Sermons from St Faith's   

Spiritual Protection

Paula O'Shaughnessy

Sunday, 2nd June, 2019

We are here today in a holy place, a place of blessings and spiritual protection.  We are lucky to have the privilege to meet here in prayer and worship.  St Faith's is a beautiful church in a small town which enjoys many blessings too.  This makes our spiritual journey one which has an environment of beauty, and helps to feed the soul.  That does not mean that there are no dark places where we encounter in our daily lives – because of course there are.  On this earthly land, we always strive for the kingdom of God, but there are thorns and trials that we meet in our daily lives.  It is the life of prayer and worship which gives us access to the divine grace of God – to sustain us in this life and spiritual journey.

I've been out and about recently, to a few places, meeting lots of people.  Sometimes, your own daily routine and little world can become your only reality.  It brought a new awakening and perspective to see how different can be the experience of others.  One thing that was apparent was the casual way the supernatural is accepted and even pursued by folk – and often done so innocently and with good intentions.  A few people were wearing pentagrams – usually these are worn as protective symbols.  Then, when staying in a hotel in Scarborough, amongst the craft fair stalls, there was a tarot card reader. 

What is important about this is that in the context, the people themselves are genuinely looking for spiritual protection.  The lives of the people concerned are often difficult and full of pain and sorrow.  In other words, they are vulnerable.  At the same time they don't find the officialdom of church appealing – in fact, often they see the church as negative or bad.

So there's a concern for us and a cause for action - as Christians.  Today's passage from the Acts of the Apostles tells us directly about the threat of the supernatural and dark arts.  The slave girl in the story makes money for her owners by telling fortunes.  The declarations she makes in her work are often against the Christians and their message of salvation.  Of Paul and Silas, two of the disciples she says: 'These men are slaves of the most high God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation'.  There is of course an irony in the fact that she herself is a slave.  In the name of Jesus, Paul orders the unnamed force out,  which speaks these pronouncements against the Christians, through the girl.  She is at once freed of the force, which leaves her.  However, the slave owners are angered at this and take revenge on Paul and Silas, having them arrested and thrown into prison.  The second miracle happens soon after, when an earthquake breaks down the door of the prison – a force of God, which overwhelms the earthly powers and opens the hearts of the guards to divine grace.  Paul and Silas are set free – to carry on their work of discipleship, taking the Gospel message to people in many lands.

The mysterious book of Revelation too, which we have heard from today – apocalypse.  What is it?  No-one is quite sure, but it is clear from the opening passages  that part of it forms a letter to the churches, warning them of the need to keep to the law of God, and the teachings of Christ.  Today's passage warns against the supernatural and the dark arts too.

All of this tells us that it is the body and community of the church is where the strength of the faith lies, but also the weakness.  If there is solidarity and faithful fellowship, all will be well.  The individuals need to be strong and devoted, but the community of the church gives protection and support.  The sacred building of the church is a space of solace and peace.  The faithful people within it, make it a sanctuary and refuge – a safe place.  The framework of prayer and worship too, is like the structure and safety of the building.

The appeal of the fortune=tellers, the pagan symbols like the pentagram – attract people who are curious or in spiritual or physical need, searching for answers or an escape from difficult realities.  It is true now, as it was true in biblical times. The church, and its people need to be on guard against the appeal of these alternative ways.

Of course, wickedness can ensnare all of us, if we are not on guard ourselves.  It's not just about using the obvious symbols.  In the Easter pilgrim daily messages from the church, one of the daily lessons – drawing on Paul's letter to the Ephesians reminded the reader of how evil seems to often not be random, but to have a definite strategy – to pull us down, to accuse us or to distract us.  The passage from Ephesians puts heart into us, helping us to be strong in faith:

'Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.'

In our lives, in our actions – we aim to be the bearer of the good news of Christ, bringing hope and salvation to those in need.  We recognise ourselves, that each one of us has need of mercy, love and goodness – which ultimately comes from God.  From God, we allow the light to enter into us, and then outwards to the world, we too become beacons of hope and salvation.  Yet, always, it is a daily journey, where we rely on strength from God, to grow in faith and discipleship.


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