By the Rev. Darren Miner
When Joni Davidson worked on this Sunday’s bulletin, she told me that she was going to change the clip art, since we had looked at pictures of bread for three weeks straight. I understand where she is coming from! In a similar vein, I’m a bit tired of preaching on bread. So instead, I’m going to preach on the Epistle, the topic of which is spiritual warfare.
The question St. Paul considers is “How should Christians confront evil?” Now, if you have picked up a newspaper or watched the news on TV recently, you have seen clear evidence that our country and our world are in serious trouble. But how often do we identify the wrongs of the world with real spiritual evil?
Today’s Epistle speaks of rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil. And in St. Paul’s day, it was thought that the forces of spiritual evil lived in the very air around us. I think it more likely that such forces of evil live, not in the atmosphere we breathe, but in our social institutions.
We Christians often say that where two or three are gathered together the Holy Spirit is present. And I believe this to be true. But where two or three are gathered together other spirits can sometimes be found: a spirit of political discord, a spirit of greed, a spirit of racism, a spirit of spite, and so on. And in our larger institutions, from corporations to cities, from local police departments to the Pentagon, there is a spirit unique to each institution; or to be more precise, there is a spirituality. Institutions, like individuals, have a spirituality. And sometimes that spirituality becomes infected by evil.
Examples from today’s news abound. Yet again, the Roman Catholic Church finds itself embroiled in scandal. Evidently, it covered up the crimes of priests in Pennsylvania in order to protect the institution. Gun violence on our streets is out of control. And yet the National Rifle Association, an organization that used to focus on gun safety, advocates further gun proliferation. Their answer to gun violence is to arm the entire nation. Then, we have what is called the “Me Too” movement, which has revealed widespread sexual harassment in the workplace that until now had been kept secret. Finally, we have what can only be called a political assault on Truth itself. We have a President and a White House administration that tell lies…repeatedly! They prefer to call them “alternative facts,” but they are lies. The President’s personal lawyer went so far as to claim that “Truth isn’t truth.” Now, what does that even mean? The point that I am trying to make is that we need look no further than our social institutions to see signs of real spiritual evil.
Too often, we feel useless and defenseless in the face of such evil. We feel that there is nothing we can do to confront it. Today’s Epistle tells us otherwise. We Christians are called to stand up to evil. As St. Paul reminds us, our fight is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the spiritual forces that corrupt our communal life. Donald Trump is not our real enemy, no matter how many lies he tells to the public, but the Father of Lies certainly is! And though, I am not overly fond of the militaristic imagery of today’s Epistle, its message is apt. We do, in fact, have powerful weapons to combat evil. St. Paul lists seven pieces of spiritual armor: 1) divine truth, 2) righteousness, 3) the gospel of peace, 4) faith in God, 5) our salvation through Christ, 6) the Holy Spirit, and 7) the Word of God. He reminds us that we are all called to combat evil and that we all have access to effective spiritual defense. All we may lack is the courage to act.
Fortunately, there is a remedy for fear—prayer! So pray not only for your fellow Christians, as St. Paul asked us to do, but for yourself, for the courage to act on your faith and to contend with evil wherever you may encounter it. We are blessed with many resources for strengthening prayer, including the prayer book and the Bible. One such prayer that you already know by heart is the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer is particularly appropriate when facing evil, for in it, we expressly ask our heavenly Father for deliverance from the Evil One. But surprisingly, the most full and complete prayer for spiritual strength that I know of is to be found, neither in the prayer book nor the Bible, but in the hymnal. Turn to hymn 370, if you would…. This ancient hymn is known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate; like the lesson from St. Paul’s Epistle, it enumerates and evokes the spiritual armor that we Christians have at our disposal. Try praying this hymn when you need some spiritual strength.
The point of today’s Epistle, the point of St. Patrick’s hymn, and the point of this sermon is that we already have all we need to combat the evil that assaults our world. We already have what it takes to turn our social and political institutions around and to redeem them. So, this very day, let us put on the whole armor of God. Let us take up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Then, let us go out into the world and boldly declare God’s word in the very face of all “the cosmic powers of this present darkness.” For just like St. Paul, we too must speak out!
© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.