The Twenty-First Sunday after
D. G. Phillips
Broad Cove, Petite Riviere, West LaHave –
October 28, AD 2007
We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but
against principalities, against powers,
against the rulers of the darkness of this
world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take
unto you the whole armour of God.
We are in the final weeks of Trinity season, and
so we are speaking about the highest things in the Christian life.
We have spent twenty-one weeks moving inward and upward into the
Kingdom of heaven. So the things that we consider have changed.
What hindered us as young Christians are different from the things
that hinder us in our ascent to God as we mature.
We have been enabled to move inward by grace and
have discovered the inner man, that place of rest, that
aspect of our soul made in the image and likeness of God, where we
can have converse with God.
Last week we were warned that when we enter into
that rest inwardly, we require a wedding garment – to be clothed
with divine charity, to cling to God in His love. Our rest is not a
resting in self satisfaction, it is not a giving up the search, but
a never ending striving to know and love God with all our heart and
soul and mind and strength.
Today St. Paul suggests another kind of clothing
that is needed – take unto you the whole armour of God.
In the daily readings (BCP) this past week we
have been going through the book of Nehemiah, who was a Jewish
leader during the time of Israel’s exile in Babylonia in the 5th
century BC. He was allowed by his captors to return to Jerusalem
and organize the rebuilding of the walls of the city. After they
started the work, there were threats from local Persian officials to
stop the work. So Nehemiah writes how he instructed the workers to
arm themselves – half of my servants worked on construction, and
half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail…Those who
carried burdens were laden in such a way that each with one hand
labored on the work and with the other held his weapon. And each of
the builders had his sword girded at his side while he built.
This is a wonderful image of what St. Paul is
calling us to do as we move inward in search of the kingdom of
heaven and as we recover our souls and bodies as temples of the
MY brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the
power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be
able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not
against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers,
against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual
wickedness in high places.
Our enemies are not flesh and blood warriors but
spiritual – they are ideas, ideologies, the truth twisted in various
ways to deceive. Our Lord says that the devil is the father of
lies. And these lies bind us and cripple us. Here’s an example:
You may have heard of the recent revelations of
abuse at a private school, Grenville College in Ontario, run by a
kind of cult called the Community of Jesus, with Anglican
connections. Many of the things they taught, the call to
repentance, to obedience, the wariness about idolatry, a desire for
purity, daily prayer (they used the Prayer Book), we would recognize
all these as Christian, and yet the Way was subtly twisted, with
tragic consequences for many of the children under their care. It
is wrong ideas that bound these leaders and those placed in their
But clear examples are manifold – the infamous
ideologies of the twentieth century – Nazism, Communism – perhaps
unfettered capitalism to which these were a response . These are
dramatic and simple examples to help us see how ideas can come to
bind and poison a society. We battle not against flesh and blood,
but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of
the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high
But we are in no way free ourselves of all lies.
There are twistings of the truth, ideas, subtle and interwoven, that
are hindering our society today, our church, our small communities,
our individual families and our own souls. We are bound by societal
ideals of what is success, what is the place of religion, ideas of
progress, and so on. We see through a glass darkly.
As we proceed in the spiritual life, we begin, by
grace, to see and are forced to confront these principalities and
powers, if we are to ascend higher into the divine life. There is a
battle – these principalities and powers do not give in easily – we
and others bound by them will not take lightly to having them
When Jesus confronted the Scribes and Pharisees
and leadership in Israel to unmask their hypocrisy, they immediately
began to conspire how they might put him to death. He posed no
physical threat, but it was his ideas, God’s ideas, the Truth, that
they saw as so dangerous and threatening to the world they knew.
And the Apostles and saints through the ages who have confronted
individuals and societies with the Gospel have met with great
resistance - many of them were martyred and continue to be martyred.
How will we see the principalities and powers of
wickedness that bind us?
Here’s a simple example: If we've ever lived for
a while in another country, or even visited for a short time another
place, or spent time with someone from another place, we begin to
see that things we always took for granted, are in fact constructs
of our own society – some for good and some for ill. It required
going somewhere else to begin to see.
In the case of principalities and powers, rulers
of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in high places –
we can only see them when we are brought beyond them to another
“country”, so to speak, a heavenly country, and begin to see
the inadequacies in our thinking, in what we always took for
granted. [Hebrews 11:16]
On a personal level, our sin binds us – the more
we sin the less it appears to be wrong. When we seek by grace to
follow the commandments of God girding our loins with the truth,
and having on the breastplate of righteousness, that is,
following the commandments even if we can’t really see why, as our
souls are cleansed, we are brought to a better country and
begin to see why this is the way of holiness, our minds are lifted
higher. This is a kind of rearguard action - so that we do not
resist God's gift of the polishing of the mirror that is our souls
as we ascend. But St. Paul wants us also to be proactive in
On a community level, when a cult member is
confronted by the truth, through a true friend or family member
outside of the cult, which the cult member cannot reject out of hand
but it doesn’t fit in with what he or she has been assuming, that
person must reassess and, hopefully, in time break free. Likewise,
when we see something in Scripture that seems an affront to us, we
can reject it and go back to our “cult” way of thinking, or try to
live with this new knowledge and be lead to a new place of greater
freedom. Scripture unveils ways we have been bound by a principality
or power, by a lie, it reveals a better country. Be girded,
says St. Paul, with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of
Praying always with all prayer and
supplication in the Spirit,
In prayer, as we direct our souls, our desire,
heavenward to God, we place ourselves in readiness to be lifted by
God’s grace beyond ourselves, beyond the ways of thinking that have
bound us in chains and kept us from knowing God more fully, and from
being able to love more fully. And if we are patient in prayer, God
lifts us to a better country and we can never see things in
the same way again when we return to ourselves.
And watching thereunto with all perseverance
and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be
given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the
mystery of the gospel.
St. Paul asked the church at Ephesus to pray for
him. I ask you to pray for me, your priest, and for others in the
church who teach, that we might see the particular principalities
and powers that are binding our age, our society, our church, and
that are binding each one of you individually.
It is with the greatest subtlety that the devil
continues to hold his sway over us all in some way – and it is by
powerful and precise preaching that priests and each one of us can
be of some help to each other.
Sometimes we don’t see that we are bound, but
there are moments in our life where it can become apparent. How do
we know if we have come up against a principality or power? The
monks spoke of the noon day demon – accidie, a destructive
oppression that causes one to withdraw from others and from any work
– perhaps one of the causes of what today is called depression. I
think we all know the kind of experience of when we seem to have hit
a ceiling in our growth in Christ – so that we experience a weight,
a heaviness, we find ourselves discouraged, no longer motivated to
love, we can’t seem to go beyond where we are and maybe we are at
the point of wanting to give up altogether.
Jesus speaks to this very situation in the Gospel
THERE was a certain nobleman, whose son was
sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea
into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come
down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death.
If we understand this as an allegory of the soul,
the nobleman is us (ennobled by Christ) and his sick son is the
new man being raised up in us, but is sick, has reached an
impasse, and if we have stopped growing we are in danger of a kind
of spiritual death.
Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs
and wonders, ye will not believe. The nobleman saith unto him, Sir,
come down ere my child die.
This is the perfect prayer of faith that we
should say in private in our discouragement – so that the new man
in Christ being raised up in us does not die. Sir, come down ere
my child die. Renew me Lord inwardly, help me to see through
this impasse, lift me beyond myself.
Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son
liveth. Don’t worry, whatever the current impasse, I will not
forsake you. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken
unto him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his
servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. Then
enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said
unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the
father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said
unto him, Thy son liveth; and himself believed, and his whole house.
Jesus is speaking to each one of us today in this
Gospel to encourage us whenever we reach an obstacle to our further
growth. On the Cross he shattered all the principalities and powers
of wickedness – in His resurrection and ascension he brought
humanity with him into the highest places, there to sit at God’s
On earth, in the Holy Communion of His Body and
Blood, we participate in that victory. In our following of the
Commandments, in our seeking the Truth in Scripture, in our holding
to the faith of the Apostles, in our fervent prayer with others and
by ourselves, we find both that the temple of God that is our souls
and bodies is built up and that we are guarded against and can
overcome the principalities and powers that would hold us back.
Let us receive this gift of heavenly armour
today, and wrestle with these principalities and powers and by grace
be lifted beyond ourselves and further into the kingdom of heaven.