Sunday, August 23, 2015

There is a War

I don’t want to alarm you but there is a war going on. 

I am not just talking about conflicts in far off places like the Middle East, Africa, or Korea—although those are all certainly part of this—I mean the War that is going on here in our little village, in this parish, in your own back yard, in your living room, and in your heart and mind.

There is war and we all—men, women, and children alike—have been thrown into battle whether we like it or not. We are under siege and we must take up arms or perish.

This war has many fronts, but more than anything, it is fundamentally an attack on our souls. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies that bare a violent hatred against us, that envy what have been given, and want nothing else more than our ruin, to see us fallen and disgraced. These enemies deceive us into seeing our fellow human beings, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters as the enemy. They hope to weaken us by dividing our ranks and turning us against one another.

There is a Native American proverb which says, “No tree has branches foolish enough to fight among themselves.” And our Lord himself said, “if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”
Our faith, proclaimed to us in the Holy Scriptures, would have our eyes opened to recognize our true foes. While we are engaged in struggle against the people of that nation, the people of that political party, or the people of that creed, we are distracted from our common enemies. As Saint Paul says, “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

These are malevolent spiritual personalities that are in rebellion against God their creator. They are the forces of darkness that rage against the forces of light. Their warfare against the hosts of heaven is older than the first conflict between brothers that resulted in Cain killing Abel.

It was the prince and captain of these rebellious spiritual forces  that first led mankind astray with his deception and false promises, and ever since he has been prowling the earth like a ravenous lion seeking whom he can devour.

The Scriptures give us a glimpse behind the curtain at this age old conflict that rages on invisibly all around us. They also assure us of its inevitable conclusion in which the powers of evil will be finally routed, bound, and destroyed. Although there are many assembled against us, those who are for us are greater. Saint Michael the Archangel and his army of angels fight for us. The twelfth Chapter of Revelation reads,

“Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”

Some of you might say, “Okay, Fr. Matt, this is an exciting story, but it all sounds rather mythological, fanciful even. What possible practical use could believing all of this have for my life?”

My answer is that understanding this battle, and equipping yourself appropriately, will lead you into victory against the habitual sins and emotional, psychological, and spiritual struggles that rob you of living fully the life that God intends for you.

In order to claim for ourselves the strength of the Lord’s power, Saint Paul urges us to put on the full armor of God in order to stand against the wiles of the devil. These are the gifts that God equips us with to refute lies, resist temptation, and overcome despair. Just as the armor and weaponry of a soldier fortifies him in physical combat, so this spiritual armor fortifies us against spiritual attack.

The first item Paul mentions is the belt of truth. The belt of a Roman soldier is crucial to the effectiveness of the whole armor. Not only does it provide scabbard for his sword on long leather bands that protect his loins, but it also secures and holds up all of the rest of the armor. It is the core. Saint Paul is telling us to let Truth be the core of who we are and to be sure that everything we do is supported by it.

Specifically Paul is speaking here of our loins. Just like the Keel of a ship the loins are the central balancing support of our body.  In the Bible the loins, or the bowels, are the seat of feeling and compassion. They are also the seat of our passions and appetites.
When I vest for service in the sacristy, there are prayers that I say for each item I put on. When I put on my girdle or belt I pray this, “GIRD me, O Lord, with the girdle of purity and quench in me the fire of concupiscence, that the grace of temperance and chastity may abide in me.”

This is a powerful reminder. If we are loose, not properly supported by the truth of God’s word in this vulnerable area of our appetites then we have given the devil a major foothold in our life. If we want to stand firm in the Lord, we must begin by securing this area of our life.

 A typical Roman soldier wore a breast plate of chain mail. This was in order to protect his vital organs, and heart in particular, from assault. The greatest threat to our heart and soul is the wickedness we have allowed to infiltrate our lives.

Our own righteousness, weakened by sin, is powerless to stop this assault but in the second item Paul mentions, Christ gives us his own impenetrable breast plate of righteousness. As the proverb says, “No harm overtakes the righteous, but the wicked have their fill of trouble.” (Proverbs 12:21)

The third item mentioned by Paul is shoes. He encourages us to put on our feet anything that will make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Imagine you are stepping outside in the dark completely barefoot. Wouldn’t you be a bit halting and hesitant in the steps you make? You would be justifiably anxious about where you walk for fear of injuring yourself. If we have a good pair of boots on our feet we can be bolder about where we walk. We can go to places we never could barefoot. The devil wants us to be filled with fear and apprehension about stepping out to proclaim the gospel. When we are seeking to walk in God’s ways he will attack our heels like a snake in the grass. Christ puts strong shoes on our feet to go where he sends us and to crush the head of the serpent.

The fourth item mentioned by Paul is the shield of faith. The scriptures teach us that faith is the gift of God whereby we can know and trust in Christ as our Lord and Savior. The shield is a defensive weapon. It is used to deflect an attack. It does no good for us if it simply rests at our side. God wants us to exercise our faith, to raise it high when the devil fires his flaming darts. A shield can also be an offensive weapon. We can use our faith to drive our enemy to his knees and push him down.

The fifth item is the helmet of salvation. The helmet is of course meant to protect the head. Just as the devil attacks us in our feelings and in our heart, he also attacks our mind. He seeks to deceive us into believing in some other way to salvation apart from Christ or he afflicts us with intellectual challenges to the faith or doubt concerning our standing in Christ. The devil has been a liar from the very beginning, and we need to constantly remind ourselves of the truth of the gospel and the message of salvation to silence his lies. Through his deception, the devil would conform us to the pattern of this world, but the gospel calls us to turn and be transformed by the renewal of our minds. 

Finally we are called to take up the sword of the Spirit which is the word. The most powerful way in which God has empowered us to resist the devil is by giving us his own Spirit to dwell in our hearts. Without the Holy Spirit we are like a soldier with no sword. How could we ever hope to be victorious in our fight? The most effective way in which the Spirit empowers us is by arming us with the word of God. When Jesus was tempted by the devil he resisted and defeated him by using Holy Scripture which is God’s mighty word sharper than any two edged sword.

The whole armor of God that we are urged to put on, the secret of our power and defense, can be summarized this way, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is Christ who is Truth itself, Christ who is our righteousness, Christ who is our peace, the one who crushes the head of the serpent, Christ who is ours by faith, Christ who is our salvation, and Christ who is the mighty and eternal word through which all things were made. All who have been baptized in Christ have clothed themselves in Christ. We are strong with his mighty power and all that belongs to him is ours. As long as we are in him, all the forces of evil can never defeat us. He is our Captain who is leading us into victory.