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The Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity

D. G. Phillips

Holy Communion

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 living God. 

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 care. 

 

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 places.

 

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 unmasked.

 

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 the battle.

 

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 God. 

 

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. 

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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 today:

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 right hand. 

 

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.

 

Amen.

 

 

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