I thought that once my puppy Nikos got to middle age, that he would settle down somewhat. To be honest, I am getting a little tired of the same remark being made by onlookers as I walk my dog. Nikos takes off. He pulls his chain so hard sometimes that my arm is sore afterwards. People comment as I am dragged down the street by Nikos da Dog: “Your dog is taking you for a walk!”
What many of you may not know is that Nikos da Dog actually got his name from my favorite Greek writer and father of modern Demotic Greek writing Nikos Kazantzakis. So, my dog is not just “Nikos,” but he is rather “O Nikos Kazantzakis.” That is just a lot to yell at the dog as he is pulling your arm off while running down the beach.
My favorite quote from Nikos Kazantzakis is from the book Zorba the Greek: “Life is trouble, only death is not. To live is to take off your belt and go out and look for trouble.” So, whether the dog walks the master, or the master walks the dog, the nature between us is one of struggle.
So, let me ask all of us here: Who here among us today has never struggled in life? Who has never felt as if he or she has been pulling on God’s chain? Who here has never felt as if God has pulled even harder right back? Faith is the struggle that tells us that we are still alive. If you are not struggling in this life, then perhaps I have missed your memorial service somehow!
Paul says something in our scripture for this morning as he address the church in Ephesus that is easy to gloss over. We read it and miss it at the same time! Paul says that our strength comes from the Lord! Let us read it to be sure: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might.” Got it? Our strength in our struggle comes from the strength of His might. The last word “might” in the original Greek is “kratia.” We know it English as the second half of the word “democracy.” “Demos” means the people, and “kratia” means might. It is not just “might.” It refers to the ultimate power over something else. Just like the people have the ultimate power in a democracy, God has the ultimate power over our lives. It is from that ultimate power that we gain our strength.
Paul goes on to tell in a series of metaphors what that ultimate power looks like when it comes to us from God. When we see this series of metaphors, we realize that what comes to us is a beautiful allegory of life in the faith. The dictionary defines allegory as “a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another.”
Paul tells us to put on the armor of God. That is not literal but allegorical. I mention this because some throughout the ages have taken this literally and have clad themselves in armor and have literally fought militarily for the church. We called these people “knights.” They were in fact a monastic order in the middle ages, bound by religious doctrines of fasting and celibacy. I always laugh when I hear stories of a young maiden waiting for her knight in shining armor. Knights were a religious order! You might as well go pick a monk out of a monastery somewhere! Good luck! These were people who literally wore the armor of God.
You know, or you could imagine, that as soon as they put on their knight’s armor that the got an itch right there (pointing to the middle of the back)! Fortunately, we are dealing with allegory here. The idea is simply that God will give you a protective barrier in this struggle.
One of the greatest stories of Christian knighthood that has survived down through the centuries is that of Saint George and the dragon. Please note that this is extra-biblical literature—not found in the Word of God. Yet, it is a great example of the power of faith with the armor of God: A town was being plagued by a disease-ridden dragon that lived in a lake. In order to appease the dragon, the king ordered that the dragon be fed two sheep everyday. When the sheep ran out, the king had no choice but to offer the dragon the children of the kingdom. Everyday by lottery, one of the children was chosen to be fed to the dragon. One day, the lot fell to the king’s own daughter. He offered all the money of his kingdom that another child would be sent in her stead, but the citizens refused. The princess was brought to the lakeside to await the dragon. Just then, St. George the knight in shining armor comes to rescue the princess. With his lance, he pierces the dragon in the neck. He then takes the girdle from the princess and wraps the wound. The princess now has complete power over the dragon and walks the dragon back into town like an obedient puppy dog. (I cannot even walk my own dog this way, but she is able to take her dragon for a walk!)
You see, we actually do have the power to control the dragons of this world! I do not know if you have caught the overriding metaphor of the girdle so far in this sermon. Check out verse 14 of today’s scripture: “Having girded your loins with truth. . . .”
What did you learn in church today? “I dunno, the pastor was talking about girdles for some reason.” Yes, please remember the girdle today!
We gird ourselves with what? TRUTH. You see, when Paul was writing this, the world still had no Velcro or zippers. Only the wealthy had buttons and clothing pins. The rest of the people had to cinch their tunics with a girdle (we would say “belt” today). That thing, therefore, that holds us all together is the TRUTH.
When you look at verses 13-14 you will see the word “stand” three times. What good is Truth if you do not stand up for it? In John 14 Jesus says that he is the “Truth.” Why gird yourself with Truth, put on Christ, and then go lay down somewhere? We must stand up for truth in this world. We have to stand up for Jesus. This is like the pastor who announces the next hymn as “Let us all remain seated as we sing ‘Stand up, stand up for Jesus.’”
Now, in verse 16 we read about the “evil one.” And, really we have a lot of different names for this “evil one.” Just about all of these names derive from the notion of deceit or lies. The evil one is the “great Deceiver,” the one who hates truth, and therefore works against God in this world.
I know that every time I try to share the Truth with a non-believer this selfsame question is raised: “How can anyone look at all the evil in the world and say that there is a God?” Paul in his letter refers to the lesser spirits or the “wiles of the devil.” These will include anything that are basically not the fruits of the Spirit of God. We look out at the world and see a spirit of greed. We see a spirit of indifference. We see the spirit of revenge, spite, warfare, hate, and so on.
David Hanashiro mentioned the spirit of “complacency.” I had never heard that before, so I want to share all that with you. It is the idea that “my life is pretty good now. God has blessed me with family and friends, enough money, opportunities for travel and adventure, and so on.”
But, “Life is trouble, only death is not. To live is to go out and look for trouble.” If you have the dreaded spirit of complacency in your life, fight against it with all your heart and soul. Never settle for less than the struggle of faith that you have been called to! Jesus did not say “find a comfy place on my couch.” He told us to pick up the Cross and follow.
Paul writes this letter to the church in Ephesus while he is in prison, in chains, in Rome. He endured a harrowing journey where he is shipwrecked on Malta. Where he converts the entire island, by the way. He is shipped in chains eventually back to Rome, where he is first greeted by others with cheers, but then spends the next two years imprisoned. He is about to face his own martyrdom at the hands of the emperor. In his letter, chapter 4, verse 1, he writes: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
Paul had been a Pharisee before. He had had money and honor. He had been educated by Gamaliel, the greatest Rabbi of the Jewish faith at the time. Paul could have had an easy life of complacency. He believed in God before his conversion. He had studied the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. He had his family’s wealth. He had made a name for himself in the Sanhedrin—the religious government of the day. Why did he give all that up to imprisoned in chains in Rome?
Paul had met Jesus on the Road to Damascus. He believed in Jesus. He knew that the life he had been leading, life of complacency, was a lie straight from the Great Deceiver himself. Paul now knows the Truth, and this Truth has changed his life. He accepts the struggle so that his life might be found worthy to God. Life in Christ is the only true life there is.
Do you want the Great Lie? Or, do you want the Great Life in Christ? Yes, evil exists. One of the best reads on this was Scott M. Peck’s book People of the Lie. In this book is an amazing understanding that evil exists as mostly self-deception in our modern world. We want to look good—wear the latest fashion—forego the whole idea of girding ourselves in TRUTH as we are called to do.
The best example of this in our world today is the notion of “fake news.” People are now saying that “fake news” IS “fake news.” I want to put the girdle of truth around that beastly dragon and take it for a walk. Our world is so mired in the spirit of deception that we forget that we are the People of the Truth.
Let us take up this struggle! Let us bring down that dragon! This book, the Holy Bible, is the sword with the power to do just that. “The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Amen.