August 19, 2018 THE ULTIMATE PROTECTION

 

 

August 19, 2018

 Ephisians 6:10-18

Outside Worship

THE ULTIMATE PROTECTION

Following his time of serving in the Marines fighting in the South Pacific during WW II, a Marine shared his story. It goes like this: “Shortly after we hit the beach our armored amphibious tank took two artillery shells broadside. We immediately evacuated our disabled vehicle and darted from one hole to another moving toward the enemy airstrip we were to take. The sergeant began to check on us to make sure we were OK.   He crawled over to me and asked, “You alright?”    I answered, “Yeah, I’m OK Sarge!” He looked at me and asked, “Where is your helmet?”  I felt the top of my head and answered, “It must be in the tank, Sarge.”  “Where’s your duty belt?”  Our duty belts carried ammunition for our rifles, a canteen of water and a bayonet. “Must be in the tank, Sarge.”  “As a matter of fact, where’s your rifle?”   He looked at me with disgust and pity. Because of our hasty departure from the amphibious tank, I was dressed about the same way I would be dressed for a game of volleyball.”   

The writer of that story said, “This true story reveals the truth about the modern Church. Many Christians have forgotten that the Christian life is not a playground, but a battlefield!   And as a result, many Christians are ill-equipped for battle!”

Protection! That’s what we need. As I was thinking about that story and about taking care of ourselves I thought, hey, how many of us are encouraged to put on a certain number sun screen when we go to the beach or lay out in the sun. This gives your skin protection from those damaging sun rays. And how many of us are encouraged to put on a good bug spray to help the bugs keep away so we won’t be bit and end up with some disease? And why are we advised to use our seat belts, and not text and drive? It is not only for our safety but for those we might be following.

When I was much younger I enjoyed playing two sports, baseball and hockey. In both sports I played what I would describe today as tough positions. In baseball I was a catcher. In hockey I was a goalie. I enjoyed both, and they both had something in common. In baseball the catcher has the mask to protect his face. He has the shin-pads to protect his knees and feet. Then there is the chest protector that is supposed to keep you safe from foul balls. In hockey there was the helmet, the chest protector, goalie pads, the two different kinds of gloves, and special skates. All this to protect you from getting hurt from someone who could fire the puck at great speeds, or have one tipped in front of the net. In my day and age there were no goalie masks for pros or high school goalies. That is why I have a scar between my eyes where I took a puck from inside of the blue line to the face and received 4 stiches, which put me on the bench for a few games. 

Protection. It is used in lots of sports these days. You use helmets to ride a bike, knee pads and helmets to skateboard. Just read where Tom Brady of the Patriots is trying out a new helmet that is supposed stop him from having concussions. Batters in baseball wear helmets these days, and other guards to protect elbows, shins, wherever a foul ball may strike.

This morning we turn to something the apostle Paul wants to tell us about having the ultimate protection for our spiritual lives. In his writing to the Ephesian church he says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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 realm. THEREFORE, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm…”

God’s word for us today.

That’s what keeps Christians going daily. You got to know your enemy if you are going to stand firm against him. And you got to be protected as well.

Paul tells us, “Be strong in the Lord and in his might power.” He adds to that these words. “Put on the whole armor of God.” Why do we need this ultimate protection? Paul lays it right out there for us. He says, “So that you can stand against the devil’s schemes.” He’s real folks. He really is.

I can imagine Paul writing these words while looking at the Roman soldiers practicing their warfare. Maybe he saw a group of them standing at attention before their commander getting ready to go patrol the city. He saw them standing at attention with sword attached to their side. He saw the armor they wore, that breastplate that protected their heart from taking a spear, or a lance, or even an arrow. Then there was the helmet to protect their heads so that stones, or other things would just bounce off and this helmet would lessen the injury. Add to this what they wore on their feet, not shoes, but stronger, much stronger in order to protect them as they fought in the rough places, in the pits, in the gravel, walking through swamps. These allowed them to continue to go without stepping on something that would make them stop. And the shield? That shield was to protect them as the spears of the enemy came their way. They could stand behind them so that when the enemy stopped firing they could advance toward their enemy. 

When David went up against the mighty Goliath you’d have thought this was no match. David a teenager comes out to battle with every part of his body exposed. Goliath the giant stood his ground maybe a 100 or so feet away, or further with full gear from head to toe to protect him. He even had a shield. How could David defeat him? Well, first and foremost God was on his side. Second, since he thought there was no way this kid could beat him, he just marveled and laughed at David standing there. So, he didn’t put his shield where it would do the most protection, and when David took that stone and let it loose, it found the one place that was not protected…. right between the giant’s eyes. And down he went…and David and Israel were victorious.

Watching the Roman soldiers Paul attached their gear for fighting to the Christian who was in daily battle. These soldiers, like those who are still fighting in foreign countries now, have to have the ultimate protection when they leave the safety of their compound because they never knew what they were going to face. 

Paul was sitting there with some of those soldiers hearing those war stories that some share. He might have questioned them about their outfits, or what they ran into when they went through the gates and into what might be declared enemy territory. And this brought to mind those Christians to whom he was writing, which includes us today.

You see, we walk out of our house every day into the enemy’s realm. We never think about that, but it’s true. If Satan and his cohorts dressed so that we could tell them from the good guys we would know who to ignore. But they don’t.  Paul says that’s why we need to be protected in order to be prepared to take a stand for our faith. 

Think of it, Adam and Eve strolled in that place called paradise day after day with no problems. They had everything they needed to survive and to enjoy life together. Evil wasn’t in the garden yet…or was it? Hmmmm!  God’s one command to them was never go near, nor touch, nor eat the fruit from one tree planted in the middle of the garden. For if they did, well, life would not be the same. So, Adam and Even strolled through that place day after day not paying any attention at all to that tree that they much have passed a zillion times. Not once, did they stop and wonder why God told them to avoid going near that tree. It looked nice and all that, but hey, God said forget that tree and that is what they did. They blocked it from their minds and eyes.

But one day. Yes, one day something happened that changed their lives and the lives of all those who would enter this world.

If you look hard perhaps you can see Adam and Eve out for their usual stroll.  Adam tells Eve he is going to check on something and will catch up with her in a few minutes. He told her that he would meet her in the middle of the garden, by the tree, in say, 20 minutes. Adam gives Eve a peck on the cheek and goes on his way. Eve continues her walk toward the tree in the middle of the garden singing and enjoying all of God’s wondrous creations, the birds, the plants, the flowers, the trees, the fresh air. When she gets to her destination, she decides to sit down to rest and waits for Adam. While there, out of nowhere comes this voice. It speaks to Eve. “Hi there. What are you doing? Who are you waiting for?” Eve looks at this creature and says, “Just chilling waiting for my hubby Adam. He’ll be along any minute now.” That sneaky sly snake says, “Eve, that is your name, right? Have you ever taken a good look at this tree you are sitting in front of?” She shakes her head saying no. “Have you wondered what that fruit would taste like?” Once again, she shakes her head in a no response. “Look how round and big that fruit is. I bet it is yummy. How about trying one?” that trickster said to Eve. “Oh no, can’t do that. God said we must avoid that tree. Can’t even touch it or something bad will happen.” “Oh Eve, God was just kidding. Nothing is going to happen if you take just one fruit from that tree. He wouldn’t even know one fruit was missing. And if you don’t tell, I won’t tell either.” The longer that sneaky guy kept pointing to that tree, the longer Eve looked at that tree, the more the temptation passed her eyes until that forbidden fruit took center stage in her eyes and it was as if she had to have it. She could rationalize that one fruit from this tree could not be bad and that fellow talking to her must know nothing would happen if she picked one shiny, luscious looking fruit. Besides he said he wouldn’t squeal on her. 

With the encouragement of that sly fox, she picked it. When nothing happened, that wily snake encouraged her to take a bite and see how it tasted. And before she knew it, not only was she holding it in her hands. Not only was she looking at that fabulous looking fruit, it just begged to have a bite taken from it. “Go ahead” that snake encouraged. “It’s okay.” And before she could close her eyes and say no, no, no, those hands had the fruit up to her mouth and before she could blink her teeth were soundly sinking into the fruit as some people bite into a delicious fresh apple pie just out of the oven. Next thing she knew, she was swallowing a piece. IT WAS DELISIOUS, she thought. 

Just about then along comes Adam and he could see how excited Eve was as she held the fruit in her hand with one giant bite taken from it. “What’s going on Eve?” Adam asked. “Who’s your friend. Where did you pick that fruit from?” “Adam you just got to take a bite from this fruit. It’s to die for.” Eve said. So, Adam looked at the fruit and his eyes desired that fruit because in his eyes it became bigger and bigger and more desirable than anything he had ever seen. When Eve held it out to him, he took it and bit into it. Instead of feeling exhilaration, he felt shame, and so did she, and that snake in the grass had them hook, line and sinker, for now their eyes were opened to sin, and to knowledge that they did not need to know, and they were naked and afraid, and they tried to cover their bodies and when they heard the voice of God calling for them, they ran off to hide. And the rest of the story is full of horror, but also full of grace.

“Put on the full armor of God” Paul tells Christians. “Be prepared to face your enemy the devil who lurks around in this world.” “Beware of his tricks. Don’t get lured into stuff you know is not of God.” “Strand firm in your faith.”

You know we can hear those words over and over again, but Christians sometimes fall into the traps that Satan sets before us. Things that seems okay aren’t always the best things for Christians. A little white lie, a little tampering with this or that. Cheating on a test, after all most people do something like that. All tricks from the tricksters.

And so, it is for the world today. We are in a spiritual battle against that sneaky fellow who won’t give up trying to destroy Christians. His army is everywhere. His spies are on the lookout to see if he can find one, just one that he believes he can lure into sin. He sets the traps. He uses just the right bate. And when you least expect it, he pounces. Or in this case springs the trap.

That’s why Paul says you got to be prepared. It’s a jungle out there. Things aren’t always as good as they appear to be. That is why we need all that armor of protection.

We need that helmet to protect our minds so that we will be thinking of the right things, not the evil things. We can’t let sin take a foothold in our lives. We can’t let it build a nest in our minds so that one day that thought turns into sin. Elsewhere Paul tells us to put away such foolish stuff. Put on God’s ways, not the world’s way.

We need to have that breastplate to protect our hearts. We got to keep it safe from sin lurking in there. We got to remember that Christ cleanses us, now we need to keep it clean, we need to check, re-check, and check again, from time to time to make sure something doesn’t drift inside to dirty that which is pure, or worse, stopping our spiritual heart from beating. That’s when we stop and seek forgiveness from God for allowing that snake to slither into our lives.

We have to be ready to stand firm in the knowledge of what we believe and don’t be led astray by wrong thinking.

We have to have the proper footwear to help us be able to dig in and believe when others try to destroy what we believe, or even to high tale it away from those nasty tricks. Maybe I need to add we need those speedy shoes that get us through those temptation roads. It’s like that song that says, “If you’re going through hell, just keep on going.”

We have to have the sword to fight off the enemy. In this case, the Word of God that can trump any enemy that we face.

Finally, we need to stay focused on prayer, praying that God will protect us when we walk into the world each day. We can begin each day before we leave the house, praying, “Lord, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from the evil one.”

You see, there are many things that can make us angry, that might make us disappointed, or even discouraged. Tools and traps of that sly fox. When you least expect it to happen, it does. Like the other night I was heading home from church going down route 55 in the outside lane when I began to pass a car on the inside lane. But as I got even with him, he sped up, but not to fast, just fast enough to keep up with me. So, I stepped on the gas and so did he. It seemed like a game, and each time I sped up, he did too, not to get ahead, but to stay equal with me.  I decided I didn’t want any part of his game, so I slowed down, let him get om front of me a good distance and pulled in behind him. I watched as he did it with the next car not wanting to be passed, but always keeping up with that person. Who knows what might have happened if someone got angry. A little road rage? It happens you know, and the outcome isn’t good. Was he trying to lure someone into a race, or something else?

Be smart! Be alert! Be prepared! And always, put on the full armor of God to protect yourself each day from that sly snake in the grass.

After all, he only wants to trick you. Beware!!! Put on the whole armor of God for that sneaky, crafty, snake-in-the-grass is a walking talking temptation to destroy good Christian people. Stand firm in the faith. Put on the ultimate protection that God has for you. Put the whole armor of God.

So, may it be for God’s army.

Rev. Dick Piscatelli, Pastor
About Rev. Dick Piscatelli, Pastor

Reverend Richard Piscatelli, (Pastor Dick) has been serving this church since 2006 and has begun his 13th year at Williamsville. Dick is a graduate of Asbury College, 1980, now Asbury University, and Asbury Theological Seminary, 1983, in Wilmore, Kentucky. Originally from Watertown, Massachusetts, he and his wife, Carole, have enjoyed living in the Midwest and have made many friends here. Dick’s first appointment was to Buffalo/Dawson UMCs, a two-point charge, which he served for almost 8 years when he was appointed to Paris Trinity UMC. He served at Paris for 6 years and was then appointed to First UMC at St. Elmo in southern Illinois. Dick’s final full-time appointment was to Roanoke/Secor UMCs, a two-point charge. These churches brought much satisfaction and lasting relationships in each. Williamsville UMC has been a joy to serve as he actually began his first church in “retirement,” and is very much involved in all areas of ministry, as the Lord leads. Pastor Dick has a special gift for doing Celebrations of Life and comforting the family. He prepares uplifting, inspiring sermons in a more casual and relaxed style, using humor when appropriate, yet ever-mindful of the importance of bringing the Gospel message for the salvation that Jesus Christ offers to all.