Donald Macquarrie preaches on the Armour of God

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A report on Donald’s sermon

Knowing that he was going to be preaching on Ephesians 6:10-20 last Sunday, Donald Macquarrie had re-read the whole book of Ephesians over the last few weeks. Once again he was, he told us, ‘blown away’ by the wonders it contains.

As he wrote it, St Paul’s heart was bubbling over at God’s great plan to send Jesus to show how much God loves us, and to die on our behalf so that our sins can be forgiven. It is God’s plan that, as a result of what Jesus has done, the whole universe will be brought into one great unity.

Many of us will have memories of the passage about the ‘armour of God’ being taught to children, with Sunday Club teachers getting the kids to dress up with replica armour. But this passage isn’t just for children – it’s for all of us.

Lifted up

Donald shared a memory of being in Glasgow with his dad as a wee boy. Something was happening, and the people in the crowds surrounding them were oohing and aahing at what they were seeing. The problem was that young Donald could see nothing except other people’s legs.

‘Lift me up so I can see, please,’ he asked.

Hoisted to his father’s shoulders, he saw the crowd’s focus of attention. He saw what to him was another world.

St Paul writes in Ephesians 2:6-7 ‘And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.’

It’s as though God has lifted us up, and sat us on the divine shoulders so that we can see the world differently, see and understand God’s plan differently.

Freedom and confidence

St Paul wrote this letter as a prisoner, and yet he was able to focus on the freedom and confidence Jesus Christ gives us, urging us to become mature and steadfast in our faith:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

Watch out!  Be careful!

In the old days when the passage about the armour of God was the subject of the sermon, Donald said, we’d most likely have sung old hymns such as ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’, ’Fight the good fight’, ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord’, and John Bunyan’s famous hymn which contains the wonderful lines ‘Hobgoblin nor foul fiend shall daunt his spirit.’

The passage about the armour summarises so much St Paul is saying and includes a warning – ‘Watch out! Be careful!’

A weekly family feast

Donald told us a story about a man who stopped going to church, because he thought the sermons said the same thing each week.

He found a new freedom to go out on the hills to enjoy open air and exercise, and he wrote to the local paper about this sense of liberation.

Over the weeks which followed, there were various responses – some supporting him, others, from folk in his church, saying ‘We miss you! Please come back!’

And then someone wrote a letter which brought the correspondence to a close. Every Sunday, he said, he had a meal at home with his wife. The menu might always be similar – in fact he couldn’t remember from one week to the next what he’d eaten the previous Sunday.  But he had been fed, that he was sure of. His body had been sustained, and he had spent time with his wife.

We need to go to church. We need to be reminded that through faith, we are one body, one community. We need regular reminders of this, and attending church is one of these reminders.

God’s provision to keep us strong

God sticks by us both in our joy and in our pain, Donald said.  He mentioned our personal struggled with temptation, doubt and anxiety, and reminded us of war, misery and anguish in the wider world, of nations and organisations with power and control as their aim.

The armour of God, Donald said, describes God’s provision to keep us strong. We have, for example, ‘the shield of faith’ (v6) at a time when the future is uncertain; we have ‘the belt of truth’ (v14) at a time of deception and ‘fake news’ and pressure groups – the grace of God provides a helmet (v17) to prevent us being deceived.

And there is need for prayer (v18-20) which helps us to be faithful, and follow God in unity and love.

Moses was tempted; Jesus was tempted; we too will know temptation. But Jesus told his disciple Peter (Luke 22:31-2) ‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.’

Protecting our vulnerabilities

Donald reminded us of the story of Achilles from Greek Mythology. His mother, fearing that he was vulnerable, took him as a child and dipped him in the magical waters of the River Styx. All his body was immersed except the small part of his heel where she was holding him.

Achilles grew up and seemed invincible in battle. But then, one day, a poison arrow pierced his unprotected heel, and he died.

We all have our ‘Achilles heel’, our vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

God says to us in all our weakness. ‘Don’t worry! I have plans which I will share with you. Cover yourself with good things; cover yourselves with everything I have done for you. Be strong! Put on the armour!’

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