Putting on the gifts of God
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight – our strength and our redeemer – Amen
We stand on the shoulders of saints that have gone before us
Today, together as a ‘community of faith’ we shared in the role of baptizing young Sophie
And so today, we sacramentally begun the journey for Sophie by being the saints on which she will stand on our shoulders
Thus it has always been so …and such it will always be
Someone goes before that provides the foundation on which others follow
It is the role of the church in every age to provide for itself – it is the role of the church to equip the saints
Let me say at this point I am not speaking about the term ‘saint’ as some ecclesial merit badge – a separation of some followers above and beyond other followers of Jesus Christ
I am speaking about the term ‘saint’ in the New Testament understanding
That all disciples / students / followers… are saints – you, me, every one that in their own way that is a Christian… is a saint
Every one of us saints stand on the shoulders of the saints that have gone before us
It has been said that it takes a community to raise a child…
Well it doesn’t… if what you are wanting to raise is someone that wants to achieve solely for themselves
If you want to raise someone that is successful in the world, they need to model the ways of the world – they need to study the evolutionary motto of “survival of the fittest”
That everyone and everything is your competition and our job is to adapt and then conquer
But if you want to raise someone that cares for their community – then a community begins the process by first caring for that child
This is the first step that has begun for Sophie and the first step that begins for all that come to this community of faith and say that they want to stand on the shoulders of the saints that have gone before
Baptism is a deeply communal event – in communion with God and with all the saints
In baptism the parents and the godparents make promises – promises to lead and provide an example – promises to support, raise and nurture into community of faith
And we as a community together reclaim our baptismal covenant, we make a statement of faith together in the Apostles creed – and we promise, as a community, to the best of our ability as we are able, to help raise Sophie in faith
By birth, all are part of God’s creation
By Baptism we are made one of the family – the family of God
Our reading today from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is the final thoughts and summary for the people of Ephesus
St. Paul is writing from jail
It is speculated that it is not the jail as we might think of it today, with a large institutional structure where many are incarcerated
But likely something similar to a half-way house, where Paul is watched over by a single soldier in a single room.
Maybe he is chained to the ground, but likely his chains are attached directly to the soldier
Paul is able to have visitors likely and it is thought that he is awaiting trial in a Roman court
This back drop is important to know for three reasons: The first is that Paul while awaiting trial wrote a lot and likely preached to whomever he could
He was able to get his writing out to the places where he had been involved in starting churches – as St. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews)
They are letters of encouragement and instruction
They are filled with prayers
They are to reach people so that they can benefit from St. Paul and stand on his shoulders – share in the lessons of faith that St. Paul learned and earned by suffering for the faith
The second reason that this backdrop is important, is that it conveys a vital theological lesson
(Theos meaning God – theological meaning and understanding of God)
The lesson is this – God is present everywhere
God is present in the good times – the source of all that is good…
And God is present in the suffering and struggles of life
God is there in St. Paul’s incarceration… and… whatever it is that imprisons us
It can be said that God is most present when we are in the midst of struggles and trials of life
When we strip away all that provides a false sense of security – all the distractions of life
When allow ourselves to reach out in humility to God – God is there
The proof of God’s presence is easy to see - St. Paul wrote inspired and in the presence of God many letters in the face of suffering
The compilers of the Canon of scripture were likewise inspired by the Holy Spirit as they put together what we call the New Testament
And maybe most importantly, God is there in the reading of scripture as well
As each of you saints can attest to
Most noticeable when you read a well-known passage and yet it speaks to you in new and personal way
The third reason that the context is important, is that we can understand that the church in Ephesus is a real place, with real challenges and situations universal to our own time
It presupposes conflict from different corners of life
This is no ideological utopia – but a real place with real problems
The greatest of these problems is an understanding of the spiritual realm – of demons and angels and all the forces beyond sight of the spiritual realm – and the challenges and conflicts of that corner of life
It is a lesson that we would be wise to pay attention to
Where, we might want to think of talk of spiritual challenges as something of the distant past or of an uneducated perspective
They are the words and understanding of our Baptism
And it is the understanding through-out Christian tradition
Beginning right with Jesus Himself, there was clear understanding of spiritual world – think of the various healings that involved demon possession… OR Jesus’ time of trial in the desert, with the three-fold temptations of Satan AND even the struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane
The wise scholar that St. Paul is, is clear in painting an understanding of this realm
St. Paul minces no words, nor wastes anytime suggesting alternatives – He provides, in his closing words of the letter, a strategy to arm ourselves against spiritual forces
St. Paul chained in the company of a Roman soldier, uses the metaphor of that soldier’s armour
Our Christian response to the enemy is a calibrated response, addressing the attacks on us with various equipment giving by God
In Ephesians, we see a unique expression of the church's role in salvation and justice. By taking up God's armor, the community becomes active in the struggle against spiritual forces
The "whole armor of God" is needed for the war against the principalities and powers, and against the forces of sin, our own separation from the Holy One, our own desires for what does not feed and nourish God's creation.
The imagery of God taking up God's armor to seek justice was related in first century culture to the notion of the day of the Lord.
Yet in Ephesians' reworking of the imagery, the battle with cosmic forces is not simply a battle delayed for a future day of God's judgment,
But is a present battle believers must engage on a regular basis.
First, put on the belt of truth. Truth in all relationships. Truth about God and God’s love.
Truth about our spouse, our children, our parents, our grandparents, our neighbors.
Finally grasping the truth about ourselves. To live truthfully and not to live a lie.
…This is a gift from God.
Then, put on breastplate of righteousness. Right relationships. Healthy relationships.
Good relationships with all those around you and even yourself. Not to be in wrong, sick and demeaning relationships but in right relationships
…This is truly a gift from God that we all want.
Then put on foot protectors of peace.
Not to be looking for a fight with yourself, your family member, your co-worker.
Instead trying to work through the legitimate conflicts that are always found between people and nations
To be a peacemaker, to work hard for peace and towards peace in all relationships.
…This is truly a gift from God that we need.
Then, put on the shield of faith.
To trust God. To trust that God is with you, to trust that God is in you, to trust that God will strengthen you for every situation that you are facing.
You can’t prove it. You can’t prove God. You can’t prove God’s gift of inner strength. You can’t prove eternal life.
But you have been given the gift of trust. Trusting your inner spiritual self; trusting God’s slow plan to health and wholeness.
You can’t see it, but you trust God’s future plan for your life on both sides of the grave.
Then, put on the helmet of salvation.
What a gift to know that you are saved, that there is nothing you can do to earn or merit your own salvation, but that salvation and eternal life are a gift from God.
I don’t have to worry about being saved. I don’t have to question whether or not I deserve eternal life.
Eternal life is a given.
Put on the sword of the Spirit that is the Word of God. There is power in the Bible, in the Word of God.
The words of Jesus, the Apostle Paul and the Old Testament are not merely words printed on pages of a dusty book that we pull out when the preacher is coming or when we have an occasional Bible devotional.
God’s words are living words, intended to live in us. We learn them, memorize them, recite them spiritually in our brains, so that God’s words are constantly inside us.
…What an in incredible gift the Word of God is.
And finally put on praying in the Spirit…
There is not piece of armor mentioned with this seventh quality, but the quality is most important
“Praying in the Spirit,” in the mood, in the emotion, in the remembrance, that all is a gift of God
As we, this Sunday, by the sacrament of Holy Baptism, take on a an active role as being the saints in which Sophie will stand on our shoulders
We, likewise stand on the shoulders of St. Paul
We continue our journey of faith by arming ourselves for the struggles and challenges of the spiritual realm - and then passing on that wisdom for those that follow in the community of faith – those that stand on our shoulders
Arming ourselves in the knowledge and wisdom that St. Paul shares
For the battle is real… and the battle is universal
But God is there – God is right there beside us – God is giving us all the gifts that we need for the battle
We are always in the presence of God
Thanks be to God - Amen