This Summer, we’ve taken a road trip with God as we’ve explored the Scripture passages each Sunday. We’ve navigated roundabouts and stopped at rest areas. We’ve consulted the trip itinerary, and we’ve gained some hard-won wisdom as we’ve encountered potholes and obstacles in our path. We’ve marveled at the touristy spots along the way, and we have probably had our share of “Are we there yet?” moments as the trip seemed to drag on and on.
Today, we are in the home stretch. We’re back in familiar territory as we get closer to home. Perhaps we are coming up and around the bend of the Wildcat Hills, and we see the lights of Gering and Scottsbluff in the valley below. Ah, home!
But, hold on. Don’t let your guard down just yet. Home might be within sight, but there are still a few miles to go. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety administration, around 52% of all accidents occur within five miles of home. And Progressive Insurance estimates that 77% of all accidents happen within fifteen miles of home base. There are several reasons for this. First, the vast majority of our driving takes place close to home as we run errands to the grocery store, go to and from appointments, and take kids to and from school. But, the other reason this happens is that we tend to let our guard down close to home. We know all the intersections. We’ve been on these streets before. So, we don’t concentrate as hard, and we let things slide.
As we wrap up our sermon unSeries “Taking the Scenic Route,” we may be in the home stretch, but we need to remain ready. A lot can happen in these last few moments on the road.
To guide us on the last leg of the journey, we are exploring Ephesians 6:10-20, commonly referred to as “the armor of God” passage of Scripture. In this passage, we are urged to stay strong, to be equipped with what we need, and to work for wholeness and peace. Even though this passage of Scripture might seem a strange one to consider in light of what’s going on in our world, I believe they give us just what we need for these difficult days.
First, we need to stay strong. Even though this particular road trip is almost over, we can’t give up, or coast, or go onto autopilot. There’s more for us to do. Verse 10 says this: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” Did you hear that? Be strong. But how? In the strength of God’s power.
In the book Little Women, after a harrowing experience that nearly cost the life of her sister, Jo came to her mother overcome with sadness about what had nearly happened. She told her mother that she needed to get control of her anger, after all it was her lack of self-control that had almost ended in tragedy for her family. Jo had never seen anger in her mother before, and she asked her mother how she might learn to navigate life’s troubles in the same way her mother had. Her mother gave this response:
“My child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning, and may be many; but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one. The more you love and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never be taken from you, but may become the source of lifelong peace, happiness, and strength. Believe this heartily, and go to God with all your little cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, as freely and confidingly as you come to your mother.”
Imagine if we could learn to feel the tenderness of God as though God were a caring father standing right next to us! And, oh! The freedom of being able to approach God with all our “little cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows” as though God were a compassionate mother waiting to embrace us in our hurts! As we travel these last few miles at the end of our road trip journey, we need to remain strong and alert, but we cannot do it on our own. We are strong because of God’s strength. We are strong because God’s power is enough.
I don’t know about you, but I need to believe this right now. As images flooded my television screen and news sites with people clinging to the outside of a place in Kabul, Afghanistan… As reports of increasing hospitalizations around the country overwhelm newspapers and news stations… As kids in our area return to school after the strangeness and stress of last school year… I need to believe that we don’t become strong by lifting up our own chins and trying harder. If it was up to us to hold up under the weight of this world, I think we’d all be crushed. At least I would.
Ephesians 6:10 begins with the encouragement that we do not find strength within our own selves. We find it in the strength of God’s power — our God who has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. Friends, stay strong, but not just by trying harder. Stay strong by connecting yourself to the One whose strength never fails.
Where are we looking for strength? Are we looking for it in arguments, or in amassing information? Are we looking for strength by surrounding ourselves with people who tell us what we want to hear? I want to suggest that strength isn’t found in working harder, doing more, or finding all of the information or opinions that make us feel stronger. Strength is found in the still small voice of God, in intentionally connecting to the One who is so powerful he created the whole world just by speaking. What would it look like to intentionally connect with God this week? How might we listen closely to God’s whispers and open ourselves up to receive the strength we need? For, as it says in verse twelve, “our 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.” Our spiritual struggle requires a spiritual solution, and a spiritual strength that far exceeds the strength we have on our own.
Ephesians 6 continues with the armor of God, the way we can put on God’s strength in these difficult days. The armor includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes that make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. These are the weapons we have to help us stay strong. As Paul wrote this letter, he was drawing off of imagery in the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 59, the prophet Isaiah wrote that there was no one left who was seeking justice. Everything had become so corrupt that no one was working towards creating the kind of world God intended for us to live in. Because no one was willing to work for justice, Isaiah said God would do the work instead. Isaiah wrote it this way: “For [God] put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.”
Here is Ephesians 6, Paul draws on this same imagery, only this time God has called the church to put on the armor of God and to work for justice in the world. In other words, we are God’s hands and feet in this world, and we are called to do the work of restoring justice and proclaiming the Gospel of peace.
Here on this home stretch of our road trip journey, we are called to stay strong by connecting to God’s strength. We can’t do this on our own. The world is too heavy. There is too much discouragement. There are so many broken places. We are not able, but God is able. And we are called to put on the armor of God and proclaim the Gospel of peace.
The word “peace” in the Greek comes from the word that means “to join together” or “to tie together into a whole.”  This word isn’t just about an absence of violence, it is about wholeness and well-being for the world. It is about shalom, and this is the gospel we are bringing into the world — a gospel that isn’t just concerned about the life to come, but that works for wholeness right here on earth. A gospel that welcomes everyone home.
If you find yourself weary and discouraged because of the heaviness of the world, imagine, as Jo’s mother said, the strength of God as close to you as a loving parent. Nestle in, draw near, and receive the strength of God. If you are frustrated today by the seemingly never-ending pain and stress of this world, open your hands to receive the wholeness and shalom of God. And together, let’s put on the armor of God so that we can go out proclaim the Gospel of peace to a broken and hurting world so loved by God.
Whether we are five miles from home or 500, may God’s strength lead us safely there.