Preached October 24th, 2010
St. John 4:46b–54
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Last Sunday, we talked about living our Christian lives of service in joy, and in a similar vein today, on the 21st Sunday after Trinity we take up the matter of living our Christian lives of service in peace. This matter has been brought before us once previously during the Trinity season, on Trinity 5, when we considered peace as a gift of God. Today we are focused more on the conditions under which peace may be obtained. On both Sundays, the Church is careful to teach that peace is to be enjoyed in the active service of God, rather than in simple idleness.
At first glance, our Epistle lesson seems like a strange choice with its extensive warlike imagery, but we need to look a little deeper. The common wisdom of our day has some bearing on the matter when it says, “the best preparation for peace is to be ready for war.” We see this reflected immediately in the words of St. Paul when he says, Ephesians 6:10-11 10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. We are going to have to fight, to fight against the very devil himself, and by ourselves we are woefully unprepared for such a battle. Only when we have put on the whole armor of God can we be at peace in the knowledge that we are prepared to deal with the devil when we encounter him. It is the armor of God that is the source of our peace, nothing that we can provide for ourselves, and most certainly not our own strength. St. Paul goes on in the description to say, Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. He is reminding us that these are not just wicked men, but even against the fallen angels, the principalities and powers as he refers to them, creatures of a different created order superior to us. We are completely outclassed in this battle if we attempt to undertake it alone. But St. Paul tells us that, protected with the armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (6:13b). Only Jesus Christ was strong enough to save Himself, and He is the only one who is able to save us as well.
We are called upon to stand in this life, to be upright and visible, vulnerable to the attacks of the devil, and yet to withstand those attacks. It is only by remaining standing in this life that we inherit our reward, acceptance and security in the life to come. In order to remain standing, we must be armed, but not simply in some partial manner. Rather we must have the whole armor of God, putting on each piece with care in order that it be fully effective for our defense. St. Paul lays out the whole armor of God for us in detail in this way:
The Christian Belt or Girdle is truth or sincerity. This is what holds the entire Christian character together, and without it, all else falls apart. Let no one think that he can be a Christian and at the same time be sparing with the truth. Sadly, there are too many who think that they can.
The Christian Breastplate is Righteousness or true guiding principle. This defends the body from all mortal wounds. There is no back armor because the Christian can never disengage from the battle, but rather must remain engaged in the battle and continue to fight to the end.
The Christian’s Sandals make him ready for whatever service God may require, and knowing that he is ready gives the Christian a sense of peace. This sense of preparedness and peace sent the Apostles out into all the world.
The Shield of Faith in the Father protects us from distrust as to outward things. Faith in the Son protects us from our fear of the Father, and faith in the Holy Ghost protects us against gross evil.
The expectation of salvation, the final victory, is the Christian Helmet. This provides us with the steady nerves to continue in difficult situation, the ability to persevere.
The Christian Sword is the Word of God, used both to cut and to parry. It is the gift of the Holy Ghost who alone enables us to use it, both the conquer the world and to defend ourselves. Christ told us that He came to bring not peace but a sword; this sword brings us only peace.
Finally, none of this is of any value at all without Prayer, prayer for ourselves and prayer for others. It must be regular, habitual is the word St. Paul uses, with all perseverance. Notice that St. Paul particular asks for prayer for himself. We may extend that to say that prayer is needed for all Christian priests and other ministers upon whom so very much depends in the spread of the Gospel today.
The peace of God which is to be our stay in our on–going conflict with sin, it is to be our very present help in trouble. The miracle of the healing of the nobleman’s son teaches that this peace depends upon faith, and comes only to the believing. Consider the story told in our Gospel lesson.
The son of the nobleman is sick, and the fact that the father is a member of the nobility makes no difference at all. The son is sick and appears to be about to die. We may assume that they have called whatever physicians were available, all to no avail. The nobleman and his family are sorrowing at the prospect of the death of their son. The nobleman journeys to where Christ is, and asks Him to come to cure his son. We may contrast this with the words of the centurion, Matthew 8:8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. The centurion comes with a strong faith, giving him full confidence that all that is needed is the word of Christ. In contrast, the nobleman of our story today comes, but he assumes that Christ must come to the boy in order to heal him. The words of Christ, spoken tot he nobleman, become a faith challenge, John 4:48 Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. Jesus is telling the father that he will have to believe that his son is cured and go away home to fine out the turth of it. Jesus is also saying to the crowd of unbelieving Jews, “I’m going to cure this sick person, but you are not going to see any part of it because you and I are not going to be there with him when he gets well. All of you need to expand your understanding of My power.”.
This nobleman does not have as much faith as the centurion who knew on his own that Christ needed not come in order to heal, but he did have sufficient faith to come himself and ask for healing. The nobleman did accept the word of Christ that the boy would be healed and went on his way home. It took more faith to leave Jesus than was required to come in the first place because Jesus had called for him to believe in the cure of his son. This was a journey of increased faith, believing but having not yet seen none of the evidence. This would have been a struggle between faith and unbelief, between confidence and anxiety. Divine mercy shortened the time of trial by having the servants meet the nobleman on the way and give him the news.
The final part of the journey would have been in complete peace for the nobleman. The servants have repeated the blessed words of Christ, Thy son liveth, so the man is assured that all is well at home. They have told him of a miraculous cure that was immediate and complete at the very hour that Christ spoke the words to him. Thus what started out as a journey in sorrow with the prospect of the death of his son ends as a journey in peace and joy as he returns home to his living son.
In our modern hedonistic life, the image of being at peace is often portrayed as having a lot of money, sitting on a beach watching the waves roll in, eating fine food and drinking liberally — what we might call the wine, women, and song model of life. To this many people will add all manner of drugs, gambling, fast cars, horses, and the list goes on and on. What we know for certain is that there is no peace at all in such a life. These people become among some of the most desperate people on the face of the earth after just a few years. When we recall what St. Paul has been telling us, it is not surprising at all.
There are other modern life models, such as the “power grabber model” that seems to attract so many of our politicians. We can compare their lives with what St. Paul is saying, and we see some rather glaring problems, so then it is not surprising they are not at peace.
As we know full well, there will be an accounting of all, and then it will become quite apparent who has donned the full armor of God and who has not. The penalties for failing to do so will be severe, more so in the life to come than in this life here, even though there are penalties here as well.
I’d like to leave you with a perspective of the peace of God for the more ordinary sort of people.
The Peace of God
They cast their nets in Galilee
Just off the hills of brown;
Such happy, simple fisher folk,
Before the Lord came down.
Contented, peaceful fishermen,
Before they ever knew
The peace of God that filled their hearts
Brimful, and broke them too.
Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,
Homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
Head-down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod.
Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing —
The marvelous peace of God.
by William Alexander Percy
Hymn #437 The Episcopal Hymnal, 1940
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.