Speaking Of Life 3039 | The Songs of Home
Speaking Of Life 3039 | The Songs of Home Greg Williams Did you have a trip your family took while you were growing up? Maybe to visit relatives across the country? Or maybe back to a parent’s hometown? Or that one resort or beach town you visited every year without fail? You develop a certain routine. You might stop at the same hamburger joint, like Melvin’s in Elizabethtown on the way to White Lake, North Carolina. You may fill your car with gas at the same Scotchman service station because you know they have the cheapest prices. You get a feel for the landmarks—the DuPont Plant, the Smithfield pork processing plant, the bridge across the mighty Cape Fear River, and the bait shop right before you enter the FFA Camp at White Lake. If your kids are young, you might pass the time by playing “I-spy” or singing songs. Our kids still remember that Susan and I would count the cows in the fields on our side of the car riding through the country. The Israelites had similar travel customs and traditions. Israelites wore a groove between their homes and the temple, making the trip several times during their lives, and they would often sing psalms as they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Psalm 84 was one they traditionally sang. For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. Psalm 84:10 (ESV) This song might be sung several times along the way, ringing the theme that they were headed to God’s courts. With rising joy as they approached the familiar destination, they would reiterate their central story as God’s people. Stop for a second and think about this: The Son of God probably sang this song as a kid. Joseph and Mary most likely sang this song as they traveled to the temple to have him dedicated when he was twelve. Some of the first sounds he would remember on earth were these hopeful words over and over: Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Psalm 84:3 (ESV) These were songs of comfort and longing, songs of home. We still sing these songs and similar songs as we tell these stories today, as we are on our own pilgrimage. We are not all the way home yet, we are not fully at rest; we are still on the journey. Jesus journeyed. He knew the fatigue and boredom that would occasionally arise, but he also knew the excitement of traveling with family. And that’s the key. We are the family of God, still on that journey. The blessing is that Jesus journeys with us; he walks with us and he sings with us the songs of his home. I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.
Psalm 84:1-12 • 1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43 • Ephesians 6:10-20 • John 6:56-69
The theme for this week is God’s romance with us. The call to worship Psalm talks about being in God’s loving presence (“courts”) better than being anywhere on earth. 1 Kings tells the early story of this romance, the ancient memories of the Ark of Covenant and God’s covenant people. John 6 is the strange and beautiful story of Jesus being with us and uniting himself with us at the Lord’s supper. Our sermon is from Ephesians 6, the story of us taking on our Lover’s armor, which he took on first for us.
The Second-Hand Armor of God
One of the runaway hits of 2021 is the Disney series The Mandalorian. This science-fiction saga set in the Star Wars universe follows the nearly silent Mandalorian bounty hunter on his adventures through space.
This warrior strikes quite an image, and the first thing you notice is his iconic armor. Made of a mysterious indestructible metal, the suit is one of the main keys to his success in battle. It’s hundreds of years old and forged by artisans who learned the esoteric trade through the centuries.
The Mandalorian never removes his armor.
In the end of Ephesians, Paul gives us his iconic armor image by describing the full armor of God. The belt, the breastplate, the shield, the boots and of course the sword have made their way into Christian imagery for centuries, from dynamic art to cheesy plastic costumes. This is our tradition as Christians, to suit up in this armor—millennia old—not just when the armor is needed but, like the Star Wars soldier, as a way of life.
There’s been plenty of misuse of this kind language on the Bible. We’ve been too fast to interpret this as “us versus them” when we think of people outside of the faith. At worst, people have committed violent acts claiming they are in the Lord’s army and doing his will. Think of those who blow up abortion clinics claiming they are doing God’s work.
How do we approach this passage from Paul responsibly? How does it resonate with us in a digital age where wars are fought by drones? What does it mean to wear God’s armor not as art of battle but, like the Mandalorian, as a part of daily life?
Let’s look at three realities about the armor of God that we can pick up from Paul’s famous passage.
Armor Reality #1: It’s not who you think
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:11-13 ESV)
In Paul’s day and all through Jesus’ life, the question was always when would Israel be restored to power? They had been perpetually conquered and persecuted. Their latest ruler, Rome, was the superpower of the ancient world. They believed the Messiah would be the conquering king who would drive Rome out. Paul speaks to that sentiment here.
He reminds them the problems are further upstream, so to say. This is an evil much deeper and older (and smarter) than Rome. Dark spiritual forces are at work—Satan and all that comes with him. This evil is worse than tyranny because it’s the reason tyranny exists.
So instead of the fight against your neighbors, Paul is talking about who the real enemy is. Satan’s campaign to destroy humanity in subtle, insidious ways is not a military battle but a centuries-long war.
The weapons he recommends—truth, righteousness, salvation, peace—are the way to true victory. Our worldly weapons of power, intrigue and violence are no match for the strength of true armor. They will fall away and burn themselves out, but the metal (and mettle) of the kingdom is indestructible.
In our own time, we fall into our own “flesh and blood” distractions from where the true enemy resides. As the age of faith passes from much of the world’s culture, we Christians find ourselves with a lot less influence. We panic. We fixate on a political candidate to either hate or venerate as a savior. We judge celebrities harshly, wagging our heads as if they are the only thing going wrong in the world. Or we get angry and react with Islamophobia, homophobia and other bigotry rather than showing love, even to those we disagree with.
As we fixate on the flesh and blood in front of us, we lose sight of the bigger picture—standing firm in God’s power while he builds his kingdom through us. This brings us to reality number two.
Armor Reality #2: It’s primarily defensive
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:13-17 ESV)
Growing up in Sunday School in the last few decades, you may have heard the song “I’m in the Lord’s Army.” Going through various military images, the song crescendos with “I’m in the Lord’s Army! Yes sir!” The song itself, like every other Sunday kids’ tune, is as harmless as it is tedious, but it can point to an unhelpful sentiment.
We begin to see ourselves as aggressive and anti-, as if we are the “all the way good” guys against the “all the way bad” guys. The reality, vividly woven from Genesis to Revelation, is that we’re all equally “lost guys” who need help. Author Donald Miller put it well: “Jesus taught that we are all bad and He is good, and He wants to rescue us because there is a war going on and we are hostages in that war.”
So the armor that Paul gives us is primarily defensive—it’s mainly about standing firm and remaining standing through the onslaught of whatever our enemy (see above) comes up with. Let’s look at each piece of armor:
- The Belt of Truth
The gospel never claims to give us only an exciting new perspective or a dynamic three-step scheme—it claims to give us the truth with a capital T. The gospel is the bedrock truth about the universe that holds it all together; Jesus is the quantum equation that sums it all up.
Not only do “church realities” of theology and religious practice make sense in the gospel, but all realities—science, history, art, music, psychology and astrophysics—come together in the truth of Jesus. This belt of truth holds everything together, and when we are assailed by temptations to sin or despair, holding on to that truth keeps us from falling apart.
Again, is this a command from Paul to go pick fights and squabbles? Is Paul telling us to beat people over the head with this truth until they acquiesce? No. Absolutely, we will stand for truth when necessary, but this is not a call to come out with an angry, judgmental voice—which is really just a vent for our own rage—and call it God’s work.
A belt does what it does, holds things in place, holds things together.
- The Breastplate of Righteousness
This word encompasses more than just virtue or ethics, although those things are important. It also speaks to the historical reality of God putting the world to “rights” – reforming and reconciling and one day completing the process. God vindicated Jesus through the resurrection, set all to “rights” even though Jesus was burdened with all our sin, and he put us to rights as well within him.
This Christian status of “being in the right” before God is the breastplate we need to have firmly in place. The devil’s assaults are rarely the kind of theatrics we might see in a movie like The Exorcist. He’s much more likely to whisper garbage to you like “You aren’t good enough” or “You won’t make it” or “You aren’t loved, so numb yourself with this work/sex/drug/entertainment addiction.” One of his main weapons is to remind us of our insignificance.
The breastplate we need in place is that we are loved, accepted, and set to rights before God in Christ. We are part of the legacy and family of salvation that began with Israel and will one day end when Jesus returns.
- Shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace
Again, standing firm. The “peace that passes understanding” that we have access to as God’s children gives us strength to stand ready through battle. When you’re at peace, you are prepared. Much of martial arts and other kinds of hand-to-hand combat is about stance, having your feet in the right place, and everything else follows.
- Shield of Faith
The “flaming darts” of the enemy take all shapes and forms—everything from the temptation to despair, to slip into entangling sin or simply to be so distracted by life that we never grow. Standing against these things is not a matter of putting out every last arrow that comes your way—that will drive you mad, and while you might extinguish one, you are liable to get hit by twenty more.
Your faith in Jesus and loyalty to him is what stands against all of these at once. We don’t try to match arrow-for-arrow in battle—we take shelter behind the shield that will deflect them all.
- Helmet of Salvation
Keeping the reality of our completed salvation close to us gives us protection. Knowing that the main battle—for our own souls—is completed and won gives us strength to face whatever other skirmish comes our way.
It’s interesting how close the helmet is to the brain. We are continually charged with keeping our minds on things above, taking every thought captive, setting our focus on the realities of the gospel. This is our helmet, which we should always keep in place to protect our minds, and by proxy, our hearts and everything else.
Our last piece of armor, the only offensive weapon, brings us to our final armor reality.
Armor Reality #3: It’s second hand
This armor reality sounds completely strange until we consider the source material for Paul’s famous arsenal.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (Isaiah 11:5 ESV)
He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. (Isaiah 49: 2 ESV)
He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head. (Isaiah 59:17 ESV)
All of these images, obviously echoed in Paul’s words, most likely describe the coming Messiah. Throughout the OId Testament, this shadowy figure of promise appears, described in superhuman terms, and brings together God’s plan that everything is leading to.
So, in one sense, all this armor belonged and belongs to Jesus first. He is the Messiah figure described in Isaiah, wearing this armor and bringing forth God’s epic plan of salvation. We can wear this armor only because he wears it first.
- The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God
Here we get to the only piece of offensive weaponry. The Sword of the Spirit is wielded by Christ; we can only put our hand on it. This does not refer to Scripture when it says “Word of God.” Although this phrase is commonly understood to be Scripture in our time, the Scripture itself wasn’t complete yet when Paul wrote these words; the New Testament hadn’t been completed.
Paul is most likely referring to the “word” in the sense of the gospel word in which God accomplishes his work in us. In short, the “word” here is the gospel itself.
Paul refers to this in the previous chapter, verses 25-26:
…as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. (Ephesians 5:25-26 ESV)
God’s word, in this sense of God’s gospel action, is the sword that slices into the darkness of the world, cleanses hearts and changes lives. If you’ve been on the receiving end of this blade, you know it can be very invasive, cutting out old habits and mindsets and trimming the spiritual fat we all gather over time.
Jesus can use us in the process, wielding us for his purpose as we sharpen each other through encouragement and coaching. He also uses the circumstances of our lives and the truths of the gospel to grow us, transform us and change the world.
Again, we aren’t given an “us versus them,” aggressive image here, but the image of God’s holy work being done in us and through us. We can wear this hand-me-down armor only because it was and is worn by Christ. As we are “in him” we are in his armor as well.
- It’s not who you think
- It’s primarily defensive
- It’s second hand
These are the realities of the armor of God—the counter-intuitive, three-dimensional, second-hand armor of God which is stronger and older than anything the Mandalorian might put on. Our stance is not aggressively chasing down every last “enemy” we may think arises, but holding firm and letting the darts of the true enemy extinguish themselves. Our strength is not in our ingenuity and strategy, but in the faithful, everyday holding of truth in place in our hearts and minds. Our power is not our own, because the armor is not exclusively worn by us.
Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view. Listen to our host, Anthony Mullins and Geordie Ziegler unpack this week’s pericope.
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August 22 – Proper 16
Ephesians 6:10-20 (NRSV) “More Than a Fighter’s Chance”
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Small Group Discussion Questions
Questions for Sermon: “The Second-Hand Armor of God”
- Have you ever seen a suit of armor in real life—maybe at a museum or in the military? What was it like?
- Have you ever thought of the armor of God as primarily defensive? How might that change our mindset on this well-known passage?
- How do we hold these things (truth, salvation, peace, righteousness) in place? What does it mean to “take them on” (v. 11)?
Questions for Speaking of Life: “Songs of Home”
- Does or did your family take trips every year? Do you have a particular journey you’ve done many times that’s familiar? Did you play games or sing songs, like Jesus’ family did with Psalm 84, to pass the time?
- What does it mean that, as Christians, that we aren’t “all the way home” in the world? How does that change how we live in the world?
- Do you think Jesus travels with us by the Spirit on our life journey? Share a moment when you were aware of his presence.
Quote to ponder: “Jesus taught that we are all bad and He is good, and He wants to rescue us because there is a war going on and we are hostages in that war. … Anything short of this is not true to the teachings of Jesus.” ~~Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz