Saturday, August 25, 2012

B, Pentecost 13 Proper 16 – Ephesians 6:10-20 “The Panoply of God”

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The medieval man returns from jousting on his horse. He and his wife lay eyes upon each other, thankful to see each other yet again. He takes his wife in his arms to passionately kiss her, but he cannot hold her properly nor can he feel her caress, nor kiss her. So he sweeps her off her feet and carries her off to their bedroom. But as he whisks her away there's an awkward clunking of metal.
They get to the bedroom but he can't bend over to lay her gently on the bed, so he drops her in that general direction. She falls uncomfortably, but still over come with passion recovers, and lies in wait for her husband. He walks over to a dressing table to take off his armoury, he takes off his helmet and the passion only increases.
The scene changes a couple of times as we see him peel off his layers. A time lapse occurs with shadows lengthening in the room as the medieval man sheds shield, breastplate, belt, and mesh suit. He is down to his one piece cotton underwear. You know the one that covers from wrist to neck to ankle! Now he is ready to engage with his wife and consummate their marriage once again.
But the crowd laughs as he finds her snoring loudly, unable to be woken. He rolls his eyes having gone to all the trouble of unsuiting, and because he's due back at the jousting front, walks disappointed and frustrated to put back on all his clobber. The whole charade's been a skit on a television show, mocking the awkwardness and time it takes to defrock from battle. And the crowd laughs as the skit ends.
Because we are products of our society, we sit at home and laugh with the television audience, having been drawn into the comedy of the skit. The laughs are heightened by our sense of desire and our need for immediate gratification in this day and age. We tune in to the feelings of the husband and the wife. The battle of waiting and wanting within is both tiring and frustrating.
In this battle of impatience it's easy to think we need to cut a few corners, to help things along to get to the destination. After all, this is how we're wired these days, this is how we think. We are convinced our battles are against time as we ravenously devour opportunities to appease our deepest desires. Therefore, our enemy becomes anyone who offends our feelings and emotions; who sins against our sense of self.
So we leave off some of the armour, after all it's a bit awkward, and let's face it how often do we really go into battle? I can leave the jousting to those who are meant to joust! I haven't enough time to put on all the pomp the pastor proclaims I need. He is my protector; he will do the work for me. Perhaps I'll use just a few of my own defences to defend myself too!
It's not surprising that within a relatively short amount of time, things begin to go haywire. We start to think there's a crack in the armour. We question our spiritual leaders; even begin to think we've been led astray by them, as we're pierced and stung and tempted to leave off even more of our armour.
Jesus tells us… When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (Luke 11:21–23 ESV)
Without our armour we are not strong, there are cracks. Without our armour we cannot stand against the enemy. Why? Because without our armour we can't even see the real enemy and in defending ourselves in our own strength we end up fighting the enemy who's not the enemy at all. We end up waging war against our mothers or fathers, our brothers or sisters, our children, our politicians and public figures, our unorganised neighbour or even our pastor. We're deceived into believing we must battle against these enemies because they appear to be the strong ones.
Hear the Word of God, written especially for you.
…be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour 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 armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10–13 ESV)
Every battle you wage against flesh and blood (in other words, other people) is not the right battle but rather the deceptive schemes of the devil, piercing you without your appropriate armour. The devil is just using and hiding behind the flesh and blood of others to deceive you. In fact, most of the time it's not the flesh of others, but rather your very own flesh and blood of your old Adam which seems to wage war against you. But this too is Satan's scheme.
So how do we battle against the true enemy, Satan and his legion of lecherous demons? How do we stand against unnumbered hidden foes? How can we be strong in the Lord and stand in the strength of his might against the devil's deception?
God calls you to once again put on the whole armour, the gospel armour, each piece put on with prayer. This is how we stand in the Lord and withstand the real enemy.
This standing and withstanding however, deserves deeper investigation so we might understand what it actually is. In the Greek to stand or withstand has the same root as the word "history". Having history is to stand or withstand by knowing and seeing what has happened in the past. This is why history so often repeats itself, because we forget or fail to see what's happened in a previous age and repeat the same thing over and over again.
Nevertheless, history is there so we might stand or withstand what others have experienced or gone through. To stand or withstand is primarily the gift of being able to see and know, just who the enemy is, and what are the tricks used to deceive those who have been tempted in ages past.
So we put on the whole armour, every single piece so we can stand in the Lord, in the strength of his might. This "whole armour "in the Greek is the Panoply of God. We put it on so we may withstand in the day of evil, standing firm, standing still letting the Lord stand in us.
Now we might say, "But the armour is too bulky, how can we fight?" We remember and see the poor medieval sod comically held back from his wife, and his wife from him, because of his armoury. But this full panoply of God's armour is not for fighting but rather for victorious protection. You see the battle has already been won. We are called to just stand, see, and know what the Lord has done at the cross, at the resurrection, in our baptism, and in our daily dressing in the full baptismal armament.
If this then seems all a little farfetched for you, I encourage you to see who's gone before us in the armament. The examples may seem rather ironic but are in fact the heart of the matter. Paul teaches, saying…
…keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:18b–20 ESV)
Paul is suited in the panoply of God, but yet he is an ambassador in chains! Paul is an elder in chains, a preacher shackled. The Greek for ambassador is presbyter, and a presbyter is one who has experienced and endured in the Lord, the tricks of the evil one, the devil. Paul has seen his own battle of the flesh played out in himself. He knows what history saw of him in his actively going out and arresting the enemy and watching them be stoned to death. He was one who was deceived but had the scales removed from his eyes to see the Lord of life who was standing against the real enemy.
And now, ironic as it may seem, he does greater work, a senior pastor, instructing not only in the full armour of God, but with his hands and feet shackled in chains too.
But let's turn our eyes from Paul to Jesus himself. Let's see the Victor standing very still in victory over sin, death, and the devil. Hear him forgive flesh and blood, for they know not what they do as his flesh is pierced and his blood is scattered and soaks into the tree and the dust of Calvary. He is not our ambassador in chains, but rather he is our commander and chief nailed to the deathly stillness of the cross. And in this stillness Jesus Christ won the battle… against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
So now we stand in Jesus, with Paul, an ambassador in chains, and with all others bound in Christ. We wear the full armour, the panoply of God.
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, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:14–18 ESV)
So take the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, let it pierce the old Adam within, and place him in chains. Pray for those whom you were deceived into believing were your enemies. God is calling you to be still and see the error of seeking to nail them to your cross; the cross which Jesus has taken on himself for you. Allow the Holy Spirit to shield you with faith, and stand in the full panoply of God, bearing the helmet of victory and salvation which Christ has given you in exchange for the crown of thorns he bore as the Saviour of the world. Amen.