Link to Rev Alison’s video reflection https://youtu.be/jJ9kK3bg7Ys
Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6.56-69
In the name of the God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
How do we measure strength? Well, that would depend on what kind of strength. Physical strength could be measured by the development of our muscles. Mental strength by our capacity to answer tricky questions correctly or ability to recall information we need when we need it. Spiritual strength could be measured by how long we devote to prayer each week? These things are a bit arbitrary and will not really answer the point where the writer to the Ephesians is starting from in today’s well known reading from the end of this letter.
Our reading started Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. The important point here is not to be strong in our own faculties and capacities, but to be strong in the strength of God’s power in us and for us. The writer is talking of God’s power in our lives. In a way Jesus is also talking about it in our gospel reading. God’s power in us and for us inherent in the bread of life that Jesus is offering – the bread that will live for ever or as Peter sums it up that Jesus has the words of eternal life. What Jesus said at this point caused difficulty for some, but it is one of those things said to help us reset the balance and capture what matters. That Jesus had and did come to radically change everything.
Returning to the writer of the Letter to the Ephesians– He uses the militarist image of the armour of God to help us to understand how all the aspects of God’s love for us and particularly God’s strength in us and for us works. The writer begins by defining the battle we face and he defines the Devil and evil forces that conspire against us and the powers that hold sway over us. The wiles of the devil, and the spiritual forces of evil are neither the approach nor the language we use to describe this routinely today. Yet there are persistent lures and delusions all around us – for example the need to look after number one rather than be community minded or the persistent pressure to think of ourselves before others rather than thinking of others before ourselves.
We also see people are searching and looking for meaning – sometimes in all the wrong places. We have much to bring to the party where meaning, purpose and hope is concerned. Yet it can be very difficult to express that. As we participate in Jesus’ story today in our country through our baptism – we are part of God’s story for our world but in this we need to have great courage and persistent determination. We need to keep going – keep sharing and keep working counter-culturally to share the real meaning, hope and purpose that lasts for ever in the love of Jesus Christ
Interestingly, we most commonly address turning away from sin and renouncing evil (and the battle the writer to the Ephesians draws us toward!) in our baptism services. It is at the forefront of the commitment made by parents and godparents on behalf of the children involved. For some this may seem like startling language but I think it helps us to acknowledge there are dark powers and forces we do not completely understand. From time to time we clearly recognise sin and evil for what it is (even though we are often taken in by it too!). It is good when making a positive new start on the spiritual journey to make a stand. Draw a line in the sand – and consciously move forward in the strength of God for ourselves and the new life in Christ being celebrated through baptism.
Having defined the battle the writer moves on to describing the pieces of armour we have from God – through the power of the Holy Spirit. This was an appropriate way of putting it for 1st century Ephesus but in 21st Century Somerset we are, I confess, less frequently confronted with armour! However, we need all the help God’s spirit can bring us to stand in the strength of God’s power as God intends. So let’s just unpack the armour a little and the spiritual points being made here!
First, the belt of truth around the waist. Earlier in this letter, the writer spoke of the importance of telling the truth, which I talked about a couple of weeks ago. The armour begins with the belt of truth holding us together – pointing to how integrity is so important
This is accompanied in the early foundational pieces with the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness is living the way God says is best for us. Self-righteousness – is living the way we think is best for us. These are different – righteousness gets too linked with self-righteousness. Behaving as God says is best – means we practice what we preach (and are not found wanting!)
The passage then says as shoes for your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Make you ready – is an interesting way to put it! It is not as shoes for your feet proclaim the gospel of peace but what makes you ready to do it – prepared and able with words by all means but also our lives and lifestyle choices. St Francis famously said something like – Proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and if you must use words. Gospel values are so much more than our words
Where next then the shield of faith to deflect the flaming arrows of the evil one the letter says. The going will not always be easy and our faith will carry us ever onwards until we meet our loving God – the other side of the great divide in heaven rather than on earth. Our faith will help and support us if we let God through his Spirit work his way in us, our faith will support us more and more as we grow more Christlike day by day.
The last 2 aspects of the armour of God begin with the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. The word of God is vital nourishment. We should have Bibles well used to support us day by day. There is depth and insight in every page. It can be very difficult sometimes – but taken seriously through our daily prayers and bible study. Our spiritual lives will be enriched and many times we will find ourselves equipped in our daily studies with the resources we need for the day. Scripture can be piercing and hard – but also really to the point and a great tool in our journey.
And then finally in the armour topping it off is the helmet of salvation. Dwelling on how we have been saved and are loved by God and how God – so almighty and all powerful – is concerned with the likes of us. God loves us through all our comings and goings, the good times and the bad. It is not and never has been about being worthy – we are not worthy of this love but God loves us all the same. This helmet of salvation wrapped up in grace is one of great re-assurance and the bedrock of our faith.
This passage doesn’t end there but then with an exhortation to persistent prayer, to keep alert and to be bold. Not just the writer to the Ephesians being bold, but also the Ephesian Christians being bold and us being bold. Along with bible reading, time spent in prayer – for all the things of the day and all the things that surround us and concern us, and all that connects us with God’s love for us and his loving heart.
To finish the passage ends with a prayer for the writer from the heart of the jeopardy of his situation – in chains. To write as he has done of all these things that make us strong in the Lord and to still be bold from prison has to make us think on. Ultimately the important point here is to lean into God’s love for us for the strength we need for each day. Through truth, peace, faith, and salvation nourished through God’s word and our prayers. I end with the words of the Charles Wesley hymn we will sing on Sunday in the churches.
Soldiers of Christ, arise, and put your armour 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; but take, to arm you for the fight, the panoply of God.
To keep your armour bright, attend with constant care, still walking in your captain’s sight and watching unto prayer.
From strength to strength go on; wrestle and fight and pray; tread all the pow’rs of darkness down, and win the well-fought day.
Then having all things done and all your conflicts past, Ye may overcome, through Christ alone and stand entire at last Amen.
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 – CCLI – Song words – Soldiers of Christ arise reproduced under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton