Sunday Sermon – 24/8/03 Fighting the Good Fight

The Whole Armour

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts.”

So said the psalmist in the psalm we read together this morning (Psalm 84).

One of the things which I tend to do when I am o­n holiday is to make for the dwelling places of the Lord of hosts ? or at least make for the places in which God?s people have worshipped.

This year was no exception ? I was travelling by canal in France. You have little choice where to go ? the canal goes in a certain direction and you go with it. (Perhaps this is how God?s providence works, if it exists at all). Anyway ? the canal I was o­n was going through a little village which existed because it had got a rather special dwelling place of the Lord of hosts. A church in a rather out of the way place which happened to be o­ne which had housed the relics, for a time of St Martin of Tours. And indeed, although the whole body is not there now, the church is dedicated to Martin, the soldier saint and they have some small, very well authenticated bits of him, not least his jawbone.

Talking about relics is something that we don?t do very often in Scotland, though there are churches here who have them. Indeed, the most glorious extant relics in Scotland are held by a church in which Presbyterian worship is the norm ? St Magnus cathedral in Kirkwall. I could talk about relics for a while, having seen more of them than most, o­n my travels. However, that would be to deviate from my point.

The point is this ? whilst I was visiting this church in France, I had the opportunity to think again about the story of Martin. It was Martin, who was a soldier in the Roman army, who famously came upon a beggar and seeing that he needed clothing cut his own cloak in two and handed half down from his horse, to the man sitting beside the road.

We often miss out o­n commemorating Martin in this country because his feast day falls o­n 11 November, a day when we are usually remembering other soldiers whose memory is rather more personal and immediate. The point of the legend of Martin, is that he looked after himself as well as looking after the o­ne in need, which adds a certain balance to some of the stories of the saints. However, that is to digress o­nce again.

What I want to recall today is that Martin was a saint. And that Martin was a soldier.

This morning we have read the passage in Ephesians where the Christian life is compared to the way in which a military figure would have been dressed for battle.

I want to ask you to think about it. It is far from straightforward. Indeed, in the case of St Martin, and other soldier saints, there was some question as to whether o­ne could be holy and military. And as to whether o­ne could fight, physically fight and kill for a just cause.

The biblical literature tells us a lot about the way in which people think of God. The passage that we have in Ephesians tells us that in that time, it was easy for Paul to liken God to the dress sense of a Roman soldier ? who would have worn things very similar to what St Martin would have worn just a few hundred years later.

If you want our own version of this, take a look at the East Window o­n the way out, where there is a Christian knight who is indeed receiving the whole armour of God. The belt of truth, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit. It is a window which bears some thought.

I ask you this, today. Can you still do the same. Can you still picture the Christian life, imagine it, think of it, as being similar in any way to wearing battle dress and carrying weapons?

My guess is, probably not. The tank of truth. The gas-mask of righteousness. The walkie-talkie of faith. No,? it just does not work.

And that tells us something that is very important indeed ? namely that the way in which God?s people have pictured and imagined the religious life has changed very profoundly over the years.

Never forget that. We can, rather nostalgically sing hymns using this kind of language ? Stand up, stand up for Jesus, o­nward Christian Soldiers, Courage Brother, do not stumble. All kinds of things were written by our Victorian predecessors which pick up this military language, yet we might pause and ask o­ne or two questions as we sing them.

The very words of the psalm this morning show how deeply imbedded this kind of language is ? How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! Make no mistake, the hosts that we are talking about are a military bunch. God surrounded by his fighting soldiers.

We say that and don?t think about it much.

This has been a year in which we have had much to think about. I marched for peace and yet tried to support those who had family members in the gulf. Not the easiest of lines to walk. I find myself hesitant about singing some of the more militaristic hymns that we have in our hymn books yet, though I do believe in people being able to live in peace, which sometimes means having those who are prepared to fight for peace.

However, that is not really my point this morning either, that would be yet another digression. (You can take these digressions up with me later).

No, my question for you this week is to ask you what images you draw from your daily life ? your life in this modern world, which describe the life of faith.

I?ll give you o­ne example before I close. I remember when I first studied divinity, I studied with a teacher for whom many of the images of God did not work. When pushed to describe God, o­ne day in a lecture, she said: “God is a world wide web of connectedness and love, connecting every living thing o­n the earth.”

God as a world wide web. An image, very much from modern life. Does that work for you any better that the image of the Christian knight putting o­n his armour. I don?t know, but have a think about it.

What images of your daily life today describe the life of faith?

In every age, O God, you give your people freedom to walk in faith.Freedom to thinkFreedom to imagine.Freedom to picture you anew.

Grant us grace to remain faithful to the Holy o­ne, Jesus Christ. In whose name we pray day by day.



  1. Anonymous says

    Re: Sunday Sermon – 24/8/03 Fighting the Good Fight
    What kind of sermon is this supposed to be Kelvin? You never did like sticking to o­ne story, but this takes the biscuit. You told them more about what you were not going to say than about what you were going to say.
    Did you sing – O­nward Christian Soldiers too?

  2. Anonymous says

    Re: Sunday Sermon – 24/8/03 Fighting the Good Fight

    It is supposed to be an apophatic sermon. Well, it turned out that way, whether or not it was intended to be. I'm no story teller. I preach to beguile, not to explain or narrate.
    We sang “Stand up, stand up for Jesus”, thank you very much.

Speak Your Mind