Spiritual Warfare: Armor of God: Breastplate of Righteousness - 2nd Corinthians 5:16-21

(Note this is one of those weeks where the actual sermon delivery varied a good bit from the manuscript here (towards the end of the message). However, for thsoe who were missing this week, this will keep you on track with the series.)

When we think of places like Charlottesville, Las Vegas, and Sutherland Springs, we realize we are in a war zone. Moving outside the United States, to places like Istanbul,  London, Bagdad, Stockholm, and Paris, we still find we are in the midst of war.  The thing is, the war is not between ISIS and the world.  The war is not between white supremacists and people of color.  The war is not between liberals and conservatives.  The war is not between democrats and republicans.  The war is one that has been going on since the Garden of Eden…a war that was won on a hill called Calvary…a war, though, in which the enemy, not accepting defeat, refuses to go out quietly and volleys attacks not only in Charlottesville, Sutherland Springs, London, and Paris, but also in Washington, Raleigh, Beaufort, and even Harkers Island…in lawmaking sessions, in courtrooms, in shopping centers, in libraries, in hospitals, in nursing homes, in family homes, individual lives, and even the church…wherever the God-given breath of life flows, the battles rage on.  This is a war in which “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness…a war against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  We, are, my brothers and sisters, as we have been discussing for a couple of weeks so far, in the midst of Spiritual Warfare…a war where the arsenal is not made up of Colts or Glocks, a sniper’s rifle or a suicide vest, or any other mad-made weapon.  The weapons the enemy has pulled out and firing with Gatling gun rapidity are hate, fear, deception, distrust, bitterness, vengeance, animosity, and arrogance.
My brothers and sisters, as I mentioned the last two weeks, those weapons of the enemy are not weapons that the people of God should take up and use.  When we do, we are no longer fighting for God, we are fighting alongside the enemy we are trying to overcome, we have switched sides.  Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, makes it very clear what weapons are suitable for the people of God to take up—they are the weapons that make up the whole armor of God.
We began our examination of the God-designed war arsenal as we considered the Belt of Truth.  The Belt of Truth reminds us that we are called to wrap ourselves in truth.  What truth?  The One who is Truth.  Jesus.  We are to ensure before anything else that as we prepare for battle that we have surrounded ourselves with Christ.  Wrapping ourselves in Christ means that how we act, how we talk, how we even think is governed by nothing other than Christ.  It means that when we interact with anyone, we will ensure that they know they have encountered someone who has committed to becoming Christlike.  It means that when we come upon a situation where we are unsure how to respond, that we stop and ask how Jesus would respond, and then act in that way.
Today, we come to the Breastplate of Righteousness.  Just as in a suit of armor the belt plays a vital role in preventing the soldier from being gutted, the breastplate plays a key and vital role.  It is the piece of armor that is worn to protect the essential organs that keep life going—the heart and the lungs, which supply the rest of our body with both blood and oxygen.  Moving from the physical world to that of our Spiritual Warfare, we recognize that this connects to the life-redeeming blood of Jesus which has cleansed us and protects us from the power of sin and the life-giving and sustaining breath of God—God’s very spirit dwelling within us.
What is the significance of the Breastplate of Righteousness?  For years the word, “righteousness” only had one meaning for me.  I pretty much equated it with the act of being right in the eyes of God and that because of our sin, we could never be seen as righteous before God on our own.  The only way to be seen as righteous in the eyes of God, because we are sinners, is through the blood of Christ.  Christ died in our place for our sins so that when God looks upon us, he sees not our sin, not our filth, but He sees the blood of Christ covering us.  Through Christ’s sacrifice we are seen as righteous in the eyes of God.
Yet because of God’s great love for us that accepts us in the midst of our sin, and sees us as righteous because of His own actions, he refuses to leave us as “righteous covered-sin filled creatures.”  God pours his life-giving Spirit out upon us and breathes new life into us.  God begins recreating us and making us holy…so that we are not only seen as righteous, but that God is actually making us into His truly righteous children—the Breastplate of Righteousness— heart and lungs, blood and breath—God’s work restoring us into a right relationship with Him.
Like I said, for years, this is where my understanding of righteousness ended.  God’s work on each of us individually—making us right in His eyes.  Yet, not too many years ago, while reading some of the works of British scholar, theologian, and a retired priest and bishop of the Anglican Church (one of the predecessors of the Methodist movement), N. T. Wright, my eyes were opened to the fact that biblical word for righteousness means much more than simply God’s saving and transforming works in our lives.  The root word for righteousness in Greek is the same root word for the Greek word for justice —so that when we think of justice, we are led to think of righteousness and when we think of righteousness, we are called to think in terms of God’s justice.  Righteousness then becomes God’s work of justice in the world—it becomes God’s work of taking a broken, fallen, sin-filled world and making it right again.  It is God working to restore Creation to where He intended it to go from the very beginning—it is the transformation of this world as we know it—where the old dissolves away and the new springs forth as we move closer to that day when God’s acts of restoration are complete with heaven and earth coming together into the new Jerusalem and God fully dwelling amongst us.  It is about God building His Kingdom here.
What does this understanding of righteousness and justice have to do with our discussion of Spiritual Warfare and the Armor of God?  It has everything to do with it.  One of the things that I noticed as I was looking for a “breastplate image” to use for our slides are the insignia on the breastplate—the insignia often being the coat of arms or other symbol representative of the king under which the soldier operated.  That way if someone saw the soldier coming, they would know that whatever he was doing, he was about the work of the king.
As we put on the Breastplate of Righteousness, we are to remember that we are to be about the work of bringing the righteous justice of God into the world.  We are to be looking at where there are places of injustice and working as agents of our King to make things right.  We are to be agents of hope in the world as builders of God’s Kingdom here on earth.
It is important, though, as those wearing the Breastplate of Righteousness, as those who have been redeemed through the blood of Christ and recreated into a new life with His very breath, that we remember our bears the crest of our King and that we are to be about that work in the way that He would, not in the ways of the world.
The world’s idea of justice is about payback, about getting even, it is often about vigilante justice.  The world’s idea of justice is you attack my people, I attack your people…you bomb me, I bomb you…you shoot me, I shoot you.  It is about taking “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” as a commandment, rather than understanding it as a limit.
As we put on this Breastplate, we have to remember our King said forget about “eye for an eye” thinking and be determined to “turn the other cheek.”  It is remembering that our King, the One’s whose insignia we are to bear, told Peter that those who live by the sword will die by the sword—because violence, whether it be that of swords, guns, or bombs, only brings more violence and the only way to bring it to a stop is to refuse to pick up the weapons of the world and put on the Armor of God.
God’s righteous, Kingdom-Building justice is marked by mercy and grace.  It Jesus telling the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give it to those who had nothing.  It is Jesus touching and befriending those who had been cast of their community because of illness or sin.  It is about Jesus freeing those controlled by demons.  It is about Jesus feeding those who were hungry.  It is about Jesus gathering around him friends across the educational and socio-economic spectrum.  It is about Jesus refusing to favor Jew over Samaritan.  It is about Jesus acknowledging the gift of the widow was of more value that the wealthy.  It is about Jesus sending women out as evangelists.  It is about Jesus gathering children to him.  It is about Jesus forgiving sins.  It is about Jesus stopping the stoning of the adulterous woman.  It is about Jesus turning to the violent thief on the cross and rather than saying, “you deserve this,” responds by telling the thief that today he will be received into the Kingdom.
That is the kind of breastplate wearing-Kingdom building-Christ bearing-righteous justice that we are to take into this war.  It means that true righteousness in the midst of the racial tension in our nation is not found with raised fists or raised flags, but clasping the hands of our neighbors across ethnic lines, stand beside or even in front of any who are being oppressed or attacked, and refusing to label anyone as “those” people as “them”.  It means that true righteousness is about refusing to condemn even those whose behavior we find unacceptable, but instead call them to the redeemed and new life that Christ offered us in the midst of our sins.  It means seeing those who are without—whether it be without resources, without food, without healthcare, without opportunities, without love—and doing everything within our ability to ensure that they have or gain access to them on an equal field with everyone else.  Wearing the Breastplate of Righteousness, being not only seen as righteous, but being made righteous, being recipients of underserved love, mercy, and grace, means that we bear that same love, mercy, and grace to all in the world as those God is using to build His Kingdom here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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