The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 23, 2009
Ephesians 6; 10-12
St. Francis, Norris
Stand Firm…Keep Moving
There used to be (and may still) be a television show, for kids, on a religious channel called Bible Man. My kids used to watch it and enjoyed it quite a bit. It always wound up with Bible man in a sword fight with Satan and Bible man always won. Typical superhero stuff I guess, but I must admit that it bothered me somewhat. Using the bible as a sort of magical power has always made me uncomfortable.
In the movie, The Apostle, there is a scene where Robert Duval (the pastor) lays down his Bible in front of the villain who is driving a bulldozer, to knock down the church. Duval invokes the power of the Holy Spirit to keep him from driving over the Bible. It works and the church is saved and so is the villain.
I had a discussion once, about this scene with a friend, who is very evangelical, and I was amazed at his interpretation of the scene, as opposed to mine. I saw it as an abuse of the bible, often employed by the backwoods preachers and he saw it as a demonstration of the awesome power of this book, called the bible. Using the bible as a sort of magical power has always made me feel uncomfortable.
What brought all this to my mind was the reading from Ephesians. “Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” That was what Bible Man used to say, to take on his super powers and kill those who were not believers. I hardly think that Paul had such a thing in mind when he was writing his letter to the Ephesians. But, what did he have in mind?
We live in a society that often teaches us to “go with the flow and don’t be a trouble maker.” Or, “When in Rome do as the Romans do!” Paul’s instructions to, put on the armor of God, is telling the people to get prepared to buck against the system. Paul is saying we should stand firm on our convictions. Even when it is unpopular to do so.
There is a difference in standing firm and being stubborn. Paul isn’t saying that we should be stubborn, unyielding, rooted in prejudices or close minded. He is asking that we stand in something that is brand new and different, from the ways of the past. In order to do this a person needs to show great humility and take the risk of being on the unpopular side of societal norms, even to the point of being ridiculed for taking the unpopular side. Again, this is different from stubbornness. A stubborn person will not even listen to opposing thoughts. A stubborn heart and a closed mind are impervious to reason. Stubbornness is often a way of hiding ones insecurity and fear of the unknown or at least untried.
Standing firm is different. Standing firm means being willing to debate, listen and consider alternatives in order to reach some goal, while at the same time not sacrificing principles. Standing firm means standing against injustices in the context Paul is using in this reading today. Standing firm means being grounded, even when it means being opened to critical evaluations.
We have all heard people say they are too blessed to be stressed. Putting on the armor of God is saying quite the opposite. I am too blessed to not be stressed is what Paul is saying. Stress comes as we prepare to struggle with things that really matter. Standing firm gives our struggle purpose and us meaning.
Nelson Mandela must have been discouraged at times during his twenty seven years of incarceration. However, he did stand firm in his convictions. He found the strength to hope. Spiritual struggles require a great deal of discipline. Our struggles will always test our inner resolve. But God will never cease to offer fresh opportunities to assess our situations and work toward solutions.
Struggles are quite often a process of developing our faith. It is the muddling through the struggles that allow us to become stronger in our faith. There is a country song that says if you’re going through hell just keep on walking. It was actually a line stolen from Winston Churchill.
At any given time there are a number of people in any group (such as the congregation of St. Francis) that need to keep on walking. Standing firm ironically enough requires you to keep moving. Being stubborn requires being stagnant. People are suffering in this economic downturn. Stand firm…keep moving. People are suffering from medical problems. Stand firm…keep moving. There are marital problems and family crises. Stand firm…keep moving. There is fear and uncertainty of what we should do. Stand firm…keep moving. Relationships are shaky; school is a struggle, people are unable to do the things they used to do. Stand firm …keep moving.
Struggle is a part of the process of faith development where spiritual growth, deepening into mature faith, is valued. Struggle is also a resource and opportunity for spiritual growth where Christians stay alert to evil, pray, nurture one another’s growth and hold one another accountable. Another way of saying, “keep moving” and help others to do the same.
God’s mercies and spiritual resources are often found in the people surrounding us. Sometimes it is these very resources that allow us to put on the armor of God and stand firm, or, in other words, endure the struggle. We most often find these spiritual resources in the family of Christians that we are in relationship with. If you are struggling I suggest that you reach out to these resources. If you think you might actually be a resource for someone you know is struggling reach out to them.
If you are struggling, stand firm, put on the armor of God. Release the stubbornness that prohibits you from being able to keep moving through your hell. If you can do these things you should come out on the other side much stronger and with deeper faith than before. The resources to help put on the armor are all around you. Don’t waste those resources. They are there for a purpose
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.