Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

August 2016

The Armor of God


The passage we read from Ephesians was the subject of our Vacation Bible School this week. The passage as you read it in the Bible is actually titled the Armor of God. The Apostle Paul wrote this passage to help us understand who we are as the church - who we are as the Body of Christ. The purpose of this passage is to get us to have a realistic picture of this particular church; it is not a passage meant for just a general ideal - the passage is meant for us, to look at ourselves in a realistic way and to understand what we are all about - as the church; as Sweetwater Presbyterian Church.
Paul uses a picture that was very familiar with people of Paul’s day. Roman soldiers were everywhere. Rome occupied the entire area of the middle east and they maintained control by having fully outfitted soldiers everywhere. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a group of soldiers on guard. So as Paul describes the church in terms of these soldiers anyone reading the letter would immediately get what Paul is describing because they saw fully armored soldiers all the time.
For us, we have to reach a bit. We don’t live in a place where there are groups of soldiers visibly stationed everywhere we go. Can we even imagine what it would be like to walk out the door of the church this morning and see a bunch of fully armed soldiers standing across the street; to go to Walmart after worship and see soldiers standing by the doors; to go out to eat and there are soldiers standing by the entry way……
We have to pull those images out of our imagination in order to get the full impact of what Paul is trying to teach us.
Previous to this passage on the Armor of God in Ephesians 6, Paul wants the hearers of this letter to get a grasp on the purpose of the church. It is, I think, a difficult concept for us to really understand the idea of what the church is really all about. Christ began the church, thinking in a broad sense, to be the light to the world. The overall purpose of the church was to be a witness to Jesus Christ in the world. We were called to be a unique group of people brought together by God to live in a way different than everyone else; to be a facilitator to help relieve the hunger and poverty of those around us; to look to Christ as the founder and perfecter of our faith and to put him first in all we do - in all aspects of our life to show people there is a different, and better, way to live. And that is a tall order…..
Church, Paul explains in Ephesians, is not just worship. The worship hour is important but it is a small part of the purpose of the church. We come to worship to give God glory, to thank God for all he has done for us, to thank God that we have been chosen to represent him in the world and to get our armor oiled. The purpose of coming to worship is for God and the result of worship is that we are better able to be the church.
We as the church have a job. The job is not to just come to worship on Sunday altho that is an important aspect of that job….. our job is to go out into our everyday lives and be God’s people. And that is really hard.
It is so hard that Paul reminds us that God helps us do what he desires we do. When you leave the protective walls of this sanctuary, Paul says, picture yourself in unity as a battalion of soldiers. Even though we kind of filter out the front door after worship one by one, or in pairs, Paul reminds us to never forget that we are a ‘body’ of Christ. We are not the individuals of Christ. We are to look at ourselves as a unified body…. the church of Sweetwater Presbyterian Church is the people of Sweetwater Presbyterian Church even when we are all scattered in our workplaces and our homes - wherever we are. Throughout all of Paul’s letters that picture of the church as a single body is prevalent. Your body never disassembles itself and your arms go over here and your legs go over there and your feet go a different direction, your body is always connected. Paul reminds us that as a church, we are always connected. So when we think of ourselves as Sweetwater Presbyterian church, we think of ourselves as an essential component of a single body.
Then, Paul says, once you have that picture of yourselves, Paul says your job is to be a witness to the world of the love and grace of Jesus Christ. It means that we have to be intentional in everything we do as we do things as Jesus would. It is hard to be the body of Christ because Paul reminds us that we are always the Body of Christ. We are always, regardless of where we are, members of Christ’s church and witnesses to what that means.
Paul recognizes that is a difficult task. Paul realizes that on our own that is almost an impossible responsibility. So Paul says - God has given you a way to be able to do this. God has provided a means for you to live as the church of Jesus Christ, as the troop of soldiers known as Sweetwater Presbyterian. Paul says God has given you each a suit of armor to help you do what God has asked you to do. And, Paul says, if you consciously remember that, it will make your life as a soldier in the army of God stationed at Sweetwater Presbyterian much easier.
Paul says to the readers of this letter, “You are as well armed as those soldiers you see standing around all the time. Look at them and see yourself with all those pieces of equipment they have and even though you can’t see the armor on your body - you do have it! Trust God to help you.”
Then Paul goes one by one describing what these pieces are - You have on Shoes of the Gospel - you know the stories of Jesus; you know Jesus’ message of love and peace; draw on that as you deal with others around you.
You have the belt of Truth - you know without a shadow of a doubt that what Jesus has told you is true. We know Jesus is real; we know that Jesus lived; draw on that as you live with those around you.
You have the breastplate of righteousness - you know what is right. You may not always do it; you may get tired of doing what is right when those around your are doing what is wrong and seem to be doing OK; lean of God, he will help you do what you know you are to do.
You have a shield of faith - faith that God will help you. No matter what. When things are hard; when things are downright impossible; we have faith in the presence of God.
Put on the helmet of salvation….. Now I think of this more like a football helmet than a soldiers helmet. Football helmets have a logo on the side of them that tells you what team the player belongs to. You put on the helmet and you know you are a Carolina Panther or a Pittsburgh Steeler or an Atlanta Falcon. The helmet of Salvation lets you know that you belong to God. Don’t ever think that God is going to kick you off the team or trade you to someone else if you don’t measure up, the Helmet of Salvation is permanent - a reminder that you belong to God and God’s church…. now and forever.
Those are all defensive pieces of armor designed to help you and protect you. Then God gives you one offensive weapon… God gives you the means to go out and do what you need to. Every one of us has God’s spirit in us - and the Spirit will do a lot of the work we think we have to do ourselves. It is the difference between trying to stab someone with your hand as opposed to stabbing someone with your sword…. which one is going to work better? Sometimes we need to just allow God to guide us and give us the words to say and help us make decisions or to not respond in an inappropriate way……
The point of Paul’s description is to help us realize we are a team - Sweetwater Presbyterian is a team - a team of fully equipped soldiers for God. It is not easy out there, Paul reinforces over and over, there are so many people who don’t want to hear the message of Christ, there are so many people who don’t care about the message of Christ, there are so many people who actively fight against the message of Christ and they are always going to try and knock you down, to stop you, to make you more like them than like the person God knows you really are…..
The armor of God. The church of Jesus Christ. Sweetwater Presbyterian Church. Put it all together, Paul tells us, and we can be a might force for good in this evil world. Amen!

Elijah and the Still Small Voice

Elijah and the Still Small Voice

When I was in high school I was chosen to go to Leadership camp. Two youth from each high school in our part of the state went and spent a week together learning leadership skills. And while I am sure there are things I learned from the camp that I don’t consciously think about, the only thing I vividly remember is the day we had to spend in silence. We were told the night before that we were not to say a word to anyone the entire following day and we were to have as little interaction with other people as possible. We were each given an activity sheet of things we were to do during the day to keep us busy, but they were mostly individual type activities. All our meals were given to us in brown bags and we were to eat by ourselves. It was an experience I will never forget. It was hard. But what it forced you to do was to spend the day with yourself! Many of the activities we were to do were self reflective type practices but there were some of the activities which actually brought us into groups where we had to sit by one another, in silence. What this exercise did was teach us that every moment doesn’t have to be spent in noise; and that it was OK to be with other people and not have to talk. It taught us how to live with those awkward silences - you know those times when you are in the presence of other people and you feel compelled to say something….. And we learned it was OK not to have to say anything….
I have been to oodles of retreats and seminars and different type of church related trainings and every one of them has had a component of silence. So what does that teach me? That in our relationship with God, one of the most important aspects is silence.
Can you imagine silence? We are not good at silence. Silence makes us nervous; especially when we are around others; silence makes us uncomfortable. But you know one of the first lessons they teach you in counseling class - the therapeutic nature of silence; of presence. Often times people would tell me they couldn’t go visit someone who was experiencing a loss or a tragedy because they didn’t know what to say. And the answer is you truly don’t have to say anything. Just your presence is all someone may need. No words; just go and sit with that person in silence.
Silence. We have times of silence built into our worship. The hope is that we can really be silent, that we can silence our minds for just a little while because what we learn from silence is that is when we can hear the voice of God. It is only in the silence, in the listening, that we can hear God speak to us. And unless we are silent, we aren’t able to hear. And if we never hear, how do we know the guidance and direction God offers us?
We know that we read in scripture that we are to pray to God with our needs; we are to pray to God when we need direction; we pray when we are looking for answers. That is what we are suppose to do. But how do you get your answer? How do you know where God is directing you or how do you know what God’s desire for you is or how do you know how God is going to meet your needs? Prayer is great but we can’t talk our way through it - there needs to be some times of silence.
Tell me if this is what you do? Dear God, please help me cause I need such and such. Please help me God. Amen. and then you go on your way. And then you say, “Well, why didn’t God answer me? Why didn’t I hear from God?” But how do you expect to hear form God if you don’t stop and listen? How do you expect God to talk to you if you never spend some time in silence so that you can hear? Listening for God’s answer requires silence. How do you have a conversation with someone else? You talk, and then you listen when they talk. Otherwise it is a monologue and not a conversation. Prayer is conversation with God which implies times of talking and times of listening.
That is what Elijah learned. We have spent all summer with Elijah. We have seen him perform miracles, we have seen him as he proves his great faith in God, we have seen him exhausted, we have seen him experiencing God’s protection and God’s provision. But just like us, Elijah had to learn how to hear God.
Elijah has been busy. Elijah has worked for God. Elijah has been all over the countryside doing what God needed him to do. And now Elijah has ended up on the mountain of God. This is the same mountain where Moses climbed to receive the 10 commandments - it is a mountain where the Hebrew people all knew that God could be found. And this is where Elijah has gone for direction for his life.
And while he is on that mountain he figures God is going to do something grandiose. He figures God is going to do something spectacular. After all, God is almighty and powerful and huge so you gotta figure anything God is going to do is going to be big and amazing! But God has another lesson to teach Elijah.
So comes this great thunderstorm - loud and booming and Elijah figures he is going to hear God’s voice in this….. and he doesn’t. Then there is a giant earthquake with all the loud grating of the earth and rocks tumbling and Elijah thinks he will hear God now is all of this chaos but not to be. Then there is a great roaring fire and Elijah is sure that this is the voice of God and he waits for the message, but this is not how God is

speaking to him either. And Elijah is confused.
And after all of that noise there is silence…. and it is then that Elijah hears God.
Part of our issue with silence is we need a true understanding of who we are. We are children of God. But even more than that we are the ones chosen by God to be part of God’s church - not our church but God’s church. This is a great gift God has given us.
God has chosen us, imperfect sinners that we are; people not worthy to be chosen; but in spite of all that chosen we are. We can’t dwell on why we just have to accept it and
believe it. God saw something in us that we can’t see in ourselves. And while this is a great gift we have been given by God, there is also an element of responsibility associated with this gift - with our chosenness. That responsibility is to first of all simply recognize who we are - those chosen by the grace of Jesus Christ. We have been set apart by God.
The responsibility then is to listen for God’s direction - as a church and as a people. So that brings in the silence. We cannot hear God’s direction until we listen.
So in a practical sense how do we do that? So here are some steps:

  1. Find out what time of day works for you. Some of us are morning people, some of us are afternoon people, some of us are night people. What works for you? Get up with that morning cup of coffee and go somewhere by yourself for a few minutes. I use to drive an hour to work and that became my time. Before you go to bed….. All of us have 5 - 10 min each day sometime to be by ourselves. Before you collapse in your chair for your evening of TV; while you are brushing your teeth getting ready for bed. In the shower…….
  2. Then you just have to listen. Now this is probably harder than carving out the 5 - 10 min each day. How do we empty our minds of all the to do lists and all the things we
need to figure out? A lot of people have developed their own techniques….. some
people say as soon as a thought comes into their heads they visualize themselves
wading it up and throwing it away…. others have a pad of paper beside of them and
when a thought pops in you write it down and that seems to help to clear it out.
Others tell me they treat the ideas like a slide show in their mind and when a
thought pops in they click to a blank slide. Whatever works - it is a discipline that
honestly gets easier the more you do it. Don’t expect perfection and some days will
go better than others. But never say, “I just can’t do this….” Because you can. But
it is a discipline which means you have to work at it. It isn’t easy.

Now the question is “What am I listening for?” First thing I want you to know is that God is not going to be like chatty Cathy. Just because we are able to be silent and clear our minds doesn’t mean that every time we do that God is going to began talking non-stop.
God speaks when he knows there is something we need to hear. And I will tell you from experience it is rarely what we want to hear. That is why you have to clear your thoughts because otherwise we fall into the trap of thinking our own thoughts and attributing them to God and then wondering why things aren’t working out. But if our minds are clear and we are sitting still in silence and something pops in there….
And that is the final element in learning to do this. How do you know God is speaking to you? While God has been known to audibly speak to people, that is an exception. God according to Moses and Elijah says, “God spoke to me in my mind”. And that is how God will speak to you. A thought that pops in that just brings clarity, that answers a question, that gives you direction. A thought that seems to bring you a peace about a decision…..
It just seems there are so many things that God wants us to do that are hard and uncomfortable and the call to silence is right up there. But even though things are hard and uncomfortable, God never asks us to do something that will not be good for us and good for God’s purpose for us.
We end our summer with Elijah today. We’ve learned a lot from him - but the last lesson and probably the most important is to take the time to listen.