Preached FCCW 8-23-2015
Have you ever thought about how safety-conscious
we’ve become about doing ordinary everyday things?
I started thinking about this the other day
when I was watching some kids riding bikes.
They were all wearing helmets.
I remember when nobody ever wore a helmet to ride a bike.
If you did, you would probably get laughed off the playground.
For that matter, people didn’t even wear helmets for
really dangerous sports, like ice hockey!
My Facebook friends — at least the Baby Boomers,
who seem to be the majority on Facebook nowadays —
remind me of these things daily.
Every time I turn around I’m getting a post
that goes on about how when we were kids
we drank from garden hoses instead of water bottles,
ate peanuts, and gluten with impunity,
and somehow lived to tell about it.
It’s my generation’s version of the
“when I was your age I had to walk to school uphill both ways”
attitude that we got from our parents and grandparents.
I guess, back then, we weren’t
as aware of certain risks as we are today.
Now, there are lots of ways we protect ourselves
from hazards that come with doing ordinary, everyday stuff.
We have seatbelts and airbags to protect us in our cars
when we are on the road.
We have antivirus software to protect our computers
while we on the internet.
We wear sunscreen to defend ourselves
against UV rays outdoors,
and hand sanitizers to ward off germs
that lurk on surfaces indoors.
As we become more aware of
the hidden risks of our environments,
we accumulate layers of defense to
protect our bodies and our property.
Near the end of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians,
he starts to sound like a mother sending her kids
off to school on a winter’s day
with instructions to keep their coat zipped up
and their mittens on, so they won’t catch a cold.
He warns Christians that they should
“Put on the whole armor of God,
in order to withstand the evils of the world.
Jesus once told his disciples that he was
sending them out like sheep among wolves.
Paul knew exactly what Jesus was talking about.
Paul had first-hand experience of how hazardous
being a follower of Jesus could be.
During the course of his own ministry of spreading the Gospel
Paul had endured a lot of rejection and abuse.
He had been subjected to threats, beatings, arrests and trials.
He wrote the Letter to the Ephesians while he was
in prison for preaching the Gospel.
He knew how taking a firm stand for what you believe
could bring unpleasant results.
The world did not make life easy for the earliest Christians.
The Roman Empire didn’t care too much
what religions the people they conquered believed —
as long as you didn’t believe it
seriously enough to rock the boat.
When you did – rock the boat –
the consequences weren’t pretty.
Arrests, imprisonment, torture, executions,
and being thrown to the lions in the Roman Coliseum
for public entertainment.
The Apostle Paul called the persecutions they faced
And putting on the “Armor of God” was the protective gear
he highly recommended that every Christian
wear to protect themselves.
The odd thing about this advice was that
the first generation of Christians were devout pacifists.
They took seriously the Commandment against killing, and
Jesus’ teaching about loving your neighbor as yourself.
Needless to say, many of those first believers
were martyrs for their faith.
Somehow, telling a pacifist that the best way to be a Christian
was to imitate a soldier
does not seem like the wisest choice of metaphors
for Paul to have used to make his point.
Last Christmas, my sister-in-law gave me a t-shirt
with “New York City” emblazoned on it.
An uncle, who is a rabid fan of Boston sports teams,
took me aside and said to me,
“You’re not going to wear that, are you?”
The first reaction of those Christians
to Paul’s recommendation to put on the Armor of God
might have been something similar.
“You’re not seriously expecting us to wear
something used for fighting wars, are you?”
If he were writing today, Paul would have had more options
to choose a metaphor with which to make his point.
He might have said something like,
put on the Haz-Mat suit of God.
Or, put on the surgical gown and latex gloves of God.
But in his day, everyone pretty much wore robes and togas.
Soldiers were the only ones who needed special protective gear.
Of course, this wasn’t your typical armor
that Paul was talking about.
The armor of God consisted of the Belt of Truth,
the Breastplate of Righteousness,
Shoes that would carry you over any kind of terrain
to proclaim the Gospel of Peace,
the Shield of Faith, the Helmet of Salvation,
and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
Clearly, this was not the standard issue armor
worn by the Roman legions.
If you separate the physical pieces of armor
from what each one symbolically represents,
what you are left with are Truth, Righteousness, Peace,
Faith, Salvation, and God’s Word.
These all represent the sources of
spiritual strength and security of a Christian.
Spiritual armor for surviving spiritual warfare.
So, what being told to put on the Armor of God
is really saying to us is that, the most faithful means
of dealing with persecution is to put our trust in God.
The other thing about armor that’s worth mentioning
is that armor is for defending oneself from attack.
Unless you are going to head-butt your enemy with your helmet,
armor is not an offensive piece of equipment,
used to attack others.
It is protection for the one wearing it.
Sometimes, the thing we need protection from
is the violence that is directed our way.
But often, what we need protection from the most
is the power that attacks against us have
to elicit a reaction which makes us more like
our adversary than our Advocate (Jesus.)
Paul said, put on the armor of God so that
you can withstand evil and stand firm.
Paul was not trying to incite an Insurrection
using weapons of war.
He was encouraging a Resistance using gifts of the Spirit.
And he was deliberate about who their real enemy was.
He wrote, “For 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.”
Like most people of his time, Paul understood the world
to be populated by unseen spiritual beings
who exerted their influence on humans.
Which helped Paul understand that the real enemy
was not the Romans themselves;
that the true enemy was the evil forces
of decadence, brutality, and greed
that seemed to take on a life of its own as it worked through them,
because despite all their formidable armaments
they had no armor to shield their souls.
There ARE spiritual realities that resist and oppose the gospel.
Today, the identifiable forces of evil might include
racism, genocide, homophobia, human trafficking,
and greed that puts profit before people,
or before the preservation of God’s Creation
and compassion for God’s creatures.
There ARE still places in the world where Christians are
openly and violently persecuted for their faith,
especially where their faith moves them to
stand firm in what they believe,
or to rock the boat in ways that make
the powers that be a little nervous.
You would think that those places where
Christians are at the mercy of the principalities and powers of evil,
would be where the Church is being driven to extinction.
Instead, the exact opposite is true.
Places where Christians are subjected to
the worst forms of persecution,
are the same places where the Church is growing
with a faith that is dynamic and world-altering.
And the places where Christianity is safest
are where the pulse of the Church is weakest.
What seems to be at work is that
when a people’s relationship to God is
most severely threatened by outside forces,
the more fiercely they trust that victory is won
through Truth, Faith, Righteousness,
Peace, Salvation and God’s Word.
But when a people becomes too comfortable in their environment,
they lose the sense of urgency about
and dependence on,
their relationship with God,
so that the tactics of spiritual warfare focus more
on camouflaging your faith so as to fit in,
than in resisting and engaging the evils around us.
The first kind of spiritual warfare — against physical persecution —
calls for wearing the Armor of God
to withstand a threat from outside us.
Waging the other kind of spiritual warfare
— the one that goes on inside us —
depends just as much on our wearing the Armor of God
because it’s threat is more insidious and cunning.
Frederick Beuchner puts it this way:
“This other war is the war not to conquer,
but the war to become whole and at peace
inside our skins.
It is a war not of conquest now
but of liberation because the object
of this other war is to liberate
that dimension of selfhood
which has somehow become lost,
that dimension of selfhood that involves
the capacity to forgive and to will the good
not only of the self but of all other selves.
This other war is the war to become a human being.
This is the goal that we are really after
and that God is really after.
This is the goal that power, success, and security
are only forlorn substitutes for.
This is the victory that not all our human armory
of self-confidence and wisdom and personality
can win for us-
not simply to be treated as human
but to become at last truly human.”
Becoming strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his power,
is what happens when we put on the armor of God.
Being strong in the Lord means not relying on our own strength,
but in the strength that comes from our relationship to God.
Believers ought to be as intentional about
wearing the Armor of God in resisting evil,
as a Roman soldier would be in
wearing his military armor before going into battle.
So, when you leave here today,
don’t forget to fasten your seatbelts if you’re driving,
to wear your helmet if you’re biking,
and whatever ordinary, everyday things you will be doing,
remember to do it wearing the Armor of God.
Let’s pray: Lord, help us to be strong – not by taking up the weapons
that cause others pain — whether by wounds or by words —
but by putting on the armor or Truth, Righteousness, Peace,
Faith, Salvation and Your Word. Amen.