Preached November 13, 2011
St. John 4:46b–54
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We come today, on the twentyfirst Sunday after Trinity, to a Sunday for which the central theme is the peace enjoyed by the Christian, the quiet mind. This may seem strange when we first consider our two Scripture lessons for the day, the first dealing with preparations for spiritual warfare and the second dealing with Jesus’ healing of the son of the nobleman from Capernaum, but we will soon see the connections. The fifth Sunday after Trinity was also devoted to teaching that peace is the gift of God. We must be careful to understand that this peace is only to be had in the service of our God, not in idleness and sloth.
I should like to begin by repeating the Collect for the Day which really sets the theme for the day:
Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
When we turn to the Epistle lesson for the day, we find St. Paul talking about preparations for spiritual warfare, with phrases like, Ephesians 6:11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. This seems to be in marked contrast to the sweet words of the Collect. How do we reconcile these? St. Paul sounds somewhat like a 1950s or 1960s cold warrior advocating “peace through preparation for war” although, of course, it is spiritual warfare, not physical warfare, that St. Paul is advocating.. But the idea is exactly the same. He is saying that if we are truly spiritually prepared to engage the world and the devil, we will have internal peace because we will be confident that we will prevail with Christ’s help. It is only when we are unprepared and spiritually weak that we are uncertain about our eternal destiny.
Peace is only for those who are fully armed and prepared, fighting not in their own strength, but in the strength of Christ. We must recognize that the enemy is not weak in the same way that we are weak, being more than ordinary men, 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. We must understand that the darkness of the world is the result of the evil one, the devil, and that it is him and his devious agents that we fight against. They are definitely too much for us if we attempt to stand alone; by ourselves we will easily be defeated. There is only one Power that has ever defeated the devil, and He will give us the strength to do so as well if we rely solely upon Him. That is our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He, and He alone, is able to defeat the devil, and to give us His strength that we may withstand the assaults of the devil and his minions. Let us not fail to recognize our critical need in this situation.
We must be ever on guard, watchful, and ready to repel the assaults of the enemy. This is our work, our service to God. In order to be able to do this, we must be armed, and St. Paul talks much about this. Ephesians 6:13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. We must not expect to go into the battle with the evil one unarmed and still expect to prevail; that would truly be foolishness. Just as men going out to fight a war put on armor, so St. Paul exhorts us to put on spiritual armor before we engage the enemy less we be defeated before we begin. This is a fight to the spiritual death; the stakes are our own souls, so we simply must not loose this battle. The thing that is critical, however, is that this armor is not anything that we provide ourselves, but rather it comes to us from God, take unto you the whole armour of God. This is what makes it efficacious.
Ephesians 6:14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; Notice that the first item is the girdle of Truth. This is essentially wrapping oneself in Jesus Christ, The Truth, and making Him a part of all that you do. It means that every act has the power of Christ behind it. The breastplate of righteousness is protection for the body from mortal wounds while fighting (cf. Isaiah 59:17 For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke.) There is no backplate because the Christian warrior can never turn from the battle.
You know that when you are barefoot, or in soft shoes, you have to pick your way carefully over rough terrain, so St. Paul says, Ephesians 6:15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Having the proper footwear is essential to being able to engage in the battle with the world, whether it be a physical battle, a missionary trip to spread the Gospel, or simply our everyday work outside the home. We must be prepared to work, and the Gospel of Peace is a major part of our equipment as Christians.
Ephesians 6:16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. Faith in the Father shields us from all distrust as to outward things; faith in the Son guards from all inward concerns as to our acceptance with God; faith in the Spirit from all temptations to gross evil.
Ephesians 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: The helmet is the assurance of our final victory, and the sword is a gift, forged by the Holy Spirit, that we are to use, both to conquer the world and to defend ourselves from the world. Both of these bring peace to the Christian so armed before the battle commences, because he know that the outcome as assured.
Even with all of this, however, everything will fail without prayer. Thus, Ephesians 6:18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; In truth, none of this armor can actually be put on without prayer as it is being applied. Prayer must be constant, habitual, truly “in the Spirit,” with perseverance, made without excuses or lapses. It must be made for all Christians, particularly all Christian priests and other ministers. Without genuine prayer, we simply have nothing at all.
The peace of God is a very present help in this life as we wrestle with sin. In the Gospel lesson, 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 first part of our Gospel lesson for the day, John 4:46b-47 46b And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. This nobleman was no different from any common man when it came to the matter of having a sick child. His rank and position did not help him at all; it was his child that was sick, and he was no more able to do anything about it than the poorest shepherd on the hillside might have done. He is greatly concerned, and he is clutching at straws. The local healers cannot help his son, but there is a famous prophet come to the nearby town of Galilee, so what can it hurt to go to him to ask for help? If his son is about to die anyway, will be anything lost in trying? So with faint hope, some excitement, and in desperation, he sets off to Galilee. It is a journey of faith mixed with fear.
Now Jesus does what seems like a hard thing with the nobleman: John 4:48-50 48 Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. 49 The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. 50 Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. Not surprisingly, Jesus knows the man’s request before it is stated, and says that the man will doubt unless he sees signs and wonders. Then the nobleman makes his request. Jesus answers that the request is granted, and that the nobleman simply needs to return home. Now think about the way that leaves the nobleman feeling, what he is thinking. He has made his request, and Jesus simply says, “It is done; go on home.” Jesus did not come to his home. Jesus did not even talk much with him. There were no signs in the air, no voice of God, no thunder, nothing. Just, “It is done; go on home.” Does he have the faith to take Jesus Christ at His word and trust Him? This is the question for us, today, also. Do we have the faith to take Jesus Christ at His word? Scripture says that the man did believe and started home, no doubt with all sorts of mixed feelings in his heart.
While he was on his way home, John 4:51-53 51 And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. 52 Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. 53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. We see here the divine mercy acting to shorten the period of uncertainty and confirm the man, and indeed, his whole house, in the faith of Christ.
It is clear that the peace of God is not comprised of external tranquility so much as it is in being deeply and firmly rooted in God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to the extent that we know that nothing can ever separate us from God. Then we are secure and at peace, no matter what madness may swirl around us.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.