St Paul and the 21st Century- the car of God

All this summer we’ve been learning about the Kingdom of God, in various passages from Mark and John’s Gospels. We’ve recently been looking a what Jesus meant when he describes himself as ‘the bread of life’ and instructs his followers to eat his body… This week, alongside some more about that, we had a second reading from St Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus- the passage in chapter 6 that talks about the armour of God and compares it to the spiritual characteristics that Christians must have in their lives if they’re to continue to grow in faith and remain in relationship with Christ- if they’re to carry on being in the Kingdom of God.

One question that I had as I prepared was whether the analogy to armour is just that- an analogy, or whether its a more exact parallel- whether when Paul talks about the helmet of salvation he’s talking about something that is really essential, life-saving, pretty obvious ‘like’ a helmet, or if he means that it is a helmet… I came down on the side of the analogy as you’ll see, but I’d be interested to know if I’m alone here.

Anyway, here’s the script from yesterday, and as usual, the link to the audio file here

When we hear the passage from Ephesians chapter 6, which we just heard, we often think of the first time we saw a vicar in toy armour, or when we saw a youth worker making armour out of kitchen utensils, all to try and illustrate this passage for us… but we won’t be thinking about those things today… well, maybe just a little bit.

Paul wrote to the people of Ephesus that they needed to put on the full armour of God if they were going to stand their ground in tough times, and though we don’t wear real armour today, the spiritual things that Paul was talking about are just as important… but what might be some modern things that Paul would mention if he was writing today? I was tempted to use all sorts of climbing kit at this point, but Paul talks about something that is familiar to people- so something that many people in our society understand is a car… so lets think about what the car of God would be like… and the things you’d need if you were driving in a tough situation…

belt of truth… something that protects you… seatbelt? Without it you are vulnerable. Truth helps to hold us in place in the midst of skids and slides… sometimes its uncomfortable…

Breastplate of righteousness… things in front of you bounce off it… windscreen? Protects you as you’re moving forwards, often without you noticing it- things bounce or slide off it. When a windscreen is doing its job you can see where you’re going, and you are visible- its not just a thing to hide behind but you can still move.

Feet fitted with the readiness of the Gospel- grip and steering, stopping and starting- surely the tyres?

Shield of faith… something you can’t see, but you trust is there, something that will save you in need- air bags and crumple zones? A shield was something you could move, cars now have airbags on all sides… wherever they’re needed… faith is only visible when its in action.

Helmet of salvation… drivers licence- you have to know it, to pass your test… a map or satnav maybe? Tells you where you are going, helps you to get there… a basic but an essential

Sword of the Spirit… which is the word of God… fuel?

As Christians how do we get those things into our lives?

Knowing the word of God in our lives- 2 of them are about this, so its important- not just reading the Bible, but reading it as a way to get to know Jesus and to understand God. A car can’t get moving if it doesn’t have tyres or fuel… the others are all needed too. People sometimes talk about putting on the armour of God every morning, but as well as that, how do we strengthen those things? Through our times together here- we pray, we hear God’s word, we worship- we celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection- we are reminded, encouraged and invited to know more about the relationship we are each discovering with God…

In our other reading from John’s Gospel, we heard Jesus talking about the bread of God, that it’s a symbol of accepting his promise of eternal life… but if you miss a week, are allergic to bread, don’t like raisins, feel funny coming to the front, can’t walk and we forget to come to you- none of those prevent you from receiving the promise of salvation and eternal life in Christ- that is the relationship between you and God that is restored because of Jesus death and resurrection. The bread and wine that we use to celebrate Holy Communion are symbols of that- just as they point towards the events described in the Bible- the last supper, the meals that Jesus shared with others during his life, the manna in the desert, the Passover meal (and the annual repetition of that). Jesus says- you remain in me, and I remain in you- that’s a permanent thing… its not dependant on a top up or a renewal… but we do it every week here at one of our services… because just like putting armour on, or like putting the seatbelt on in the car… we don’t do these things for the times when we don’t need them, but for the unexpected times when we do…

Nobody wants to run out of petrol, get a flat tyre, crash their car etc… and so we refuel in plenty of time, always have a spare in the back, use seatbelts and have airbags that we hope are never used. We take a driving test and then forget half of what we learnt, and when was the last time any of us seriously looked at our windscreen to check for scratches or chips? When we come here on any given Sunday morning we may arrive in a rush, tired from the week, worried about the week ahead, barely able to concentrate or take much in… or we may be in that place of peace and joy, filled with expectation of encountering God until its ruined by the service leader, the welcomer at the door, the music, the grumpy children and the noisy older folk… but somehow, God meets with us on both those occasions. We may not notice it, we may not appreciate it at the time, but God meets with us, his Spirit fills us, we are reminded of what Christ did for us and of the truths of our faith… we are strengthened for the time that lies ahead, and healed from the week that has passed- a trip to the armourer, a weekly servicing for the car…

When Jesus spoke about who he was and what he meant to do, many who heard him said ‘this is a hard teaching!’- why? Because they didn’t want to hear about a man who could give them eternal life, who would plant complicated ideas in their heads about God being with them in all places, who claimed that he really was sent by the Father and lived only to do the will of the Father- promising eternal life. They didn’t want this because some of them wanted a hero to lead an army, a teacher to inspire them to fight against the Romans, while the others wanted a man of peace to help them keep their heads down and wait for the next empire to come along, while telling them that they were doing just fine with God… and Jesus didn’t fit the bill.

He confused them with his wonderful miracles and fascinating stories, his sidestepping the expectations folks had and the connections he made with the wrong sort of people… and Jesus knew this. And many of those who’d followed him for a time stopped, and went away. Because he didn’t fit their bill. But some stayed- they didn’t necessarily understand everything, and they weren’t yet fully formed, but they, like us, and like all those others who’ve worshipped here over the years and are in churches elsewhere today, were willing to say ‘yes’… and so we echo the words of Peter- ‘to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God’

As we worship today, in every part of our service, that is essentially what we are doing… our prayers are in his name because Jesus is the Holy One of God. When we celebrate Holy Communion it’s the death and resurrection of the Christ that we celebrate, when we lift our voices in worship, it’s the Son of God who’s name we praise. So let us live in the light of that- ready to endure the challenges set before us, to prevail for the sake of the one who saves us- whether we are clad in the armour of God or driving in the car of God, but living as the people of God.

In terms of some of the other writing that I’m planning to develop, I’ve just been asked to put together some teaching on Mission, which will need to get done first…

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