22 August 2021

“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. “Ephesians” 6:11

In 2001, United States soldiers arrived in Afghanistan and forced the Taliban out of Kabul.  The women in Afghanistan, who under Taliban rule were forced to cover their heads when outside, were not allowed to get a formal education or even hold a formal job outside their home, always had to be escorted by a man when not at home, and who were often publicly beaten when they defied the law, could see a different future.  Over the years, as the United States stayed involved and tried to help Afghanistan build a democracy, pressure mounted to end that war and bring the soldiers home.  In 2020, President Trump and the Taliban signed a formal peace deal where the United States agreed to withdraw troops and release Taliban prisoners, while the Taliban agreed to take steps to prevent any group or individual, including al Qaeda, from using Afghanistan to threaten the security of the US or its allies.  In April 2021, President Biden continued the plan set up by Trump, and began to bring the military home.  This was also about the time that the Taliban began taking control of rural areas within the country, controlling about 50 percent of the country by June.  Then, last week, news broke on the 15th of August as President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and the capital of Kabul was overrun.  The Taliban tells the world that they are not the same as they were.  The world does not trust them.  Yet the world lies in wait to see what will happen.  President Biden sent a total of 6,000 additional troops for purposes of securing the international airport and moving American citizens and Afghan citizens who assisted the United States efforts there, and others who might be vulnerable.  Backing his decision to continue with the withdrawal from the country, Biden said, “We gave them every chance to determine their own future.  What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”  Many believe that if the Afghan military had actually fought back against the Taliban, the takeover would not have occurred.  Now, as the world watches mostly men leave the country, we wonder about those most vulnerable left behind.  What will the US relationship be with the Taliban after the peace agreement last year?  Have they changed?  Is Biden right in making the decision not to make more sacrifices for this conflict and see if the Taliban holds up their end of the bargain?  Perhaps if they don’t, that’s when we get involved again?  Is it even our war to fight?  Meanwhile within the country, its citizens are filled with fear.  There is unrest.  Are they being abandoned with this decision?  How is the US responsible for fending off the Taliban when we equipped Afghan military to fight them for themselves and to be independent?  They would have to fight for what they wanted to keep sooner or later.  Our forebearers did in the War of 1812 when the British tried to take over the colonies that had declared independence.  There are a lot of unanswered questions right now.

Whatever side you are on in these issues, there is one thing that is certain.  We are followers of Jesus.  We all seek to be more like Jesus every day.  We are a church, and belonging to a church helps us to mature as Christians.  Often it is through reading the news and asking these difficult questions together.  It is by reading spiritual literature and asking questions about it.  It is about continuing to learn and grow as we have new experiences, celebrating our joys, walking through our stresses, and praying through our grievances.  Before we judge another for thinking something other than what we do, ask yourself what Jesus would do.  Talk to another Christian neighbor about it.  We are never perfect and we never have all the answers, and we all have weaknesses and strengths.  That is why we need each other to work together and grow.  We all have different talents, but we all have something to offer.  No gift is too small to add to God’s glory.  We share a common heritage as Christians as we share a common purpose: to minister to members and all in need around us, and ultimately to bring acceptance of God to all the world.  As we look around the news and are shocked and disappointed every other day, we don’t retreat and be sad and admit defeat.  We meet together as a church, we work through it, we build one another up and encourage one another as we ask the same questions.  We forgive each other for our faults.  The entire purpose of a church is to know that we are built together.  We are not built to be alone.  We are not at our best when we work alone.  A church tells us that we are accepted, that we always have a place to go, and that we can be renewed as often as we like, because God gives us a clean slate whenever we come to God proclaiming God’s greatness and our weakness, asking for God’s help.

We read today the story of Solomon dedicating the new temple that he had just built.  The temple would become a place where people could come to pray, share ideas, and even learn about God.  The temple was a place where sacrifices were made, but the focus that Solomon dedicates it with is primarily as a place of prayer, to come and experience the glory of the Lord.  He even prays for the foreigners who will come to pray, asking God that those prayers be heard.  In dedicating the temple for prayer, and in praying himself, however, he follows the same format that we saw him pray with God in 1 Kings 3: He begins by praising God for all that God has done and recognizing that no house – not even the temple – could contain the glory of God.  This is how we should begin every prayer so that we do not lose sight of God’s ultimate greatness.

First, as a church community we commit to study the world’s tough questions together.  By doing this, instead of letting them defeat us, we talk about them while we remind ourselves of God’s presence among us.  It is easy to forget that God is in control when we attack these perspectives from a secular perspective.  Second, as a church community we commit to get to know God together.  We do this by singing of God’s greatness, learning how to forgive, and reflecting on how we are meant to respond to this world as Christians.  Solomon began this joy in togetherness in constructing the temple so that individuals did not have to go up to various high places to pray and sacrifice to God.  In churches, we still experience the essential community.  However, it does not end here.  After we bring our tough questions to our church community and talk about them, we are to ask ourselves what is our call to action.  After all the questioning, maturing, discipling, prayer, and seeking meaning in our faith, God wants to use us for good in a world that even God may not enjoy watching unfold.  God wants to use what the enemy meant for evil to bring good.  We began this sermon series trying to understand what it meant to find God and come to God in this world.  We come to God with a genuine heart, genuinely wanting to know God.  We come to God consistently, not just with the dregs of our day.  We come to God willing to provoke one another to love.  For the moment when we stop seeking God is the moment that we cannot find God.  David found God because he kept seeking God in every circumstance.  Others find God through the way that God’s people love them.  We heard that living fully is loving life because we are leaving a legacy for God’s glory.  That is, in everything that we do and in everywhere that we go, we choose to represent God to our neighbors.  We correct our mistakes.  We apologize when we do something wrong.  We know that God’s will is not with everything that happens in our world, and that God wants to use us to still work good out of every circumstance.  Therefore, we can discern that God is not willing us to fearfully go to our homes, say a word of prayer, and feel like we can do nothing else.  God is literally asking us to stand up and fight.

Paul told the Ephesians, “Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For 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” (Ephesians 6:11-12).  This war has been waging for all time as we know it.  If we put on God’s armor, and believe in its authority, there is nothing that can bring us down.  We heard stories of those who have endured persecution but may have a stronger faith than Western Christians.  They are the ones who talk about their faith openly every day, hoping to spread it to another.  Do we too want to live to leave a legacy for God’s glory?  I pray that such a revival happens in Afghanistan and other places that need something to be bold about and find security in.  Whatever the circumstances are, the good that can always come about is people placing their faith in God.  Instead of blaming our political leaders for making decisions that would have faced criticism either way, is your energy better placed toward putting on this armor?  When others see you wearing it, they are going to ask you where you got it.  Faith, righteousness, truth, salvation, and God’s word are all we need.  Susan E. Hylen, an author and Professor of New Testament at Vanderbilt Divinity School, makes a striking discovery: “Powers that threaten the individual Christian are no match for the body of Christ adorned with the armor of God” (NP B.2.151).  Are you able to trust fully in God’s love, or are you joining those of the disciples who walked away from a difficult teaching?  Yes, it is a hard teaching.  It is hard to see suffering happen in our world and then come to God and praise God and ask God to be with those who are suffering.  Yet as Simon Peter testified, “Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69).

There are Christians in Afghanistan afraid that they will be persecuted yet again by the Taliban for their faith.  We must pray for their protection.  The situation is fluid on the ground right now, changing every day.  We must pray for wisdom and discernment as they decide whether to stay or go and even with whom they should talk.  We must pray for fellowship, as believers in the country often must keep their faith a secret – even from family members.  Pray that God will help each Afghan believer to connect and fellowship with at least one other believer in person, by phone, or through some other technology.  Pray that God will remind them that they are not alone, but are part of the global body of Christ.

The twelve disciples did not tell Jesus that his teaching was too difficult.  They understood that “just as Jesus is the incarnation of God, so we as believers are invited to be part of that divine body, to be the incarnation of Christ in and to the world” (Loye Bradley Ashton, FW B.3.384).  Further, “their decision not to turn away but to walk forward with Christ draws them together as a community of faith.  It is their professed willingness to follow Jesus Christ that renders them a community of faith” (Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm, FW B.3.285).  Today, do you profess your willingness to follow Jesus?  The armor is laid out before you; put it on!  Together, we come to Jesus.  Together, we mature.  Together, we pray.  We are built together, for only together can we keep our faith in these times and make a difference to God’s legacy in this world.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.  “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).

Scripture Readings:

1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43
8:1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion.
8:6 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim.
8:10 And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD,
8:11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.
8:22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.
8:23 He said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart,
8:24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand.
8:25 Therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’
8:26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.
8:27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!
8:28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O LORD my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today;
8:29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place.
8:30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.
8:41 “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name
8:42 –for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm–when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house,
8:43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.

Ephesians 6:10-20
6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.
6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
6:12 For 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.
6:13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
6:14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.
6:15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
6:16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
6:17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
6:18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
6:19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,
6:20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

John 6:56-69
6:56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
6:57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
6:58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
6:59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
6:60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
6:61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you?
6:62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
6:63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
6:64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.
6:65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
6:66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
6:67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”
6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.
6:69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

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