Stand Firm

Aug. 23, 2015

1 Kg. 8.22-30, 41-43; Eph. 6.10-20; Jn 6.56-69

At my High School reunion last weekend, I had the distinction of being the only member of the class who had ever been returned from the dead! Five years ago at the last reunion, I was pictured among the classmates who had died. At this reunion... our class president said, not only was I an Episcopal priest, but also I had been raised from the dead! Nevertheless, as I looked at the "In Memorium" classmates...I was shocked by the loss of so many friends. It reminds us of the impermanence of all the things that seem so permanent. Happiness rooted in impermanent things can never be complete.

The pursuit of happiness is after all, something that engages us all. Consider the research that shows optimists are happier than pessimists. Married people are happier than singles, but people who have children are no happier than people who don't. Republicans tend to be happier than Democrats (and generally more affluent). People who go to church are happier than people who don't. It's interesting that people who have advanced college degrees tend to be less happy than those who have just a basic B.A. degree. I was pleasantly surprised also to learn that men are on the whole just as happy as women. And research shows that busy people are happier than people who do less and that wealthy people are happier than the poor...but not by much. 1 In each case when happiness is close by, we feel an assurance that we are grounded in well-being. And with that, we feel we are standing on firm ground.

Today's Ephesians reading admonishes us to "stand" on the firm ground of faith and discover the essential measure of happiness that comes from knowing that we are in an unshakeable place. Ephesians sees faithfulness to God as a contest against evil, faithfulness is standing up in a fight against wickedness. Ephesians says Christians should arm themselves spiritually just like a Roman soldier is armed for battle. For example, the Roman soldier's shield was big enough to cover the whole body of the soldier, but it was lightweight, and sturdy enough to render harmless dozens of flaming arrows. Faith is that kind of shield that protects us from head to toe. The helmet guards against battering blows that can come in a pitched battle. A soldier's boots had spikes on the bottom just like an NFL player to provide firm footing and groundedness. Finally, there is the sword of the Spirit that, like the Roman soldier's short sword, was a weapon meant for close hand-to-hand combat. 2 So, the message of the scripture is "Be ready to stand and fight."

Equipping and supporting each other is an important function of the Christian community. As your priest, I've tried to equip you by preaching well over a hundred sermons in the last 3 years that I have been here at St Thomas. My objective has always been to help you apply the scriptures to the battles that you have to fight as a person of faith. But sometimes, I know people hear a different message than the one I intended. Not too long ago on Sunday morning, a parishioner leaving church told me, "Good sermon." I asked, "So, what did you hear in the sermon that spoke to you?" And her reply was, "Reverend, you preach the shortest sermons I've ever heard!" More than one preacher will tell you that very few souls are saved after the first 10 minutes. We Christians must be trained and equipped to fight the good fight. So, let us equip ourselves to stand firm in faith.

Second, we also need guidance--what to do? The Scriptures admonish us to be of "one mind" in the Lord. We as Christians are told to seek the mind of Christ as our place of unity. We have a lot to overcome from the world around us and even within our own minds in that regard! Even our brains are divided into two "hemispheres," the right and left-brain. And brain scientists had assumed for a very long time that consciousness resided in the left (or thinking side) of the brain and that the right brain of the brain was just along for the ride. But scientists discovered that the two sides of our brains actually negotiate with each other about what to say or do. It happens in milli-seconds, but this brain process has been compared to a raucous debate in the British style parliament where the back rows of each party throw out a loud shouts of "Here, here!" or jeers of criticism, like a "Booo". There's a little neural pathway that connects the two sides of our brains called the "corpus callosum". When the corpus callosum is cut (as sometimes happens in accidents) then one literally has two very different and sometimes irreconcilable ways of thinking and behaving in one person!3 One patient who suffered this injury had a left hand (controlled by his right brain), which acted very rudely toward his wife, while his right hand (connected to his left thinking brain) could not have been more respectful and loving toward his spouse! Isn't that a lot like our Christian life? The worst things happen in Christian communities when we lose our ability to connect with each other or even within ourselves over conflicted feelings--we have difficulty discerning the mind of Christ. We need to come to the mind of Christ through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, God equips us and fills our lives, but the proof comes in what we do. Our lives, it seems to me is, are like a glove. A glove without a hand in it can do nothing, but as a glove encloses a hand, it can do anything the hand can do. It's the Holy Spirit in us that helps us to act rightly. But we must allow God's hand to work through us. If we do so, is a blessed happiness. In the words of the psalm today, "Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way." God equips, guides, and empowers us to move according to God's will...and believe me we can accomplish God's work, as we allow God to move in us. May God bless us and allow us to move with God's hand working in us and find the greatest happiness through a life of faith. Amen.

The Reverend W A Ray
St Thomas Church Diamondhead, MS

1Winer, E. The Geography of Bliss. Amazon E-book

2Slater, Thomas B. Ephesians. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2012, 171ff.

3Lehrer, J. Proust was a Neuroscientist. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 2007, 177ff.