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Sermon for Sunday 29 August 2021

First Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

1{Moses said,} “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. 6Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? 9Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children …”.

Psalm 119:129-136

129Your decrees are wonderful; therefore I obey them with all my heart. 130When your word goes forth it gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. 131I open my mouth and pant; I long for your commandments. 132Turn to me in mercy, as you always do to those who love your name. 133Steady my footsteps in your word; let no iniquity have dominion over me. 134Rescue me from those who oppress me, and I will keep your commandments. 135Let your countenance shine upon your servant and teach me your statutes. 136My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.

Second Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For 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. 13Therefore 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. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18praying 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, 19and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Gospel: Mark 7:14-23

14{Jesus} called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

All Dressed Up

When Edgar Allen Poe was a young man, he was a cadet at West Point.  But he didn’t really like it there.  He didn’t like all the rules, and all the training he had to go through, so one day, when all the cadets were supposed to turn out in formation on the parade grounds, and march before the generals, Edgar Allan Poe checked his rule book to find out what the dress code was for the occasion.  It said that he was supposed to wear white gloves and a white belt.  So that’s what he put on: white gloves and a white belt . . . and nothing else!  When the military commanders saw him out there on the parade grounds, they promptly threw him out of the school.  Which of course, is what he wanted anyway!

Psychologists say that a good many people have nightmares where they find themselves out in public naked.  Being completely exposed is a fear many people experience.  Of course, the Bible addresses this in Genesis where Adam and Eve attempted to cover their sin and shame with leaves, in essence, they knew they had transgressed God’s commands and the only thing they could think to do was hide in an attempt to fool God.  As we know it didn’t work.  So why do we clothe ourselves? 

Sin aside, there are only two reasons why we wear clothes, the first is Function, the other is Fashion.  We wear clothes for privacy and to protect us from the elements.  That’s function.  For example, we wear shoes to keep our feet from getting hurt. 

Annetta Bridges teaches at an elementary school and tells about the time one of her students came to school with his shoes on the wrong feet.  Like any good teacher would do, Ms. Bridges told him that he had his shoes on the wrong feet.  The child looked up at his teacher and burst into tears.  He said, “but Ms. Bridges, these are the only feet I have!”  We wear shoes to protect our feet.  We wear pants with pockets, so we have somewhere to put our cell phones.  We wear coats to keep us warm.  There are certain clothes for exercising, for work and for play.  Each serve a specific purpose; that’s function.  However, we also wear clothing to make a statement.

While we do choose our wardrobes to meet certain functional needs, we also choose our clothes to make a certain fashion statement.  This aspect reminds me of something Will Smith said in the movie, Men in Black.  In the movie, Agent K tells Will Smith, now known only as agent J, that he needs to put on the last suit he’ll even own.  Once dressed, Agent J looks at agent K and asks him, “do you know what the difference between you and me is?  Agent K asks, “what’s that.”  Agent J looks at the older agent and says, “the difference is, I make this suit look good!”  There’s function and there is fashion.  All of this and more is what the Apostle Paul has in mind when he tells us to put on the armor of God.  The imagery here in our second reading for today is quite vivid.  

As Christians, we called and equipped to do battle against the forces of evil.  Thus, we must dress ourselves as warriors.  The warrior Paul had in mind as he was writing to the Ephesian church was that of a first-century soldier.  Roman military uniforms were quite different than that of our modern military uniforms.  Militaries in the first century didn’t have the same protective equipment like tanks and armored personal carriers to protect them.  Anytime they went into battle, they were out in the open, exposed.  All they had was the equipment they wore on their bodies or carried in their hands.  What’s noteworthy here is that despite the fact that Paul was a religious man, never having served in the military, he knew a lot about what Roman soldiers wore for their business.  

While Paul was writing these words, he’s had a chain around his right wrist, and the other end of the chain was attached to the left wrist of a soldier.  Paul mentions that chain in our epistle reading for today.  In verse 20 Paul writes, “I am an ambassador in chains.”  From tradition we know that means Paul was chained to a Roman soldier.  If Paul were that close to a soldier every day, day in, day out, he would certainly have had plenty of time to talk with the soldiers and learn about their jobs and the protective items they wore or carried to protect them.  And because there’s more than one form of battle we as Christians are called to fight, Paul refers to us as soldiers in God’s army.

Paul draws on his knowledge and understanding of fighting to inform us of the evil we, as God’s Children, are called to fight against each and every day.  And to do that, Paul tells us that we should put on six pieces of protective clothing.  The first two items we need to do battle against the forces of evil, is the “belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness.”  The belt Paul is talking about here isn’t a belt as we understand it; it wasn’t meant to hold up the soldier’s pants.  And while the belt was used to hold the scabbard of a sword, Roman soldiers of Paul’s day didn’t wear pants, so a belt served a much different function. 

A Roman soldier wore a loose and floppy shirt called a “tunic.”  And the tunic was meant to be loose, so that when the soldier was marching, or exercising, or doing his daily work, he wouldn’t get too warm.  But, if the soldier ever had to do battle, without a belt, his loose and floppy tunic could get in the way.  Without a means to secure the tunic, his opponent would have something to grab at, and pull him down.  So the soldier wore a belt.  He used the belt to keep all his clothes trim in battle.  To keep them from blowing around, or from getting caught.  And we too must wear a belt to prevent the enemy an opportunity to pull us down.

Paul tells us this is the belt of truth.  If we wear the belt of truth, that is God’s truth, we deny our opponent something to grab hold of.  We deny the enemy the opportunity to trip us up, to trick us into exposing ourselves, to deceive us into believing something other than God’s truth.  One of the ice breaker games we used to play at Confirmation camp was called, two truths and a lie.  The object of the game was to tell three things about yourself, one of which was somehow a lie.

For example:  I would tell the kids that I served and retired from the military, that I grew up in Arizona and that I worked on Versalis ranch.  And on that ranch, I helped to dehorn and castrate lots of cattle.  Now for those who know me, you know that all of what I’ve told you could very well be true.  You know that I did indeed retire from the Air Force, that I was born and raised in Arizona, and I did work around cattle at different times in my life.  In High school, I was a member of the FFA, or Future Farmers of America, and learned animal husbandry.  You see I told the truth about almost everything I’ve told you.  The lie I told was subtle, yet very believable.  It was a trick.  The lie was that the only time I helped to dehorn and castrate cattle was for my grandfather in Kentucky.  He had 4 that needed taken care of.  The “lots of cattle” in my lie equated to a total of four.  One could say I simply stretched the truth.

“The trouble with stretching the truth,” someone has said, “is that it’s apt to snap back.”  In our world today, satan has worked hard to spread his lies in such a way that the lie is subtle, it’s mixed with emotional statements and told over and over until it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction.  It’s easy to tell an out and out lie from the truth.  But subtle lies, if we’re not careful, will give the enemy something to get hold of to pull us down.  We need the belt of truth to do battle.  We need to know God’s word.  Satan proved how well he can manipulate: Jesus’ temptation in the desert proves how clever satan is at stretching the truth.  Just as important as having the belt of truth is to also have the breastplate of righteousness.

Now before we can understand the “breastplate of righteousness” we must understand what the word righteous means.  Righteousness means “the quality of being morally right or justifiable.”  Again, here is where the devil has an opportunity to trip us up.  The term morally right in our society has a very ambiguous meaning.  Morality today is situational; it’s left to winds and whims of society.  But for the Christian, we have the Bible and the church, and God has given mankind the rules and the guidance we need to define what is morally right, and it’s not up for debate in the court of public opinion.  To be righteous means we need to know for certain what is morally right, and to know this, we must study God’s word.  But righteousness doesn’t stop at simply understand what is morally right, we also must be justified.  To be justified, is “to be shown to be right or reasonable; defensible.”

To be righteous we also must be able to justify our words and actions.  And more so, we must be able to defend our words and deeds in accordance with God’s word.  Too often we simply want to think, I do good things, I help people, that makes me a “good person”.  And since I’m considered a “good person” then I must be good in God’s eyes.  Well, let me ask this, if you don’t “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that need not to be ashamed, [one who can] rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), then how do you know if you are good in God’s eyes?  Besides, Jesus himself said, “why do you call me good?  No one is good but God” (Mark 10:18).

To put on the Breastplate of Righteousness we must study God’s word so that we understand what is morally right and understand what God wants and expects of us so that we can be justified, that is we can defend everything that we say and do.  We must wrap ourselves with the Belt of Truth and shield ourselves with the Breastplate of Righteousness.  Truth and righteousness.  There is no place for being haphazardness and shoddiness in our lives as Christians.  Living out our faith is serious business.  Paul tells us we are soldiers of Christ.  We must walk the talk and talk the walk.  

We must be morally correct and righteous in every way.  When we take seriously our task as soldiers of Christ, so that it shows in our business practices and in how we treat our families.  It shows in how we treat people and how we order the whole of our lives.  We must understand God’s truth, understand God’s definition of morally right and understand what we need to do to be justified: the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness.  The third and fourth pieces of clothing we should wear, says Paul, are the shoes of the gospel of peace and the shield of faith.

A Roman soldier’s sandals were supposed to be sturdy, and they were supposed to grip well, on all kinds of surfaces.  These sandals had a high top that not only helped to keep then snug to his feet, but also add support to his ankles so he didn’t worry about keeping his footing.  The same is true for the Gospel which gives us firm footing as we seek to live for Christ.  Just as a solid foundation is important for a structure, Jesus is the foundation of the church.  Jesus is our sure foundation and footing.  He is the solid foundation for our footing as we move out into the world to share the good news of the Gospel.  And as a structure must be firmly attached to its foundation, we too must be fully attached and supported by our foundation, Jesus.  The Roman soldier also carried a shield.

The Roman shield that Paul refers to here isn’t just a small, personal shield.  Paul uses the word thy-reon which refers to the big, oblong shields that the Roman soldiers used for two purposes.  On the one hand, they were big enough so that if the soldier crouched behind it, his whole body was protected from the arrows, swords and the spears that were thrown at him by his enemies.  The second design aspect of the shield was that it had grooves in the edges so that it could be fitted with the next soldier’s shield.  

As each soldier connected his shield with the person next to him in line, it would create an entire wall of protection.  Thus, when we as followers of Christ sets out to live and share the message of the Gospel, we have two sources of strength: our personal faith in God and the strength of the Christian community, the church.  The shield of faith we carry reminds us that we are not alone in our call to go, we go with the support of our faith in God and with the support of our fellow believers.  The shield Paul describes also protects us from the flaming arrows of the evil one. 

In battle the enemy would often dip their arrows in tar or pitch and set them on fire in order to burn up the opposing soldier’s shields.  In defense, the Roman soldiers would soak their shield in water in order to put out the flaming arrows.  Our shield of faith is covered in the waters of Baptism and when we live out our baptismal vows each day, this deprives the flaming arrows of the devil from causing us harm.  To do battle in this world for God’s kingdom we need to put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the Gospel of Peace and take up the shield of faith.  The final two pieces of equipment we need to put on is helmet of salvation and take up the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God.

We all know how important a helmet is.  We wear helmets to protect our most vital organ, the brain.  The helmet of salvation is our ultimate protection.  It’s that knowledge of security we have, that we are surrounded by God’s love.  The sword of the Spirit, Paul tells us, is the word of God.  According to many scholars, when the phrase “word of God” is used in the New Testament, it doesn’t just refer to the Scriptures.  After all, the sacred writings weren’t gathered into the collection we know as the Bible until much later.  Generally, the “word of God” also includes the “word God speaks to us and gives us to speak,” especially in the time of crises.

As I mentioned before, we live in a time of situational ethics and mailable morals.  We are bombarded with misinformation in all forms of media, and from peer pressure from all sides.  It’s difficult many times to separate the truth, from what people want us to believe.  The lies of satan are oftentimes so subtle that unless you know the truth, it’s hard to tell the difference between fact and fiction.  This is why it’s so vitally important to put on the whole armor of God, it protects us from satan’s attacks at every angle, head to foot.  But just as important as the protective aspect of God’s armor is, the armor of God also helps to identify us. 

The armor of God lets people know who we really are, and that we are followers of Jesus.  Paul, in 1 Corinthians, reminds us, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies (6:19-20).  Paul also tells us what people will see, when we put on the whole armor of God, Paul calls it the fruit of the spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  A belt of truth, a breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the Gospel of peace, a shield of faith, a helmet of salvation, and a sword which is the word of God.  It’s all the equipment we need to do God’s work in this world.

When Queen Victoria ruled in England, she had several daughters, and her girls were just like girls are today.  They went to school, and saw the latest fashions, and they wanted to dress just like the girls down the street.  So, they’d go to their mom and tell her they wanted to wear their clothes like this and their hair like that.  One day she stopped them short.  She reminded them: “You are the daughters of the Queen, and the Queen’s daughters do not follow fads.  They establish fashion!”  That’s a statement we need to listen to.

In what has been called the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus, just before He was betrayed, prayed not only for His disciples, but also for you and me.  In John 17, Jesus prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.  I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (vs. 15-23).

You and I live in this society, but we are not to be of this society.  We are set apart, holy, and are called to be living examples of God’s love in action.  We are called to be examples of god’s love and forgiveness until that day comes when this world becomes the kingdom of our God.  A kingdom of peace and justice under the leadership and Lordship of Jesus Christ.  God gives us all we need to battle against the evil forces of this world.  All we need to do is put on the whole armor of God and let the people see the fruit of the Spirit in us.


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