Spiritual Warfare: The Armor of God: Shield of Faith Hebrews 11:1-3

We are under attack.  We are at war. We’ve been considering this since the start of January.  Our war is unlike that of Captain America and the Avengers.  While their battles were against the likes of folks we have never seen—aliens, Hydra agents, and brainwashed drones, our battles are not against any creature, or person, of flesh and blood, we are engaged in Spiritual Warfare.  We are in battle with the forces of evil—in a war that has become more and more visible over the last several years.  However, it is not a war with guns, tanks, bombs, or even repulsor beams, mystic hammers, daggers, arrows, or Vibranium shields.  We are fighting against hatred, fear, distrust, bigotry, deception, and lies.  And while we are fighting against those weapons, those are not the tools that we are to use, those weapons belong to the enemy, and the enemy alone.  We are called to fight not with the weapons of the world, not with the weapons of the enemy, but we are to be solely equipped from the armory of God.  That’s why, over the last several weeks, we have been examining each piece of the Armor of God with which we are called to equip ourselves.
There is the Belt of Truth, realizing that the only standard of truth is Jesus.  As we fasten the Belt of Truth about ourselves, we are called to remember to wrap Christ completely around ourselves—so that all that we say, all that we do, and all that we even think is reflective of Jesus’s presence in our lives.  It means we ensure that every action and every decision is governed by our Lord and Savior.
There is the Breastplate of Righteousness.  Covering both our heart and lungs it reminds us that any righteousness we possess comes from God and God alone—through the outpouring of the blood of Christ, causing us to be seen as righteous in the eyes of God and through the infilling of the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, as we surrender our lives over to God, actually transforming us into more righteous children of God.  As the breastplate bears the crest of the king, when we wear the Breastplate of Righteousness, we are giving advance notice to folks that as we arrive, we are about the work of our King.  That work is the work of righteous justice—God’s efforts to make things right and set them in line with His original creation—perfect harmony with Him and with one another.
Last time we reflected on the Armor of God, we considered footwear, as Paul called us to put on our feet whatever would make us ready to proclaim the Gospel of Peace.  As our chancel area was filled with a variety of shoes, we recognized that there are many different ways that we might proclaim the Gospel of Peace—through spoken word, through music, through dance, through works of justice, through acts of compassion, through the ministry of presence….  We also acknowledged that the Gospel of Peace is many things, but above all else, it is the Peace that Jesus brings—Peace between us and God, Peace between each other, the call to be Peacemakers, and the ability to find Peace in the midst of the storm.
Today, if you haven’t already figured it out, we have come to talk about a shield.  Not Captain America’s shield, though, but God’s shield, stronger and more solid than even a shield made out of rare Vibranium.  Paul puts it this way, “With all of these (the belt, the breastplate, and the footwear), take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
Make no mistake, the enemy is going to attack. The enemy is going to hurl everything it can at the children of God.  It knows it has lost the war, but battle for battle, the enemy is going to try and take down as many of God’s faithful as it can.  Evil knows that it cannot destroy the people of God on its own, as long as they are loyal to their Creator, Savior, and Sustainer.  However, the enemy will attempt to make the faithful become faithless through fear.

Biblical scholar Edward Murphy points to the threat of the flaming arrows.  Historically, he says, some archers in battle would coat the tip of their arrows with tar or pitch, light them, and then launch them.  These arrows would sail through the air and if they missed the soldier, they would surely hit the shield.  While not damaging the shields, the tar or pitch would spread out on the shield causing it to flame brilliantly, often causing the soldier holding the shield to drop it and run in fear, opening themselves up to other forms of attack.[1]  If they had just stayed behind their shield, as scary as it might have been, many would have remained safe.
What kind of flaming arrows are does the enemy launch at us?  A cancer diagnosis…a job layoff…the loss of someone we love dearly…an empty bank account and an unexpected bill…a broken relationship…the betrayal of a friend…a failed attempt to overcome an addiction or giving in to temptation…one more wave of depression…judgmental condemnation…feelings of doubt about the reality of the grace of God in our lives or that we’ve truly been forgiven…

So faced with these flaming arrows, Paul tells us to take up the Shield of Faith.  Here’s a difference between Cap’s shield and the shield that the folks of Paul’s time would have carried.  With Cap’s round shield there is a lot of body unprotected.  The soldiers of Paul’s time carried shields that were a good bit bulkier.  Their shields were about 4 foot in height and plenty wide enough for a soldier to completely crouch behind and find themselves protected from any flaming arrows or any other attack being hurled at them.
That’s why Paul ties the images of faith with a shield.  It is faith that keeps us completely protected regardless of what arrows or attacks the enemy fires at us and quenches the fear that we will be overtaken.  What faith is that?  It is the faith that nothing that comes against us…medical diagnosis, employment problems, financial troubles, betrayals, or even death can separate us from the love of God found in Christ Jesus our Lord.  It is the faith that in the midst of one wave of depression after another, in the face of one storm after another, that our future is not one of darkness, but one of our wellbeing and hope…it is a future in which we have the faith that God will take all things and bring them to blessing.  It is a faith that in Christ we have received forgiveness and we no longer stand condemned…that Christ has done all the work needed for our forgiveness and that there is no sin that is beyond His redemption.  It is a faith that God’s Spirit is still being poured out upon us, giving us the strength we need to overcome any addiction and any temptation, that there is no temptation that God will allow us to face that He will not also provide the way out that we may endure and remain faithful.  It is a faith that every promise of God is true, and among those promises is found the promise that we will never be left alone.  With this kind of faith, there is no attack that can come against us that cannot be endured and survived.
The shields of both Captain America and the soldiers remind us of yet one more consideration that ties to the Shield of Faith…and to the promise that we will never be left alone.  That is, that we are stronger together and not meant to go into battle alone.  Remember the scenes from the shield montage?  Among them were the combination of powers with Cap’s shield—the idea that teammates accomplished together what they could not have done alone…Iron Man’s repulsor beam deflected at angles off the shield, the combination of Cap’s shield and the physical maneuvering of Black Widow launching her into the air, and a shockwave of wind and power from Thor’s hammer striking the shield.  Similarly, the shields that Paul would have had in mind, those of the soldiers of his day, were built with their handles offset to one side.  The reason for this was to enable the soldiers as they took their defensive stand to set their shield up against and joined with the shield of his fellow soldier, and as one joined to the next, a defensive wall formed, protecting not only each solider, but forming a stronger barrier that would protect all.
As we fight this war, my brothers and sisters, we are not meant to fight it alone.  We each put on the armor and we each carry a Shield of Faith.  We are called to join together, to let our faith interlock with the faith of our brothers and sisters in Christ, that together we form a barrier of faith in which we are able to support and hold one another, forming a barrier that no flaming arrow can penetrate, a barrier that allows our brothers and sisters to help us stand firm behind our faith when the flames make us want to run.  We stand together, arm in arm, hand in hand, our faith joined and interlocked with one another, as the Body of Christ, claiming the victory that has already been won.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen.

[1] Murphy, Edward F., Handbook for Spiritual Warfare, Revised. “A Look at Each Piece of the Armor.”

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