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The Twenty First Sunday after Trinity
by the Rev. Dr. Robert Crouse

My brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might." (Eph 6:10)

In the epistle lesson this morning, St. Paul exhorts the Christian converts in Ephesus to arm themselves against the wiles of the devil, against all the fiery darts of the evil one.  Their profession as Christians will not be an easy matter: the evil day - the day of testing and temptation will come, and they will surely fail if they rely upon their own fragile resources.  They are vulnerable to the enemy and they can stand against him only if they are clad in the whole armour of God.  They must be watchful, and alert, and prayerful.

But who is this enemy?  Not flesh and blood, says our text: "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."  Not flesh and blood, he says: Not ordinary, obvious human difficulties, not just those weaknesses and frailties to which our flesh is heir; but something more subtle, more deceptive and more dangerous: "Principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in high places."

What are these principalities and powers, these fiery darts of the devil, this spiritual wickedness which rules the darkness of this present age?  these are not flesh and blood enemies, these are spiritual enemies which would destroy our faith by subtle and clever distortions of the truth, which would destroy our hope by chill draughts of cynicism, and destroy our love with perversions of desire.  Against such enemies, our text warns us, ordinary defences will not suffice.  We must take to ourselves the armour which only God provides, the armour of the Gospel.

That warning is not just to ancient Ephesus; it is also a warning to us, and a very timely one.  The temptations which confront us as modern Christians are, above all, spiritual temptations: the temptation to conform to distortions and dilutions of the truth of the Gospel; the temptation to conform and adapt ourselves to this world's standards of right and wrong; in short, the temptation to conform ourselves to the spiritual darkness which rules the present age.  Against such temptations we are poorly armed, unless we take upon ourselves the armour of God's Word, prayerfully and watchfully holding fast to that Word, and helping one another to stand fast: "watching thereunto with all perseverance, and supplication for all saints."

Christian faith and life are never easy - not easy in ancient Ephesus, and not easy now.  But I think that we are now facing a time of particularly acute spiritual temptation, as individuals and as a Church.  The temptation is to conform spiritually to the world around us, often in the name of relevance or keeping up to date.  To succumb to that temptation is to distort the Gospel, and finally to lose faith altogether.  We can only stand against such fair-seeming tempters by watchfulness and prayerfulness, by being ever more attentive to God's Word, and ever more obedient to his righteousness.  We must be alert and thoughtful about our religion and our Church, "redeeming the time," as last Sunday's Epistle said, "because the days are evil."

"Above all, taking the shield of faith," says today's Epistle, and today's Gospel lesson tells us something about the power of that shield.  It's an account of one of Jesus' miracles: the restoration to health of the nobleman's dying son.  Many tons of paper and countless gallons of ink have been expended upon explanations, or sometimes rationalizations of Jesus' miracles, in an effort to make them seem more credible.  But all that concern about the mechanics of the miracles is really beside the point, and largely irrelevant.  Jesus' miracles are not magicians tricks, designed to puzzle and deceive; rather, they are symbolic acts.  They are signs of the power and wisdom of God in Christ.  Jesus cures the blind and the deaf, and thus fulfils messianic prophecy; but thereby he signifies the power of God to open dull minds to the truth which is in Christ. He feeds the hungry, and signifies that he is the true bread, the Word of God, to nourish hungry souls.  He stills the stormy seas, and shows God's power to calm the tumults of our confusions and despairs.  In today's Gospel story, he restores the nobleman's dying son, and signifies God's power to raise us from our dying state, to new and endless life in the Spirit.

Jesus heals the nobleman's son, in answer to the nobleman's faith; and that is a sign for us: a sign that God, in Christ has power to heal the afflictions of our spirits, to bring us through temptation, if we will only trust his Word.  "Jesus saith [to the Nobleman], Go thy way, thy son liveth.  And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way."  God is faithful: let us us believe his word and trust him.  Here, today, let us take afresh to ourselves the shield of faith, and quench the devil's fiery darts.  Here today, let us take afresh to ourselves the whole armour of God, that we may be enabled to discern and to withstand the principalities and powers - the perverse and deceitful spiritual principles which govern the darkness of the present age; and thus be enabled to serve the Lord, as our Collect says, "with a quiet mind."