August 29, 2021
There’s a movie called “A Knight’s Tale” that came out about 20 years ago.
In the movie, a squire assumes knighthood when his knight master dies unexpectedly so that he and his friends aren’t left destitute.
The new knight and his friends begin to travel to tournaments in an effort to gain wealth and status.
At these tournaments, knights would compete in jousting matches and in sword fights – where two combatants in their armor would stand in a circle and strike each other until one was left standing.
Of course, the metal heavy armor was stiff and unwieldy, so there weren’t any fancy moves … it was just a question of whose armor was better able to take the punishment.
By the end of the movie, the former squire’s virtues and honesty leads Britain’s king to make him a real knight.
Reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians brought to mind the image of the knight standing near a forge … being fitted … piece by piece … with his armor.
In today’s closing passage of Paul’s letter, he urges the people to remain strong and firm in their armor … in their faith.
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm,”
Paul tells the people that there is a divine battle underway between God and the forces of evil and the armor will prevent them from becoming collateral casualties.
We need to remember who Paul intended to hear this letter … its first audience … was one that felt evil in their lives almost on a daily basis.
The Ephesian congregations that heard this would be ones whose faith in Christ put them in opposition to the ways of the world … it could even make them outcasts in their own families.
They would be facing a hostile and uncertain world … they would be feeling more vulnerable and in even less control of their circumstances than than they did in the past.
Their inclusive message to all-comers ran counter to the world’s message of status and privilege.
At best, the Ephesian congregation would be viewed with suspicion … with people watching to see if the members lived into their lofty words.
At worse, they would be persecuted for their faith.
In Paul’s day, the armor worn by the Roman occupiers was designed to provide a measure of protection and to be used as a weapon in battle.
The armor that Paul describes in the letter isn’t intended to be used as a weapon against others, however.
Rather, this armor provides protection when the people are buffeted by the forces of the world … forces with sin at their heart.
Paul tells listeners in the congregations … and us, as well, that God’s armor comes in the form of truth, justice, faith and salvation.
All essential protective pieces of the entire armor.
The virtues embodied by the person provide protection from these evil forces … and, by bearing witness through these virtues … by standing firm … the protection will extend to others who see our faith as an anchor in the world.
In essence … our personal armor offers protection to others.
Scholar Thomas Yoder Neufeld once wrote that the people protected with such armor are called to stand … to do God’s work… to speak truth to power … to work for justice and peace and to free those bound by oppression.
If we read or listen to the news today, we can see some of the same forces in play that concerned Paul.
Society’s expectations are at odds with God’s call to raise others up … to comfort and to heal suffering … to share the love and grace we have received.
In such an environment, remaining firm can be difficult.
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”
… to stand firm.
To be firm in your faith-filled convictions … to be firm in your love-inspired … your love-filled … actions.
To know that God’s love is ever-present and unconditional … and that the protection it offers is overwhelming.
I’d like to close this sermon with a passage from theologian Sarah Henrich:
“Such a donning of armor of God on our part does not create us an impenetrable community who does not hear the cries of others. It does not render us invulnerable to change or to hearing the word of God uttered by others … the armor of God protects us from confusing standing fast with rigidity.”
God’s love adapts to each situation just as we are called to do likewise … God’s love gathers in … it welcomes … it embraces … it protects … when our open hearts freely wield it.