15th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B - Lutheran Worship readings)
Saturday, September 16, and Sunday, September 17, 2006
Back in the 1980’s, there was a television cartoon series called Super Friends which brought together a group of superheroes in one league of justice—heroes like Superman, Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, and others. The Wonder Twins were a pair of young superheroes, still learning about their powers and how to best help everyone else. Zan and Jayna, the twins, could transform when they put their hands together and said, “Wonder Twins powers, activate!” Jayna could transform into any animal, and Zan would transform into water in any form—liquid, gas, or ice.
It wouldn’t seem like Zan’s power to become water would be that helpful—a bucket of water doesn’t seem like it would stop super villains, but Zan took the power of water to cause machines to fail, people to slip, villains to be frozen in a block of ice. So really, for the Wonder Twins, Zan’s ability to transform into water was highly successful for the cause of good and justice. It was like Zan had water armor, a way to make water protect him, shield him, and help him defeat enemies.
Today Jude got his water armor in baptism. The water was placed on Jude’s head, and that water will protect him, shield him, and bring victory over the enemy. In fact, we’ve all received water armor in baptism. It’s not Zan’s superpowers, and we didn’t have to say, “Wonder Twins powers, activate,” but in what was said at Jude’s baptism, and at your baptism, those words, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” those words of God bring about something more powerful than any superhero. Those words put God’s water armor on all of us when we were baptized, and now those words put God’s water armor on Jude.
Our son Jude was born on June 6. Working with Lutheran Social Services, Jude’s birthparents, Chelsea and Julius, asked to meet us back in March. Then Chelsea and Julius asked us to adopt their baby. On June 6, we were with Chelsea and Julius in the hospital when Jude was born. In July, Chelsea and Julius went to court to end their parental rights, legally making it possible for us to adopt Jude. That day Jude left his foster care home and came home with us. Susan and I are foster parents through Lutheran Social Services until in January when the adoption will be legally complete. However, Chelsea and Julius will always be a part of Jude’s life. They are here with us today, and they will always be his birthparents, always a very important part of who Jude is.
Now, though, more than Jude having birthparents or adoptive parents, more than any of that, now Jude is part of the family of God through baptism. And looking at the reading from Ephesians where Paul is talking about putting on the full armor of God, I see in there a description of what has happened for Jude in baptism.
Paul says, “Put on the full armor of God,” and describes this spiritual armor from God that protects us in the spiritual battle against the devil’s evil forces. When I read these verses thinking about Jude’s baptism today, I realized that we often talk about how baptism saves us, baptism creates faith in our hearts, baptism works the Holy Spirit in our souls, baptism brings forgiveness, life, and salvation. So it’s really not so strange to say that this armor of God that Paul talks about, it’s watery armor. One way God puts His armor on us is through the waters of baptism.
We wouldn’t think that water armor would be very helpful in a battle, but just like with Zan the Wonder Twin, there’s more power in water than we might imagine. We wouldn’t think that baptism would be very helpful in a battle against unseen forces, the armies of Satan, but there truly is God’s power in the water and Word of baptism. Jude got his water armor today, and it’s more than we might think. It is the Lord’s water armor which brings all of the benefits that Paul talks about in Ephesians chapter 6.
What does it mean to have the Lord’s water armor? Or to ask it another way, why does Paul even say that we need armor? Because we can’t be strong on our own. Yes, in baptism, Jude has new life, we all receive new life through the Holy Spirit in baptism, but as one commentary said, “If the new man were to depend on himself alone, he would soon fail and be crushed” (Stoeckhardt).
If Jude tries to depend on himself to keep his faith and win the fight against Satan, Jude will fail. If any of us try to do this on our own, we will quickly find that all hope is lost.
So when Paul says put on the armor, he’s not saying that we’re putting our own armor on. We’re not trying to make ourselves strong. We’re not trying to do this on our own. Instead, Paul says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” The strength comes from the Lord, so let the water armor drip down your body, let the water of baptism wash over you and protect you against the devil’s schemes.
Jerome was one of the early church fathers, and I really love how he explains what it means to put on this water armor, this armor of God. Jerome said that putting on the armor of God means the same as putting on Christ. And sure enough, you look at Paul’s descriptions of the different parts of the armor, the ways that these items symbolize God’s spiritual protection, and each part describes Christ.
The belt is truth, and Christ is truth. The breastplate is righteousness, and Christ is righteousness. We are armed with sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh.
This water armor, this spiritual armor that comes to us through baptism, this armor is Christ Himself. He is the One that protects our bodies and souls against sin, death, and the devil. Jude has that water armor now through baptism; we all have that water armor through baptism. We all have been clothed with the armor of God, clothed with Christ Himself.
And this means that God is near. The whole image of wearing armor, wearing Christ, shows us how close God is to us.
While we face the spiritual battle that goes on around us everyday, while we face temptations from Satan, God isn’t offering some kind of distant protection.
This isn’t like some game of tag where you could be tagged “it” unless you’re on safe. In tag, there’s only one place, and if you’re not near it, you might get tagged. With God’s protection, though, with His water armor, it is on you. You are wearing it. In fact, the metaphor of clothes gets at the idea of God’s protection always being with you, but it’s even closer to you than clothes. God’s protection is around your soul; His water armor guards your heart. God’s protection is with you at your most vulnerable place—the very soul that’s under attack by Satan.
That lends a whole other level of joy to what Moses was saying in today’s Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy. Moses said, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to Him?” Other people had religions with distant gods, but Moses is right in saying our Lord is different. He is near, as near as can be, protecting us against the enemy that seeks to destroy us for eternity.
Paul uses this metaphor of armor which brings out that image of the spiritual battle that is taking place around us and in us. However, one war is over—our war with God. Another early church father named Chrysostom explained this, saying that we had been in a war with God. Our sinfulness made us enemies of God. Our sinful ways pitted us against God’s holy ways.
Then in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God brings an end to the war between us and Him while us preparing us for the new war, the war against Satan. Once we were Satan’s allies, we were completely sinful, we were turned against God, we were fighting against God’s ways, doing the work of the devil, but now through faith, through the Holy Spirit, through the waters of baptism, now we are God’s allies. The tables have been turned. God took hold of us, and instead of destroying us as His enemies, instead He gave us His armor, His uniform, made us a part of His army, His team, and now sends us into battle against Satan, our former commander, our former coach. The tables have been turned on Satan, and Jesus has him running scared.
Chrysostom said it this way: “As we are making war with the devil, we are making peace with God.” If we are in a battle against Satan and his ways, then it means that we have peace with God. And while in our lives this battle rages on, this battle continues between sinfulness and holiness, this battle between Satan’s lies and God’s truth, while this battle continues in us, the Good News is that the ultimate peace, the ultimate victory has already been won by Jesus Christ on the cross.
There’s no question about who will win—Satan or Jesus—because Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil when He died and rose again. When Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God, when Paul draws these pictures preparing us for the spiritual battle, Paul is saying, “Put on the victorious armor, the victorious uniform of Christ.”
As Satan is lashing out against us, trying to win some small battles against even though the writing is on the wall, even though he knows he will never rule the day, as Satan continues to tempt and torment and trouble our souls, so the water armor of God protects us from this unseen enemy.
You won’t see the enemy coming. Yes, we can see when other people oppose us, but there are also spiritual forces at work, wielding their power in the world. The devil is both cunning and powerful, but his cunning hides his power from our eyes, duping us and thereby ambushing us. Wear your helmet at all times. Don’t neglect your armor. (see Stoeckhardt)
And what is the helmet that you must wear at all time: salvation, the truth of how God saves you through Jesus Christ. What is the armor that you can’t leave at home: faith in Christ, remembering how you have been baptized, you have water armor, you have God’s protection against Satan and his tricks.
That’s why we’re always reminding each other about our baptisms. If Jude never thinks about his baptism after today, well, that’s like leaving his armor laying in a heap on the floor while he goes out onto the battlefield. We all need those constant reminders of God’s salvation that comes to us through His Word, through baptism. God’s Word and our baptism clothe us with Christ, give us that full armor, and that’s not something to be left in here while we go out into the world and our daily lives.
Take your armor with you today; take your faith with you today. If you are tired of falling for Satan’s tricks—the ways he tempts you to sin, the ways he fools you into thinking God doesn’t know what He’s talking about—if you are tired of seeing yourself fall back into old habits as soon as you leave church, then perhaps today is the day to think about taking that full armor of God with you.
God doesn’t expect you to fight off Satan on your own; God sends His protection with you. God doesn’t leave you unguarded while you’re in battle; God gives you water armor, armor around your soul, clothes you with Christ Himself. God doesn’t think that He’s battles you; the war between God and you is over. Instead, God knows that the battle is between you and Satan, your new life in Christ which desires to serve the Lord, that new life is in battle against Satan who still wants you to sin and serve the darkness. God knows the battle that you face, and that’s why He sends you out with His armor, the armor of the winning army, the victorious uniform of God.
When you walk out of here today, don’t think of yourself as going alone. Don’t think that you are leaving God’s fortress and now you’re unguarded against attacks in this unseen spiritual battle.
Instead, when you walk out of here today, touch your shoulders, your chest, your heart, your head, and realize that there’s armor on every inch of you. Touch your heart again, and remember that God’s water armor covers you with His protection and mighty power. His protection, power, and salvation are dripping off of you, you have been soaked in baptism with His water armor.