Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | August 23, 2015

2015.08.23 “Weapons of Choice” – Ephesians 6: 10 – 20

Central United Methodist Church
“Weapons of Choice”
Pastor David L. Haley
August 23rd, 2015
Ephesians 6: 10 – 20
BeStrongintheLord

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 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, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.” – Ephesians 6: 10 – 20, the New Revised Standard Version

In the never-ending battle against evil, what would be your weapon of choice? For those who remember, that was the decision faced by Agents ­­­­Jay and Kay, played, respectively, by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the 1997 Sci Fi comedy, Men In Black. As Agent Jay will to find out, the size & appearance of a weapon is not the best indicator of its power. [See the clip from Men in Black here]

In the real world, if you’re fighting not aliens but the real evils in the world today, what would be your weapon of choice: a 9 mm handgun, M16, a RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade Launcher), Apache helicopter, a B1 Bomber, even a Cruise Missile? All those are weapons are available, but how effective are they, especially in relation to cost and consequences?

That depends, doesn’t it, on what evil you want to use it against. While each of those weapons may have its place, the truth is the greatest evils in the world today are not aliens or zombies or supernatural powers or even terrorists; they are the same intractable evils that have always plagued society: hatred, violence, racism, poverty, ignorance, greed, and injustice, the evils of the human heart. Against such evils, the most expensive, most impressive, and most powerful weapons – including all of those I named earlier – are useless. Against such evils, what should be our weapons of choice?

This is the question St. Paul answers today in our final reading from his Letter to the Ephesians. Paul has written to them about the amazing things God has done, such  as breaking down the barriers that divide us, bringing together all things on heaven and earth in Christ. He has written about what we are to do and how we are to live in the light of this, and like every good preacher – now begins to wrap it up (Yeah, we’ve heard that one before) – with an exhortation to action. I like how Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message:

“And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials.  And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.”

Yes, it’s serious, all right, hand-to-hand, fight-to-the-finish combat, but who are we fighting? What St. Paul really says is that “our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

While St. Paul may have understood that to be a battle between supernatural powers – that is what they believed then – we may understand it differently. The “principalities and powers” Paul references, are those forces of evil which we encounter in no one place, and yet in any place; which seem to be beyond the actions of any one person, and come from the action and inaction of many people: I’m talking about evils like violence and injustice and racism and poverty. While there are situations in which a 9 mm handgun might save your life or that of your family; it will be powerless against a sub-standard school, which will also scar you for the rest of your life. There might be times an M-16 rifle would be useful, but if you are injustly treated or incarcerated due to the color of your skin, who exactly are you going to bomb, to eliminate racism?  Do you see what I’m getting at here?

Understanding these things, understanding that our greatest  enemies in life are not people but spiritual or moral enemies, Paul prescribes appropriate weapons of choice:

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

What Paul is describing the values that will get us through life – our “weapons of choice,” by using the power of the familiar. As Paul wrote this, most believe he was under house arrest in Rome, as he called himself, “an ambassador in chains.” Likely he did not have to look very far to see a Roman soldier, or the equivalent of a Roman police officer. So when he starts talking about the armor of God, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, he’s likely being more descriptive than imaginative.

whole-armor-of-godAnd he is using an image with which his audience would be familiar. In the time of St. Paul, the entire area of Europe and Asia, including the Holy Land, was under Roman occupation, with an army of Roman soldiers to keep the peace, so they knew what St. Paul was talking about.

Sadly, too often in history, St. Paul’s words have been taken literally, and weapons have been taken up again others, including the innocent; against Jews, Muslims, even against other Christians who believed differently. President Obama was right in his remarks at a White House Prayer Breakfast, for which he was criticized by some less knowledgeable Christians; that sadly, not only Muslims but also Christians have a long history of violence.

Quite plainly, Paul is speaking metaphorically here; against spiritual and moral evil, and correspondingly, only spiritual and moral weapons are effective. And what are they? Truth. Righteousness, or justice. The good news of peace. Faith. Salvation, or wholeness. Finally, the sword of the Spirit, which is not a literal sword, but the word of God.

But – don’t we feel about such things the way Agent Jay felt about his pathetic weapon in Men In Black? What good are truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation in a world filled with hatred and terrorists, AK 47s, drive-bys, and car bombs? Aren’t they little more than words? How could we possibly begin not only to challenge but to change the “principalities and powers” with little more than words?

If you want to see if they are only words, try to practice them, and you see and experience what happens. Speak the truth, and it will cost you. Do the right thing, and you will be reviled and ridiculed for it. Practice peace, in a world awash with weapons and war, and you will be laughed at. Claim faith, in a world of doubt. You will know when you are getting results, when the opposition increases. Yes, like Agent Kay surprised at the power of his pathetic little weapon, the weapons of choice St. Paul has laid out for us proof in practice to more powerful than we can imagine. Here’s one example.

One of my favorite places in Washington, D.C., is on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And one of my favorite places on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is an engraving in the pavement marking the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on August 28th, 1963, to make his passionate call for social and racial equality – his “I Have A Dream” speech during the historic March on Washington.

When the engraving was unveiled – on August 28, 2003, 40 years afterward – five family members of Dr. King’s family present, while an audio recording of Dr. King’s speech played over the loudspeakers. As King’s voice echoed, men and women, white and black, wiped tears from their eyes. The 100 or so people who sat in folding chairs on the lower level of the memorial stood at the end of the speech and applauded.

It was only words, right?  Words like truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation. But those words, the inadequate vessels of long-suffering dreams, echoed in our ears, through our living rooms, and deeply into our hearts and minds, until they literally changed America, far more than the power of guns or tanks ever could or ever will. Did it cost Dr. King to be the spokesman of that dream?  You bet. Still today, there is more work to do, and the battle is not won.

St. Paul’s panoply of spiritual weapons against the evils of the world are still laid out before us, awaiting our choosing and using. Pathetic and powerless though they may sometimes appear before the powerful and persistent evils of the world, they are still the weapons of choice for relationships, and for families, and for use at home and school and work. Let us teach them to our children, and practice them in our lives.

And that about wraps it up. As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You will need them throughout your life.” Amen.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: