Ephesians 6:10-17, Lamentations 3:22-24
Rev. C. Dan Brand

Our search for Christian Spiritual Excellence continues as we focus on the equipment the Lord has given us to succeed in that quest—the armor of God.  We began with the Belt of Truth, Divine truth that God loves this world and sent Jesus to redeem it.  Then the Breastplate of Righteousness, God’s righteousness, the promise of a relationship with this world God loves that will never falter.  On to the Shoes of the Gospel of Peace, God’s peace, the peace that passes understanding, the peace that a child feels snuggled up to Mommy or Daddy in the midst of a midnight storm.

As we have been pointing out over these weeks, this armor of which Paul speaks is God’s armor, not ours.  If we rely on our truth to hold us together, we are often led down the primrose path—our truth is often relative.  If we trust our righteousness, scripture reminds us that it is worth nothing but filthy rags.  If we try to calm ourselves with out peace, there is no calm at all—things change too much and too quickly.

But this week we come to the Shield of Faith and suddenly confronted with a problem.  If this is God’s armor, what in the world is God’s faith?  That makes no sense at all.  Well, this is one of those rare times when I am very glad that I know how to do searches of words in the Greek dictionary.  In this case, the Greek clears up the problem.  The word we have translated as FAITH here is translated equally  as FAITHFULNESS.  Nowhere in the Scripture do we ever find reference to God’s FAITH, but those sacred pages have God’s FAITHFULNESS written large between every line.

It starts in the very beginning, the story of creation.  No matter how someone chooses to interpret those stories in the early chapters of Genesis, the message is that this world did not just happen.  There was a divine purpose behind it and a divine order to it.  One of America’s most famous inventors, Thomas Edison, once wrote, “No one can study chemistry and see the wonderful way in which certain elements combine with the nicety of the most delicate machine ever invented, and not come to the inevitable conclusion that there is a Big Engineer who is running this universe.”

Is that the faithfulness that Paul says will shield us from all the evil that would bring us down? Part of it, perhaps. But as Jesus said, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” The orderliness of creation is nothing more than evidence of the faithfulness of God.  But for believers, there is more.

To explain that, let us focus on two parables, one from the Old Testament, and one from the New Testament.  In the Old Testament, there is a remarkable story about the faithfulness of God in the little book of Hosea.  If you recall the details, the prophet Hosea was instructed to take himself a wife—not some sweet, young thing, but a prostitute named Gomer.  No doubt he started off with high hopes, but they were soon dashed, this leopard didn’t change her spots. She ran off. He went after her. He gave her presents. She ran off again. He went after her again.  She had three children, presumably not Hosea’s, but none of that mattered.  Hosea never gave up on her.  The message of the book is that God never gives up on the covenant people, no matter how low they go.  No matter how unfaithful we are, God will always be faithful.

The New Testament parable is the one, which has been called the greatest short story ever written the Prodigal son.  As you recall, the boy came to Daddy and asked for his portion of the inheritance.  Loving father that he was, and no doubt against his better judgement, he gave it to him, a major sacrifice in a day when the only security in old age was in the form of accumulated assets.  Well, the son took off, blew all the money in what the scripture calls “riotous living.”  He ended up so down and out that he was reduced to trying to survive by caring for pigs, about the most degrading thing a good Jewish boy who would have never eaten pork could have imagined.  Finally, as he sat in the slop of the pigsty, the Bible says, “he came to himself.” He woke up to the fact that life had not been so bad back home—even the servants lived far better than he was living. So he headed back home.

As you know, the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ story was welcomed back by his father.  There was a banquet.  The boy was given the honor of the best robe, a ring to signify a place of authority in the household, shoes to lift him from the status of a barefoot slave.  No, there was no poison this time, just more love that that boy would have ever imagined.   The point of the story was the same as that with Hosea and his wife: no matter how unfaithful we are, God is Always faithful, and God’s love for us never changes.  Lamentations sings it: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.” And as we sing this morning “Great is Thy faithfulness, Great is Thy faithfulness, Morning by Morning new mercies I see.”

There is a verse you probably learned in Sunday School that comes from I John: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is faithful to forgive and to forget.  This is the shield of Faithfulness that Paul says will protect us if excellence is what we want.  Our own faithfulness will not do it—it falters too often.  Even the best of us are forced to admit how often we fail.

There is a story of a man that died and arrived at the pearly gates and he was told by St. Peter in order to gain admittance to heaven, he would have to go up this flight of stairs. But, as he was handed a piece of chalk, he was told to write one sin from his life on each step as he moved higher. No problems, for a while, but then he stopped trying to think of more sins. As he stood there, he saw a person coming down the steps toward him. As he got closer, he recognized him as one of the preachers he knew back on earth. He asked him if he had been turned away from entering heaven. The preacher replied “Not at all, I am just coming down for some more chalk.” The point is that even the best of us will not make it without this shield of Faithfulness—God’s faithfulness.  God hangs in there with us, ready to restore the relationship broken by our own failing, even when, like the Prodigal Son, we hit rock bottom.

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  The great truth of the gospel is that, even though we are compelled to acknowledge our sins—guilt feelings are part and parcel of human nature—we are not condemned to bear them forever.  The faithfulness of God’s forgiveness is a shield against being beaten down into the moral mud of the pigsty of this world’s evil.  Best of all, that awful day at Calvary has freed us from our sins’ eternal consequence.

Yes, it is sometimes difficult to cope, to barely hang in there, and much less pursue any spiritual excellence.  Life sometimes seems as if it tumbles in around us—nothing is nailed down anymore.  Enemies become friends. Jobs change; homes change; truths change; people change.  Only God never changes, and that is the shield that protects us from everything—even ourselves.

Let us pray:

O God, we confess to our own faithfulness.  We do our level best to be servants, but fail more often than we care to admit.  We are grateful that you are faithful.  Help us to share that good news with a world that needs to hear.  In the name of Jesus.