“Metaphorically Speaking” August 26, 2018
1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43/ Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20/ John 6:56-69
I couldn’t resist placing Storm Jameson’s words in the bulletin today: “Language is memory and metaphor.” It intrigued me because it’s so true – apart from memory, what do we have left to tell our stories and to make our point: metaphor. When faced with the choice of “It’s very hot outside” and “It’s a furnace our there!” we’ll take the furnace language every time. Because let’s face it, metaphor is one of the things that makes language fun. Now, we can best describe a metaphor as the art of using two completely unrelated things to make a point. “America is a melting pot,” comes to mind. With school about to begin, I think some school metaphors might be fun: “The classroom was a zoo,” is one. Or how about, “My teacher is a dragon, the kids were monkeys on the jungle gym, or the teenager’s stomach was a bottomless pit.” So, you get the idea. Also, metaphor is nothing new. It is found throughout scripture. (Jn 10:14) “I am the good shepherd…and I lay down my life for my sheep.” (Isaiah 64:8) “but now O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay and you are our potter,” just to name a few. Metaphors can be serious and they can be hilarious; in good taste and in bad. Some of the most popular are the “Life is like” metaphors. “Life is like a jigsaw puzzle, but you don’t have the picture on the front of the box to know what it’s supposed to look like. Sometimes you’re not even sure you’ve got all the pieces.” And my all- time favorite, “Life is a maze in which you try to avoid the exits.”
Now, I bring this up because our text today from Ephesians is just one big old metaphor. It’s one that gets used a lot in Vacation Bible School lessons and Youth groups…and it has always bugged me. I know, I know – it shouldn’t bother me, but it does and it’s really kind of silly. You see, there is something about these military metaphors that go against the grain of my preconceived notions of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I want a faith that is trusting and caring and full of compassion. I want to buy the world a Coke and live in perfect harmony. We don’t need to hear stuff like “take up the whole armor of God,” and metaphors like, “the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation.” It’s all just too much. But here’s the thing, the height and the breadth and the depth of our faith has not been passed down and preserved without a struggle. We are part of this, the Kingdom of God, and just as our faith has an abundance of blessings, it comes with responsibilities as well.
So let’s start with my hang-ups with military metaphors. First of all, like I said, it’s silly. I mean, we use military metaphors all the time. “How’s it going?” “O, you know, it’s an uphill battle.” We are besieged by controversy, bombarded by questions, and find ourselves under fire for any number of things. And just to make things really current, we are constantly under attack every time we eat dinner outside and because of this, we declare war on yellow jackets.
So there you have it. Whether we like it or not, military metaphors are here to stay. So, how are we to understand this very important text? Is it a call to arms or is it a plea for truce? The answer, I believe, is neither. First of all, you’ll notice that there is no mention of battle axes or arrows or clubs; only stuff that is protective, defensive. This is important. We’re dealing with “the whole armor of God” here, not the whole arsenal. So let’s break down this list of tools that Paul lays out for us and try not to get sidetracked by all the metaphor.
First of all: the belt of truth. Now there’s a good one. In this day and age when it seems that everyone has their own version of truth, we can hold fast to the truth that is a life in Christ. It’s solid, it’s unwavering, and it will never change. The breastplate of righteousness protects our hearts. If we can strive to live in such a way where we feel we are called righteous in the eyes of the Lord, what sort of meanness and nastiness can get through? Likewise, a shield of faith is not so much of a magic force field to protect our beliefs, but a source of strength – a source of power. As for the helmet of salvation – I don’t know what to think about that one. Let’s just say that in a world that is constantly telling me how wonderful I am just to sell me something, I can be at peace with the fact that I am broken. And in a world that is constantly banging me over the head for all my sins, I can be at peace because I am forgiven.
You know, I have come to an understanding of what it is to take on the full armor of Christ. It’s not just a wall to hide behind or a foxhole to crawl into. No, it is empowering, it is strengthening, and above all, it is liberating. It is liberating because with this armor I can approach the true word of God – the sword of the Spirit, as Paul calls it – I can approach the word of God each day with new eyes and new awareness and with new hope. And with that being said, I would ask one thing of all of you here today. And I would ask it in my own words if Paul hadn’t said it so perfectly. And so my request comes from verse 18: Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. 20 For this I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I might be bold enough to speak about it as I should.
So when we find ourselves under fire from the craziness of this world and we are tempted to join the ranks of those who, in truth, have turned their backs on a God who never falters and never fails, maybe it’s not such a bad idea to suit up; to strap on a little armor. And last of all, pray; pray that we might be bold enough to speak about this love we have found in Christ – to speak about this as we should.
Amen & Shalom