Pentecost 23, 2014
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
"Prepared for Battle"
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
According to the Greek myth, Achilles, the great hero of the Trojan War, was dipped as a child in the waters of the river Styx by his mother, Thetis, to make him invulnerable. The result of that plunge was that ever spot on Achilles' body was protected against wounds except the heel by which his mother had held him. For many years Achilles escaped unhurt, but at last the poisoned arrow of the Trojan Paris found the weak spot and inflicted the death wound there. So Satan tempts Christians where they are the weakest. Having found their pet inclinations, passions, and desires, he attacks them at their weak spots and is unusually successful. Therefore, to resist his efforts through the power of God, Christians not only in general strive to be sober and vigilant, but they above all guard the weak spots of their nature.
Until the day that we die or the day that our Lord returns, whichever comes first, we are in a constant battle; a war with Satan, his minions, and our old sinful nature. It truly is a constant struggle to resist our own sinful desires and to resist Satan's temptations. Unlike the Achilles in the Greek myth we are subject to Satan's poison arrows all over our bodies. There is no river Styx for our mothers to dip us in to protect us from being wounded. Even worse is that Satan knows how to tempt us because we show him our weaknesses.
Each and every one of us sins! But we don't all fall for the same temptations. Not all of us are prone to drunkenness. Not all of us are prone to murdering. Not all of us are prone to adultery. Yet each one of us has sins that plague us! We each have sins that no matter how hard we try to resist...or hide from them...we keep falling for them. Satan sees our struggles and manipulates them. Satan takes things from God's perfect creation and uses them to tempt us.
God gave us the gift of marriage...one man...one woman...to procreate and raise up children in the knowledge of Christ. Just look at how Satan has tempted us. Satan has twisted the definition of love so that the world has rejected what marriage truly is. Satan has taken the gift of sex between husband and wife and tempts us to have sex whenever, wherever, and with whomever we want. Satan has taken the gift of children and tempts us to abort the unborn because we don't want a child, aren't ready for a child, or don't want a child with varying physical deformities. Satan takes the good gifts God created for us and twists them and tempts us with them. And we fall into temptation. We willingly jump in head first. We sin. We fail. We deserve God's condemnation. We deserve hell.
While Satan and the world and all that is in it is now corrupted by sin...and deserving of damnation...God had another plan in mind...a plan to save Adam and Eve...a plan to save humankind...a plan to save you! God's plan was to send a Savior. God's plan was to send His Son...to live the perfect life none of us are able to live and to die a death we deserved. God's plan was and is to save you and all people from sin, Satan, and hell.
God has given His people great gifts to overcome the evil one. While there is no River Styx for our mothers to dip us in...there is a greater body of water given to us. At the Baptismal Font our mother and fathers have brought us to water and God's Word that cleanses us from all our sin, gives us faith, and makes us children of God. In that water we are given a gift that Satan can never take away. In Baptism God saved us. In Baptism we are given faith and the gifts to defend, battle, and overcome Satan.
In baptism we are given the gifts of a breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:8) These are just a couple of the gifts we are given. More than this Saint Paul describes the full armor of God that we have been given in his letter to the Ephesians. "Put on the whole armor 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 armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 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." (Ephesians 6:11-17)
This is a war! Salvation is on the line. You have been given all that you need for this fight. It's not going to be easy. There will be days we lose the battle. We will continue to fall short and sin...often without fighting at all. But I have wonderful news. The victory has already been won. Christ has already died on the cross. Christ has already risen as He said. Satan has been defeated. You have been baptized. Even if you don't remember your baptism...God does! God made you a promise at your baptism. God promised to forgive your sins, give you faith, watch over you, protect you, lead you and guide you. All that He does. He does that in this place where your sins are forgiven, where you are strengthened, where you are led and guided by His Word and our Lord is present in with and under bread and wine.
God also sends us out from this place back into the battle of life. He sends us not only with many gifts to defend us from sin and Satan but with the Sword of the Spirit; the very Word of God. We bear a sword that gives life. We share God's Word to help one another...but we also share God's Word that others may have saving faith as well as victory over Satan. As our text says: "God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him." (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)
In a small English town it was the custom that at evening vespers the deacon would light a candle as each family of the parish entered to worship. Naturally, the more families worshipping, the more candlelight there was in the church. The more the children of God let their light of faith shine in this darkened world, the more light of the Gospel there will be.
My brothers and sisters in Christ. We are a small parish; a small Church. Yet the light of the Gospel shines brightly in this place. We often wonder how can we make the Church grow? How do we get more people in here? The truth is that it's not really about what we do...it's about what God does through us as we share His Word. Share the love of Christ. In doing so...God's Word is proclaimed and those that hear may be saved. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.