Persevering in Prayer – Ephesians 6.10-20

September 13, 2015 – 16th Sunday after Pentecost

“Finally,” the author of this epistle says as he, and we, come to the end of the letter named as to the Ephesians but was probably not to the church at Ephesus but more likely a circular letter to several congregations. “Finally.”

Finally, be strong but not on your own strength; be strong in the strength of God’s power. It reminds me of Proverbs 3.5-6 that I memorized years ago, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge [God], and [God] will direct your paths.”[1]

We rely and trust on God’s strength because what we’re up against is a spiritual battle; what theologian Walter Wink called the powers and principalities. In his book The Powers that Be, he wrote

“‘Every business corporation, school, denomination, bureaucracy, sports team — indeed, social reality in all its forms — is a combination of both visible and invisible, outer and inner, physical and spiritual.’ These systems, institutions, and structures can do good and evil at the same time…

“One of the challenges for Christian churches in our time is to discern the spirits of institutions and structures. If they are organized around idolatrous values and what Wink calls ‘the Domination System,’ they must be recalled to their divine vocation — the well-being of all individuals.”[2]

Before Walter Wink, William Stringfellow, a lawyer, Christian, and advocate for racial and social justice, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, wrote about the powers and principalities. For Stringfellow, the powers and principalities are “creatures who are fallen, who thrive on chaos, who do not foster life but dehumanize.” In our day, we can think powers and principalities being realities such as “segregation, apartheid…addiction…totalitarian states, a celebrity culture of glamorized Bad Girls and Boys…attempted bribery of legislatures through large campaign contributions, genocide…unbridled nationalism, violence, hunger, racism,”[3] trafficking, advertising that uses women’s bodies to sell products, domestic violence. William Stringfellow lived by the conviction “that being a faithful follower of Jesus means to declare oneself free from all spiritual forces of death and destruction and to submit oneself single-heartedly to the power of life.”[4]

For the struggle against these dehumanizing and death dealing powers, we are given “strange armor”[5]. Likely the author is re-imagining the armor he has seen worn by Roman imperial troops: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace shoes, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit and the Word of God. This is not armor that maims or kills others. It does not condemn or dehumanize. It is not offensive armor—that is, it is not armor for being on the offense. It is meant to strengthen us, to protect us, to help us stand fast against all that would destroy life and denigrate what God intends for good.

Several years ago in a class at Louisville Seminary, I watched a moving documentary called “Weapons of the Spirit.” It tells the true story of a tiny Protestant farming village in the mountains of south-central France. During World War II, when France was occupied by the Nazis, this small village, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon (le cham bone’ sur lee noan’) provided shelter for 5,000 Jews. Most of the 5,000 villagers were descendants of the Huguenots—those were the first Protestants in Catholic France at the time of the Reformation. The documentary says, “They remembered their own history of persecution, and it mattered to them. They also read the Bible, and tried to heed the admonition to love your neighbor as yourself.” The day after France surrendered to Nazi Germany, their pastor said to them, “The responsibility of Christians is to resist the violence that will be brought to bear on [your] consciences through the weapons of the Spirit.”[6] It sounds to me like their pastor was reading from the letter to the Ephesians and speaking of the armor of God.

President Obama, speaking in 2009 on Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Rememberance Day, told the story of the villagers of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. He said, “Not a single Jew who came [to the town] was turned away, or turned in [to the Nazis]. But it was not until decades later that the villagers spoke of what they had done—and even then, only reluctantly. ‘How could you call us ‘good’?’ they said. ‘We were doing what had to be done.’”[7] That sounds to me like people who lived in the strength of God’s power.

Finally, pray. It’s the last counsel of the author just before signing off with some standard letter ending remarks. How do we live in God’s strength? How do we stand firm in the power of life? We pray. Pray at all time. Pray all the time for one another. The Common English Bible says it this way: “Offers prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers.” (6.18)

And then the author invites the people to whom he writes to pray for him in a specific way—that he would have the words and confidence to say what God needs him to say. “As for me,” he writes, “pray that when I open my mouth, I’ll get a message that confidently makes this [mystery] of the gospel known. I’m an ambassador in chains for the sake of the gospel. Pray so that [God] will give me the confidence to say what I have to say.” (6.19-20)[8]

Pray. Pray at all times. Pray all the time for one another.                            

I wonder who are the people who have prayed for you?

Who are the people who pray for you now?

I’m going to pause for about a minute or so and in that time, Invite God to bring to mind the people who have prayed and are praying for you and in the stillness of your heart give thanks for them. [pause]

I wonder who are the people for whom God calls you to pray? Invite God to bring them to mind and in the stillness of this moment, let your prayer arise for them. [pause]

I wonder what it is that you most need in this moment? What is your prayer? Your heart’s deepest desire? I invite you to bring that before God. [pause]

Amen.

* * *
[1] I can’t find a translation that has this particular wording.
[2] Quoted in a book review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/book-reviews/view/975/the-powers-that-be, accessed 12 September 2015.
[3] Peter Rhea Jones, “Ephesians 6.10-20 – Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 377.
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Stringfellow, accessed 12 September 2015.
[5] Aaron L. Uitti, “Ephesians 6.10-20 – Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 377.
[6] I was reminded of this documentary in Peter Rhea Jones’ article cited above. http://www.chambon.org/weapons_en.htm, accessed 12 September 2015.
[7] www.chambon.org/index.html, accessed 12 September 2015.
[8] Common English Bible