In today’s second lesson we have Paul’s analogy of the whole armor of God and how we can use it to wage spiritual warfare. If we ever attended Sunday School as kids, we were most likely handed a coloring page of a boy or girl dressed in armor. Yikes! OR if we stop by our local Christian bookstore we can grab a plastic sword, shield, and helmet and proceed to beat our friends over the head with the sword of the Spirit. Double yikes!
The trouble with all of this war imagery for me, is that I’m more of a “Blessed are the peacemakers” kind of guy. I’m someone who envisions the day when we will beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks; when nations will not lift up swords against other nations, nor will they study war no more.” [Is 2:4, NRSV]
My least favorite hymn in the Lutheran Book of Worship was “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching off to war with the cross of Jesus going on before.” Thankfully, this hymn does NOT appear in the ELW we have in our pews! Apparently I’m not the only one who dislikes hymns with a militant theme. They sound more like commercials for the Army than they do anthems for the servant Church of Jesus.
This leads me back to Paul’s analogy of the whole armor of God. Because of my aversion to all things military, it’s a text I’ve rarely preached on. I’ve never cared for it because of the imagery it uses to describe the life of a disciple. Perhaps you feel the same way as I do, especially in light of the wars that continue to be waged across the globe.
If this is the case, I have some good news for you! I came across a radical reinvention of this text that shifts the analogy from battle armor to hiking, which is perfect for a church that is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I found it in the book “Good As New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures” which is a challenging and profound piece of writing indeed. Here is the way “Good As New” paraphrases Paul’s words:
“Stay close to the Leader and he’ll restore your energies again and again. Let God equip you for life’s adventure. Then you’ll stand up to everything that gets thrown at you. You’re going to meet challenges that need more than human resources. With God’s survival kit you’ll pull through however tough the conditions.
At the ready then! Honesty is your belt, good relations your weatherproofs, peace your hiking boots. Trust your first-aid pack in case of accidents. The Spirit will provide a protective hard hat, a handy knife, and a map with God’s directions.
Whenever you talk with God, seek the help of the Spirit. Be bold, and use your imagination. Keep your mind fresh, and always have a list of all those Christians needing special attention.”
WOW! That is certainly a radical retelling of the Scripture. The great thing about this reinvention is that its meaning stays the same. What I would like to do this morning is take a closer look at this paraphrase and see what it can teach us about being well-equipped for “life’s adventure.”
We start by tossing aside the “whole armor of God” and picking up “God’s Survival Kit.” I like the sound of it already! Suddenly I feel a hundred pounds lighter. I can move about freely and swiftly without all that heavy armor dragging me down. And so we begin our journey with God’s Survival Kit which will equip us for “life’s adventure” and help us to “stand up to everything that gets thrown at us.”
The first item in God’s Survival Kit is a piece of advice: Stay close to the Leader. When I was in college, I took a night course in backpacking. [Yes, they really did give me college credit for backpacking!] Our final exam was to plan and go on an overnight backpacking trip. Our teacher was our leader for this excursion. He was about 65 years old and could out-hike every 19-20 year old in the room. All I have to say is thank God he was our leader. Although we planned the trip very carefully I’m absolutely certain we would STILL be wandering in the woods of Pennsylvania if it wasn’t for him!
When we bring this analogy into our spiritual life, it seems like a no brainer that we should Stay close to the Leader. Yet, it has been my experience that we often go through life like kids in a candy store, attracted by every shiny wrapper and tantalizing morsel. Staying close to the Leader is often the furthest thing from our minds. We like to think of ourselves as strong, independent people who pick themselves up by their own bootstraps and venture out into the world like Rambo or MacGuyver without a compass or a map.
Guess what happens? We get lost. Sometimes we get REALLY lost and we’re exhausted by all our aimless wandering. For some of us, it is only during the lost times that we think about staying close to the Leader. It is only when we don’t have a clue as to where we are or where we are going, that we cry out to God for guidance. Wouldn’t it be SO MUCH easier if we simply stayed close to the Leader all the time? This is probably the most important item in God’s Survival Kit.
The second item in God’s Survival Kit is the belt of honesty. Presumably this belt is designed to keep our pants from falling down around our ankles, which is exactly what honesty does: it keeps us from embarrassing ourselves. The Greek word used here means “to be true” or “to speak the truth.” Honesty and truth are surely the belt that keeps our spiritual pants from falling down around our ankles. Therefore, we should always seek to be truthful. We should never deceive others or have any hidden agendas. Instead, we should seek to be people of integrity whose words and deeds do not contradict one another. We should strive to be honorable, trustworthy, reliable and dependable.
The third item in God’s Survival Kit is good relations as our weatherproofs. In it’s traditional wording this is the “breastplate of righteousness.” Breastplates, like weatherproofs are used for protection. Righteousness in the original Greek means “equitable in character” or “justified.” Usually “righteousness” is used to talk about our relationship with God. However, it can also apply to us being righteous with others, which does not mean “self-righteous” but, means we seek equality in our relationships with others.
Therefore, we strive to have “good relations” with God, with our families, with other members of the Body of Christ and with the world. Surely, if we treat others in this manner we will be “weatherproofed” because the relationships that we form will be a shelter from the storms of life. When we treat others as our equals and peers it increases the chance that they will do the same for us. Therefore we need “good relations” in God’s Survival Kit because we are well aware that we cannot make it in this world alone.
The fourth item in God’s Survival Kit is making peace our hiking boots. In terms of hiking, proper footwear is a must. We can skimp on a lot of things but we cannot skimp on quality of our hiking boots. They make all the difference between a pleasant journey and a painful one that is filled with blisters, sore muscles and twisted ankles. As we carry this analogy into our spiritual life, Paul say that peace is the footwear we need to navigate the hills and valleys of life. I cannot think of a better footwear than this.
If we can learn to create a space of peace within ourselves and in our relationships with others, we will discover that the journey of life will go a lot smoother and easier. Peacemaking is one of the hardest things to learn. Our world seems to be in short supply of it these days. So let’s make sure we put on our hiking boots of peace before we head out the door each morning.
The fifth item in God’s Survival Kit is a First Aid kit which contains a spiritual hard hat. In it’s traditional wording, this is the “helmet of salvation.” It is the reminder that we are “justified, or made right with God, through our faith in Jesus and not through our works.” [Rom 3:28]
It’s interesting that salvation is the thing that covers our heads because sometimes get the notion that we have to work hard to win God’s approval. Because of this all kinds of theologies and philosophies have sprung up in the Church of Jesus Christ that have little to do with grace and a lot to do with works. Keeping the hard hat of salvation on our heads will prevent all those spiritual rocks from damaging our brains. Hopefully, with this hard hat on we will be reminded that salvation is a free gift from God given through by Jesus. We cannot earn or buy this gift. All we can do is receive it and say “Thank-you.”
The sixth and seventh items in God’s Survival Kit, which are also a part of the First Aid Kit, are a handy knife and a map with God’s directions These two images are joined together in the traditional wording of the text and are translated as the “sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.” With respect to the handy knife, I must confess I’m a little uncomfortable with this analogy. I do not believe the Bible is supposed to be wielded, like like a hunting knife against those whom we perceive as our enemies. In fact, Jesus challenged us to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” [Matt 5:44]
The only way this analogy works for me is if we think of a hunting knife as a tool that cuts something in two. For example, on a hike a hunting knife can be used to cut a branch from a tree or take the scales off of a fish. If we use the knife analogy in this way, the Word of God can be seen as something that helps us “split our thoughts in two.” In other words, the Scriptures help us to discern right from wrong, a safe path from a dangerous one.
Perhaps a better analogy for the Word of God would be to think of it as a compass instead of a knife or sword. God’s Word always keeps us pointing North. Used correctly, it helps us to discern which direction we should travel in life. Personally, in my Spiritual Survival Kit I’m going to carry a compass instead of a knife. You’ll have to decide what you want to carry in your spiritual backpack.
The second analogy used to describe the Word of God is a map with God’s directions. No one is going to argue with this one! The scriptures are a road map with God’s directions. The challenge with this map, however, is that it’s a little bit complicated to read sometimes. There are some parts that are crystal clear and other parts that are strange and mysterious indeed.
The other problem with the map is that not enough of us are reading it. We seem content to wander through life relying solely on our own intuition and insight. We rarely dust the covers off our Bibles and this is a tragedy.
Finally, we reach the eighth item in God’s Survival Kit which is prayer. We are told to talk with God, and seek the help of the Spirit. We are also told to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who need special attention. Prayer is a must in God’s Survival Kit. Not much more really needs to be said about it except to say that we should do it throughout the day and often. It is a “must-have” item in God’s Survival Kit
Well, there it is…a new analogy for God’s people that will help us as we travel through the difficult terrain of life. Let’s take the time to reflect on Paul’s words, and let them help us to be better prepared for everything life is going to throw at us. AMEN
Copyright ©2018 by David Eck