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Take your stand against the

powers of this dark world

Ephesians 6 vs10-20

A sermon preached by Canon Simon Everett

on Sunday, 2nd September 2018

at Lady St Mary Church, Wareham

 

Throughout my parish ministry a prayer that has been a constant friend, and bedrock to my faith, is the prayer that was said at my baptism service, as I was signed with cross (and one that was included in the baptism services until fairly recently, when it was politically corrected!).  I use daily in my own devotions when praying for you and my ministry among you.  Each day I have set prayers that I pray as I put on the armour of God, as I prepare to go about his work.  And as I take up the sword of the Spirit, I pray that I will –

Fight valiantly under the banner of Christ

Against sin, the world and the devil

And continue his faithful soldier and servant

to the end of my life.

 

(If you would like to know what other prayers go with the spiritual armour then I will gladly provide you with a copy.)

The reason it is a favourite and so important to me is that more and more I come to see that upholding the Christian faith and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a fight.  A fight against evil, a fight against lethargy, a fight against injustice and a fight for what is right and good and pure and decent within the world.  We live in the days of evil (v13)

In today’s epistle reading Paul urged the Christians in Ephesus to ‘Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.’ (v10) And he continues: ‘Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’ (vs11&12)

But what are these powers? Are they simply naïve thoughts of a bygone age, where petty deities and demons vied for power?  If so, then surely such thinking has been eclipsed by the sophistication of our present day and age.  But before we jump in and dismiss such thinking out of hand, it is worth pausing for a moments thought.

Yes it is true that the ancients lived in a largely pagan culture where the world was believed to be peopled with hostile, or potentially hostile forces i.e. If you were going on sea voyage, you had better propitiate the sea-god first.  If you were fighting a war, you needed Mars on your side.  If you were in love, you had better make sure you’d got the help of Aphrodite.  And so on.  In fact there were so many different gods that life became very complicated, and not a little threatening.  And a lot of ordinary folk went about their daily business in a climate of fear and uncertainty.

As often as not, the gods and demons would act through human agencies.  If Rome won a battle over Britain, that was because the goddess Roma was stronger than the goddess Britannia.  The earthly battlefield and the heavenly battlefield were not separated by a great gulf; the heavenly was a hidden dimension of the earthly, the extra feature of the ordinary reality that explained what was ‘really’ going on.  The principalities and powers were not far away.  They were the inner dimensions of exterior events.

But before we laugh too loudly at this world view, let’s take a look at our own.  Ask yourself who runs our world?  The politicians, the industrialists, the military leaders, the scientists, the ethicists?  Well no, none of these.  How often do you hear political leaders profess themselves helpless; they are victims of forces beyond their control.  They try to take the credit when all goes well, but when things go badly the truth comes out.  It’s down to economic forces, of matters beyond their control, they say.

SO exactly what are these forces?  We don’t see them, but they certainly exert great power over our lives.  They cause economies to rise or fall, they put thousands in work or make thousands redundant.  Who controls them?  The politicians will say the economists, and the economists the industrialists, the industrialists the market forces, and so on and so forth.

Look wider.  Why is there so much strife in so many nations?  We have spy satellites that tell us everything we could possibly know about the world.  We have experts in universities and governments.  We have computers with capabilities beyond the intellect of mankind.  But can we stop people shooting each other or driving their neighbour from their home simply because they do not have the same ideals or religion?  Why not?  Political powers or tribal allegiances or pure evil intentions. 

And if we ask why it is that this planet is perfectly capable of growing enough food and distributing it to every man, woman and child who breathes, and yet millions are starving, the answer is the same.  There are forces that stop us doing it.  We can spend billions sending satellites and probes to Mars or the Sun, why can’t we spend that money on securing world peace, a better environment, curing cancer, MND or MS?  Part of an answer is because those in positions of authority and influence  recognise that there are greater forces and powers at work, that make it too difficult.

And yet these forces are hidden, and anonymous.  Some of them may for a time come to be quite closely identified with certain individuals or nations or organisations; but take them away, and those forces will still remain.  There’s the old saying, ‘it isn’t the managing director who runs Ford Motor Company; it’s Ford Motor Company that runs the managing director’.

Force; power; climate; these are all entities bigger than the sum total of the people involved, and they’re all at work around us but, it seems, nobody can do anything about them.  The only significant difference between us and our pagan ancestors appears to be that they recognised the situation and gave the forces vivid names, while we hide behind the great obscurity of vague words, in order to flatter ourselves that we are in charge.

Perhaps the Apostle Paul does have something to say to us after all.  And the good news that Paul wants to convey is that God sent his Son, Jesus to rescue us from these mysterious, enslaving powers.  You see Jesus came to confront the forces or powers that control and distort so much of what goes on in our world.  As Christian we should pray for politicians around the world, that their eyes will be opened.

At first the cross seemed to be a defeat of Christ at the hands of the evil powers;  but instead it was a defeat of the very powers that put him there.  The cross tells us that God’s love is stronger than anything the world or the devil can throw at us and the resurrection vindicates this.  The power of the bleeding love of God is stronger than any earthly, or otherworldly power (that was the message, albeit in rather vivid terms, of our Gospel reading this morning). That is the good news of the Gospel, that we celebrate at the Holy Communion.

When we are baptised we are baptised into Christ’s death and resurrection so that we too can enjoy Christ’s victory over the powers and forces that have such a hold on this world.  But until our Lord returns it is our task to witness to his victory, to stand up for what is right and pure and just, and to challenge the powers as Jesus did.  And so I pray for you – Fight valiantly under the banner of Christ against sin the world and the devil, and continue his faithful soldiers and servants to the end of our lives. 

May it be so, that the world may be a better place.

 


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