Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, Part Two: No Decaf Allowed.

Ephesians 6:10-17;
Luke 13:10-17.

The Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost.

A Postfestive Day of the Entrance.

The Holy Great Martyr Catherine.

The Holy Great Martyr Mercury.

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3:05 AM 11/25/2013 — Today's Apostolic reading doesn't exactly pick up where last week's left off. We had heard the first half of Chapter Five of Ephesians, in which the Blessed Apostle Paul quotes to the Christians in that cosmopolitan town what we believe may have been a hymn they were singing at baptisms about arising from sleep to be enlightened by Christ; but, he gives it a second meaning for them, reminding them that all is not sweetness and light for the Church of Christ; that they must “wake up and smell the coffee,” as we paraphrased. Thankfully, the Typikon skips the first half of Chapter Six altogether, so we don't have to wrestle with why wives must obey their husbands; instead, it deposits us right in the middle of the chapter, where the Apostle begins to wrap up his letter and summarize it all for them.
     Why am I spending so much time on this relatively short letter? Because it deals with the most neglected subject in Christendom: the subject of grace, which, as you know, has been one of our recurring themes here. Paul has been talking about the Devil, and how the evil and temptation against which we battle every day is not random: there is an intelligence behind it. Again he reminds the Ephesians that, in spite of what they may have placated themselves into believing, they are living in an evil age; and, if they don't wake up and realize it, they will be defeated before they even realize they're at war. He becomes so explicit about it in today's reading, he even lapses into a military metaphor:

You must wear all the weapons in God’s armoury, if you would find strength to resist the cunning of the devil. … Take up all God’s armour, then; so you will be able to stand your ground when the evil time comes, and be found still on your feet, when all the task is over. …take up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fire-tipped arrows of your wicked enemy; make the helmet of salvation your own, and the sword of the spirit, God’s word (cf. 6:10-17).

He could be Charlemagne giving a pep-talk to his troops before battle, except that he's not. He's an Apostle of Christ, trying to get his spiritual children to realize that they are at war in a very real sense, even though it's not against an enemy of flesh and blood: “It is not against flesh and blood that we enter the lists; we have to do with princedoms and powers, with those who have mastery of the world in these dark days, with malign influences in an order higher than ours” (6:12). Who's he talking about? Remember two week's ago when we focused on the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Heavenly Powers, and made reference to the Revelation of St. John: the Devil is driven out of heaven with his followers and sent to hell, from where they continue to make war against God by proxy, by making war against us, trying with all their might to turn us away from salvation. And Paul is telling his “troops,” if you will, that they have the better weaponry. All the Devil has in his arsenal are the vices: greed, avarice, lust, self-promotion, all of which designed to target the natural appetites that infect our human condition; but the Christian's weapons are made for him by God: the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of God's Word: “Stand fast, your loins girt with truth, the breastplate of justice fitted on, and your feet shod in readiness to publish the gospel....” (6:14).
     Why is the Apostle so fired up? Why is he trying to get the Ephesians so agitated? Because he has sensed in them a spiritual complacency, a willingness to cooperate with the secular world around them, a desire to fit in with polite society lest they be viewed as backward and old-fashioned.
     You're familiar, I'm sure, with an anagram that has crept into our political discourse of late: RINO, which stands for “Republican In Name Only.” Well, St. Paul is here accusing the Ephesians of being CHINOs: “CHristians In Name Only.” They go to church, they sing hymns, as we saw last week, they even contribute; but, they're not living any differently than anyone else, they're not at war, they're not recognizing the evil times in which they live, they're not identifying the Devil in their midst because, if they did, they would be painted as kooks and outcasts.
     I don't think I need to explain to you the relevance to us. But listen to this article I pulled out of Catholic World News:

Most Americans, and most self-described Catholics, believe that individuals have a right to end their own lives when they are suffering from a painful and incurable illness, according to a Pew Forum poll. The Pew survey found that 62% of all adults support a right to suicide in such cases. Support was even higher—67%—among white Catholics, and slightly lower—56%—among Hispanic Catholics. Among the religious groups surveyed, only Evangelical Protestants failed to give majority support to the proposition that someone suffering an incurable and painful illness has the right to end his own life. Among Americans with no religious affiliation, support for suicide in such cases was an overwhelming 85%. … The Pew Forum study did not distinguish between practicing and non-practicing Catholics. The Church teaches that it is never morally justifiable to take direct steps to end a human life....

     That survey only focused on one issue; but, as you can guess, the figures are very similar with regard to other issues such as abortion, artificial contraception and gay marriage. And the media love to trumpet these surveys from the roof tops because they prove that Christianity is a spent force in society; that Catholics in particular, no matter how often they go to church, no matter how they make a point of saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” no matter how many of them have Rosary beads or prayer ropes dangling from their rear-view mirrors, are really no different than anyone else. Their religion is just a matter of style, and their churches are nothing more than clubs or social service organizations. And that's why they're dying out: not that the Catholic Church would ever cease to exist, but that it would simply cease to be the Church; it would become very much like what the Episcopalian Church is already: all the trappings of high religion, with vestments and incense and beautiful music, but it doesn't believe in anything.
     Last week we heard St. Paul warn the Ephesians to “wake up and smell the coffee.” This week he telling them to make sure they're not drinking decaf; that the salvation of their souls is a lot more important than fitting in; and that the way to win the battle is to recognize a war when you see it, and fight it with all the weapons of grace that God has put at our disposal.