Onward Christian Soldiers!
Ephesians 6:10-18 The Whole Armor of God:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our[a] struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
We are not singing in church these days, and even if we were, in most United Methodist Churches it would likely not be “Onward Christian Soldiers,” or “We are Climbing Jacobs Ladder.” Each stanza of the latter ending with the phrase, “soldiers of the cross.” These are songs of my early Christian upbringing and certainly of at least two generations before me. My dad and my aunt reminisce about my grandfather leading a parade through the house with a broom as his stave singing “Onward Christian Soldiers.” This notion that we are soldiers or at war is somewhat out of favor in many peace-loving Christian circles, notwithstanding clear Bible references including the reference in 2 Timothy to being a soldier of Christ Jesus and today’s lection about putting on our war gear. I am not against peace and the war images are not my favorite Christ images, but I think we dismiss them at our peril. We are at war.
The Salvation Army was founded by William Booth after he broke with those “Fractious Methodists” of 19th Century England. This “army” later took up “Onward Christian Soldiers” as a favorite anthem. The conflation of militarism and patriotism with Christianity is troubling and I believe “the work of the devil,” because it takes our focus off the true enemy, as does just dismissing war images as irrelevant. Surely, we can untangle ourselves from those notions to understand the true enemy so that we can appropriately arm ourselves for battle. We are at war with structures of oppression, where people in power use their advantage to enrich and protect themselves at the expense of the most vulnerable among us. An opportunistic, aggressive, and sometimes lethal virus has made this even clearer. Surely as soldiers of the cross we should be fighting against these evils as Jesus commands us, and not be fighting against one other.
Paul had it right in his letter to the Ephesians. We do need to put on the whole armor of God (plus a mask and hand sanitizer). Let us put on the whole armor of God and claim our rank in Christ’s army.
Let us pray: Loving God, arm us for battle in a hurting and broken world, that we may be soldiers of Christian charity. Help us to put our whole trust in you, breaking through bonds of evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, that we may be your faithful church. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.