August 22 “Body Armor” Rev. Patrick Mecham
Ephesians 6:10-20 John 6:56-69
13th Sunday after Pentecost
We all understand that, when a new recruit joins the military, he or she goes through extensive training and physical fitness preparation before they are sent into action. But we wouldn’t think of deploying them without a helmet or body armor—that would be just plain foolish!
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he’s saying something similar: Christians need to put on body armor as well, because there are evil forces out there—spiritual forces of evil acting like snipers—and the church is foolish if we go out into the world unprotected! Our question for today is: How do we “put on the whole armor of God?” I have a few ideas to share with you, and I hope this sparks an ongoing dialog about “Body Armor”!
Spiritual Forces of Evil
I hesitated to use the phrase, “Spiritual Forces of Evil,” because it conjures up some pretty weird imagery. In our culture, some people still think about a red devil with horns and a pitchfork—much like the little guy found on the can of Underwood Deviled Ham. Or how about the cartoon devil on a person’s shoulder, opposite the cartoon angel on the other shoulder—both of them whispering advice?
As far as that goes, what does evil look like? You might expect it to be repulsive, but not necessarily. Evil can make itself look attractive, appealing (especially to our lower nature), lowering defenses. (I believe that, if we could see how ugly evil truly is, we would run the other direction!)
There are Christian Fanatics who spend entirely too much time focusing on Satan. Some of these people could “find a demon behind the toaster” if they had enough time! They speak with such fear. (John’s first letter tells us: “God is love. There is NO FEAR in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”)
Because we reject this fanaticism, we may be tempted to reject the notion of the reality of evil. In that same letter from John, we hear these words: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.”
So, let me recap:
· Evil is not a cartoon;
· Evil is not lurking behind the toaster;
· But evil is real. There is obvious, stunning evil in our world—most everyone can see it.
But there is a more subtle, insidious evil that infiltrates even our very private lives. And you and I had best be armed against it!
When Jesus was talking about casting out evil spirits (in Luke 11), he said, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his property is safe.” So, again, I ask: how do you and I get fully armed (in a spiritual sense)?
The Whole Armor of God
Our passage today from Ephesians tells us that our struggle is not against an enemy of flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil. Paul encourages us to STAND (not run) STAND, and put on “armor” of a different sort!
He says to fasten the belt of truth around your waist. Truth is a big subject for Paul, and he understood that the light of truth reveals things as they truly are. The ideal is that we are “speaking the truth in love.” This means speaking in a loving fashion, speaking from the motivation of love, and remembering that the truth sometimes hurts—but it usually heals!
He says to put on the breastplate of righteousness—which is defined as right living; living in the light (NOT perfection, but BECOMING THE PERSON GOD WANTS US TO BE). I love the morning prayer of St. Patrick in which he mentally puts on the breastplate of righteousness. Part of it goes like this: “I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity by the invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three. I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead, God’s eye to watch, God’s might to stay, God’s ear to hearken to my need, the wisdom of my God to teach, God’s hand to guide, God’s shield to ward, the word of God to give me speech, God’s heavenly host to be my guard.” (St. Patrick’s Breastplate)
For shoes, Paul says to “take whatever will make you ready to proclaim the Gospel of peace.”
“With all of these, take the shield of faith…” Faith means trusting that God is in charge, no matter what is happening in your life right now. There are Christians in Afghanistan who can hear the gunshots and explosions all around them, knowing full well that the Taliban is executing anyone identified as a Christian. Their faith is the most substantive thing they have right now, their only shield.
Another function of a shield is to quench “the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Just like a sniper’s bullets, the voice of doubt or fear whispers to us; temptations catch us when we feel weak. Faith snuffs out those voices, suffocates those temptations. Faith is a gift from God that can be strengthened by using it, exercising it. If we don’t use it…it atrophies.
The last piece of equipment Paul describes is “The Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” I once heard a preacher say that having a Dusty Bible is like having ingredients in the pantry, but dying of hunger! Dying of spiritual malnutrition! I know, I know—sometimes the Bible is hard to understand. But when we prayerfully spend time in the Scriptures, we will see the wisdom in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
Make sure you have your sword each day!
Brothers and Sisters, all this talk about “body armor” applies to us as individuals AND as The Body of Christ. You and I are part of a community (which is more than just a collection of houses and businesses). Community is the base word for communication, a commune (if you will) where people co-MUNE with one another. Church is meant to be a community of faith—a place where our lives are interconnected, a place where we share communion. Together, we have mutual protection: we watch each others’ backs. (Just as in nature, where there are always predators ready to pick off those who are away from the family!)
The Body’s Defenses (The Body of Christ)
Together, we have mutual accountability: an awareness that your wellbeing and my wellbeing are inextricably intertwined. Yes, this is difficult in a culture in which individualism and independence are prized—but we cultivate this culture of mutual accountability. Anyone who has experienced AA, NA, or Celebrate Recovery understands the “safety net” of mutual accountability.
And, of course, we have the privilege of praying for each other: entering the Presence of God with our requests. When I know your needs and difficulties, I can do as Paul suggests when he writes, “persevere in supplication for all the saints.” This means being persistent in our prayers for the Body of Christ. As we do this, we appreciate the POWER of a praying people!
I’ll finish today with another daily prayer of St. Patrick. He used it as a daily exercise of “putting on Christ” (Romans 13) like a soldier puts on armor and takes up the sword. His prayer goes: “Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”