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Reisterstown United Methodist Church

Are We Ready?

Good versus Evil – there are movies about it. There are songs about it. There are books about it. There are games about it. Usually in the struggle of good vs evil, there is a war. It may be an actual war with armies and weapons or simply a metaphorical war. We wage war on drugs, on terror, on poverty, on crime, on cancer. There are trade wars, culture wars.

The word has become a metaphor for policies or actions against social, medical and political issues. I was not conscious of the amount of war language there is in our everyday vocabulary until a read an essay by James F. Childress titled “The War Metaphor in Public Policy.”[1] Listen to some of the phrases that have become part of our vocabulary when talking about medical issues:

  • Cancer cells are invasive
  • Battle against disease
  • Battery of tests
  • Plan of attack
  • Radiation bombards and kills cancer cells

Or some of these phrases we use every day:

  • I would kill to have….
  • We “pull the trigger” to start something
  • That’s right on target
  • Political campaigns become battlegrounds

We have come to accept this type of language. But we are less accepting when the “war” language is part of our religious vocabulary. Thoughts of the Crusades or religious militant groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or ISIS come to mind and we want no part of it. However, as Christians, we know that evil exists, and we are called to oppose it.

Evil is hard to define. We know it when we see it. Hitler, al Qaida, mass shootings, genocide. But do we know all the factors that cause evil to manifest itself? We know evil has existed since the beginning of time. In 2 Chronicles 29:6, King Hezekiah cleanses the temples and says to the Israelites, “our ancestors have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God; they have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the dwelling of the Lord, and turned their backs.”[2]  So, evil is anything that turns us away from God.

Many scholars believe Paul’s letter to the church in at Ephesus was written to be circulated among many churches in the area to provide guidance and encouragement to early believers. My Life Application Bible gives this summary of Ephesians:

After a warm greeting, Paul affirms the nature of the church—the glorious fact that believers in Christ have been showered with God’s kindness, chosen for greatness, marked with the Holy Spirit, filled with the Spirit’s power, freed from sin’s curse and bondage, and brought near to God. As part of God’s “household,” we stand with the prophets, apostles, Jews, Gentiles, and Christ himself. Then, as though overcome with emotion by remembering all that God has done, Paul challenges the Ephesians to live close to Christ, and he breaks into spontaneous praise.

Paul then turns his attention to the implications of being in the body of Christ, the church. Believers should have unity in their commitment to Christ and their use of spiritual gifts. They should have the highest moral standards. For the individual, this means rejecting pagan practices, and for the family, this means mutual submission and love.

Paul then reminds them that the church is in a constant battle with the forces of darkness and that they should use every spiritual weapon at their disposal. [3]

The imagery used in Ephesians 6:10-20 is hard to reconcile with Jesus’ message of love, joy, hope and peace found throughout the gospels. Jesus teaches blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers. So why such militaristic imagery for the early Christians?

Fundamentally, this scripture is about preparation and the most well-prepared person at the time was the Roman soldier. The soldier was well-known to Paul since he had been imprisoned by the Romans several times during his life and probably was in prison when he wrote this letter. The soldier also was a person the early Christians would know and have seen often, so the metaphor of preparing as a soldier would made sense.

For us to be prepared to battle the forces of darkness, we must have the whole armor of God, not just some of the pieces but all of it. God’s armor makes it possible for us to stand firm against whatever life throws at us. We are not attacking but we are not running either.

First, we put on the belt of truth. Our truth comes from the Word of God. We are best prepared when we are well grounded in scripture. The belt is the first thing the soldier puts on when getting ready. Scripture is the first thing we need so that we can put on the rest of the armor. There are many ways to be well-grounded in scripture: bible studies, daily reading, worship. Scripture is our guide for living the life God wants us to live. We can’t live that life without understanding scripture.

Next is the breastplate of righteousness. To be righteous is to live according to the example of Christ. Notice what part of the armor righteousness is linked to? It is linked to the breastplate. The breastplate covers the main part of the body, the heart, the center of our being. Living according to the example of Christ protects us from the evil forces that may try to undermine how we live. How do we know how to live a righteous life? We read scripture.

Third we put on shoes. “Put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” We are called to go and make disciples of all nations. We are to spread the good news of peace, hope, joy and love. The soldier marched many, many miles as they served the Roman Empire traveling far and wide to protect what had been “won.” We can’t spread the good news without shoes that will help us complete our mission.

Then we take up our shield of faith that will protect us from life’s trials and temptations or a Paul puts it, “quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” The shield of the Roman soldier was very large and could withstand the bombardment of flaming arrows common in warfare of the time.

In the book of Matthew, chapter 17, the disciples couldn’t heal a man’s son from seizures and asked Jesus why they could not heal the boy. Jesus responds, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” [4]

Faith is trust in God’s promises and the greatest promise it that we are saved through our relationship with Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11 is dedicated to faith. Verse one says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The writer devotes the rest of the chapter to example after example of faithful people: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses. All examples of people acting with faith.

Then we put on the helmet of salvation. We are forgiven, saved. On the United Methodist website, there is a page titled “What We Believe” and many of the terms used in the United Methodist faith are explained. Here is what the site says about salvation:

Salvation cannot be earned. There's no behavior, no matter how holy or righteous, by which we can achieve salvation. Rather, it's the gift of a gracious God.

By grace we mean God's extraordinary love for us. In most of life we're accustomed to earning approval from others. This is true at school, at work, in society, even at home—to a degree. We may feel that we have to act "just so" to be liked or loved. But God's love, or grace, is given without any regard for our goodness. It's unmerited, unconditional, and unending love.

As we come to accept this love, to entrust ourselves to it, and to ground our lives in it, we discover the wholeness that God has promised. This trust, as we've seen, is called faith. God takes the initiative in grace; but only as we respond through faith is the change wrought in us.

We're saved by grace alone through faith alone. We're made whole and reconciled by the love of God as we receive it and trust in it.[5]

You must have faith before you can put on the helmet of salvation.

And finally, we pick up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. We started with the belt of truth that is rooted in the word of God and we finish with the Spirit of God. The first reference is to scripture, the written word of God, but the Spirit of God can speak to us not only through scripture, but in other ways as well. Maybe there is a favorite hymn or that still small voice or maybe the voice of a friend or maybe an article that stirs you to action.

We are preparing to stand against evil, that is anything that turns us away from God. We are also preparing to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. By knowing the truth and living righteously, faithfully knowing we have been saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, we can communicate by word and deed the gospel of peace.

Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians asking them to “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication” and to “always persevere in supplication of all the saints.” Even though we have put on the armor of God, it is not all we need to do. We must continue to pray and humbly ask for God’s help, not only for ourselves, but for others as well. Because it is not just external influences that we need to be prepared to fight against. There are the things we, as individuals, struggle with every day: greed, hatred, envy, pride. Being part of a Christian community helps us in our daily struggles. We learn from one another, we pray for one another and by doing so we help each other put on the whole armor of God.

The Roman soldier did not fight alone. There were legions upon legions of men all armed alike to fight the enemies of the Roman Empire. When I read this sermon to my husband, Jim, he explained that the Roman armies had very precise formations for different battle situations. In one formation, the soldiers formed a square or perimeter around the other soldiers, holding up their shields to protect the soldiers inside. Likewise, we, as the Church, must work together and support each other. If we are all grounded in the Word of God, live righteously, are ready to proclaim a gospel of peace, have faith that we are saved, know the Spirit of God is with us and above all pray in every situation, we become a mighty army able to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, to fight social injustices and bring peace to the world.

[1] Childress, James F. (2001). "The War Metaphor in Public Policy: Some Moral Reflections". In Ficarrotta, J. Carl. The Leader's Imperative: Ethics, Integrity, and Responsibility. Purdue University Press. pp. 181–197. Retrieved August 16, 2018.

[2] All scripture references come from www.biblegateway.com, New Revised Standard Version.

[3] Life Application Bible, New International Version (Illinois, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1995), 2525-2526

[4] Matthew 17:20 NRSV

[5] http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/we-are-saved

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