These thoughts were offered at Franklin United Methodist Church on Sunday, August 19, 2018. This message was based upon a reading from Ephesians 6:10-20. This is message is part of a series, entitled “God’s Design,” based upon the book of Ephesians.
I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the discussion in your home or small group. You can download it here.
I struggle with the apparent necessity of war and humanity’s lust for violence.
Recently, while we were travelling, one of my daughters received a water gun in a kids’ meal at a fast food restaurant. As she held it up and proudly displayed her prize, my mind reeled. Her giddiness did not subside as she excitedly asked, “what is it?” At some level it made me happy that she didn’t know what it was; and, when she asked what it was, it was embarrassing for me not to be able to describe it in a way that did not promote violence. To tell her that it was a water gun that you shoot people with, seemed wrong. My partner, in the midst of my confusion, stepped in and told my daughter that it was a water-squirter to get people wet—she saved the day from my ignorance, an all too often occurrence, I could swear she was wearing a cape that day.
Whether it’s the toys we put in our children’s hands or the television shows (including the news) we watch as adults, we are pretty consistently—unless you’re being intentional—being immersed in a culture that praises the necessity of war and trains us up in it.
Back when I was in college—which seems more and more like a distant memory—I had the privilege of studying abroad in Athens, Greece, for a semester. It was a magical and transformational experience traveling and learning about another culture. One of the things that I didn’t have access to while away was a television. I remember the culture shock of coming home, turning on the TV set, and witnessing, as if for the first time all the crime shows. It made my stomach turn; and, it still does.
The amusements that we indulge in—whether they be toys, television, video games, books, internet sites—influence us in ways we are often ignorant of. They influence what we find acceptable or not.
Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Article XVI of The Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church—part of our doctrinal, foundational, teachings in The United Methodist Church—states that “we believe war and bloodshed are contrary to the gospel and spirit of Christ.”
And yet, there are times when war seems justified. What is the responsible thing to do in the face of terrorism and genocide?
I struggle with the apparent necessity of war and humanity’s lust for violence. I’m not a huge fan of lifting up militaristic images as ideal for fear that they might normalize something that seems so “incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ.” And so, Paul’s lifting up the image of a soldier makes me squirm.
“Put on God’s armor” (Ephesians 6:11a,, New Revised Standard Version), urges Paul. Become a soldier of Christ, “take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use” (Ephesians 6:11, The Message). The language and imagery makes me a little uncomfortable. I don’t think of myself as a soldier, nor do I particularly want to; but to this Paul calls us, “pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground” (Ephesians 6:13a, NRSV).
Stand your ground.
That very phrase conjures up its own challenges as, in the United States, we struggle to understand when force may or may not be justified. Many states have passed what have become known as “stand-your-ground laws” which authorizes an individual to protect themselves by any means necessary against a threat, perceived or actual. These laws have forced us to take a hard look at what threatens us. Is a racist who views someone of another race or ethnicity as a threat justified in “protecting themselves”? On a dark street, is a man justified in taking aim at another human being wearing a hooded sweatshirt? What are we justified in standing our ground against?
Paul insists that the war we are waging, that which we are called to stand our ground against isn’t “human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12, NRSV).
War, in spite of my uncomfortableness with it, is an apt description of the struggle because the stakes are so high. “This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil” (Ephesians 6:12, MSG). It is a war we’re enlisted into at our baptism as we vow to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of [our] sin.” We are called to stand our ground, “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” The struggle is real and the stakes are high. Therefore we must
Be prepared. [We]’re up against far more than [we] can handle on [our] own. [We must] Take all the help [we] can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting [we]’ll still be on [our] feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. [We must] Learn how to apply them. [We]’ll need them throughout [our lives]. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. [We must]Pray for [our] brothers and sisters. Keep [our] eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. (Ephesians 6:13-18, MSG)
We must stand on the side of Truth and Justice as we wield the shield of faith and are crowned with salvation. We must appeal to God in prayer for courage and strength—courage and strength for us and for others who are in the midst of the fray that we might, in the words of Jesus, charge the gates of hell. For when God is on our side who can be against us. When we are empowered by the almighty, not even the gates of hell can stand.
So, arise soldiers—those who are willing and those whose knees shake—stand firm in the faith. Resist evil and injustice. Stand your ground against the devil. And, in so doing, God’s boundless love will reign and peace will come for all and be established for ever.
“With God we shall do valiantly” (Psalm 108:13, NRSV)! “With God we will triumph” (Psalm 108:13, Common English Bible)!
Amen? And amen.
 from “Article XVI—Civil Government,” in The Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church—2016 (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2016), p77.
 from ¶165.C) War and Peace, in The Social Principles, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church—2016 (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2016), p143.