This Sunday has been set apart as Sanctuary Sunday and so in our intercessory prayers at the end of the service we will lift up those who are in need of sanctuary and refugees!
Call to Worship (Adapted from Ephesians 1): Merciful God, we come before You with praise and thanksgiving! Through Jesus Christ, you have lavished on us every spiritual blessing we could possibly imagine! Before the world was created, you already knew us and loved us. You adopted us as your own children, and redeemed us through the blood of Christ. Even more, you have made us your heirs, and given us your own Spirit as a sign and guarantee. O How we praise you! Open our hearts and minds to your presence among us here. May our worship this morning bring you honour and glory, for you alone are worthy of our praise. Amen.
HYMN 202 Stand up and bless the Lord
God of earthquake, wind, and fire,
God of healing touch and uniting love,
God of our ancestors, neighbours, and grandchildren,
God of deafening silence and quiet harmonies –
We are drawn by Your Spirit
calling out to our own souls,
for You are the source of all life,
the home to which we will return.
In You we find strength and comfort,
safety and courage.
May all that is in us, praise You, O God!
We are created in Your divine image: we rejoice;
we fall short of Your perfect love: we lament;
we contribute to the pain of others: we confess;
we fear what we do not understand: we repent.
In our return to You, merciful God,
we seek Your healing, transforming touch,
knowing You will not withhold it from any,
not now, not ever: praise be to You, O God!
Knowing all this we pray the words You taught
Your friends, saying:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[a] 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. 13 Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these,[b] take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
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. 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,[c] 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people,[a] to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that[b] you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost,[c] so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.[d] 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.[e] 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
HYMN 606 Lord, you sometimes speak in wonders
Today we conclude our short series on the book of Ephesians, focussing primarily on three prayers, remembering that the whole of chapter one, two and three could be seen as prayer and worship. Last week it was stressed that Spiritual growth as Paul sees it is firstly a growth in love and worship of God not moralism. Further that growth does not take place in isolation but in the fellowship and dynamics of a church community. Paul in Ephesians uses numerous analogies to explain, the church, such as a building, a family, a body, all which have many parts that form a whole, but which are intrinsically linked to and dependent on the different parts. All pointing to belonging, security and being part of something far greater than ourselves. The prayers in Ephesians should bring us comfort and at the same time challenge our thinking and understanding. As you come to worship corporately each week are you open to be challenged cognitively?
The challenge two weeks ago was, when last have you prayed to God asking that you may be taken deeper in your understanding and experience of God. Simply praying “I want to know you more”. Praying not that God would change your circumstances but rather that you would know Him more. In Chapter one, Paul prayed specifically that they would know the Hope, Inheritance and Power that is theirs in Christ Jesus. That prayer was echoed at the end of chapter three. It is all about knowing our identity, position and power in Christ Jesus.
The world over the last few years has been challenged by an unseen enemy. This enemy has changed the way we do many things and has impacted negatively on our social interactions. Many have lost out on opportunities, joys and the vital necessity of human interaction due to this unseen enemy. As the media and even specialists spoke about the battle, it sounded like it was alive, a conscious, devious enemy, trying to infect and disrupt lives. The world tried wrongly or rightly, you decide, to confine the enemy by wearing masks, washing hands and social-distancing. That became the battle -cry! Then after many months of waiting we had a vaccine, a new weapon in our armoury. If you like me, I am sure there were many times that you thought I wish we could just see this virus so we could avoid it and not have to be alert all the time but only when in potential danger. Some decided to deny the existence or dangers of the virus, others have gone to radical extremes to avoid it. I am sure most of us have seen pictures or representations of that enemy, we have seen the impact it has had even although most of us may never see it.
Paul outlines our identity and all the blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus, in chapters one, two and three. In Chapters four, five and the beginning of six, Paul goes on to explain how we should live this out in the context of a faith community, our family relationships and even our work space. Paul then changes tact and before his final prayer, in a real sense, commands and encourages those of faith to be alert and prepared for battle. Could part of prayer be the preparing for battle? “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10-11). Note, the starting point, that phrase from week one “In Christ” or “In Him” or “In the Lord”, those who believe have strength and power because His strength and power is theirs. Secondly, we are told to put on the full armour so that we can stand. I am not sure if you have thought of this but standing is not passive. Just to stand physically takes a whole lot of processing in our brains and muscle activity all often subconscious. If someone tries to push you over or dislodge you from your position you soon become aware that standing is an active process. On three occasions we have that word, “stand” in this last chapter of Ephesians. Standing firm seems to be the primary object, not being swayed from your position. Primarily this is not standing for something or against something this is standing in Christ and all that we are in him and all he has blessed us with through the work of the cross and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
This is an awesome text to teach children because which child does not like dressing up and even more so if it is for battle: The Breastplate of Righteousness, The Helmet of Salvation, The Shield of Faith. The challenge is to do justice to this text in the context of an adult western world because Paul says we need “…to stand against the wiles of the devil,” and to a large extent the modern western world view has downplayed any immaterial realm and definitely does not believe in a devil. From birth we have been inculcated into a worldview based on logic and reason where “seeing is believing.” There is no room for a spiritual realm and definitely not for evil forces. The evil in the world is argued away by broken systems or lack of knowledge. Paul however continues “For our[a] 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 6:12) Not only does Paul seem to affirm that there are forces that are not seen but that those forces are at play in the material world. In our world largely the battle between good and evil, light and dark has been relegated to art and entertainment where even children’s books are full of darkness. There is no harm in it surely if it is not true and it is good for imagination and creativity.
Many theologians even argue it away, claiming Ephesians chapter six is referencing human power structures that when in place bring destruction and heartache. The gospel of Luke and Matthew however both have Jesus being tempted by the devil, the evil one in the desert before he starts ministering. Tempted to deny his identity, position and mission. When the disciples however ask Jesus to pray, we pray it each Sunday, Jesus includes, “…but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13) At the end of his ministry when the disciples could not keep watch and pray because their minds were willing but their flesh was weak. One of the prayers Jesus prays in what is known as his priestly prayer: “I am not asking that you take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15) In both instances some English translations only have the word “evil” but it seems that Jesus had a worldview where there was a battle with an unseen enemy.
Certain Christian traditions have taken the spiritual and evil to the extreme and this too is dangerous because it can do more harm than good as:
1. It can negate responsibility, “the devil made me do it”.
2. It can take our focus of God and glorifying him.
3. Fear can cause us to become paralysed in our witness.
Will you consider that you may have an unseen enemy and that they’re planning and scheming to trip you up. If they can cause you to doubt God’s love, they have achieved their goal. If they can cause you to rely on your own strength and wisdom, they have achieved their goal. If they can cause you to question all you are and the blessings you have “in Christ” they have achieved their goal. I want to stress for Paul the objective is to keep standing in all we are in Christ. It is not about standing against others. Paul in addressing those in Corinth wrote:“ Indeed, we live as human beings,[b] but we do not wage war according to human standards;[c] 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human,[d] but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments 5 and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) We wonder why Paul mentions the belt of truth first in his list of armour, it is because ultimately it is about knowing and believing what God says about me. The belt stops us from being tripped up. When the boys were growing up, for a long time I would teach them not to tell lies, to speak the truth; it even became part of our early morning prayer time, “Please help us not to tell lies”. Then one day I had a revelation, it is just as important not to listen to lies than it is not to tell lies. With the rise of Facebook and Fake News we need to be really vigilant, not only careful about what we believe but also about what we share. Truth on one level speaks of honesty and integrity but at a deeper level truth is God’s wisdom and revelation. “In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, …” (Ephesians 1:13) Throughout this letter you find the word truth and we all know that it is only when we face the truth that we can grow. You also know however that humanity has a great propensity to self- deceive. In a world bent on creating and living their own truth are you willing to take a stand and find your identity in Christ Jesus.
Paul ends this letter by encouraging them and I believe us to pray in every situation, to keep alert and persevere. “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.” (Ephesians 6:18) Prayer for Paul seems to have that element of battle, keeping alert and persevering could be battle language. As you pray for yourself and for those who believe; are your prayers of supplication focussed on knowing who you are in Christ and asking God to protect the faith of those who believe? Praying for others in our faith community reminds us that we are not alone and that God intended for us to grow spiritually not in isolation but in deep connection with others of faith. Praying for the faith of others helps us to reflect rightly on our faith journey. Our lives should be lived in deep communion with God. Paul says we are to pray in all situations, in other words our lives should be lived in prayer, not just in the morning, evening or meal times but all the time, protecting faith and truth. Enabling you to live from all that God has done for you, even when your circumstances deny the reality of resurrection power.
Paul started in Ephesians chapter one by praying that those of faith would know the Hope, Inheritance and power they have in Christ Jesus. Paul ends in a deep sense in a full circle asking those he has prayed for to know God deeper to pray for him that he may make Christ known. Paul ends by asking for them to pray that God would give him the words and the boldness to share the gospel, the Good News. If there is one area, where we can all agree there is a battle it is when we are asked to share our faith. Paul ends with this vital appeal because it is the primary purpose of the church, those who represent Christ. “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,[c] 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak” (Ephesians 6:19-20). You may not agree with all I have said and that is alright but I want you to consider your prayers. Are you willing to pray prayers like Paul? Firstly, that you and those you love would be taken deeper in their knowledge and experience of God. Secondly that you and those you love would stand firm in the blessing of who you are in Christ. Lastly will you pray that you and those you know of faith will have the boldness and words to make Christ known.
HYMN 405 We sing the praise of him who died
Eternal defender and protector of the weak,
we give thanks for Your universal love,
which sees beyond our human labels and divisions,
rejoicing even more in Your preference for the outcast and oppressed.
We give thanks for everyone in the church
who works tirelessly, and often in confidence, to keep others safe;
we pray for all children and vulnerable adults who engage with our mission:
may they know Your love and protection.
We give thanks for the shelter and protection of our homes;
we pray for all people who are homeless, for whatever reason,
including refugees and victims of trafficking:
may they know Your love and protection.
We give thanks for the range and quality of food around us;
we pray for each person who is hungry,
whether they be across the world or on our doorsteps:
may Your love be shown in practical ways.
We give thanks for easy access to clean water;
we pray for all who are parched with thirst,
especially where the decision is dirty water or none:
may Your love be shown in practical ways.
We give thanks for the relative peace and security we enjoy:
we pray for all places of war and violence,
whether the aggressor be in the home or another nation:
may Your peace be known in our time.
We give thanks for all the bits of our life that bring us joy and contentment;
we pray for the broken-hearted, bereaved, and lonely,
and for all who have lost faith or purpose in life:
may Your peace be known in their hearts.
Healing, liberating, transforming God,
in amongst our shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
may we hear Your still whisper in the midst of pain and suffering,
and may we respond with courageous tenderness
to the needs around us,
as we follow the example of Christ Jesus, our teacher and Lord, AMEN.
HYMN 465 Be thou my Vision
“Return home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
And the blessing of our ever-loving God,
Creator, Christ and Spirit,
rest upon you and all whom you love,
this day and forevermore, AMEN.
Acknowledgements:Bible Quotations taken from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
English translations of The Lord’s Prayer, © 1998, English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), and used by permission. www.englishtexts.org
Prayers and final blessing adapted from Church of Scotland Weekly Worship for 19 June 2022.