Be Strong In The Lord - 21st Sunday after Trinity
October 16, 2016
Finally, my Brothers be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the Evil One. 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. Ephesians 6:10-13
To be born into this world, is to be born into spiritual warfare, but the struggle we are engaged in is not what you think. It can not be perceived by the eye, nor is the enemy made of flesh and blood, so that you could fight him with conventional weapons of war.
The common enemy of all men is the one St. Paul identifies for us in today's epistle lesson. He is the Devil, which is a contraction for "the Evil One." He who is malevolence incarnate, though he has no flesh. But he can appear at will: here as a Serpent, there as a glorious "angel of light," and he can pass himself off as anything he needs to, in order to accomplish his sadistic ends. To deceive humanity so that we should turn against our God; and against one another perpetrating unspeakable crimes against our fellow man: rather than join forces against him with the Cross of Jesus as our Standard.
His greatest joy, if the Evil One can be said to experience joy, is to steal, kill and destroy. To steal our baptismal life from us. That life we live in Holy Communion with God now in the church; and later in "the life of the world to come." He's happy to kill our souls so that we should become vacant brutes devoid of conscience, or reason. He seeks us out one by one in order do us violence, and and destroy us so that we, who are fashioned by the Divine Word, into the Divine image, should sell our birthright for a few cheap thrills, and enter un-holy commune with the one who is "a murderer from the beginning."
Does all this sound extraordinary? If so it's because you can only learn about it from Holy Scripture, in the true church of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity.
Where it is held up before our eyes, and placed onto lips (to which we humbly answer: Amen). To the end that we might "confess with our mouth that Jesus here-given is Lord; and believe with our hearts that God raised him from the dead, and so be saved from the schemes of the devil who works for our downfall day and night.
If we can say one thing about the devil, he is single-minded. He's like a spring which only has one vocation in life, one purpose for its existence: to push! You can compress a spring in a ballpoint pen, or in the magazine of a pistol for 50 years, but it never sleeps, never relents, and never forgets its job. It just keeps pushing and pushing, and the minute you release it, it succeeds at doing the only thing it ever knew. That's what the devil does. He's never stops pushing.
If he can conquer you in a moment of greed or passion, he will do it. If he can bring you to ruin in a few years with bad influence, he's content. If it takes him your entire, long life. If you have resisted him for 80 or 90 or 100 years, you can still never let down your guard. Because he's still crouching at your door, waiting shoot you full of fiery arrows of despair, or hopelessness, or lonliness. But even worse of pride, self-righteousness or self-satisfaction; rather than repentance, faith and prayer. To make you renounce your baptism, and the crucified and risen Savior who there became your Lord in early youth … So that you should not be saved, not spend eternity with your true Father, but rather to be forever in misery with him.
But to fight a war you need the right weapons. They say never to bring a knife to a gun fight; and that if you ever find yourself in a fair fight you had better check your tactics.
In the same way, don't try to conquer the powerful temptations that come your way; or try to understand, or endure life's hardships without the right weapons. Without "the Right Man" on your side. The "Man Christ Jesus" our dear Lord and God, who by his death trampled death, and brought Life and Immortality to Light. Who conquered Satan in the wilderness, in his earthly ministry, and who definitively crushed the Serpent's defiant head, with his feet nailed to the cross! That is the image we want to hold in our minds, and display in our sanctuary.
No, you cannot conquer the Evil One, or fend off the host of his fiery darts with conventional weapons weapons of war. Nor can you avoid "false belief, despair and other great shame and vice" if you rely on human wisdom, internet religion or FB medicine.
Instead, in a great irony, the enemy who is not flesh and blood is conquered exactly by flesh and blood. The flesh of Jesus on the cross which he gave for the life of the world, and the blood that purifies us from every sin. The very same flesh and blood we eat and drink here, to be our shield against the rulers, authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of wickedness in high places.
He himself is our our armor, our faith, our righteousness and salvation. He is the Truth we wrap about our waist as a belt. He is the "one little Word" the fells the devil, and makes us able to to stand, even in this present darkness.
And so stand! Stand firm, stand strong now and always, with Jesus. Amen.