Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 28 -29, 2021
“A Battle On Your Hands”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Ignorance is …..? Bliss, right? Wrong. Ignorance gets us into bad situations, makes us live in a dumb way and prevents us from living a full and purposeful life. We should spend our lives leaving ignorance behind.
Today is the day to speak directly about spiritual ignorance. We had better know that we have a battle on our hands. There is a battle between good and evil, right and wrong; between God and His truth and the devil and his lies. It is real. It touches the world, constantly, every day, and it touches your life and mine. Our reading from Ephesians says this about that, “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.” (Ephesians 6:12)
You have to look further and deeper, when you want to see the source of where evil comes from. Afghanistan has become a key point of concern for us in this past month. Our involvement in Afghanistan became front page news on September 11, 2001, when terrorists from that country and region attacked the United States. The leaders of the attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon and the plan to attack the White House, had their pictures in our newspapers shortly after those events. They were the ones responsible.
But they were not the only ones behind this work. The devil was the source of such evil. “Our battle is not against flesh and blood…” Jesus is the one that said, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.” (John 10:10a) Paul, in another book, speaking about the cunning of the devil, Satan, would say, “We are not unaware of his schemes.” (II Corinthians 2:11b)
This past Wednesday our staff, Preschool leaders, Nursery attendants, Sunday School and Wednesday Night Live teachers met for abuse awareness training. Margaret, who works for the Colorado Department of Safety, shared with us our important duty to protect children from abuse and to report concerns that we may have. Sometimes sitting through a sermon can be hard. Sometimes I mention sins and problems in this world that are disheartening. Margaret preached a sermon like that. That’s her job.
Can you imagine a little child who gets beat up by a parent? Can you imagine anyone who would put burn marks on a young one as they extinguish their cigarette on them? Abuse. The abuser is responsible for such horrid actions. But there was someone behind them, encouraging such brutality. The prince of darkness, the father of lies – the devil is the source of such evil.
I know who committed the first sin that took humanity from perfection to transgression – Adam and Eve. They walked over the line, stood defiant against God and His command and took the bite of the forbidden fruit. They did it. But I know who was pushing them. The devil. His conniving words said to Eve, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” When Eve said they were told not to eat of that one tree in the middle of the garden lest they eat from it and die, the devil spoke again, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (See Genesis 3:1-5) They took it. They sinned. But the devil used his reasoning to encourage this death to their souls.
This is about us. This is about our battles. This is about the one who would strip us of faith and peace and strength. Who waits in the shadows behind our conflicted life? Our battle is against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
But listen to this – the battle on your hands is the battle in His hands. I do not want to give the impression that for a believer in Jesus, whose hands hold to Him, that the outcome is still in question. In the great Revelation we are given this assurance, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Revelation 12:10-11)
Our reading says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:10-11) He adds, “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13)
Everyday you and I face spiritual battles. Where will our faith find its footing? Will we honor God in our actions and words and attitudes? The devil looks to bring us weakness and failure. But there is one who fought for us and continues to fight on our side. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
June 6, 1944. 77 years ago. It was called “D-Day” – nearly 3 million troops were waiting in southern England to invade France and put an end to World War II. General Dwight Eisenhower was the Commander of the Troops that were scheduled to advance. That day a letter was distributed where General Eisenhower said in part, “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely…I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
But Eisenhower wrote another letter. This one he didn’t have to send. It read, “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
Though Eisenhower spent countless hours planning for victory, he also knew of the possibility of defeat. For the battle that is on our hands we know only of the outcome of victory – because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Look at what we will wear in this battle against evil – the belt of truth around our waist, the breastplate of righteousness in place, our feet fitted with the gospel of peace, and the shield of faith which can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. We also have the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit – which is God’s word. And then we are told to pray in the Spirit on all occasions.
But did you notice that we are only covered in front? We have no protection from behind. We don’t flee, we don’t run away, we are not in retreat; we move forward, we do battle in the might of God.
I don’t know why it is, but I have become a worrier. I don’t think I have always been this way. I don’t seem to worry about today or tomorrow, but I do worry about what may happen 5 and 10 years from now. I arrived at Ascension quite early last Sunday and I sat in the front pew under the pulpit, and I prayed. Hard. With tears and emotion. I prayed about me and you, about the world and the needs of so many. And as I prayed about the stuff that fills me with fear – the stuff in the future – God gave me a calm and a peace. I sensed that I didn’t have to worry, He was going to take care of it. The battle on my hands was the battle in His hands.
We face a battle. Sometimes it is as hard as it can be. We face it inside ourselves. We face it in a world that doesn’t delight in God’s ways. We face it against the devil. But we don’t face it alone. The Lord and Master of all is in you, and with you, and will lead you in His ways. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” The battle on your hands is the battle in His hands. Amen!!