Sermons That Work

There Are Sometimes Movies…, Proper 17 (B) – 2000

September 03, 2000

There are sometimes movies released that, for one reason or another, do not receive a great deal of advanced publicity or many reviews–good or bad. But when one of these films, against all odds, proves to capture the attention and admiration of audiences who spread the word about its charms, it is called a “sleeper.” A recent sleeper that has come to my attention is a wonderful film called The War of the Buttons. It is a British film, set in the English countryside, and it is the story of two sets of ten- to twelve year-old boys in rival, neighboring towns.

The drama begins with one group defacing a sign at the school in the rival village. In retaliation, the boys of the offended town, capture one of the intruders and humiliate him by cutting all the buttons off his clothing, His friends then mount a rather unorthodox campaign to gain revenge. They use a girl from their town to lure the other boys into an ambush. Then they emerge from hiding behind boulders, swooping down on them, completely naked, scaring them senseless and chasing them into a nearby lake.

Some authorities report that the Picts of ancient Britain sometimes fought without clothing to prevent their garments from becoming entangled in the brush and as a way of intimidating the enemy. The naked fighting scene in the movie may indeed be, for the British, an obvious reference to Pictish warfare.

One wonders, however, if going into battle without clothing is a really such good idea. One tee-shirt manufacturer has suggested otherwise. This manufacturer sold shirts emblazoned on the front with the words: DON’T FIGHT NAKED. This is not a reference to the movie The War of the Buttons, nor was it designed for students of the ancient Picts. Rather the words DON’T FIGHT NAKED on the front were designed to give the words on the back a more profound impact. On the back was a quotation from today’s Epistle reading from Ephesians:

Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

The message is, in a manner of speaking, “Don t fight naked against evil powers.” And not only that, we are told, the battle must be waged with extraordinary coverings, with the Christian warrior being clad in armor. Armor that comes from God.

And, of course, we all know that this is not advice about the clothing, or the lack thereof, in the kind of battles fought by the ancient Picts or even by the boys in The War of the Buttons.

It is true, rather, as the Epistle makes clear, that our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. These words are New Testament language for all the forces and powers and urges and temptations and impulses and cravings and desires

· that draw us away from God
· that push us toward doing what is wrong
· that prevent us from loving God and our neighbor.

We need God’s armor for life’s inner battles, spiritual conflicts, battles of the heart and mind and will. These are fights we dare not undertake naked.

By whatever measure, we can not deal with life’s many challenges completely by ourselves. We have to heed the lesson taught in Ephesians, the lesson that pledges God’s help for us in our battles: help that is given freely, help that is ours for the taking. As Christians, we have available to us the very armor of God, clothing that the author of Ephesians symbolizes as

· The belt of truth
· The breastplate of righteousness
· Shoes for proclaiming the gospel of peace
· The shield of faith
· The helmet of salvation, and
· The sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.

As God’s people, we are empowered by union with Jesus, who we know as Lord and Christ. Through faith in him we share his power. By following him we are not left to our own devices. By putting on the clothing he provides, we do not have to go into life’s battles naked.

The image of armor is the Bible’s way of revealing what we have available to us–all the resources God offers:

· Love
· Forgiveness
· Peace
· Reconciliation
· Blessing
· Joy
· Hope

We have available to us the same kind of internal resources that Jesus used to live his perfect, loving, and servant-focused life. We have the same kind of armor he had with which to fight our individual battles of conscience. It is Good News that the Christ has gone on before to show us the way to a life of meaningfulness and grace. It is Good News that God empowers us in such a way that we need not march naked into the spiritual battles of life.

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Christopher Sikkema


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