Sunday, August 26, 2018
Year B, Proper 16
St. Paul’s Brunswick
Close your eyes for a moment. Picture a knight in shining armor. Picture the sword, the shield, the helmet. Maybe you picture a knight getting ready for a jousting match at a Renaissance Festival. Maybe the knight, William Thatcher aka Ulrich von Lichtenstein, from the 2001 movie A Knight’s Tale. Or Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, all ready to go to battle with the forces of Mordor. Or perhaps it is more like Goofy all dressed up in A Knight for a Day. Now picture yourself wearing that same armor, ready to “stand against the wiles of the devil.”
Open your eyes.
“Stand against the wiles of the devil.” Wow. That’s intense. The devil is that little voice whispering for us to do things that we know we should not do. That voice wants us to do that which will tear down and destroy ourselves and others. Self deprecation, bullying of the self or others, holding onto grudges or anger, and so many other ways that the small voice inside us urges us to give in to darkness. But that is not all the devil is up to. The devil also wants us to fail to do that which we should do. The little voice whispers to ignore our neighbor, and turn away from the person in need. Not feed the hungry or visit the prisoners or forgive our neighbor. So while it is about what the devil wants you to do that is not advantageous to humanity, the flip side is that the devil does not want you to build up your neighbor and the world.
To help us make it through the temptations of the devil, we are given the armor of God. Unlike the armor of a knight, which was reserved for those who were deemed good enough to wear it, the armor of God is available to everyone. Yes, everyone. Those who are in church every Sunday and those who are here for the first time. Those who are hurting and those having a good day. Those who are broken and those who feel whole. The armor of God is available to you.
The Belt of truth
The Breastplate of righteousness
The Shoes to make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace
The Shield of faith
The Helmet of salvation
The Sword of the spirit, which is the word of God
When I think of the word “armor”, I think of something to protect me from external forces. I think of it like an exoskeleton that will turn aside a blow or a slash of a sword. The armor of God is a protection, but it is even more a tool. It is a tool to aid us in the struggle against that which cannot be seen or touched, “the cosmic powers of this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Often those spiritual forces are in our very own thoughts.
Let’s take the imagery away and look at the tools that come with the armor of God to help us be “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.”
That is a powerful set of tools for the use of all of us.
Truth: the truth is that God is love. God loves you and your neighbor and the refugee and the immigrant and even your enemy. God is love, knows love, and became human out of love.
Righteousness: Christianity teaches morals and values, the most basic of which is love. When we act in love and compassion, with an open mind, heart, and ears, we are acting righteously.
Peace: proclaim the gospel of peace. May the peace of the Lord be always with you. If we all pass the peace not just on Sunday morning, but all the time, and our heart and soul are truly behind the words, we do not have room for hatred or grudges and forgiveness will be ready in our hearts and souls.
Faith:by faith we are saved and having faith often helps protect us from feelings of hopelessness and futility. We have faith in Jesus Christ. We also have faith in the goodness of humanity and faith in ourselves, as a person made in the image of God.
Salvation:Through Jesus, we have salvation. We use this tool as a means of hope and grace, hopefully not only receiving them, but giving them to others as well.
Word:The Word of God is listed as the sword of the spirit. That is powerful, even menacing. But does it have to be menacing? No. Think of the sword as being used to cut through the darkness to find the light in the world. A sword ready to defend the weak and oppressed. Through the sword of the word, all things were created. Through the word, Jesus taught about the Father. Through the word, we know the sacred stories of Christianity, and in turn, of Judaism.
All these things will protect you from evil in that you are projecting love and light and hope. Hatred and discord breed when there is darkness and when we are projecting negativity into the world. When we project positive energy into the world through our actions and prayers, we are using the armor of God to shield not only ourselves from evil, but those around us, and our communities.
It is hard to use these tools day in and day out. It is even harder when you realize what the armor does not protect you from. Yes, you are still vulnerable out there in the world. Armor does not remove all vulnerability from our lives, and why should it? After all, we were never promised a life of ease. It will not protect you from discomfort, disappointment, heartbreak, or failure. You see, there is a vulnerability built into the protection of the armor that God provides us, and it is a vulnerability that, to be Christians, we must embrace. Friends, this vulnerability is not a weakness! It is a strength beyond your wildest dreams and it can give you courage and conviction. It is in our vulnerabilities that we find out how strong we can really be. The vulnerability is that our hearts are wide open. Our hearts are open to being broken by what breaks the heart of God. The armor of God allows the suffering of others to flow right through and strike our hearts. Poverty, injustice, hunger, and violence, to name a few. When we see these things, if our armor is working properly, they will penetrate the armor and break our hearts so that we feel something for another human being and, if we are paying attention, take some sort of action. It does not have to be big action, it does not have to change the world all at once. Mother Teresa said, “if you cannot feed a hundred people, feed one.” It really is as simple as that. Feed one. What if everyone here brought food donations to feed one person, every week? I’ll tell you some of what would happen, we would need a bigger basket for food donations and the shelves at the food pantry would be a little fuller. More children, elderly, and others having a hard time, would have the dignity of having food in the cupboard. We would be serving Christ by serving others.
Mother Teresa also said, “In this life we cannot always do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” What breaks your heart? What is the armor piercing bullet that makes its way into your soul and makes you come alive with a desire to help? One issue that pierces me is hunger. There is enough food for everyone, it is a matter of getting it to those who need it. I have taken people experiencing homelessness to get a hot meal, given out bottles of water on hot days, and made sure to have extra food on road trips so those I come across who do not have the option of running into the Hannaford or Shaw’s for a snack, can have something to eat. And I always ask their name and shake their hand. I acknowledge their humanity and identity. Additionally, as I go on my way, I can take a moment to say a prayer for that person. You see, I’ve been in a place where I was wondering where I would come up with the money to go to the grocery store. It always worked out, but not without some help from compassionate people.
You might be saying to yourself, but I’m broke myself, I can’t do anything. YES, YOU CAN. First of all, you can acknowledge the brokenness of the world and help others to do the same. If we do not name it, it is too easy not to see it. If we see it, and name it, we can have discussion around it and maybe even come up with a plan to do something about it. And I have a suggestion for something tangible you might be able to do. Do you have a smart phone? Take it out. Yes, take it out, right now, during the sermon. No smart phone? No problem. Take note of what I am going to tell you about, because I bet you know someone who is not here who does have a smart phone. Go into the app store or google play, and search for the app Charity Miles. This app has corporate sponsors who will donate money to one of the many charities they partner with for the miles you bike, walk, run, hike, stroll, ski, hop, skip, or jump. $.25/mile on foot and $.10 per mile on wheels. All you have to do is sign up, pick a charity, and when you go out for a stroll or a roll, start the app. Why is this app in my sermon? Well, because I’ve had times in my life when I didn’t think I could do anything financially for anyone else, but through this app, I have had over $600 donated to various charities on my behalf. Right now my charity of choice is Feeding America, but I can change any time I want. Those miles I did made a difference. They made me feel good physically, and someone else feel good because they got food for their family, healthcare for a pregnant woman, clean water, education, or medical care. Seeing people going hungry pierces me to the soul. What pierces you to the soul?
Just in case you still think you can’t make a a difference, I have one more quote for you to consider. British businesswoman and human rights activist Anita Roddick once said: “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try going to bed with a mosquito.” For good or for bad, YOU make a difference.
The armor of God gives us what we need to be strong in the faith in God the Father/Mother, Son, and Holy Spirit. It gives us the tools to engage with the world without fear that we will have to face temptation unaided and alone. The armor of God allows us to see suffering and have compassion and empathy with those who are in difficult situations. The armor of God isn’t about me and my world, it is about we and our world.