Ephesians 6:10-17 (NRSV)

Freedoms and the 4 “E” words

In many churches there are two flags….an American flag and a Christian flag.  These flags represent two types of freedoms.  The American flag represents the freedom that allows us to go where we want to go, say what we want to say, live where we want to live, and dream big dreams and pursue those dreams.  The Christian flag represents even greater freedom.  This flag represents freedoms that can only be found in Christ, who died as a ransom that set us free.  He set us free from sin, hate, and bitterness.  He set us free to love God and to love our neighbor.  Veterans throughout the centuries sacrificed lives to preserve all of these freedoms.

Someone once wrote:

It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us the freedom of religion.There are certain requirements that need to be met before serving the American flag and the Christian flag.  There are requirements to become a military veteran and a spiritual veteran.

Think about the Apostle Paul.  He was a real Christian veteran if there ever was one.  He endured all kinds of dangers and beatings and rejections after enlisting in the Lord’s army and encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus.  During his last hours in a Roman prison, Paul wrote to Timothy: “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.  No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.”  There are four words that Paul used to describe different aspects of what it takes to become a veteran of Christ.  These also may relate to becoming a veteran of the military.

The first word is “enlist”.  You can’t become  a veteran if you don’t enlist.  There is no longer the draft in our country, forcing men and women into the military.  They have the choice whether to enlist or not.  Once enlisted they have other choices they can make.  My brother-in-law, Ray Vercoe, was already enlisted in the Navy, serving as a Seabee.  His unit was called up to go to Viet Nam.  Ray found out that if you were an only child, you didn’t have to go to war zones.  He asked his officer about that and was told that was true so Ray said he would not go.  He went back to his barracks and gave it a lot of thought and prayer and he made the decision that he would go and serve his country that had given him so much.  When I hear this story, I think of the disciples who enlisted to follow Jesus….a dangerous thing to do back then.  They left everything…homes, families, jobs.  These were life-changing decisions for my brother-in-law and for the disciples.

No one today is forced to go into military service and no one is forced to follow Jesus Christ.  They are both life changing events.

The second word that Paul used that is necessary to become a veteran of Christ and the military is “endure”.

American soldiers endure grueling physical punishment in basic training.  They endure horrendous conditions in places like Viet Nam, Iraq, Syria, Pakstan.  My brother-in-law tells of a building not far down the road from where his barracks were that was being bombed.  Those bombs going off over and over and over.  He tells about not knowing who was friend or foe.  Soldiers endure long periods of time being away from their families and not seeing their children growing up.

Paul also wrote to Timothy: “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”  Paul endured flogging, stoning, and was shipwrecked.

Here as American Christians our faith is constantly being tested.  Shootings, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes.  These and other troubles come our way.  Our faith is tested and as a soldier of Christ we must endure the hardships.  We have to keep the faith and praise God even in the midst of our struggles.

So we enlist, we endure, and we engage.

General Sherman once said, “You don’t know the horrible aspects of war.  I’ve been through two wars, you know.  I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes.  I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies.  I tell you, war is hell!

We need to have respect for all those who have engaged in war and at the same time we also respect those who served at other duties while in the military.  Those who keep equipment in working order, those who do the myriads of paperwork required, those who guard military bases.  All of these people have to be combat ready and can be called up at any moment.

As Christians we need to do the same.  Paul says in 2Corinthians 10:4-5, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  In other words, as soldiers of Christ we need to be prepared for Spiritual Battle.  We battle temptation.  We can’t be afraid to stand up for Jesus in public and in our personal relationships.  We are called to surrender ourselves to Christ and at the same time lead others to do the same with gentleness and respect.  As Scot Bayles wrote, “See in the Lord’s army, we don’t kill our enemies: rather, we make them our allies.

In the military, soldiers are not alone.  They have their squad, or platoon or company.  As Christians we are not alone.  We have our church family and best of all we have God on our side.

David Dykes tells a story of a soldier during WWII.  Soldiers were often given Bibles before going into battle.  A veteran showed David his Bible which had been hit by a German bullet.  The bullet passed through the Bible and stopped at Psalm 91:11 which says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”  Amazing, isn’t it?  We are not alone.  We are engaged.

Now we have enlist, endure, engage, and finally entangled.  Do not get entangled.

Paul said, “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the concerns of civilian life.”  There is a story about a new recruit, shortly after joining the Navy, who asked his officer for a pass so he could attend a wedding.  The officer gave him the pass, but informed the young man that he would have to be back by 7:00pm Sunday.
“You don’t understand sir, said the recruit.  I’m in the wedding.  “No you don’t understand”, the officer shot back, “you are in the navy.  When you serve this American flag, you are expected to be completely committed to your country and to allow nothing to prevent you from performing your duties and serving faithfully.

When you serve the Christian flag you are expected to be completely committed to Christ.  You are expected to serve him faithfully.

As Christians we all let worldly things come between us and our relationship with Jesus.  We need to constantly be on guard for those things that will entangle us and lead us away from God and Jesus.

As we read in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Thank  you to all the veterans who have served to preserve our freedoms, which allow us to freely worship our creator who gives us the greatest freedom of all.

Amen.

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