KNIGHTS IN SHINING ARMOR!
Ephesians 6: 10-20
When I was growing up, I remember watching cartoon after cartoon, where Wile E. Coyote would fall to the bottom of a cliff, or have an anvil dropped on his head by the Road Runner, and each time he would get up! I remember a Daffy Duck episode when a fly became so pesky to him that he pulled out his shotgun (yes, a duck had a shotgun in that cartoon) and proceeded to try to shoot the fly with a shotgun! Also in those days, Elmer Fudd would have his head blown off more than once trying to get the “waskily-wabbit” Bugs Bunny. In the cartoon land of make-believe, anything can come and did come back to life. But lessons came soon enough for me and other children, when a pet dog got hit by a car and did not get up, a pet goldfish one day was floating sideways in the water, or a friend who had been nothing but kind to others, was hit by a car when riding his bicycle and died. Reality is certainly different from fantasy. But there are plenty of people in our world who still think in the literal terms of those old cartoons. Some fundamentalist groups have drawn guns and planted bombs, and blown up people, and unlike the cartoons, people are maimed and die. Grief and rage follow. Individuals have also done evil to others, from the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma, to the shooting of a girl named Cassie Bernall in Columbine High School, Colorado because she would not deny God when looking down a barrel of a gun. And who can forget the horrific killings on Sept 11, 2001. There are still fringe people, literalistic people, and radical people who kill. Certainly in our day and in ages past, there have been wars that have created freedom, protection, and boundaries, but wars have also brought on great heartache, resentment, and brokenness.
As we turn to Ephesians today, we know that the Roman army of Paul’s day could be brutal in its attempts to keep the PAX ROMANA, the Peace of Rome. Although Rome ordered the crucifixion of Jesus, we find Paul merely imprisoned and chained to a Roman guard when he was transported. Remember that story from our Vacation Bible School? Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter, and, much like his Savior Jesus, he looked at what was around him and used it to teach a lesson to his readers; a way to face the trials of their days. He told it through a description of the armor his guard wore! In more recent chivalrous days, damsels in distress have swooned when their knight in shining armor appeared! Knights were saviors and rescuers! In the Middle Ages knights actually wore armor, as did their horses in some instances, so an arrow would not take the life from either of them as easily. Armor was created mostly for defensive stances rather than offensive ones; it was made to protect and defend. In modern day, presidents and Supreme Court justices vow to “protect and defend” the Constitution of the United States of America; that means they are called to guard it. Armor, whether shiny or colorful or black, is designed not to be primarily a weapon, but a protection. As Paul describes it, our task is to bring Christ to the world.
Paul, once chained to a Roman guard, uses his armor as a metaphor for the Christian life. Paul is not a literalist, but he is a wordsmith. Paul calls himself a prisoner (3:1) and an “ambassador in chains.” As he does on other occasions, he turns a weakness (being a prisoner) into a fulfillment of God’s purpose. He does not ask for Christians to fight other people (“our struggle is not against enemies made of blood and flesh, but rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this present darkness; against spiritual forces of evil.” Instead, the armor is for protection, to withstand the wiles of the devil. (6:11). So national soldiers fight against flesh and blood. What kind of armor does a spiritual soldier need? Paul says we will need the whole armor of God, never forgetting to don every single piece. Actual knights have little protection if they fail to put on all their pieces. Football players cannot provide strong defense without pads protecting muscles and vital organs. Like a knight, or an athlete, we cannot forget our equipment as we go into the world. First, says Paul, “Fasten the belt of truth around your waist.” Lawrence W. Farris has said: “Truth is the most basic virtue, but in a world of spin, purposeful deception, and deceit, it becomes even more precious and crucial. The dark powers are led, at least metaphorically, by the ‘father of lies’ (John 8: 44), and truth is spoken in the name of the One who is ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’ The temptation is ever to take up the methods of the enemy, to let noble ends justify ignoble means, to fight fire with fire. [Christ had a different message.] As the fire of evil is fought-not with fire- but with the waters of baptism, the lies of the Evil One are resisted with God’s truth.” First we need, each day to put on the belt of truth. Second, we need the breastplate of righteousness to protect the heart of the believer. If our heart is taken over by a corrupter—whether an enticing woman, a charming man, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing, we have nothing left with which to balance our judgments. Our decisions need not only rational, linear arguments; they need heart and grace as well. Each day we need to put on righteousness, the ability to make right decisions. Third put on your spiritual shoes each day. Those who go without actual shoes may soon step on glass, peal back skin, stub toes, or develop cracks in their heals. Spiritual shoes give you the protection to not only stand longer, but also walk farther and to run faster. We have a gospel to share and the gospel goes nowhere fast without messengers. We are the messengers of the good news of salvation! If that good news does not get shared, people settle for the bad news that is around them. Fourth, arm yourself with the shield of faith. In ages past, actual shields provided considerable protection against enemies! Personal faith, joined with the faith of thousands around us, reminds us there is strength in numbers. Faith near others keeps the faith of the one from buckling. Fifth, unlike Paul’s other description of the church being the Body of Christ with Christ as its Head, this description calls for a helmet of salvation, so that we can continue to learn and reflect what we learn. Without our minds, people under stress or attack clearly fall back into old and worn patterns, or encourage people to imitate the world instead of teaching the world to imitate Christ. Many hymns, such as “Take Thou our Minds, dear Lord,” are not a plea for God to take our minds so much as to remold them, to guide our feet, and to form our words. Again images are often metaphorical not literal. Christ needs us not to relinquish our minds to enemies, so that we might, at the last or before, have the mind of Christ.
Finally, at long last we are given but one offensive weapon: the sword. Sword is such an oddly spelled word for its pronunciation, isn’t it? SWORD! But this odd spelling includes the letters w-o-r-d. The sword of the Sp
irit is the Word of God. This is our weapon (the Bible) and, rightly interpreted, God’s Word is our weapon, interpreted by Christian minds and filtered through converted Christian hearts. That Word judges and instructs both the believing community and those it seeks to rescue from evil.
So this is what we need to put on each and every day: The belt of truth; the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and pick up the sword of God’s Word.
The hymn “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” is not about human battle; it is about our spiritual battle. The words to prepare for worship I took from this hymn, words that give focus to this Christian rallying cry:
“Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in his strength alone; the arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own. Put on the gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer. Where duty calls, or danger, be never wanting there.”
Jeffrey A. Sumner August 23, 2009