Sermon for August 30, 2015

Sermon for Rally Day, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 30, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Ephesians 6:10-20

Sermon Theme: “Prepared to Stand up for Jesus”

 (Sources:  Brokhoff, Series B, Preaching Workbook; Anderson’s, Cycle B, Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Online Sunday School Humor; Online Church Jokes; Concordia Pulpit, Vol. 25, Part 3, Series B)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

           Rally Day Party yesterday!  Rally Day Service today!  It’s almost September, and the 2015-2016 School Year is underway, — both Secular and Ecclesiastical.

It’s sort of been a tradition to tell funny Sunday School stories on Rally Day.  I knew one pastor who was notorious for using his special occasion sermons over and over, year after year.  That means his congregation heard the same Sunday School jokes every year; consequently, he was the only one who thought his Rally Day humor was funny.

While I’ve never preached the same sermon twice since I have been here at St. Paul’s, I can’t vouch for my stories.  My family tells me that I have been known to tell the same story more than once.

One pastor always kneeled at the altar rail and prayed silently before he gave his sermon.  After church, on the way to Sunday School one day, a little girl asked Pastor, “Why do you kneel at the altar rail before you preach your sermon?”

The pastor, pleased that she was so observant, answered, “Well, young lady, in my prayer, I am just asking the Lord to help me preach a good sermon.”

“So how come He doesn’t answer it?”  She asked.

All of us who have taught Sunday School know that kids can say the darndest things.  One Sunday School teacher tells about how she described the Old Testament scene wherein Lots’ wife looked back at Sodom and turned into a pillar of salt.  A little boy named Billy interrupted the teacher and said, “My mommy looked back once when she was driving, and she turned into a telephone pole.”

Unlike us, many churches have Sunday School before church.   Another Sunday School teacher always talked to the kids about behavior before she dismissed them to go into the church.  One Sunday she asked, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?”

Annie replied, “Because people are sleeping.”

Then there was the Sunday School teacher who was teaching the class how God created everything, including human beings.  Little Jimmy seemed especially intent when she told how Eve was created out of one of Adam’s ribs.  Later in the week, Jimmy’s mother noticed that he was lying on the bed as though in pain.  “Jimmy, what’s the matter?” she asked.

Jimmy replied, “I have a pain in my side; I think I’m going to have a wife.”

Since it was financially impossible for most small Lutheran churches to establish parochial schools, the necessity for at least a “Sunday” School became obvious.  And, as we’ve moved into the modern era, when public schools have been coerced to keep Christ out of the schools, the need for Sunday School has become ever greater.

Knowing that our children will not study the Bible in public school, knowing that, in most cases, they will not be led to pray in public school, and knowing that many public schools do not teach morality and ethics, we have to do as much as we can to guarantee Christian education in our Sunday Schools.  Meeting one hour on one day a week makes the challenge even greater.

Rally Day is the day for “rallying the troops,” so to speak, to prepare them the best we can for survival in the jungle of the outside secular world.  Each year, we try to find the right thing to say to launch them forth.

It is providential that our Lutheran Lectionary saved the last passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians for Rally Day, as it says, not just what the young folks, but all of us, need to hear.  It tells us how we can prepare the children, and ourselves, to stand up when the world tries to bring them, and us, down!

Paul concludes his letter to the Ephesians with words of admonition.   He urges all Christians who read the letter to be strong in the Lord and to put on the whole armor of God.  The image Paul uses is of the Roman foot soldier, comparing the parts of his gear to spiritual realities:  helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, belt of truth, sword of the Spirit and so forth.  The last weapon he mentions is the only one that could be considered offensive – the sword of the Spirit.

Paul identifies the sword of the Spirit with the Word of God.  Jesus used this weapon against the temptations of Satan, just prior to launching His ministry.  Martin Luther used the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, to wage spiritual warfare in his day, declaring in A Mighty Fortress, “one little word will fell him.”

The war we Christians are waging against the world is not the kind of fighting done by Roman troops in Jesus’ day, but, spiritual warfare.

One of the key defensive weapons to be used against the forces of evil is the shield of faith.  Paul urges us to pick up the shield of faith in order to put out the flaming darts and arrows of the Evil One.  The Roman soldier carried a large oblong shield composed of two layers of wood glued together.  When the flaming arrows sink into the shield the fire is extinguished.  Paul compares faith to a permanent shield which protects us from the assaults of Satan.

Of course the whole armor of God is necessary, not just one piece, although each one is powerful.  We always remember the helmet, the breastplate, the shield, and the sword especially, don’t we.  There’s one piece of armor which Paul mentions that I’ll bet most people miss, — I know I always missed it until someone pointed it out to me.  But even then, I thought, ‘How important is that?’

The piece of armor I am referring to is the shoes.  Yes, shoes.  In the text, Paul says, “And, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”  Of all the pieces of armor the Apostle mentions, we are surprised that he even mentions shoes.  Yet, we shouldn’t be surprised at all, because the whole point of ALL THE ARMOR, Paul says, is to be able to STAND!

He says in the text, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to STAND firm.  STAND therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth . . .”  As I said before, we have to stand up when the world tries to bring us down, and that’s the admonition we pass on to the children:  “You have to stand up when the world tries to bring you down.”

To be sure, the command to the Christian soldier is “Stand!”  The command is not “Attack!”  And certainly it is not “Retreat!”  But simply, “Stand.”  The whole armor of God has been given to each Christian to enable him or her to stand his or her ground and to withstand the assaults of the enemy.

What kind of shoes does a soldier need?  He needs shoes that provide protection and shoes that provide traction.  What soldier can stand firm and steadfast with wounded feet?  If he is to maintain his stance in the onslaught, he must be certain that his feet will not be vulnerable, his Achilles’ heel.

This is true also of the Christian soldier in spiritual warfare.  Just as the shield of faith can protect us from the fiery darts of the enemy, so does the Gospel promise of forgiveness by Jesus’ death on the cross protect our stance from the shots and thrust and stomps of the Evil One.

Neither our own courage, our own strength, nor our own righteousness guards our stance, but only the promise of forgiveness and salvation in Christ Jesus.

The other thing the soldier needs for the shoe to provide is traction.  Fighting in the blood-soaked mud and mire of the battlefield, a Roman foot soldier could not wear shoes which slip out from under him.  He must be able to stand firm!

Likewise, a Soldier of the Cross in spiritual warfare, needs shoes which provide traction.  According to our text, those shoes are “the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”  The Gospel of peace in warfare may not seem to make much sense, because it seems like an oxymoron.

However, the peace that gives us traction as Soldiers of the Cross is peace in our hearts knowing about Christ’s reconciling death which banishes every worry from our minds and enables us to plant our feet firmly, to meet the attack without wavering or trembling or slipping.  Christ has reconciled us to God; we are at peace with God.

Once the Christian soldier has been knocked to the ground, the battle is already lost.  We must remain firmly on our feet, and it is none other than the Gospel of Jesus’ cross and resurrection that allows us to stand.  That’s our Rally Cry for this Rally Day Sunday!  Let us be prepared to stand up for Jesus!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.