Let us love one another because the source of love is God. Everyone who loves is a child of God and Knows God, for God is love.1 John 4: 7-8
Hymn 120 God we praise you. God we bless you
You promised us that you are always with us
that you will not abandon us
that you care about us
that you are always working for our good
that you will equip us for whatever task you want us to do
We praise you and thank you for your care and concern for us
but we confess that we don’t treat you as we should
we take you for granted
we turn from your ways, from the teaching and example of Jesus
we don’t love others as we should
Help us to be the people you want us to be
Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen
All age time (for ages 0-100)
When we went to a holiday property in Whithorn, many moons ago, the property had been fitted out with four-poster bed, box beds, Dutch dressers and the like to look ‘olde worlde’. The girls went off exploring and came bouncing back to announce that the television room had a suit of armour in it. And on further inspection we could confirm what they said. It was certainly different. Does anyone here have a suit of armour in the house?
I suspect that many of us couldn’t describe a suit of armour – whether Roman, Viking or what a knight would have worn – but if we saw a picture of it, we would know what it was. If we weren’t sure, we would probably look it up in a book or on the internet.
Jesus and others mentioned in the New Testament lived in the Roman Empire. The whole Empire covered a huge area from Britain to Romania, Georgia to Saudi Arabia, Egypt to Morocco, with very long borders that included moorland, forests and deserts. On the whole life inside the Empire and on its borders was peaceful at that time, but in case of trouble the army was stationed near the borders and in places (like the Holy Land) where trouble might well break out. The Roman army in the Holy Land was based in the coastal city of Caesarea, with a unit in Jerusalem, but they were helped out by troops from their allies in places like Galilee.
Many of the places that Paul travelled on his journeys – in what are now Western Turkey and Greece – were fairly quiet, with no major outbreaks of unrest or rioting. They were under civilian rule, with no troops stationed there permanently. They might see some pass through on their way to another posting. They would see statues of emperors wearing ceremonial uniforms. But probably, if you had asked them to describe the armour that a soldier wore, they would struggle just like us – and they didn’t have books or access to the internet to help them.
Ephesians 6: 10-20
Hymn 356 Meekness and majesty
Commentators ponder whether the Letter to the Ephesians was written specifically for the church in Ephesus, or was a more general letter to the wider Christian community in the province of Asia in what is now Western Turkey – and we simply have the ‘Ephesus’ copy of it. It was a relatively peaceful and prosperous area where different cultural traditions came together. There seems to have been a widespread awareness of the ‘supernatural’, to which all of life’s troubles and setbacks were attributed.
It’s maybe not how we see life, but we would agree with them that even in relatively peaceful, prosperous Dumbarton and Britain life has troubles and setbacks. There’s the impact of the pandemic, but also all the other issues that were around here and throughout the world before it started: physical and mental health problems, addictions, abuse, neglect, poverty, warfare, violence, discrimination, intolerance, the climate emergency and so on.
Jesus called us to follow him and to be his witnesses in the world. He wants us to share his Good News, to show the world what living by his standards and values can mean in practice, and to encourage others to encounter him, follow him and change their way of living. He wants us to play our part in striving to build the Kingdom in this world, a world of peace and justice – even if we never see it realised. We might not envisage such a task as contending with spiritual powers and principalities, but the earthly ones are not easy to deal with. Try convincing superpowers like America, China or Russia, extremist groups like Isis or the Taliban, games of armed criminals, drug barons, warlords, those who only believe in the conspiracy theories they see on social media, and those who are government supporters who don’t want to pay more in tax or have to change their lifestyles, that God expects them to change their ways.
Talking about dressing up in Roman military armour would seem as strange to the people of Ephesus and Asia as it does to us. They were not professional soldiers, and were never likely to be, but it was a graphic image on which the author of the Letter could hang his advice. Like us, they faced challenges, but they weren’t to run away and hide from them, but were to face up to them, with God’s help – even if it meant encountering ridicule, abuse or violence. Just as a soldier’s armour contained items like a breastplate, helmet and shield that were for defence, and other items, like a sword, that were meant for attack, so they were to focus on things that guarded their faith, and things that prepared them to take the initiative going forward. It is a message relevant to us too:
- when confronted with challenge or danger, our strength comes from God, through his Spirit
- amid all the misinformation and fake news spread by governments, criminal groups and the rest, there is such a thing as truth, that is rooted and grounded in God. We must strive for truth and never relapse into spreading false rumours, half-truths or downright lies
- we are assured by God himself that he loves us, and through Jesus have become part of his special family. As Paul phrased it, ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus.’ That is a tremendous reassurance through all the challenges of life. God also calls us to change our way of living, and to follow Jesus’ example. We need to think about how we behave, what we say, what we do, because people look at us and expect to see us living out the things we say people should do
- we need to be ready to act, to take the initiative, to look at new ways of going forward
- we have a message of peace to share with the world, a message it desperately needs. We need to share it, and it has to be more than bland words
- in the challenges of life, in difficult times, on occasions when everything seems to be going wrong, that is when we most need to be able to trust in God, knowing that he stands with us. To have that in place for those times, we need to keep working at our relationship with God, especially during the ‘easier’ times
- for many people, life is just about this world, but we have God’s promise of a life beyond this one, one that will last for ever, and where there will be no pain or sadness. That helps put all the challenges of this life in a new perspective
- God has a message for us to share with the world, a message which is reinforced with the power of his Spirit. It can bring about change if we are prepared to share it
- And we do need to be ready to pray, seriously, regularly and earnestly, for each other and for the building of God’s Kingdom, in Dumbarton, Scotland and the world.
Prayers for others
We thank you that you surround us with your love
and have given us the things we need
to stand up to the pressures and challenges of life
and to do your work
We pray for all who are struggling to cope
with all the challenges and difficulties they face in life
who feel that they are alone, and have no-one to turn to for support
who see no hope for the future or prospect of change
We pray for all who serve in uniform
in our armed forces and police
and in those of other countries
we pray for all who are ill,
those who look after them
and those who worry about them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one
those who are worried about home, work or money
a friend or a relative
those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters
those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home
those who long to live in peace and safety
those who have fled from their homes seeking safety
We pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
We pray for you church
the worldwide church
the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn 355 You Lord are both Lamb and Shepherd
And the blessing of God Almighty.