Saturday, August 25, 2012

B, Pentecost 13 Proper 16 – Ephesians 6:10-20 “The Panoply of God”

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The medieval man returns from jousting on his horse. He and his wife lay eyes upon each other, thankful to see each other yet again. He takes his wife in his arms to passionately kiss her, but he cannot hold her properly nor can he feel her caress, nor kiss her. So he sweeps her off her feet and carries her off to their bedroom. But as he whisks her away there's an awkward clunking of metal.
They get to the bedroom but he can't bend over to lay her gently on the bed, so he drops her in that general direction. She falls uncomfortably, but still over come with passion recovers, and lies in wait for her husband. He walks over to a dressing table to take off his armoury, he takes off his helmet and the passion only increases.
The scene changes a couple of times as we see him peel off his layers. A time lapse occurs with shadows lengthening in the room as the medieval man sheds shield, breastplate, belt, and mesh suit. He is down to his one piece cotton underwear. You know the one that covers from wrist to neck to ankle! Now he is ready to engage with his wife and consummate their marriage once again.
But the crowd laughs as he finds her snoring loudly, unable to be woken. He rolls his eyes having gone to all the trouble of unsuiting, and because he's due back at the jousting front, walks disappointed and frustrated to put back on all his clobber. The whole charade's been a skit on a television show, mocking the awkwardness and time it takes to defrock from battle. And the crowd laughs as the skit ends.
Because we are products of our society, we sit at home and laugh with the television audience, having been drawn into the comedy of the skit. The laughs are heightened by our sense of desire and our need for immediate gratification in this day and age. We tune in to the feelings of the husband and the wife. The battle of waiting and wanting within is both tiring and frustrating.
In this battle of impatience it's easy to think we need to cut a few corners, to help things along to get to the destination. After all, this is how we're wired these days, this is how we think. We are convinced our battles are against time as we ravenously devour opportunities to appease our deepest desires. Therefore, our enemy becomes anyone who offends our feelings and emotions; who sins against our sense of self.
So we leave off some of the armour, after all it's a bit awkward, and let's face it how often do we really go into battle? I can leave the jousting to those who are meant to joust! I haven't enough time to put on all the pomp the pastor proclaims I need. He is my protector; he will do the work for me. Perhaps I'll use just a few of my own defences to defend myself too!
It's not surprising that within a relatively short amount of time, things begin to go haywire. We start to think there's a crack in the armour. We question our spiritual leaders; even begin to think we've been led astray by them, as we're pierced and stung and tempted to leave off even more of our armour.
Jesus tells us… When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (Luke 11:21–23 ESV)
Without our armour we are not strong, there are cracks. Without our armour we cannot stand against the enemy. Why? Because without our armour we can't even see the real enemy and in defending ourselves in our own strength we end up fighting the enemy who's not the enemy at all. We end up waging war against our mothers or fathers, our brothers or sisters, our children, our politicians and public figures, our unorganised neighbour or even our pastor. We're deceived into believing we must battle against these enemies because they appear to be the strong ones.
Hear the Word of God, written especially for you.
…be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10–13 ESV)
Every battle you wage against flesh and blood (in other words, other people) is not the right battle but rather the deceptive schemes of the devil, piercing you without your appropriate armour. The devil is just using and hiding behind the flesh and blood of others to deceive you. In fact, most of the time it's not the flesh of others, but rather your very own flesh and blood of your old Adam which seems to wage war against you. But this too is Satan's scheme.
So how do we battle against the true enemy, Satan and his legion of lecherous demons? How do we stand against unnumbered hidden foes? How can we be strong in the Lord and stand in the strength of his might against the devil's deception?
God calls you to once again put on the whole armour, the gospel armour, each piece put on with prayer. This is how we stand in the Lord and withstand the real enemy.
This standing and withstanding however, deserves deeper investigation so we might understand what it actually is. In the Greek to stand or withstand has the same root as the word "history". Having history is to stand or withstand by knowing and seeing what has happened in the past. This is why history so often repeats itself, because we forget or fail to see what's happened in a previous age and repeat the same thing over and over again.
Nevertheless, history is there so we might stand or withstand what others have experienced or gone through. To stand or withstand is primarily the gift of being able to see and know, just who the enemy is, and what are the tricks used to deceive those who have been tempted in ages past.
So we put on the whole armour, every single piece so we can stand in the Lord, in the strength of his might. This "whole armour "in the Greek is the Panoply of God. We put it on so we may withstand in the day of evil, standing firm, standing still letting the Lord stand in us.
Now we might say, "But the armour is too bulky, how can we fight?" We remember and see the poor medieval sod comically held back from his wife, and his wife from him, because of his armoury. But this full panoply of God's armour is not for fighting but rather for victorious protection. You see the battle has already been won. We are called to just stand, see, and know what the Lord has done at the cross, at the resurrection, in our baptism, and in our daily dressing in the full baptismal armament.
If this then seems all a little farfetched for you, I encourage you to see who's gone before us in the armament. The examples may seem rather ironic but are in fact the heart of the matter. Paul teaches, saying…
…keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:18b–20 ESV)
Paul is suited in the panoply of God, but yet he is an ambassador in chains! Paul is an elder in chains, a preacher shackled. The Greek for ambassador is presbyter, and a presbyter is one who has experienced and endured in the Lord, the tricks of the evil one, the devil. Paul has seen his own battle of the flesh played out in himself. He knows what history saw of him in his actively going out and arresting the enemy and watching them be stoned to death. He was one who was deceived but had the scales removed from his eyes to see the Lord of life who was standing against the real enemy.
And now, ironic as it may seem, he does greater work, a senior pastor, instructing not only in the full armour of God, but with his hands and feet shackled in chains too.
But let's turn our eyes from Paul to Jesus himself. Let's see the Victor standing very still in victory over sin, death, and the devil. Hear him forgive flesh and blood, for they know not what they do as his flesh is pierced and his blood is scattered and soaks into the tree and the dust of Calvary. He is not our ambassador in chains, but rather he is our commander and chief nailed to the deathly stillness of the cross. And in this stillness Jesus Christ won the battle… against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
So now we stand in Jesus, with Paul, an ambassador in chains, and with all others bound in Christ. We wear the full armour, the panoply of God.
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:14–18 ESV)
So take the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, let it pierce the old Adam within, and place him in chains. Pray for those whom you were deceived into believing were your enemies. God is calling you to be still and see the error of seeking to nail them to your cross; the cross which Jesus has taken on himself for you. Allow the Holy Spirit to shield you with faith, and stand in the full panoply of God, bearing the helmet of victory and salvation which Christ has given you in exchange for the crown of thorns he bore as the Saviour of the world. Amen.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

B, Pentecost 12 Proper 13 – John 6:51-58 “Trusting the Transfusion”

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The language of medical personnel is hard to understand. Their words are long and complex; often immersed in Greek or Latin leaving the layperson wondering what they've just said. And many of them have hand writing that makes their scripts just as illegible as their lingo of medically precise terms. Questioning doctors is a hazardous pastime. Once a patient was prescribed a doctor's medication thinking the doctor was mad, but two weeks later when the symptoms disappeared, the doctor was proved right in his diagnosis.
Therefore, for the most part we just sit in the chair or lie on the bed, and let the doctors do their thing. Perhaps, it's better to keep one's mouth shut and have the doctor think you're silly, than to open it and prove you really are. So we trust the doctor to diagnose what's wrong, the surgeon with the knife on our flesh, and the General Practitioner prescribing dangerous drugs to make us better.
Yet when it comes to our spiritual health, self diagnosis seems to be the overwhelming opiate of the masses. And with self diagnosis people turn to a plethora of prescriptions ignoring the prognosis of those called to intervene in one's spiritual health.
Much of the information out there floods and fills our ears from the media. We seem to trust the television to make our decisions for us. Discernment goes out the window in favour of a tabloid treatment of the problem. The emotions are tantalised and teased into trusting the temptations on TV. Unfortunately, we are led to believe we are making an informed decision, when really we have been manipulated like puppets, mesmerised, handing over our dollars to doctors of delusion.
The same mentality causes big problems for God and his church too. Some will argue why man should come between them and God. They make a good argument, and they're right. But what they don't realise is they're also defeating their own argument since their self diagnosis is actually coming between themselves and God. Especially when the prognosis is ignored from God's very own mouthpiece in this world, the church with its pastoral prescribers whom are faithful to God's Word!
I invite you to sit back from the noise of this world and observe through God's Word, what is happening to many whose spiritual walk is without discernment. One will see people wandering without wisdom; persons pursuing prescriptions of death; the walking dead everywhere.
But let's not throw stones in glass houses either. How much have I swallowed the pills of popular prescription? How often do I fall back into my default position of trusting myself; walking in the descriptions of death I know, rather than the prescription of promise that's offered to us from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit through his Word, by means of his church on earth?
In his Word God teaches us about trusting his transfusion and the prognosis of peace received from it when we believe and receive what he gives to us. He calls us away from our self diagnosis; which at best is pithy and deluded, into a diagnosis and prescription of his Word. This is the way of wisdom who calls out to us all…
"Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight." (Proverbs 9:5–6 ESV)
You see this life is one of healing. None of us are well! We like to think we are fine but really a faith like this is like one who checks themselves out of hospital and the moment they walk out the door, they fall straight back into the fatally flawed faith of failure. And once back there, there's no forgiveness and no eternal future!
This is why Jesus tells us, "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:54 ESV) You and I will be raised up from our sick beds on the last day. We will be led out of this life through the doors of death into the gardens of eternity where true life, true peace, and eternal healing are found forever.
This is the will of the Lord. That you believe in the One he has sent; that you receive his recipe of redemption; that you turn and trust his transfusion of life.
Therefore, look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15–17 ESV)
But how do we make best use of our time? How do we live lives of wisdom discerning just what is the will of the Lord? God tells us simply to be filled with the very things that prescribe life, the things which cause healing to happen within.
…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18b–21 ESV)
Now the trick here is not to fall into the trap of letting these things be a laborious work thinking we need to earn God's favour. Rather, we need to remember we're lying on our death beds and we need only believe in the One the Father has sent.
When we allow the Holy Spirit the freedom to move within our beings these melodies of psalms hymns and spiritual songs are entry points for the Word to do it's healing.
The more we are healed the more we want to be healed and raised up from our sick beds of sin to abide more and more in our Great Physician. He not only gives you a transfusion of blood, but a transfusion of his very own body and blood, giving you his very own faithfulness with which he attends to you, which led him to attend to the Cross for you out of love for the Father.
Therefore, frequent the places and situations where you receive forgiveness and are fed the faith. Lie back trusting the transfusion, and hear the language of love.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8 ESV)
Blessed is Jesus who takes refuge in our Father, blessed are you when you take refuge in Jesus, and blessed is the world when we let the Holy Spirit take residence in us. Amen.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

B. Pentecost 11 Proper 14 - Ephesians 4:25-5:2 “Being Hot under the Son”

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The sun rises and the sun goes down. It's the regular pattern of life — and death! When the sun has risen over the land its heat and warmth does two things — it reveals life and it reveals death.

Driving in the country many of us would have had the experience of passing by something soupy and dead on the roadside. Yes! Our noses tell us it's been laying there quite some time. Your comfort is disturbed! The aircon is going on a warm summer's day to combat the heat. You pass by the road kill in a flash, you barely think about it! But when you're just about to let the mind drift back off into the waves of fresh cool air, your senses are assaulted by the nauseating nasal nuisance of flyblown flesh. The fragrance makes you swallow hard, you're choking with offence, flaring your nostrils you feel a bit nauseous.

A more pleasant experience also occurs in a car on a cold winter's day. The wind is cold, the freeze chills to the bone. You rush to get into your car and there you find an oasis. While you've been dashing around in the windy weather, trying to keep warm, your car has sat completely still in the wind. Its glass has walled the wind and soaked up the sun. You jump in the car, your fingers tingling with pain, but a beautiful shivery feeling comes over you as the warmth of the interior covers your cold and blankets your body with relief.

The sun is essential in both situations. We may not like the smell of the sun-ripened corpse, preferring the feeling of the sun's balmy warmth on a cold windy day. But both are needed to keep the life cycle going. The sun rises and the sun goes down.
Saint Paul tells the church in Ephesus…
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:25–27 ESV)
I find amusing my children's reaction when driving past road kill; especially when they have not seen it go by! There's nothing like decay, to put away all falsehood from a child! "Aw Dad, something stinks!" As if I hadn't noticed! "Ah! Yes it does!" is my only comeback as I too wind down the window gulping for a mouthful of fresh air.
Likewise anger has a way of removing all falsehood too. Something stinks, the nostrils flare, and the offence is great! Your neighbour has sinned against you, causing a deathly silence, you're furious and you've every right to be. But how do I speak the truth, how can I be angry, and yet remain without sin?
First of all we must understand what anger is so we can deal with it appropriately. If not then it is inevitable one will sin in their anger in one of two ways. Both of which give opportunity for the devil to destroy!
Anger is not bad in itself! After all anger is an emotion as is being sad, happy, excited, compassionate, or scared; and these are neither good nor bad. They occur as a result of chemical reactions in our bodies! Why? So the emotion might tell us something, and prepare us for what's to come as we pass by events on the road of life. But anger can manifest sin in us, in either of two ways when we get angry.
When we are sinned against, the nostrils flare, we've been wronged, and we take the moral high ground. After all, we have every right! The problem being is this leads us to self-righteous revenge in a bid to restore the lofty heights of our self appointed glory. Yes truth is on your side, but your reaction renders you the same as the stink that's caused all the offence.
Alternatively, one might keep their anger bottled up, like one who keeps their windows wound up when gasping for air after smelling a sunbaked corpse on the side of the road. And this only makes things worse before one succumbs and explodes in an effort to wind that window down. Ignoring anger is like refusing the sense of smell, when every drop of foul air breathed is telling you to get out of there!
Both of these ways give the devil opportunity to wreak havoc in one's heart and mind! Reacting to anger in a way that causes harm to others, the devil seeks a footing to accuse you because of your actions. But keeping the windows wound up on anger, is falling into falsehood, and fraught with danger of causing harm to the self. The devil has opportunity to attack your being, accusing, "Surely you're meant to always smell the roses, and yet you savour the stink!" As if it was wrong to smell the truth, and suffocation in secrecy is better!
So what are we to do? How can I be angry and not sin? How can I let the sunset rise without once again raising the same sin back to life, day after day? How can I deal with it long after the original offence has been rendered neutral by the cycle of the sun rising and the sun setting on this life?
One simply has to take the "you" out of the sun and replace it with an "O"!
Rather than letting the sun go down on our anger, we need to let the Son shine on our anger, so his warmth might break down the stink within our hearts which will only linger, the longer we leave the Son's love out of doing its life saving work of death and raising to life.
At its most practical this happens when I call out to the Lord in prayer.
"O" Lord, save me from this stink of death! I am but a poor sod, angry, crying out to you, troubled as if I were a madman. Save me from this madness within and without!
… I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. (Psalm 34:4–5 ESV) Amen.
By letting the Son shine on your anger, you have cause to put aside your shame.  Your anger can then give Christ opportunity to radiate his love and allow the Holy Spirit to spur you on, today, in the day of your redemption. This is what happens when "you" are removed from the decaying of death under the sun and in prayer pray, "O Lord!", to the Eternal Son of God!
This means we become reflectors of God, Christ is illuminated to others through us, so the stink of death might be dealt with in them and they enter in to the warmth of the Son from the coldness of a world filled with anger and sin.
…Smell God, smell like God! Let your anger cause you to be a pleasing aroma that glorifies our Father in heaven!
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1–2 ESV)
O, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the person who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8) Amen.