14th Sunday after Pentecost
August 30, 2015
“We’re at War!”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us this morning for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost is today’s Second Lesson read from Ephesians chapter 6.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Ever heard of the Vietnam War? Of course you have. How about World War II? Duh. But most people probably don’t realize this war ever happened: the Spanish-American War. Ever even heard of that? For a brief time, from April to August 1898, America was at war with Spain.
This is the war that began with Americans shouting, “Remember the Maine!” It was a ship, by the way. What people kinda remember is that this was the war with the infamous Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and their charge up San Juan Hill. Almost as if it had never happened, in four short months, Spain had surrendered.
There’s another war not many people are familiar with, because the enemy is largely unseen. This war is most critical ever fought, and that’s not to belittle the service and sacrifice of our nation’s military servicemen and women. In this war, though, the casualties are much heavier and they are eternal! This time the enemy is no pushover; this enemy doesn’t fight fair going after your weak points, your family, your children. Nothing is off-limits. Every ounce of our energy, every weapon, every defense we can raise will NOT be enough. In this war, we need the full armor of God! It’s not what you think – the Christian Church vs. ISIS. No, as Christians, we are all at war with Satan.
In our text for today, Paul makes it clear we’re at war with Satan (v. 11). It’s no collapsing Spanish empire we’re fighting. We’re at war with none other than the great evil empire and ruler of darkness himself, Satan. And you know what? Satan likes the way a lot of this war is going. He’s tricked nearly all people into forgetting what this war is really all about.
Satan has 1 objective. He hopes to inflict the same fate – eternal destruction – of everyone by any means necessary. Yet so many people, even so many professing Christians, don’t really believe we’re at war at all. They don’t really believe there’s a hell or a devil; they are already causalities! They are the “walking wounded.” Doubt…it’s the devil’s best weapon. It’s served him well in the past; still works really well today too.
When we do that, when we doubt, we become even more vulnerable to sin than we were already. We can begin to rationalize our favorite sins, whatever they may be: loving our bank accounts or Iphones a little too much, showing love for our spouse or kids a little too little, failing to show love to God at all, except the occasional Sunday morning, maybe even pretending sex outside of marriage is no big deal, or transgender issues really aren’t issues at all…just personal expressions of choice. Did you know that Duke University now has an application question for “gender” that is a 250-word essay to describe your gender identity (USA Today, Sept. 2014)? What? When we forget our war against Satan, we can rationalize almost anything, because we think we’re hearing pearls of wisdom rather than whispers of the enemy.
St. Paul won’t let us forget: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but …against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (v. 12). Satan is real, he’s at war with us right now, and he’s powerful! “Therefore,” Paul says, “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (v. 13). We need the whole armor of God for our war against Satan; we need all the protection God gives!
Paul uses a powerful, common image in his day – a Roman soldier preparing for battle. First they put the belt over their short tunic. “fasten(ing) on the belt of truth” (v 14a). Every soldier in every age and in every kind of war needs to feel convinced that the cause for which they’re fighting is true. Our cause is true. We stand against Satan and against the world because God has opened our eyes to see him as he truly is. Because Satan has blinded the world, it may ridicule us, abuse us, and call our cause foolish. But someday our cause – our truth – will be vindicated.
“Having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (v 14b). We know our righteousness will never stand against Satan, because our righteousness, our works, the best we can do, would be like a breastplate made of tissue paper; Isaiah called them “filthy rags” (64:6). But God has firmly fastened onto us the righteousness of Christ. Jesus forged that breastplate on the cross out of sweat, pain, and blood. Then, rising from the grave, He gives us absolute indestructible protection against all Satan’s accusations.
As a result, we stand in shoes of “the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (v 15). In the midst of war comes that beautiful word, peace. Because our sins are forgiven by Jesus’ death, we are at peace with God. We are in holy alliance with God. That means we need never fear.
Paul goes on. “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming (arrows) of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation” (vv 16–17a). Satan will do everything he can to frighten us. He’ll tempt us, threaten us, and even scare us with physical death. At every turn, he’ll whip out that big gun of doubt and point is at you like Dirty Harry (“make my day) and ask us, “Can God really get you out of this one?” Protected by the shield of faith, we say, “Yes! He always has and always will.” “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
So there we are, outfitted for war—except that all our armor is worthless without a weapon and we get 1 weapon only – a sword: “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (v 17b). How often do we go into battle with everything but our weapon? When fighting Satan in the trenches of our lives, God’s holy Word is the best weapon of all for warding off Satan’s attacks. And yet how many Christians have a dull sword? How many actually read or study the scriptures? How many can’t find their weapon or know how to use it? I hope that doesn’t describe you…for YOUR sake.
What you see before you is an item of war – it’s a field altar used in WWII. Even in the heat of battle in Europe and across the world, God’s people have always found a way to celebrate His Sacrament, hear His Word, and be strengthened when strength is needed the most, and for us that is TODAY. You’d better believe we’re still at war; let us always remember that. But in Christ we are armed for victory…eternal victory…which is already ours in and through Christ! So come, celebrate the spoils of war!