Sermon for the 21st Sunday after TRINITY, November 5, 2017
“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
HYMNAL REVISIONISTS often seek to eliminate the military sound of certain old favorites, such as Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to war; Fight the good fight, With all thy might; and Stand up, stand up for Jesus, Ye soldiers of the cross! Images of knights in armour riding off to the Crusades to destroy the Saracens and cleanse the Holy Land of its Moslem overlords make us squeamish. Our current battles in the Middle East have been criticized as being the same war of religion. War is not a Christian quality. Jesus was a man of peace. Martyrdom rather than murder, love more than hate, kindness over killing – these typify the Christian soul, we are reminded. Be nice.
Men in Christianity today are told to be nice, don’t fight, stay safe and leave the women alone. Fold your hands and listen, then sing songs of faith, not war. We are soft men, soft spoken, with soft hands that work with software, wearing soft shoes and soft clothes. We like soft drinks rather than whisky. John Eldredge speaks to my heart when he says that men were created by God in His image to do battle against evil, to face danger and overcome it, and to rescue the fair maiden from her dungeon. Wild at Heart These things, the very mention of them, stirs the male soul and gives us a backbone.
But we are enjoined only to feel shame at our native wildness, the forces under our skin that long to serve a higher purpose with the valiant part of us. Garrison Keillor notices that men of old could hunt game and kill it for food, make a fire without matches, cross mountain passes in winter without maps, and defeat an enemy. Today’s man, well, he can use a fax machine.
When we hear St. Paul’s admonition to put on God’s armour, do we need to immediately spiritualize it and to such an extent that we redefine each piece of battle gear as its exact opposite? Leave off the warlike terms of helmets, swords and shields a moment and ask if Truth, Righteousness, Salvation, Faith and the Spirit of God are suggesting that we sit, fold our hands and be nice? Truth is not nice. Truth is good, and like the lion Aslan in Lewis’ fantasy world, he is not a tame lion, but he is very good.
Jesus was not a nice guy. Not nice, as we use the term today anyway. He said things that upset people. He saw social norms and he violated them. He hurt people’s feelings, when they desperately needed to be hurt. The vast difference between Him and a bully was that he loved every person to the length that He would die in their place. But He didn’t put up with nonsense. He was not a tame savior. When we put on the armour that Paul describes, we are putting on the valiant Jesus Christ, no less, and we had better wear Him with respect and courage, for He can get us into a lot of trouble! He didn’t pick fights, but He faced off against lies and spiritual strongholds, and He called a spade a spade.
Truth is no nonsense. Nothing hides from it. It’s a bright light were the bugs crawl away in terror of it. It should be spoken in love, but with the idea that the surgeon has to use that scalpel, and cut out that disease. And the truth about ourselves, though painful, needs to come out. If we are to truly change from our inside out, we need it to be with truth aimed back to our own sins too. Truth is the first piece of armour, and it’s worn about your guts. It’s your true waist size. It keeps you from tripping on your skirts – that embroidered stuff you’ve told about yourself in former days.
Righteousness is a funny old word that includes honor, justice, morality, goodness and virtue. It has overtones that in our post-modern ear can sound sanctimonious and self-righteous, but that’s how we deflect this fine quality. Righteousness is agreeing with and doing the will of God. That’s a big order and hard to do, but we don’t change the standard because we find it difficult. Righteousness is worn as a breastplate, covering our hearts and innards, our vital organs.
The gospel of peace was the song heard over the fields around Bethlehem the night of Christ’s birth: “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will to all men.” It’s the good news that the Saviour has come to free the captives from the bondage of their sins, and to vanquish our accuser and enemy, and destroy death. It may mean peace in the end, but peace through strength and war, a war of the God-man taking territory back from Satan by violent means. This violence did injury to no man, but needing far more courage, it took violence toward the one who won the day, and resulted in His death. The feet of Him that stands on the mountains declaring this peace are beautiful, though they are pierced, and in His shoes we now stand with the declaration of God’s peace. This declaration will be received both with relief and opposition. All the Apostles went with this Gospel and all suffered for it.
Faith is a kind of knowledge. It’s not science and can’t be proven by test tubes or statistics. However, we know what we know. Jesus is God, Jesus died to save me, Jesus rose again and lives still, Jesus is coming back, Jesus will take my soul to heaven and I will live forever. Laugh at me, if you will. Challenge me, if you can. Cite some seminary teaching on how the religion came from mistaken notions and human frailties and I will tell you that I will die on this hill. Jesus is God the Son. Shoot your fiery darts. I remain unchanged. We bear a shield of faith against all foolish attacks and lies. Faith protects our hearts and arms.
Salvation means we’re destined for eternity and no one can steal our destiny from us. It means we’ve been cured of the sickness that infected the world ages ago. It means we have a new worldview, we see more clearly how our lives matter and that we can afford the generosity of sharing what we know with those who don’t know it yet. They are not devils. They are simply B.C., before Christ. When they have Him, they will be like us, A.D., Anno Domini, in the Year of Our Lord. This side of the cross. We wear this assurance on our heads so our thoughts will run this way. What we see, how we think, what we feel are protected and shaped by this salvation, as with a helmet.
Boys must play with weapons. Give a boy a Barbie doll and he will bend her into a pistol to shoot at you. Give up trying to civilize that fella, he’s a warrior, just like his Father of whom the Israelites said “The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is His name.” Ex 15:3 So, a sword is the ultimate masculine extension of power, a piercing weapon that defeats the armour of the enemy before him. (Now, I just saw Wonder Woman and that heroine had a sword too. Don’t let my words communicate anything like this is only a man’s war.) Who is that enemy, and what armour does he wear? You should know your enemy. The Psalms speak volumes asking God to cast him down, to kill him and take away his possessions. David may have been thinking of Philistines, but Christians know the one we fight. He is a liar and the father of lies. He sets brother against brother. He wears lies like a cloaking device and insinuates things about God, and about us that weaken our resolve. That is why we wear armour. He plays dirty, uses sneaky weapons, drugs and poisons us with lies and sows treason among us. You can’t reform him, or convince him to stop. You have to hurt him. You have to use that sword. You don’t know how, but it’s the Sword of the Holy Spirit, it is God in you. Let God use that sword. Just hold it up and out. Be willing as His instrument. The words will come and your aim will be true.
Now, all this warlike language did not come only with St. Paul. He actually was echoing the words 800 years old from Isaiah, who was mourning his people, saying, “Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. Yea, truth fails; and he that departs from evil makes himself a prey: and the LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him. For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.” Isaiah 59
I’ve mentioned the Crusades, a great sin and mistake in Christian history that said we might match the conquering zeal of Islam to bring the true religion to others by force. It was wrong. All this warlike talk is not about a shooting war. We will never save one soul by threatening death as the alternative. Of course they will say they believe. And you have one more enemy in your camp.
Yet bombs of love are falling over the Middle East as satellites beam down quality Christian programming into Moslem countries daily and love, joy, selfless giving, and hope are sent into homes where eager watchers welcome the message, and hearts are changed. Our friend, Dr. Hormoz Shariat, founder of IranAlive, is sending these loving missiles of truth into his country of birth, Iran, 24 hours a day. Among them, 28-minute programs with my wife, Giti, and her brother, Cyrus – Step by Step with God and God is Alive! This parish is the sponsor of these programs being produced in Chico and we are at war. Satan captured these precious people 14 centuries ago and God wants them free.
But in the aftermath of two horrible acts of terrorism in our nation, naming Islam as their inspiration, Hormoz calls for a response that is more than terror or hate. He writes:
“If We Don’t Go, They Will Come. We see this principle in the Old Testament where God wanted His people to reach out to other nations and be a witness to them. But the Israelites did not do it… Because Israel did not go to the Assyrians and Babylonians, those nations came, attacked them, killed them, and took them to captivity.
“This same consequence is what is happening today to America… For centuries the Church has ignored the Middle East and Muslims. Only 3 percent of the Church’s mission budget is spent to reach out to 1.6 billion Muslims. Because we did not go to them with the love of Christ, they are coming to us with the hatred of Allah.
“Terrorists coming with the hatred of Allah is exactly what happened on 9/11, and it is what is happening now. So the same Old Testament principle is still valid: If we don’t go, they will come—and it will not be pretty. If we continue to disregard reaching out to Muslims of the Middle East, they will continue to come to us with violence and acts of terrorism.
“Government officials feel helpless to stop it… Terrorism is impossible to stop completely because an act of terrorism easily could happen on any street corner, any movie theater, any stadium, any concert, or in any shopping mall in the US… I talked to a top homeland security officer. He said, ‘We are on the defensive in America, and that is a weak position. It is impossible to monitor all potential terrorists and stop them before they do their acts of terrorism.’
“Jesus commands us to go. We must be on the offensive with the gospel and love of Christ towards Muslims… Living on the defensive, in constant fear, or in search of ways to protect ourselves against inevitable attacks is not the answer to Islam. Neither is it the answer to return violence with violence.
“The good news is that God has done His part by opening the hearts of millions of Muslims towards the gospel already. The bad news is that the Church is pretty much asleep and is not doing its job. And yet the worst news is that, as a result, terrorism will increase in the USA. The news we get in the future will be based on the choices we make and the actions we take now.”
So, we are at war, then. It is a war in the home, as the enemy wants our children, wants to cripple and ruin our marriages and families. It is a war in the streets, as fear and hate color every engagement with police doing their job and all political discourse is with rage and insanity. It is a war with the ruler of Islam, a satanic demon so large and powerful that we cannot battle directly with him, but rather save the captives one by one, using tactics of love, and I mean tough love, dangerous love, self-sacrificial love, agape love. We mean it. We mean to save the Moslem world by Christ, Isa Massi, who came for them too.
The war is subtle. It will come against your thinking when you least expect it. It comes through your computer screen, television, music lyrics, school curricula, news sources, and your new iPhone X. Get that armour on, saints. You say, “What can I do?” Can you pray? That’s not a fall back position – that’s front lines. Your prayers can rock our world. Pray. Put on Christ – for each element of that armour is Christ in you, on you. Pray, watch, give, have the purpose that the gospel that brings peace may go out from here to the ends of the earth. Think it’s impossible? If you think so, then it is. But if you think God is true and His ability unlimited, then agree with Him. And bear this burden into a world already at war. We bring peace with strength, the power that is in Jesus Christ.