Homily, Be Strong in the Lord!
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 2021
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of the Lord’s power.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My son, Bear, turned six years old this week! Six years! Six years of magical joy with Bear in the world. Because of our current status of the pandemic we didn’t get to have a big party this year, but we did have a small get together with grandparents and of course ate together his favorite meal (Mac and Cheese!). We still opened presents and we still decorated the house with balloons and streamers, and all in the theme of his favorite thing right now: Harry Potter.
Bear LOVES Harry Potter. And all this week our home has been converted into the magical world of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. This is something that I just love about Bear. When I see the ordinary; Bear sees the extraordinary. When I see the mundane; Bear sees the magical. And so in Bear’s eyes my old, baggy, black shirt becomes a wizard’s robe. And a shower rod becomes a wizard’s staff. For Bear, our simple two bedroom townhome has been transformed into the enormous, mysterious, and magical castle of Hogwarts! With an imagination able to do that, maybe Bear really is a wizard.
This morning as we read the end of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I can’t help but think of Bear. Because here we are sitting in our pews dressed in perfectly acceptable attire for a Sunday in the 21st century and suddenly Paul has outfitted and commissioned us for battle. We are called to take up swords and put on breastplates and to take up shields and put on helmets. Like Harry Potter on his eleventh birthday when he discovers a whole new magical world, Paul has transported us to an entirely new reality! And in this new world, we find ourselves as members of an ancient and cosmic quest to reconcile all things to God.
That’s really what this letter to the Ephesians is all about. For more than a month we’ve worked our way slowly through this letter. We’ve heard Paul’s message for the Ephesians to be rooted and established in love (July 25), to walk with God in a manner worthy of their calling (August 1), to treat one another with kindness as members of one another (August 8)andto make the most of the time given to them—(August 15). But underneath all of these messages in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is this epic narrative of how God is uniting all things together in Christ—the entire cosmos—and how we are being called to participate in that cosmic quest. It’s a grand struggle between the powers that divide and God’s power that reconciles. It’s not a struggle against people—against blood and flesh—it’s a struggle against the spiritual powers in the world that go against God’s mission of reconciliation. And so “put on the full armor of God,” Paul says, “so that you may be able to stand.”
Now if you like to read or watch action-packed fantasy that’s a cool thing to think about, but I don’t think it’s a message that many of us want to hear this morning. We are living in a difficult time. We’re all so, so tired—exhausted—from all the battles we’re already facing in life right now. We’re fighting the battle of keeping our families safe in this pandemic. We’re in the struggle of trying to figure what to believe and what to do. We’re in the middle of a national debate about masks and vaccines and treatments, and even though we all just want the best for our children and communities, we find ourselves living entirely different narratives from those around us. And the weight of all this creeps into our relationships so that we find tension and frustration and sometimes even anger between ourselves and family members, and friends, and neighbors, coworkers. Even fellow Christians here in the walls of our own church and school. We’re exhausted from facing our own powers that divide and in many ways a battle cry is the last thing we want to hear this morning.
And yet the good news today is that God wants to strengthen us for the battles we face because all of these battles are part of God’s mission for reconciliation. God cares about the struggles we face and God wants to transform them into fertile ground for the healing of the world. If we can just open our eyes to see past the mundane struggle we’ll see that God is actively with us in the fight and strengthening us along the way. Our passage from Ephesians this morning begins “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of the Lord’s power.” In other words, it’s not by our own strength we get through but by leaning on God’s power—by opening ourselves to the transformative power that is in the strength of God. We put on the full armor of God—not our own fragile armor—the armor of God: truth, righteousness, faith, peace, salvation, and God’s Word.
Standing firm then means that when we feel the weight of the world pushing down on us and starting to pull our communities apart, we turn to God and lean on God’s strength, refusing to allow the powers of division have their way, instead standing firm in God’s cosmic quest for reconciliation. Standing firm means that even when we don’t understand the actions of our neighbors, even when we disagree with them, even when we think they are completely out of their mind, we still choose to come together in prayer trusting that God will give us the strength to go on even when we feel like we cannot. Standing firm means leaning on the everlasting arms of God.
And prayer is one of the most powerful ways we can do that. After Paul calls the Ephesians to stand firm in the struggle he asks them to pray. “Pray in the Spirit at all times,” he says, “keep alert and always persevere in prayer for all the saints.” And that’s what we are here to do together this morning. In a few moments in the liturgy we move into what we call “The Prayers of the People.” We call it the Prayers of the People because they are the prayers that come from all the cares and burdens and struggles of the people gathered together. And so I invite you this morning, come with your burdens, come with your struggles, come with your cares, and be strengthened by God. Come and let this place be transformed into a miraculous sanctuary—a castle—for God’s healing and reconciliation.
“Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of the Lord’s power.” Amen.