SERMON IN CR CHURCH: Sunday 26 August 2012.
Put on the whole armour of God
I am sure that you would all be disappointed if I let you leave Mirfield without saying something about the auction. Did I mention that there would be an auction on 10 November. Well, 10 November is the feast of St Martin the soldier and so I would like to introduce you to one of my little friends from the auction for he too is a soldier. Let’s call him Sir Bedevere after the last of the knights of the Round Table.
Small though he is he gives us a good idea of what a knight of the Middle Ages must have looked like. Clothed in armour from head to foot he was almost invulnerable to the weaponry of his day. If his horse was armoured as well then he was the equivalent in his day of a Sherman tank. Of course, such armour had its disadvantages as it limited mobility and if a knight fell backwards he became a bit like an overturned turtle. However, it is this protection against weaponry that I want to concentrate on. Since the first club was fashioned from a bone or a branch it has been the object of politics and defence to create a sure-proof means of protection against the enemy – armour, walled cities, castles, Star Wars.
In the closing remarks to his friends the Ephesian Christians, Paul uses military language when he gives them advice on how to live when one is surrounded by persecution, heresy and temptation.
Paul uses the imagery of the armour of a Roman soldier – less well covered but more mobile than a medieval soldier. Belt of truth and breastplate of righteousness, shoes to proclaim the Gospel of Peace, Shield of Faith with which to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one and Helmet of Salvation, Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of Truth.
The Christians of the Roman Empire found that it was not easy to turn away from the gods of this world - materialism, might, loose sexual morals, nor of the gods of the cosmic realm - fears, obsessions, vanities and pride.
Then there were those who mocked religion or those who offered the alternatives of heretical Gospels, especially those who denied the Incarnation.
So Paul’s armour is for the vulnerable parts – the breast when the emotions and feelings are found; the head where the intellect might be challenged or deceived.
The belt of truth – anyone who takes the truth seriously is protected from the deceits of the world but particularly from self deceit. Jesus is the truth, the revelation of God’s will. No false sentimental Jesus, no excuse for our lifestyle or our sins - Jesus the truth who tells us what the God of righteousness and Justice would have us do. Shod for the proclamation of the Gospel of peace. Unlike Sir Bedevere, the Roman soldier is lightly shod because as a foot soldier he has to travel fast. The Christian should carry no excess weight; he should be swift to tell the truth and to bring peace to those around him. Any soldier may be afraid in the face of the enemy and any soldier may fall before the weapons employed against him. The shield of faith is true belief in Jesus. In the boat, Jesus says to the disciples ‘why were you afraid, O ye of little faith?’ So Paul urges us to use the shield of faith against all that attacks both from without and within: pessimism, despair, fear of mortality and the hunger for immortality.
So Paul’s Christian soldier finds him or herself equipped to stand firm in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The armour is in fact Christ and the Holy Spirit.
I would now like to hang a few thoughts on something from the last auction. Many of you know of the little chalice that was used at the Somme but what made that unique was the tiny unopened packet of miniature wafers which went with it. They of course have never been used but similar wafers and other kinds of bread would have been consecrated on or near the battlefield so that soldiers fatigued, or frightened or dying would have the comfort of knowing that they were in the presence of Christ.
I began with Martin the saintly soldier. I want now to mention another soldier, not a saint but a rogue; however, a loveable rogue. My dad always refused promotion – at least if you could believe him. He was cook for his squad which, in the circumstances, was probably more important than being a lance-corporal. During the retreat from the Maginot Line he raided Belgian farms and stole chickens and eggs to feed his men. Armour, weaponry, strategy are all very necessary in the conduct of war whether physical or spiritual but a soldier needs food and without it he or she will die.
In the Epistle to the Ephesians Paul tells us how to conduct warfare and how to meet the struggle against spiritual evil. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us where to find the food on which to live:
"Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate and they died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.”
My dear Companions in Christ, we gather around this altar to accept God’s gift of life through his Son. Whatever our struggles, whatever our fears, whatever journey or conflict lies ahead of us; here we have the assurance that the Father loves us. Here our Saviour offers us his own life – his Body and Blood. The Gospel tells us ‘some doubted and refused to follow him’.
Let us take the shield of faith and take Jesus at his word ‘Lord, to whom should we go. You have the words of eternal life’.
John Gribben CR