The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - August 26, 2018
Scripture:  Ephesians 6:10-20     
Sermon Title: Fighting?

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     When I sit down and start to put together a service for the week, the first thing I do is to choose a scripture.  I normally start with the Gospel lesson, and then will look at the Old Testament lesson and Epistle.  Psalms are hard to preach, so I normally avoid those.  The gospel lesson is still in John, and Jesus is still teaching that he is the bread of life.  That is good for a week, even two, but I think this is the 5th or 6th week from that chapter in John.  Old Testament - I chose the last two weeks.  It is good to have some idea of what happened in our faith story before Jesus.  And I liked the way that wisdom fit into both the Old Testament and Epistle last week.  This week the Old Testament lesson is the dedication of the temple.  There is something there.  I don’t have to choose something from the lectionary, but many of us ministers do, so I get to read things from other ministers who are working on the same scriptures.  This week I read the Epistle and thought “Yeah, lets do that.”  

     But when I sat down to write, I realized how wrong this letter could be taken.  We live in a time in which being a Christian in the United States is safe. Muslims can have it hard, especially since 9/11; people confuse being Muslim with being a terrorist. They are not the same.  Being Jewish has been hard for a long time.  And beyond those better known religions, people have a really hard time accepting people who practice a religion that has a smaller group of followers.    

     This week Paul talks about taking up arms to defend your faith.  Woah, Jesus, Prince of Peace?  Remember in the garden, one of the soldiers gets his eat cut off and Jesus says “Put away your sword, Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.”  Or go back before Jesus to the prophet Isaiah who said “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they study war anymore.”  Or course in the Bible we have wars and battles. Over the past 3000 years there have been a lot of wars and violence.  Remember that our Bible contains both stories used to teach a truth, and historical facts.  Many of the stories in our Bible can be matched up with historical events from other writings of the time.  We know that some of the battles described in the Old Testament really happened. But much of the Bible, as I read it, points toward a time of peace as ideal.  

     Many will take this verse and twist it into fighting for Jesus.  It is a verse that could be used to whip up support for violence against those who are different than us.  Come take up the sword and fight for those who threaten our Christian beliefs.  There are big problems with that, and the first is that in the United States, Christianity, at least in name, is a widely accepted religion.  The United State Senate and House of Representatives each have a chaplain.  They are hired as individuals and not as representatives of a particular religion or denomination   Everyone holding these positions since their creation has been Christian.  In Paul’s time, Christian persecution was a reality.  Today you may get in heated debates with others about your faith, but chances are pretty good you will not be killed just because you identify as a Christian.  

     The second big problem is that, with a careful reading this is not what Paul was really taking about.  Paul uses the devil as his base for evil.  If you are not comfortable with that image, you can just think about evil. Paul is careful not to blame people for evil, although that evil often does come through others, but tells us to put on our armor to protect against that evil.  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

     I don’t have to tell you that this past week has been a bit crazy in the political world.  People found guilty, people pleading guilty.  I have this general assumption I work under, that all people are basically good.  But I also am aware that people make unwise decisions, and those decisions cause you to make other unwise decisions.  Look for a minute at the person who put money in a foreign bank.  If you walked into TD and wanted to open up an account with 40 million dollars you just got working for a foreign country, it is going to cause more than just a raised eyebrow.  I imagine that there are some legal things that US banks are required to do if someone arrives with that much money.  Yet, in a foreign bank, you are able to keep it, avoid paying taxes on it, and withdraw it as you need it.  Good or bad, it is a system that we have allowed to develop.  This money allowed him to develop a lifestyle that used up all that money, and in order to keep that lifestyle he needed to apply for a loan. Now if someone in this church were to suddenly acquire $40 million dollars, or whatever that amount was, they would be able to support the church, and support themselves for a long time.  None of us can really imagine the need to have that much money.

     In that system, there is also a feeling that you never have enough.  You know some of the ultra-wealthy in the US.  Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, has a net worth of about 109 billion dollars.  Is he a bad person? I don’t think so.  But his employees are treated badly.  Most of his employees do not make a living wage, which means that our tax dollars are going to pay for Medicaid, and food stamps for his employees.  Same thing happens at Walmart, also owned by one of the wealthiest families in the United States.  They could raise the pay of their employees so they would no longer need food stamps in order to eat, could give them benefits like health care, so they would no longer rely on Medicaid, but why would they? We have created a system where employers can pay minimum wage, or almost minimum wage, with no benefits, which is great for business owners.  If I could make a million a week or 10 million dollars a week, which would I choose.  Our system says that more money is always better, and we have created systems that allow the rich to get richer.  

     I believe this is what Paul is suggesting our battle is.  It’s with the rulers, the authorities, those that have allowed these systems to grow and flourish.  We have been told that money is more important than people, and we allow other humans to be treated this way, allowing the super rich to get ultra-wealthy and the poor to get poorer.  

     There are other systems that we are called to stand up to.  We are allowing environmental regulations to be pushed back, because we are distracted with other issues.  Have any of you driven through Dublin in the past 10 days, or even just up the hill here?  That was a crazy storm we had, 101 was washed out.  Many of the roads I drove home on had cones along the edges where all the dirt had washed out and the blacktop was crumbling into the ditches.  Is this caused by climate change?  I have heard that we should expect stronger storms with heavy rains.  Certainly 101 does not get washed out on a regular basis, but the storms we had earlier in the week were also much stronger than I ever saw on a regular basis in previous years.  I don’t want my kids to have to deal with floods and roads being washed out on a regular basis.  Imagine if that 6 inches of rain had fallen in the winter in the form of snow!  I believe that Paul says we should stand up to the systems that allow the environmental harm.

     How about racism?  You know the statistics of black people who are shot by police, and the population of black people in our prisons.  I am not suggesting that all police or judges are racist, but somehow our system has been stacked against those who have darker skin.  Immigrants, especially recent immigrants, are not welcomed.  It is 2018 and women still make less money in the workplace than their male counterparts. But our fight is not against people. There are good people who are caught up systems that we have allowed to develop and have not spoken up loudly enough against.  

     Think for a minute about the armor that Paul describes.  Belt, breastplate, helmet, shield and sword.  Our area compact for emergency medical services got a grant over the past few years to buy equipment for use in an active shooter situation.   Our EMS service got 3 sets, so 3 helmets, three bullet proof vests, and a bunch of medical kits with nasal airways, chest decompression needles, quick clot and tourniquets.  Incidentally those items we carry are used by medics in war zones, very rarely if ever do we use those in a normal 911 call.   One night we trained with the police on what we would do in an active shooter situation.  The idea now is that first, police on the scene go in to stop the shooter.  As areas are cleared, the police will bring EMS in to treat the wounded.  These are not safe areas, they are safer areas.  We think the shooter is down in this end of the building, EMS can start working in this end.  So we put on all the gear, the police put on all their gear, and we went into a building.  I kneeled down by my first patient, and my helmet slid down over my eyes.  Tried to push it back up with my arm, but the weight of the vest made moving my arm hard.  I tried to get my supplies out of my pouch, and couldn’t see what I was trying to grab.  This armor is built to save my life should something happen.  Comfort and mobility are seriously limited.

     It was not too much different than knights with their helmets and breastplates and shields.  The sword can be offensive, but everything else is defensive, and really, with that sword, all you would do is protect yourself.  If you were going into battle, you would want less protection, more ability to move and attack.  This armor of God is not used to start a battle; it is strictly for protection.  

     Paul ends by saying “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”   These forces of evil, these rules and authorities, will not be eliminated by us.  Many of these are systems that have been built up over many, many years.  We can and should stand up to rulers and authorities with our armor, but also pray, for all of the Lord’s people.  Not just the Christian, but the Muslims, Jewish, and all who are created in God’s image.  All of the Lord’s people even includes those who are caught up in the systems that bring evil on us and others.  

     This is not a call to war, but is a call to stand strong.  God has given us all that we need to stand strong in defense of those values Jesus and the prophets taught us.  Someday, when those systems are gone, then true peace will be possible.