Pentecost 14 – Ephesians 6:10-20
Our Epistle reading is a great text for our world today. It so perfectly captures our attitude to what we face around us on a daily basis, and how we would like to respond.
Put on the belt of truth; fasten the breastplate of righteousness; lace up those shoes that are the gospel of peace; grab your shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit; and finally, do not forget the helmet of salvation.
Now I do not know about you, but when I hear this text, I am ready to sing Onward Christian Soldiers and bring about some Old Testament smiting on all those who would persecute the Church; and perhaps the same is true for you as well.
Yes, much like Peter, you have your sword ready to go, and at the slightest hint of danger you are ready to start swinging and willing to go down fighting, so long as you take as many persecutors of the Church with you as possible.
This text calls to mind the great rallying cries of today, that the silent majority must gird up their loins and prepare for a very real battle in which the future is up for grabs; and he who does not strike early and often, will soon find himself struck down.
Onward Christian soldiers; marching out to war; the cross of Jesus is going on before us!
After all, why else would you put on battle armor? Why else would you sharpen your sword? For what other purpose do you need that shield? Are these not the last days? Are we not called to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth? What better resource, then the blood and sweat and tears that are shed along a path that rightly punishes all those who have tried to destroy the Church on earth?
Of course, that does assume one thing: that in this text, our Father in heaven, is calling on His Church on earth to take an offensive front.
Which in your mind and mine, makes perfect sense. Over the centuries, let alone over the past 6 months, the Church has been pushed back immensely from where it once was. There are no more Christians in parts of Iraq; there are very few Christians left in several other countries; towns and communities in this country that once were friendly to the faith, are now hostile. Schools and colleges go to great lengths to mock and ridicule Christianity. Society has declared that Sunday is no longer the Sabbath Day, rather it is the sports day, or the work day, or the mall day, or the sleep in day.
Surely it is the right of the Church to push back; to take back at least a small piece of what has been lost; we may never get back to that utopian version we all dream of, but we can at least try.
And yet this text is not calling for the Church to take the position of an offensive battle approach.
Well then at least this text is calling on the Church to take a defensive battle position; after all, how much more ground can the Church lose and still be able to stand? What about defending the Church in countries where it is persecuted? What about defending the Church in courthouses and legislatures as positions are attacked again and again and rights are stripped away? The least you and I can do is leave the Church with some standing in society, so that those who come after us will not have it quite so rough. Maybe we can even go so far as to build the walls around us high and thick so that we can at least avoid the worst of the attacks that Satan hurls our way.
That might be a little closer to what this text is getting at; but to be honest, it still is not the point of this text. That battle armor and weapons that Paul calls on the people to put on is not really for the purposes of mounting a strong defense to cling to the little bit of property and the few remaining rights that the Church still has. And besides, defense leads to offense, and we have already ruled that out.
So what then is the point of the armor of God? Why does the Holy Spirit inspire Paul to pen these words first to the Ephesians, and now today to you and I? If this text is not calling on the Church to mount an offensive campaign, and if this text is not calling on the Church to set up a strong defense; then what is left?
What is left indeed.
All that is left is you, standing alone with the rest of the baptized, facing an unmerciful onslaught by Satan and his hordes.
You are left standing on the front lines, told not to press forward and not to retreat, but to simply stand there.
Why are you dressed seemingly for battle, yet told to stand down?
But do not just stand there, for that is not what this text calls on you to do.
This text is not about fighting back against the wicked foes who seek to destroy the faithful, nor is it about taking back some rights or some land that was never promised to the faithful to begin with. This text is about you standing firm in the faith into which you were baptized; the faith that you confess each and every Lord’s day; the faith that makes itself known to others when you come forward to receive the body and blood of Christ; the faith that stands firm in the confidence of the victory already won by your Lord Jesus Christ.
This text is not about propping up so called Christian nations, this text is about anchoring your feet in the Word of the Lord, so that when you are challenged by friend and foe, you might be able to stand firm in that faith, for you are equipped with the full armor of God.
The full armor of God that is ready to make a defense for the hope that is in you. A hope that can respond to those who question infant baptism; a hope that can confess what is received in the Lord’s Supper; a hope that knows the certainty of the words of absolution.
The full armor of God is to protect you from the flaming darts of the evil one when he comes and questions how you can believe in 6 day creation; how you can cling to antiquated beliefs about the role of men and women in the home and in the church; questions about how you can be so sure that you have a place secured for you in Paradise.
The full armor of God has been worn by the prophets of old. Yes, Old Testament prophets did mount offensive and defensive campaigns on behalf of the Word of the Lord, but more often than not, the prophets stood firm in the Word of the Lord, calling the people to repent, calling the people to hear the Word, calling the people to put on the full armor of God and to stand firm against the attacks of Satan.
The full armor of God has also been worn by the apostles and evangelists throughout the New Testament and the Church throughout time and space. Again, occasionally called upon to both push forward and to hold the line; but again far more often to stand firm in the face of persecution, called upon to pray for those who persecuted the Church, stand firm in the face of stones and crosses and prison and lions.
And the full armor of God is still worn by the Church today. Stand firm in the faith into which you have been baptized. Stand firm in the confidence that the Word of the Lord never changes, never ceases its promises to you. Stand firm, wearing the full armor of God, as Satan seeks to devour you, yet certain in the salvation that is yours through Christ Jesus alone.
For when you put on the full armor of God, you do so knowing that this is not a question of fighting on offense to gain ground; or on defense to hold ground. For you know that any plans of offense or of defense can fail. But when you put on the full armor of God, you do so knowing that the victory has already been secured.
By His death and resurrection, Christ Jesus has defeated the devil and all his hordes. By His death and resurrection Christ Jesus has secured a place for you in His kingdom for eternity. By His death and resurrection, you can put on the full armor of God knowing that not just the battle, but the whole war has already been won, and the spoils of victory in forgiveness, life and salvation, have been promised to you who stand firm in the faith.