Scripture Readings: Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
Pretty much every summer the kids and I have a traditional outing. Each year we go to OnTreePark, which is a zipline and obstacle ropes course just outside Windsor and not too far from our family cottage. And, as usual, we did it again this summer. There was one day where we had nothing else planned and it wasn’t too stinking hot for a few hours of exercise in the woods.
When you get to the park, the first thing you need to do is register and sign the waiver that you won’t sue them because you fell out of a tree doing something stupid. After you’ve done that and paid your fees, you then move onto getting your safety equipment.
The safety equipment OnTree requires you to wear is a helmet, gloves and the harness. The harness is the part that keeps you from falling out of the trees.
There are a number of straps that go around various parts of your body which are part of the harness. There’s a belt around your waist. There’s loops that go around your legs as well as shoulder straps. Attached to the harness are also the hooks and gear you’ll use to navigate the courses.
As you step into this contraption, a staff member then places the loops and straps in their appropriate positions and tightens them all up for you.
By the time all the straps are put into place and are pulled nice and snug, you realize this isn’t the most comfortable piece of equipment in the world. But, in the name of safety and for the fun we are about to have, a little bit of discomfort is totally worth it.
Once you have your harness on, you then receive instruction on how to use the gear to maneuver yourself around the courses laid out high in the trees. You learn how to attach yourself to the safety lines and how to use the zipline tool. Once you’ve demonstrated you are able to use these things safely, you receive one more bit of instruction before you are released into the woods. And these instructions are some simple rules you need to follow. Such as, don’t take off your safety equipment while in the trees. Apparently this happens!
Generally, there is a “two strike” rule for the park. Break a rule, and you get a new helmet, the “helmet of shame”. Still insist on breaking rules? Then you get to leave the park immediately.
Although I’m not sure why someone would want to break rules. I mean… taking your safety harness off while 60′ high in the trees doesn’t seem like a smart idea.
Overall, we had a pretty good morning in the trees. We had fun, we got some fresh air, and we got some good exercise. We even tried a more challenging course we had never done before. And no one wore the “helmet of shame”. We followed the rules and also kept our safety harnesses on!
It only makes sense right? If the experts are telling you to wear certain gear for your own safety, so that you won’t die falling 60′ out of a tree, or at least seriously hurt, then you should do it, shouldn’t you?
It kind of reminds me of the War Amps ads you’ve seen on TV over the years, the reminders to “Play safe” as children tell their stories of becoming an amputee due to “mean machines”.
So whether you are out in a farm field, playing near a street, mowing a lawn, or climbing 60′ in the trees, it’s a good reminder to play safe and take all precautions to protect yourself.
The same can also be said about our spiritual selves.
As Paul gets to the end of his letter to the Ephesian church, he has spent 6 chapters encouraging them in their faith. He knows there will be challenges, he knows they will make mistakes, he knows forces of evil will try and stop what they are building, so at the end of his letter he tells the church how to protect itself.
He tells the people of the church to put on the whole armour of God.
The first thing we need to remember when Paul talks about the armour of God is that he’s not preparing us for a physical battle. Remember, he knows the enemy, and the enemy does not fight a physical battle, but chooses spiritual warfare. If the enemy can separate our spirits from the Spirit of God, then he has won. So we must be ready to counter his attack.
The first thing Paul tells us to wear is the belt of truth. This is not a belt like we wear today. It’s not to hold up their pants, but instead belts were worn in battle to show their allegiance. These belts were ornate emblems of who the soldiers served. So we, as servants of God, must wear the belt of truth to show our allegiance to our God, and none other.
Do we, in our daily activities, wear our belt of truth? Are we showing our allegiance to our God?
The next piece of armour to consider is the breastplate of righteousness. In traditional warfare, the breastplate protects our vital organs, primarily the heart. You want to end a battle quickly? Get to the heart. You stop the heart, you stop the body.
As servants of God, we need to protect our heart. God speaks to our hearts, he leads our hearts, he knows our hearts better than we know ourselves. Traditionally the heart is our emotional centre, and if we break our heart connection to God, then we are in big trouble. Remember, no heart and the body dies quickly.
When we put on the breastplate of righteousness, we are asking God to protect this most vital connection to our Father in heaven: our heart.
When someone we love hurts us, what do we say happened? We say we had our heart broken. If our Father in heaven is a God of love, then we need to protect this vital connection, we need to protect our heart.
Then Paul looks to our feet and says we need to put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. We stand on our feet. We walk, we run, we dance, all with our feet. Paul says we need to be ready to react, to be ready to move, and to do it in peace. Which, when you think about it isn’t actually a great battle tactic, but when God is involved, responding in peace sure seems like a pretty good idea.
The next thing we need is a shield of faith. A shield protects us from attack from a distance. The breastplate protects when we’re battling in close, but the shield fends of the initial attack. And if our shield is a shield of faith, then we are being told we need to have a strong faith to deflect those initial attacks which want to break our faith to get to our bodies, our hearts, our connection to God.
Having a strong faith, a good relationship with God, a strong understanding of scripture and being a follower of Jesus all will protect us in those initial attacks in the spiritual battle. They are our shield. We need to be ready, and for that matter, know how to use it!
I’m going over these rather quickly, I hope you are following along. I feel like I should be having a 6 week series, one for each piece of the armour Paul is asking us to wear. Might be something to think about for the future I suppose.
Now we’re onto the helmet of salvation. Helmets protect our heads and our heads are considered our centres of knowledge. So we need to protect it. We need to remember our salvation which Jesus has bought for us on the cross. This is knowledge we carry, these stories of Jesus, his sacrifice and all that he did and taught impacts who we are as Christians. We protect this knowledge for it helps define our faith.
And finally we pick up our sword. This sword is of the Spirit, the Word of God. The sword is our weapon of attack, it is what we use to wound our enemy. Paul tells us our sword, that with which we will fight off the enemy, is the Word of God. It’s scripture!
Remember when Jesus fasted 40 days and nights after his baptism, and the devil came after him to tempt him? How did Jesus fend off the attacker? He responded with scripture. And after the third time the devil fled, knowing he was no match for the Word of God.
These are the things we need to engage in the spiritual warfare against the church and against the work of God in the world.
This is our safety gear so to speak. Each piece has it’s own part to play in the battle. And we want our gear to be in the best shape it can possibly be. Which means we need to engage our faith, our relationship with God and keep it as strong as we possibly can.
Like walking in the trees, why would I take off my safety harness and risk serious injury, so why would I risk giving a place where I could lose a spiritual battle and be separated from the eternal love of God?
In the reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus reminds us he is the bread of life, he is our sustainer, our basic need of life.
After some strong words some people chose to leave from following Jesus because Jesus was asking them to give up things they could not give up. It was “too hard” they said.
But when Jesus turned to his disciples and asked if they were going to leave too, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
Peter’s right. When we have heard and taken to heart the words of Jesus, there is no where else to go! Why would we seek to follow someone else when Jesus is the Holy One of God?
The hard part is, when this knowledge becomes known to us, when this relationship becomes part of us, that’s when the attacks get stronger.
But if we put on the whole armour of God, when we clothe ourselves in his righteousness and truth, responding in peace and with the Word of God spoken in love as he so love us, we will truly be children of God and ambassadors of Christ in this world.
Play safe my friends. Follow Jesus and know him in your hearts and your minds, and your life will be full as we all come to know his Father in heaven who will be our Father as well.
Let us pray,
You have shown us the way to our Father in heaven. You have invited us to join you in this family. Yet there are times when we will struggle.
So we ask you Jesus to strengthen our defences, to bolster our faith and bring us ever closer to you. For with you, we can walk in freedom and peace, peace this world cannot give.
As we continue in this journey you are laying out before us, may we ever know your presence, your Spirit among us, as we live our lives according to your will.
We thank you Jesus for always being with us. And we pray for all these things in your most Holy Name. Amen and amen.