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“Be Strong in the Lord”
Ephesians 6:10-20


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost—September 2, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Our message is based on today’s Epistle Reading from the sixth chapter of Ephesians, especially this verse in which St. Paul reveals to us the secret of strength to face the problems and challenges of life: “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”

Little children always reach that certain age when they insist, “I can do it all by myself.”  No help from Mom and Dad—they can do it all alone.  We are often like little children who think that we can face life all alone without any help from our heavenly Father.  Martin Luther said, “God knows our needs . . . he wants to help us . . . oh, what mad, senseless fools we are!  We live in the midst of such turmoil, and yet we neglect the very weapons and protective armor God gives us.”

In today’s Epistle Reading, St. Paul describes those weapons and the protective armor that God gives us to fight life’s battles: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  But, as Luther says, we are mad, senseless fools.  We neglect the Lord’s weapons and protective armor, we reject his help, and like little children we stubbornly try to do it all by ourselves.

But, that is exactly when the problems and challenges of life become too overwhelming for us to face, when we try to face life alone.  That is when we fall into despair and despondence over all burdens, pressures, troubles, struggles, and disappointments of life.  St. Paul tells us the secret of strength to face the problems and challenges of life: “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”

Just before he ascended into heaven Jesus promised, “Surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  You are not walking through life alone, you don’t have to face it by yourself.  Jesus is with you, at your side every along life’s way.  Hebrews puts it this way: “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.’  So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.’”

There is an old saying, “I asked the Lord, ‘How much do you love me?’ And he said, ‘This much’ and stretched out his arms and died.”  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice for you your sins are all forgiven and you will receive eternal life. And Jesus’ sacrifice for you is also your ultimate assurance of God’s never-failing love toward you on your journey through this life.  As St. Paul says in Romans, “If God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

Because God’s Son Jesus gave himself for you, because of the sacrifice of his life, death, and resurrection, your heavenly Father forgives you, he loves, he is with you always, to strengthen and help you through all the problems and challenges of life.  God is with you and strengthens you through his Word; God is with you and strengthens you daily through your Baptism, through which you were born again as his beloved child; and God is with you and strengthens you with his Son’s body and blood in Holy Communion.

In the Bible story of Samson and Delilah the Lord promised Samson that he would be unbelievably strong as long as he didn’t cut his hair.  Delilah was awed by his might and asked Samson, “Tell me the secret of your great strength.”  We have all know people who, like Samson, seem unbelievably strong.  Not physically strong, but spiritually strong, emotionally strong, able to face the great problems and challenges of their lives.

I knew a woman like that 25 years ago when I served my vicarage, or pastoral internship, at a church in New Jersey.  She was afflicted with a very rare illness called Paget’s disease.  With this strange illness the bones all over the body mysteriously grow thicker, larger in diameter. She had difficulty moving her joints, because they were growing tight together; she was slowing losing her hearing and eyesight, because her ear canals and eye sockets were growing shut.  Doctors don’t know what causes it and there is no treatment.  Most people die of Paget’s disease after only a few years.  But, this woman was the longest known survivor of this strange illness in medical history.  She had lived with this crippling disease for over 40 years, more than half of her life.

Once when I visited her she said, “Vicar, I want to show you my mission project.”  On crippled legs she slowly led me into a back room.  Inside, it was filled with thousands of handmade, crocheted Christmas decorations that looked like a candle about six inches tall.  Even though she could hardly see and moving her fingers was very painful, she had spent the entire year crocheting thousands of these candles, so that every nursing home resident in Bergen County, New Jersey would get at least one gift for Christmas.  That had been her special mission project for over 20 years, each year a different, crocheted Christmas ornament, that she gave to the thousands of nursing home residents with a card explaining the true meaning of Christmas.  People like that make you want to ask like Delilah, “Tell me the secret of your great strength.”

“Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”  That is the secret for strength to face the problems and challenges of your life.  Read, mark, learn and take to heart his word; daily remember you are born again as his beloved child; receive his very body and blood in Holy Communion, to strengthen you in the true faith unto life everlasting; take it to the Lord in prayer; worship him here in his house.

“Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. . .  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place . . .  take up the shield of faith . . . Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

And when people ask you, “Tell me the secret of your great strength,” answer as David does in Psalm 18, “It is God who arms me with strength.” Or, as St. Paul says in Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“Fear not,” says the Lord in Isaiah, “for I am with you.  Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold you up with my mighty hand.” 

“Are you weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?”  As you face the problems and challenges of your life, look to the Lord and his strength.  “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”

Amen.

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