tempter and say, “this spiritual warfare stuff just doesn’t happen to me?”

If that were so, why would there be any reason to make the following proclamation at the Baptism, “We receive this Child into the congregation of Christ’s flock; and do sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully fight under his banner, against sin, the world, the flesh, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.”

That statement made within the context of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism makes no sense whatsoever if we ever believed that we were not in constant battle with forces which desire to destroy not just the body, but the soul. Jesus declared to his disciples as he was sending them out, “…fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both body and soul.”

One of the two overarching themes Dr. Brooks addresses in the full context of his sermon revolves around two questions: Do we know who or what our enemy truly is; do we know what his weapons are?

Do we know who our enemy is?

St. Peter seemed to know quite well when he wrote in his first epistle, “Be sober, be watchful, your adversary the devil prowls like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world” (I Peter 5:8).

The enemy isn’t just a simple cat who wants merely to play with and toy with its prey, but rather the enemy is depicted as a fully developed lion who seeks to devour and destroy. Satan’s ultimate goal is to destroy us. He wants us to finally collapse into the very essence of what he tempts us with. If he has his way with us, we no longer become just a sinner, but sin itself. We become lost in a world of darkness that is ultimately a life lived with no hope.

What are our enemy’s weapons?

Just about anything!

It’s amazing that some of the most joyous parts of our Lord’s creation have been turned and distorted into a fashion that is a means for our destruction rather than our enjoyment.

The enemy is the master of twisting the things of this world, and attempts to warp our thinking so that we can no longer distinguish what God has intended for good, and what He intended for garbage. C. S. Lewis speaks of this most clearly in his book The Pilgrim’s Regress when the main character, John, who is actually Lewis himself, encounters the spirit of the age, and reason comes in to rescue him.

So what is our source of protection and guard against such an enemy?

We must heed the words of St. Paul, and be prepared to put upon us the whole armor of God. We must do so each and every day.

I’m not sure if any of you have ever had dreams such as these, but in a moment of full disclosure, I’ll have to admit that I’ve had dreams of being caught in public without clothing. First of all, let me promise you that these are dreams!

There is actually a known phobia – gymnophobia which is the fear of being nude in public. One website I consulted on this topic mentioned that only the fear of public speaking and fear of failure topped it in their list of most common phobias. I’m not sure of their statistics, but if there is a named, known fear of being nude in public, why do we not suffer from it spiritually as well? It should terrify us each and every day if we are not armed with the armor of God. We’ve already established the point that we are constantly waging war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We need to put on the proper clothing for that battle, and not attempt to do so unclothed.

Each of the pieces of armor describes Jesus himself, who in fact withstood these forces of evil and darkness and prevailed. We must put on the one and only things that will give us a chance to win a battle that is otherwise un-winnable. St. Jerome declared, “From what we read of the Lord our Saviour throughout the Scriptures, it is manifestly clear that the whole armor of Christ is the Saviour himself. It is one in the same thing to say ‘Put on the whole armor of God’ and ‘Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.’”

When Satan tempted Jesus he was trying to convince Him to turn inward and not to the Father for strength; our trials embody the very same basis of tempting to turn inward for strength to resist these trials and temptations.

In the desert Jesus struggled with Evil – capital E evil itself. We wrestle with the manifestations of the Evil One in whatever form or fashion it takes.

One of the feasts of the Church year is the confession of St. Peter. Peter declares that Jesus is in fact the long awaited Messiah that the prophets proclaimed and all of Jewish history pointed to. After Peter makes his declaration, Jesus says to Peter that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.” St. Peter could not have made this revelation about our Lord if it were not for the supernatural forces at work outside of him. It is interesting to note that just a few verses later Jesus tells Satan to get behind him because flesh and blood was driving his thinking and not the Spirit of God that had helped him make the ultimate declaration of his faith.

One of the great treasures of Anglicanism is our hymnody. One of the gifts we have given to the larger Church has been the hymns of Charles Wesley.

“Come thou long expected Jesus,” “Lo! He comes with clouds descending,” “Hark the herald angels sing,” “Jesus Christ is risen today,” “Love divine, all loves excelling,” just to name a few. Certainly Charles Wesley believed and taught that we were in a constant war against Satan and his spiritual forces. He has left us a clear statement of who we are fighting against, and as we know, who will ultimately win.

“Soldiers of Christ, arise, And put your armor on,
Strong in the strength which God supplies, Thro’ his eternal Son;

Strong in the Lord of hosts, And in his mighty power:
Who in the strength of Jesus trusts Is more than conqueror.

Stand then in his great might, With all his strength endued,
And take, to arm you for the fight, The panoply of God.

From strength to strength go on, Wrestle, and fight, and pray:
Tread all the powers of darkness down, And win the well-fought day.

That, having all things done, And all your conflicts past,
Ye may o’ercome, through Christ alone, And stand complete at last.”

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