Strapping on Our Armour

armourFood for thought from Andrew Parry, our Associate Minister

There are many proverbs in the Bible. One of my favourites is “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed” Proverbs 19:17. What a superb reason to be a generous giver!

Some proverbs are well hidden – not all are found in the book helpfully called “Proverbs”. One of the little gems hidden deep inside the Old Testament, in a place one is unlikely to search (not quite as unlikely as the Book of Numbers, which is largely about, well, numbers) is this one:

“One who puts on his armour should not boast like one who takes it off.”            1 Kings 20:11.

It is so profound in its economical use of words and images. Surely, if you are going to boast, do it after you have returned from battle? When you take off your armour and see the dust, the dents, perhaps the gore. If ever one is to boast, it is after the deed has been accomplished. When you have something to boast about.

Why would someone boast before having proven anything? Out of swagger, bravado, fear? Perhaps all three. The closest I have come to battle was my time in the emergency services. When there was a callout to a fire or other incident, we could not be sure how big it was. And I remember me and others suddenly yawning our heads off; a way of the body releasing tension. When on the way to an emergency as a paramedic, the challenge was, if anything, more personal: would I know how to deal with whatever faced me? Would my knowledge and experience, our protocols and support, be sufficient for the task? No time to boast.

I think people boast while “strapping on armour”, because when one has put on the armour, or the uniform, or assumed the role, one appears to be the real thing. But it is when we have to do what’s required of the uniform, that the differences show. Can the soldier fight bravely; can the paramedic tend to the injured; can the parent step up to the challenge; does the Christian behave as a follower of Christ?

In all of these, there is a daily battle to be fought. We put on our armour not once, but every day. We become more and more proficient at strapping on our armour. It starts to feel more comfortable, we feel less and less like an impostor, we look back on times when our armour took a blow, there is a dent here, some rust there. But we do not stop. In daily life, in life as a Christian, we do not stop. It is part of who we are, it is part of what we do. We do not fight to become a soldier, a paramedic, a parent. We fight because we are those things. As a Christian, we do not fight to win salvation (what atrocities have been committed in pursuit of that error?) we fight because we have been granted salvation. Then (if you must) you can boast!

Contemplative, Compassionate, Creative

Perhaps many of us come to church each week, unaware that we are part of a bigger picture? The Church of England (just in the UK) has 16,000 churches and 42 cathedrals and all of these will have some form of service each Sunday. Imagine all those people joining together in prayer towards a common goal – it’s a powerful image!

In our little corner of England, Stoke Poges Parish is part of the Deanery of Burnham and Slough, in the Buckingham Area of the Diocese of Oxford, led by Bishop Steven Croft.

Bishop Steven has written a 3-part course, Exploring the Beatitudes, a three session course for small groups across the Diocese of Oxford. He says:

‘I’m hoping churches will use this specially written resource to help them study and understand the Beatitudes. For me the Beatitudes have eight beautiful qualities, but eight is quite a lot to remember so I’ve been keen to capture what they mean in three words: contemplative, compassionate and courageous. ‘I want people to be asking what do these words teach us and tell us about Jesus, what do they tell us about being human in the 21st century and what do they tell us about what kind of Church we’re called to be.’

It sounds like a tricky job, to develop study materials, relevant to this distracted and multi-tasking age, enabling small groups of us to lead ourselves in a deeper understanding of God’s word, so it’s great to have something designed especially for this corner of the world.

As well as TJ running this course with two groups over the last few weeks (plus or minus snow days!), each of our Life Groups have decided to take up this challenge this term. That means a good proportion of our congregations will have heard and discussed the same material – what will you make of it? Do send me your comments (to heather@stokepogeschurch.org) as the experience unfolds and I’ll collate them for a future post.

For more opportunities to join in small group studies, look out for our Lent course, to be advertised around the churches soon.

What are the Beatitudes? You’ll know them when you hear them… the blessings listed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Chapter 5: Verses 3–11.

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”