The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
August 22, 2021
13th Sunday after Pentecost
GREETING AND HYMN OF PREPARATION No. 2 Come Thou Almighty King
PRAYER OF PREPARATION Dag Hammarskjold
Great and good God, give us pure hearts that we may see you, humble hearts that we may hear you, hearts of love that we may serve you, hearts of faith that we may live in you, reverent hearts that we may worship you, here and in the world out there, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
PRELUDE Bring Your Thanks to God Paul Taylor
CALL TO WORSHIP from Hymn 846
Run the straight race through God’s good grace; lift up thine eyes and seek Christ’s face.
Life with its way before us lies; Christ is the path and Christ the prize
Cast care aside; lean on thy guide. God’s boundless mercy will provide.
Trust, and thy trusting soul shall prove Christ is its life, and Christ its love
Come let us worship the Lord.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
Remember that our Lord Jesus can sympathize with us in our weakness, since in every respect He was tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with boldness approach the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Let us confess our sins against God
and our neighbor,
CONFESSION OF SIN
Eternal God, in whom we live and move and have our being, whose face is hidden from us by our sins, and whose mercy we forget in the blindness of our hearts. Cleanse us from all our offenses, and deliver us from proud thoughts and vain desires, that with reverent and humble hearts we may draw near to you, confessing our faults, confiding in your grace, and finding in you our refuge and strength, through Jesus Christ your son.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Hear the good news! The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might be dead to sin, and alive to all that is good. I declare to you in the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven
ANTHEM I Will Listen Twyla Paris
Wendy Hill, Soloist
CHILDREN’S MESSAGE MaryLynne Diehlman
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
God, our helper, by your Holy Spirit, open our minds, that as the scripture is read and your word is proclaimed, we may be led into your truth and taught your will, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.
SCRIPTURE READING Ephesian 6:10-20
SERMON The Armor of God
Growing up as a young boy in Pitman, going to church and or Sunday school was certainly accepted as the norm. And while Pitman was founded with a strong connection to the Methodist denomination, there was no shortage of other houses of worship to choose from. Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Church of Christian Science, non-denominational Protestant and the Church of the Nazarene. I do not believe that we had a synagogue – Woodbury was the closest one.
During worship at the Pitman Methodist Episcopal church at the corner of Broadway and Holly, I usually enjoyed the weekly services and its structure; and I even sang in the junior choir and in high school in the intermediate choir – who would have thought it, my voice to God’s ears.
While we sang a number of songs and hymns, my recollection, which is subject to scrutiny, is that there were 3 hymns that almost always seemed to be on the hymn board in the front of the church. A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, In The Garden, and Onward Christian Soldiers.
A Mighty Fortress is of course the work of Martin Luther who defied Pope Leo X, posting his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, fostering what would become the protestant reformation. In The Garden was penned by a Pitman resident at the time, C Austin Miles, who is buried in
Hillcrest Cemetery, ironically right behind the graves of my parents – so there is that local boy makes good connection.
Then there is Onward Christian Soldiers – it just seemed to make people stand up and sing a little louder. It was a good one to end the service on, especially after Pastor Guice had at times lulled us into contemplation, about to become lethargy, after a 35-minute sermon. This hymn was one to
march out of the church to, and to march into the coming week, ready to do God’s work. Even we, as children could identify with this, we were being called to be soldiers marching as to war. In the early to mid-1950’s soldiers were very popular; especially as toys. Even though, sadly the Korean was almost literally forgotten, and if not forgotten it was cast aside into a lower tier of interest; for we still were totally intrigued by the soldiers and sailors and pilots of World War II. My toy soldier collection was equal to my collection of baseball cards. We watched movies about war, read comics about war. We played games. When we got tired of cowboys and Indians, it was us versus the Germans or, the Japs some fifteen years later. I along with so many of my high school friends became soldiers. I was proud to serve. I understand the need for soldiers, but as always, there is such a price; 10% of my friends in the class of 64 would not be there for our 10th reunion.
So being a soldier was again something young boys aspired to; that would change in just a little more than a decade.
So back to this hymn that has been so popular for years. What is its story? Well, it was an English hymn, written in the 19th century. The lyrics were penned by Sabine Baring Gould in 1865. The music was composed by Arthur Sullivan in 1871, who actually named the tune Gertrude, after the wife of his friend whose country home was the setting for the composition of the song. You may want to note that this Sullivan was part of the well-known composing team of Gilbert And Sullivan.
The lyrics were written as a processional hymn for children walking from Horbury Bridge to Horbury St. Peters Church near Wakefield, Yorkshire. And, it was originally called The Hymn For Procession With Cross And Banner. Not nearly as catchy, as what we now know it to be. Gould later allowed hymn book composers to alter the lyrics and it was even picked up by the Salvation Army almost as one of its standard-bearers.
The Edison records catalog called Onward Christian Soldiers a rousing hymn of Christian warfare. As Hamlet stated in his famous, to be or not to be soliloquy, ah, there’s the rub.
The scriptural context generally attributed to this song is 2nd Timothy 2: “join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus”. It is a natural thing for anyone to use examples to illustrate or teach others; examples that they could easily identify with. Jesus did this all the time in his sermons and teachings and we do have to consider always the cultural context. People understand armies, certainly, the Jews and Gentiles of that time did, for they had their own armies and battles and they were more than somewhat familiar with the power and the imposition of the Roman army – perceived as their enemy, their captor, their enslaver, their persecutor, and they knew they had to defend themselves, their families and their homes against them.
It was probably not much of a stretch for them to compare this to the ultimate battle of good versus evil… Verse 2 says, “put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”. The commentary in my Bible says this, in the Christian life we battle against rulers and authorities, the powerful forces of fallen angels headed by Satan. To withstand their attacks, we must depend on God’s strength and use every piece of his armor.
Paul, in writing this, probably having been imprisoned and close to so many Roman soldiers no doubt formed a picture in his mind about the armor of that Roman soldier and what it could come to mean in Christian terms.
The belt, which allowed the soldier’s sword to swing freely giving him freedom of movement. The Christian moves freely because we are bound by the truth.
The Roman soldier’s breastplate was to protect the chest and the heart. The Christian has a breastplate of righteousness. When clothed in righteousness, we become impregnable. Words are no defense against accusations, but a good life is. You know, once a man accused Plato of certain crimes. Well then, said Plato, we must live in such a way as to prove that his accusations are a lie. The only way for us to meet the accusations against Christianity and our faith is to show how good a Christian can be. They will know we are Christians by our love.
Then there are the sandals. These were the sign of one equipped and ready to move. The sign of a Christian is that we are eager to be on our way to share the gospel with others.
The sword, the ultimate offensive weapon for the Roman soldier. Our sword, our ultimate weapon is the word of God.
Paul then goes on to point out an ultimate weapon, prayer. Prayer brings us peace. Prayer brings us direction. Prayer brings us purpose. Prayer brings us into a closer relationship with Christ.
Christian soldiers, despite the almost poetic comparisons of the words of the apostle Paul and the purpose of Christianity as described in the armor of God in Ephesians. Christian soldiers would become almost as dangerous a threat to the peace of the world as the Romans. For the crusades were hardly a shining moment, a moment that lasted two centuries from 1095 to 1291. A series of religious wars, often initiated and supported by the church in Rome with the objective of recovering holy lands from Islamic rule. There were 9 official crusades with an estimated death toll of some 3 million people.
It is one thing to make comparisons, but we must be careful. It is too easy to stray from what the real objective should be. Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war. Okay, we get some of it. We are always in a struggle or battle against evil and sin and we need to find the strength to deal with this. Isn’t there a better way than calling it a war? People know what war is. You can’t escape it in the news. There has to be a better way to say this, a better way to get this across. Paul, do you hear me, does this make any sense? Can you give me a little help here, a hint?
And Paul said, you know what, yes, I can. In fact I did. Turn to Colossians chapter 3. Now read it.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put
on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all the wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word and deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
In our faith, we are not called to be soldiers, we are called to be disciples. So do we really need armor, or simply kindness, compassion, humility, gentleness, patience, and love. The clothing of God.
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
We believe there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; for we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose. We are convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
PASTORAL PRAYER AND THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom
and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
PRESENTATION OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS.
RESPONSE No. 609 Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow