August 22: Geared Up…for Life (7/7)

August 22: Geared Up…for Life (7/7)

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Audio of Scripture reading, sermon, and pastoral prayer only
  • sermon #1: “Blessed By God to Be a Blessing” (July 11)
  • sermon #2: “The Wrecking Ball Jesus” (July 18)
  • sermon #3: “Part of a Team” (July 25)
  • sermon #4: “A Life Worthy” (Aug 1)
  • sermon #5: “All Y’all, Be Imitators of God” (Aug 8)
  • sermon #6: “Thank You, God!” (Thanksgiving in August) (Aug 15)

Scripture: Ephesians 6:10-20

Let’s say it’s a breezy 50° morning, it’s just starting to get light outside, and it’s overcast. If I’m getting ready to go out for a run in those conditions, what should I wear?

For me, 50° means I can wear shorts and still be comfortable. But what to wear on top is a little trickier. At 50°, a short-sleeve shirt is fine if there’s no breeze. But in our case, there is a breeze and it’s likely that when I get down to the waterfront, it’s going to be a little cooler and breezier than at my house. On the other hand, if I go with a long-sleeve shirt, I could get way too hot after my body warms up.

Will I need my sunglasses if it’s overcast? This is Michigan after all; the clouds could part a half-dozen times during the run.

Now, for me the real issue is my ears? For as long as I can remember, my inner ear has always been very sensitive to the slightest cool breeze. Even if my outer ear is not uncomfortable, my inner ear can get very achy when it’s a breezy 50°. But covering my ears with a knit hat—even a thin one—would no doubt make my head all sweaty and uncomfortable, and hot! So, what gear could I use to protect my inner ears but not cover my head? My solution? These wonderful EARBAGS, which are basically an earmuff without the band.

Having the right gear for whatever situation you’re in makes all the difference in the world.

  • If you’re hiking, you don’t bring a suitcase; you bring a backpack. If you’re staying in a hotel, you don’t bring a tent.
  • If you’re standing up in a wedding, you don’t wear a bathing suit (unless, of course, the wedding’s held on a beach and everyone’s been instructed to wear a swimsuit).
  • If you’re going to a football game and rain is in the forecast, you bring a poncho or rainsuit.
  • If you’re outdoors in the winter, you wear a coat and boots.
  • If you’re building a deck, you bring all the necessary tools to construct a deck, not the tools to work on a car engine.
  • If you’re scuba diving in Lake Superior, because of the cold temperatures of the water, you wear a dry suit, not a wet suit.
  • And if you’re going out for a run, you wear running shoes, not dress shoes or snowshoes, or swim fins!

For the past 6 weeks we’ve been making our way through the book of Ephesians, which has been called “the Queen of the Epistles” (Wm Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 61) because within its brief six chapters is everything needed to explain the Christian faith. In the first half of his letter, Paul lays down a theological foundation for the faith to which we profess. It’s a treatise which explains what we as followers of Christ believe. The second half of his letter is devoted to helping us figure out how to best live out our faith in the everyday world. In other words, this is what we believe, and why. And on account of what we believe, this is how we conduct ourselves in life—in our relationships with others, with God, and even with ourselves. This is how our day-to-day living should reflect what we say we believe.

This particular sermon series was entitled “Geared Up for Life” because it was my hope to provide you with some of the essential “gear” which is necessary to live as an effective witness to God’s love and grace. Just as being a runner requires possessing a particular type of gear and using that gear when running, so being a Christian requires having the right gear and then using it in everyday life. This sermon series has been one attempt to furnish you with some essential “Christian gear” and then give some guidance as to how you might utilize that gear in your everyday world.

The main theological foundation we focused on in weeks one through three was the important role and place of community which God built into the Christian faith and practice. First, God blesses us not for our own benefit—although there’s certainly a great many  benefits that come with being blessed by God—but for the sole purpose of blessing others. We’re called to expand the community of God’s people beyond ourselves. We’re blessed by God to be a blessing to others

Second, through his crucifixion, Jesus intentionally tore down everything which divides human beings from each other; all those “walls” that we erect to keep ourselves at arms-length from those who are different than us or who we’re convinced are a threat to us in some way. Jesus tore those walls down and invites us to keep them torn down and create a community in which all are welcome.

Third, while God certainly does bless individual persons, as attested to by those who got up here last week and shared with the rest of us how they’ve experienced God’s blessings, in Ephesians 3, Paul seems to suggest that the main object of God’s greatest blessings is the community of faith, the church. He pours out his blessings on the congregation so that we, a local church, with each individual person doing their own part, can effectively fulfill our mandated mission of developing new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ. Disciples are more fully “made” within the context of the Christian community. So, one important theological footing of what we believe is that the Christian faith is most effectively lived out in community.

Our Wesleyan understanding of baptism reflects this viewpoint. Except in rare cases, such as when a newborn’s life is in jeopardy, we only baptize people during a corporate worship service. Why? Because we’re baptized into the Body of Christ. Through baptism, we’re connected to and linked with all other baptized Christians through the Holy Spirit and our common faith in Jesus Christ.

So, you and I together make up a part of the Body of Christ called Port Huron First United Methodist Church. Together with all of the other local churches in town, we comprise the Body of Christ in Port Huron. We’re in the same boat with each other, and our overarching goal is the same, which is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with any and all in our community who would hear it, with the hope that some of them might respond.

As Methodists, we’ve adopted the jargon found in Matthew’s Gospel wherein we’re instructed by Jesus to “go and make disciples” (28:19). Make disciples of whom? Of all nations. Well, that’s pretty broad, wouldn’t you agree. In the book of Acts, Luke describes a similar conversation between Jesus and the disciples. In this one he tells them, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). For all intents and purposes, “You will be my witnesses” and “go and make disciples” mean the same thing. Likewise, “to the ends of the earth” means the same thing as “of all nations,” but in Acts he gets them there with smaller and more manageable steps. Discipling starts locally at home, in Jerusalem. For us, in the Port Huron area. Then we take the message beyond the city limits to Judea and Samaria. For us, St. Clair County, south-east Michigan, the whole state of Michigan, the mid-west and other parts of the United States. But it doesn’t stop there, because the Good News of Jesus Christ needs to be heard beyond our nation’s borders: to the ends of the earth, all nations. The mandate, or call, is to expand the community of faith, and it begins right here at home.

Here’s the question: Who, exactly, does all this disciple-making? Who are the witnesses Jesus spoke of? The answer: we are. We as in each of us individually and we as a community of faith. You and I are called to find ways to share our personal faith with other persons. We’re called to hang out with and become friends with people who don’t know Jesus so that when God opens the door, we can share our own story with them in a non-threatening way. Person-to-person – that’s where relationships of trust are established. The fact is every baptized believer is called by God to be ready to share their faith with another person when the time’s right. After that, if it piques their interest and they want to learn more, then the community of faith can come alongside that person to help them grow in their newfound faith. As a church, we’re resourced to support them through classes, small groups, Bible studies, and corporate worship. When we as a congregation commit ourselves to this as a ministry priority, we’re demonstrating that our church is maturing in our corporate faith and practice. When we make the well-being of others a higher priority than our own individual wants and desires for this church, we’re well on our way to living out our Christian belief that our faith is most effectively lived out in community. That was the message in week four.

Two weeks ago, Elisabeth Danielsons did a wonderful job of reminding us that we’re called, both individually and corporately, to imitate God in all that we do. As was pointed out in a previous week, Paul’s use of the word “you” in Ephesians 4 is plural. When he wrote in v. 5, “Imitate God as dearly loved children,” the word “you” is implied. Therefore, [you who are reading this letter], imitate God. But it’s a plural ‘you.’ Y’all. The church. The congregation. You the community of faith called Port Huron First United Methodist, imitate God. In what way do we do that? Individually, imitating God by living a life of love, service, and truth-telling.” And as a church, by ordering our corporate-life so that everything we do is about building people up, and helping them to know their intrinsic worth.

Last week you heard three people give personal testimony to a few of the ways they’ve experienced God’s blessings. What each of them did is exactly what we’re all called to do in some way or another. Being aware of our blessings and being grateful for them, and then being able and willing to talk about those blessings with others when the opportunity comes along. But you know what? That personal testimony isn’t something that happens on a personal level, but should also be a regular part of our Sunday worship as well. Unfortunately, most mainline churches long ago fell away from giving folks the opportunity to stand up and share a God moment, or talk about a recent God-sighting. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to fill up a little bit of time every single week with one or two of us sharing our response to the question, “Where did I see God at work this week?” Because hearing another person talk about how they saw God at work, or how they personally experienced God at work in their own life, can be a huge encouragement to those who are struggling.

Finally, this morning Barb read aloud a short passage Ephesians 6, a passage many of us are familiar with. In fact, for some of us, the challenge is to not drift off as soon as we start hearing it again. Oh,  the ‘armor of God’ passage. Well, let’s see, what time did my friend say he’d be arriving today?…… What’s going on after church? Is this sermon almost done, because it seems like he should be done by now. Yes, the armor of God passage.

It begins with the word, “Finally.” And that’s probably because everything that came previously has been leading up to this final proclamation. The how-tos of chapters four, five, and six, have led up to this point where Paul says, “Finally, in light of all that I’ve written so far, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. To that end, put on God’s armor so that you can take a stand against the tricks of the devil” (6:10-11). Or, as another Bible translation puts it, “so that you can stand up to everything the Devil throws your way” (The Message).

If you will, allow me to put some words in Paul’s mouth at this point. He didn’t actually say this, but I think he was motived by these thoughts.

Here’s the bottom line. If you’re committed to living a life that’s worthy of the call to be a follower of Jesus Christ; if you truly want to live your everyday life in such a way that reflects God’s love; if it’s your desire to order your life so that God gets the glory more than you; if you want your life to point to Jesus and for people to be drawn to him because of you, then know this: You’ll never be able to accomplish any of this out of your own strength and ingenuity. If you try to do so, the Devil will eat you for lunch. When you fail—and you will from time to time, maybe even more often than you’d like—while you’re lying on the ground the Evil One will be the first to whisper into your ear, “You’re a terrible witness for Jesus. Give up now before you make a complete fool of yourself. You do realize, don’t you, that you’re an utter disappoint to God? After all he’s done for you, this is how you thank him, by failing at the first sign of difficulty?”

That’s the lie you can plan to hear whispered into your ear. So, the only way is to make God’s strength your strength. And when you fall, God will pick you up, whisper into your ear that he loves you and you’re OK, and you’ll be able to keep going. Through God’s strength.

At that point, Paul identifies the necessary gear for making this trek through life as a follower of Jesus. Gear that will protect you from the flaming arrows of the Evil One. Some think Paul might have been literally looking upon a soldier when he wrote this part of his letter. The gear for a life of discipleship consists of: The belt of truth, the breastplate of justice (or righteousness), shoes which enable us to spread the Good News, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, whichis God’s holy Word.

Unfortunately, there isn’t time this morning to look at each one of these important pieces of our spiritual gear for a life of discipleship. No doubt, we can come back to them at a later date. But here’s what we can take home today. God has provided all the necessary “gear” to effectively live into the call of every baptized Christian and Christian community, that call being  getting the word out about Jesus Christ. It’s not always an easy thing to do, which is why Paul likens our spiritual gear to the protective gear of a soldier. But when we do don that gear and move out with the message of Jesus’ love and grace and life, then we discover the transformative and full life that Jesus said he came to give us.

Two weeks ago, at the end of her sermon Elisabeth gave us some homework. She encouraged each of us to identify one person in our life who we find to be difficult in one way or another, and then to do something for them that would not be expected on their part, but nevertheless appreciated. Kudos to those of you who took her up on that challenge and did it. And for the rest of us, it’s never too late.  Every day is an opportunity to do that nice thing.

Well, I’d like to suggest two ways you might apply today’s message to your life this week. First, in the spirit of those who briefly shared with us last week examples of how God’s blessed them, after you go home today, identify one or two ways you’ve been blessed by God—big or small—and then every day pray for an opportunity to share that with someone. Ask God to arrange a conversation to take place where you could do that, and then keep the eyes of your heart open to when God opens that door.

And then, second, throughout the week, consciously be on the lookout for ways that God’s at work. While you’re out and about, try to be consciously aware of what’s happening around you which could easily be the result of God working behind the scenes, so to speak. And then maybe, just maybe, next Sunday I’ll pose the question, “Where did you seen God at work this week?” and one or two of you might be willing to tell the rest of us what you saw.

Let’s pray….


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