Saturday, August 8, 2015

Be Strong in the Lord

Be Strong in the Lord                                     8/2/15

Ephesians 6:10-20, Mark 10:43-45

What does it mean to be strong?

Websters has two very different definitions.  The first is image that most of us think:

Having the power to move heavy weights or other physically demanding tasks.

Definition 2 is not as well known, but very helpful:

Able to withstand great force or pressure.

Not all of us will achieve the first definition.  If being able to hold onto the bars of a crib when you are trying to change his diaper is a sign of strength, my two year old son might already be physically stronger than I am.

As Christians, the 2nd definition is a calling we all should embrace.  Part of the Christian Life is our ability to fulfill this definition by God’s help:   Able to withstand great force or pressure.

Every message from society beckons us to look within for the ability to withstand force or pressure. Look to yourself.  Look inside you.  Conjure up the courage. The Scripture calls us to a different direction.  We are to look up to God and look outside our selves for the resources to be strong. 

How are you made strong?  The biblical answer in Ephesians is by putting on the full armor of God.  The imagery is one of a soldier.  Yet this soldier is not one who wages war against other people.  It is not a human battle, but a spiritual one.  Paul writes that our struggle, our ability to withstand great force or pressure, is not against flesh and blood, but against powers that are larger than any person.   Our enemies as Christians are not people, but the devil’s schemes, rulers and authorities, powers of this dark world and spiritual forces of evil.  It is against these entities that we should put on armor.

Paul says we put on this armor so you can stand your ground, and when all is finally  said and done, to stand.  Did you hear how similar Webster’s definition is to Paul?  “Able to withstand great force or pressure”.

Paul, with the Roman Empire and their efficient military training in his mind, instructs us as to the armor we should put on:

*the belt of truth

            *Breastplate of righteousness


            *Feet fitted with readiness that accompanies the gospel of peace


            *Shield of faith

            *Helmet of salvation

*sword of the spirit (the word of God)

In addition to the sword of the Spirit, the second weapon Paul identifies is prayer.  We often consider prayer defensively.  Something happens to us, and we pray.  This isn’t wrong, mind you, but prayer should also be offense oriented.  Paul encourages us to pray:

            *in the spirit

*on all occasions

*with all kinds of prayers and requests

*for all the saints:   Always keep on praying for all the saints.  It is almost as if the Christian life could simply be fulfilling that work!

If the soldier image is distracting to you, take away the armor imagery, and what do you have left?

Truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, the word of God, prayer

Whether we call these armor, or resources, or tools, or gifts:  we can all agree to their goodness.  These are the things that overcome the world.  These are the things that outlast the devil, and call out the forces that draw away from God.  Scripture says that even the demons believe in God.  Our job is to proclaim the majesty of God.  All truth is God’s truth.  We live right when we live God’s way.  Readiness is our openness to being led by the Holy Spirit.  The Gospel which has made us at peace with God should not put us to sleep, but rather, should make us strong for our work.  We are ready to go where God wants us to go and do what God wants us to do.  To have faith, to find salvation, to encounter the Word of God, to pray:  these are good things that bring life to the soul, to our neighbor, and borough and nation and all peoples of the world.

What does it mean to be strong?  It means to be people of truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, the Word of God and prayer.  These are our weights which, when lifted make us strong.  These expression are the life from God that allows us to withstand the pressure and great forces that stand against God.

This morning, I want to express how proud I am of you as we have finished up two busy weeks of programs: all wonderfully successful in bringing strength to this community, the Stockton community and neighbors from surrounding places.  You strength in the Lord was on display through Vacation Bible School, the Delaware Valley Summer Institute and Summer Art Camp.   VBS called upon a good number of volunteers to work together.  The Volunteer team also consisted of a large number of graduates from VBS.  There is certainly a good future in the program.  Summer Art Camp was organized by the Johnson family, with help this year from the two Stockton community teenagers who once came to VBS, and the Good Life afterschool program, and then have been helpers at VBS, Good Life and now Art Camp.  It was a delightful time, with the week culminating in over 75 people in our Main Hall to celebrate the young artists and their work.  Cheering on the young to nurture their creativity:  How strong is that?  Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.

These events expressed so much goodness in this urgent battle against forces that seek to bring harm, evil and hurt into the this world.  God’s vision for humanity is far different.  These programs brought life, goodness, community, togetherness, relationships with old friends and new, a closeness to neighbors, a welcome to people who do not worship here to consider their humanity in light of how God created us to be.  What a wonderful model of strength you have been these past two weeks.

These past two weeks have lived out the spirit of today’s Gospel passage, where strength is displayed in gentleness.  The world looks at strength simply as power to be displayed, where God invites strength of a different kind.  Jesus welcomed the children, and blessed them, even though there were cries that he not waste his time on the children.  Surely there were better ways to get the message out.  To Jesus, the best way was to take a knee, and place his hand on the head of a child, and bless them.   You have shown the gentle strength of Jesus Christ these past two weeks.  Thank you.

Briefly, I’d also like to highlight the teaching of Joel Estes, PhD Candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary,and leader of the 6th annual DVSI, with his series of lectures entitled “Disability, Theology and the Church”.  Joel gave us a lot of spiritual nutrients for thought.  He invited us to be strong in the Lord, by our presence and support of those whose disabilities are more tangible.  All people can give glory to God.  Joel invited us to consider a spectrum of being able and disabled.  Those with the most severe of physical challenges still display the glory of God, and offer strength and ability to the community of faith.  Their exclusion weakens us, but their inclusion strengthens us.  People with physical, social or mental challenges remind us that all of us need the Lord.  All of us depend on God.  All human life will have varying degrees of challenge, even if everything looks strong from an outward perspective.  In short, we need each other to be strong in the Lord.  Will we remember our readiness that accompanies the gospel of peace?

Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, reminds us that Jesus Christ’s grace is sufficient for our living, that the Lord’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.  We are called to have a faith that withstands great force or pressure.  We are called to stand firm in the Lord and in his mighty power.

You too can bring the Lord’s strength into this worshipping community.  Someone asked me this week the importance of writing letters, of making phone calls and having meaningful conversations before or after worship.  Amen (May it be so).  As Paul writes:  Do good to all people, but especially to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10) In caring for each other, we stand firm in the Lord and in his mighty power.

No comments:

Post a Comment