Sermons from St
The Armour of God
Paula O'Shaughnessy, Sunday 26th August, 2018
The surprising and uplifting news this week of the temporary release from prison in Iran of Nazanin Zhagari-Ratcliffe, gives us hope – the power of prayer. For we have been praying for her release now for many months. There is however, no definite promise of her permanent freedom, nor any official explanation from the Iranian authorities for why Nazanin has been granted temporary release. The official position of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is one of caution and diplomacy, as the actions taken by the UK government could have a positive or negative effect on the outcome. Yet, here is real hope at last. We must continue to pray, pray we must.
Today’s epistle, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians resonates with the situation in Iran for Nazanin. Paul is the ‘Ambassador in Chains’. The power of the State, the ruling earthly authorities controls the lives of the subjects. Paul has his freedom taken away; he is imprisoned by the Roman authorities for preaching the Gospel. Above the ancient Gateway to Ephesus, Caesar Augustus proclaims himself to be the Son of God. Paul’s preaching defies this assertion and is considered insupportable by the Emperor. Paul’s defiance of this and continuing dedication to Christ and the spread of this message leads Paul ultimately to his own death. The one-time persecutor of Christians, Saul, gives up the comfort and security of his earthly position of power and sets himself at odds with the establishment.
The message from today’s passage in Ephesians, though is a mixed one. Paul is not preaching earthly revolution and for the members of the early church to defy all authority in society. If the church is to survive, there needs to be a pragmatism and acceptance of social structures. Slavery is part of the social framework and is not questioned or rejected by Paul. It can be understood as part of the stability of the social structures, giving security to the slaves. It is of course, also part of the foundation of the economy for the Roman Empire too. The ruling class does however, benefit greatly by this arrangement.
Paul’s message focuses on the spiritual aspects of life. The real battle he says is with the spiritual enemies, with demons and with the devil. These spiritual forces of evil, are the real threat. It is only by putting on the armour of God that the followers of Christ can gain spiritual salvation. Paul tells his followers that they will be saved by the grace of God. This is one of the mysteries which Paul reveals to the faithful. Those who are disobedient to God are instead following ‘the ruler of the power of the air’ or the devil. It is the dependence of the people on the grace of God which determines their freedom from dark forces. Paul is warning us of the subtle and deep power of evil. If we think that our enemy is flesh and blood, then we will be deceived not be armoured against it. To quote that line from the modern classic film ‘The Usual Suspects’ – ‘The greatest trick the devil pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.’
In the film of course, the evil Mafia boss hides his power beneath the cloak of the weak and crippled persona he adopts when facing the questions of the police officer. He passes barely unnoticed and continues to wreak destruction and fear into the hearts of his victims.
For the Christian follower, in putting on the armour of God, he is battling the very nature of evil itself. Where the evil spirits are to be prevented from taking hold of one’s own soul and directing the actions of the individual.
Paul describes how, once saved by the grace of God, the members of the church are to do good works, and to act in accordance with the spirit of God. In this way, the power of God and his kingdom become established on earth. The protecting power of the Holy Spirit is at work in the world.
John’s Gospel passage, which we have heard today reinforces the message that we are strengthened and protected in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit which gives eternal life. It is our enduring hope and that which sustains, life-giving and enlightening. It is the new way of life, which Paul asks the church to live – enabled by the grace of God, the church members protected by the armour of God.
It is the wisdom of God that guides and inspires, not each individual relying on his or her own powers of discernment alone. The power of prayer and the wisdom which emerges from this, is the path to a life inspired by the holy spirit and so bearing its fruits.