Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
13th Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s Church; 26.08.2018
This Ephesian epistle is one of the most majestic pieces of writing in the Scriptures. In it we find some of the highest spiritual truths concerning the Christian life. It abounds with spiritual riches, and yet at the same time is intensely practical. The first half of the letter reveals our life in Christ to be one of union with Him in the highest heavens. The second half shows us in very practical terms how such a heavenly life is to be lived by us down here on earth.
In the short section we have just heard read, we come to the final piece of Paul’s insights into the purposes of God; the all-important key to how we are to work out the life of Christ within us.
Before coming to that, there are two important things that Paul takes for granted we understand.
Firstly, we cannot fulfil all that is in God’s heart just as individuals. Paul is addressing us corporately……We enter the kingdom as individuals, but then to fulfil God’s calling, even as individuals, we need one another. We will be incomplete without walking and growing in faith with one another, and our mission to our neighbours will suffer.
Secondly, we are to understand that we are engaged in a spiritual conflict. Paul talks about the reality of ‘heavenly places’ five times in this epistle. There is an unseen dimension to life in this world that affects everything. There are spiritual forces of wickedness at work, which are not just concepts. Jesus referred to the devil as the ‘prince of this world’. Such evil powers were disarmed at the Cross, and their authority is now broken. It is, however, the task of the church to serve notice of Christ’s victory in every area where deception and ignorance still holds sway. How is it that men and women remain in their sins when such a wonderful gospel of mercy, grace and love wants to sweep them up? There is spiritual opposition behind the scenes, and we do of course find that we ourselves are also affected, fighting a fight of faith, because as Paul says elsewhere, it is our faith that overcomes the world.
The key to outworking God’s purposes, as urged by Paul’s final directive in this passage, is prayer. We are to be praying at all times with every order of prayer and supplication in the Spirit. Prayer is seen as not so much a weapon, or even part of the armour, as the means by which we engage in the battle, and the purpose for which we are armed. To put on the armour of God is to prepare for the battle. We could probably say that prayer is the battle itself, with God’s word being our chief weapon in this struggle against Satan’s strategies, and, as we see from the last two verses of this passage, the focus of this spiritual warfare is ultimately that the ministry of the gospel of salvation be advanced.
We may be daunted, and may find some of this difficult to grasp at first, but let us determine to grow for the sake of a world that needs God. Our initial response may simply be ‘I want to learn, and to be involved’; a bit like the disciples coming to Jesus and saying ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’ Since prayer was such a part of Paul, this letter itself contains two wonderful prayers just pouring out of him. As a start, they themselves will give us plenty to pray about.
Two other suggestions to help us as a community at St Barbara’s. The first is an encouragement to come here and spend some time engaging with the prayer week that is being organised for us in the second week of September. Our focus will be prayer for our immediate community, with suggestions as to how that can become more effective. The second is an encouragement to visit the Coventry Prayer House located in the Lychgate cottages adjacent to Holy Trinity in the city centre. It is a wonderful and easy place to pray. Different rooms, lots of helpful ideas / materials, and very, very restful. There are leaflets about it at the back of the church. You could go a group or as an individual – book in for an hour or two, morning, afternoon or evening – there will a host to show you round and help you feel at home. The Prayer House will in fact be open to the public also on the Heritage weekends of 8/9 and 15/16 September. God wants us to grow as disciples, and it is indeed necessary if His kingdom is to come and His will is to be done more and more.
Finally, just reflect for a moment on our gospel reading. Jesus was saying things that were challenging the synagogue’s view of God. He was talking about a deepening, ongoing relationship, and it was too much for some. Did they want God that close? An invasion of personal space, time, investments. Perhaps they preferred to have God in a box which they could open when they wanted to. Jesus was saying that a relationship of great intimacy was possible, but some couldn’t get their heads round it, and wouldn’t take a step of faith to get their hearts round it. Thank God though, some were different. Peter’s response was wonderful. He surely didn’t understand it all at that moment, but he’d seen enough to keep his lot thrown in with Jesus, and trust for a future with Him. ‘Lord. to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God’. Peter was saying ‘Walking with You is our future, whatever it holds. Nothing else
Growing in prayer will have two main outcomes. It will develop and enrich a real 24/7 relationship with God Himself; and it will also enhance our effectiveness in dealing with the darkness that hinders so many others from finding God’s love and forgiveness.