To steal a cliché from the world of sport, it’s a game of two halves, you know. Well, we are now half way through our series thinking about the armour of God. We’ve got our belt of truth, holding everything together. We’ve got our breastplate of righteousness, protecting our hearts. We’ve got our sandals on, ready to go and share the good news of Jesus with those around us. This morning it is time for us to pick up our shield of faith.
When I first moved into our house in Etruria I was quite excited about the fact that there is a proper workbench in the garage. I had various plans for things it could be useful for. One of my plans was to make myself a replica Roman shield. During my last few months at college the idea of the shield of faith was one that was quite important to me, and I wanted to make a physical shield as a symbol of the shield of faith that I have to choose to take up and defend myself with. I’m a little sad to say that my plans for this didn’t come together, I didn’t take the time to do it. So, I don’t have a full on replica of a Roman war shield as a visual aid today. I do, however, have this great example made at Messy Church a few weeks ago. Bobby is now fully kitted out in the armour of God, with a magnificent shield of faith.
Now we need to follow suit and check that we have ours strapped in place, ready to protect us. So, let us start with the basics. What is faith?
Faith is a short word which means a lot. We do not have time this morning to go into all the different aspects of what faith means. For what we are thinking about this morning, there is one summary of it that I would like us to concentrate on. It is found in the letter to the Hebrews, at the beginning of chapter 11.
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Now just reading that, there is nothing particularly Christian about it. Indeed, faith is not something that Christians can claim a monopoly on. People have faith in all kinds of things. Some people have faith in the lottery, they are sure that their numbers are going to come up one day. Some people have faith in their dead relatives, certain that they are watching over them, despite not being able to see them. Some people have faith in money. They are sure that if they get enough money together than that will make them happy and secure in the long run.
It seems to me, then, that faith is only as good as the object of the faith. Faith in something that is not going to deliver is not good for us, in fact it is dangerous. When I am driving my car I have faith that the brakes are going to work. I hope that I’ll be able to stop when I need to, and I’m sure that hope will be fulfilled. Even though I can’t see the brakes, or any of the mechanism, I’m certain that when I hit the pedal I will stop. I have faith in the brakes on my car. But what if that faith is misplaced? What if the brake pads have worn down, or there’s a leak in the brake fluid. My faith would be misplaced and I would crash. Faith is only as secure as the object of faith, the thing or person you have faith in.
The writer to the letter to the Hebrews knows this. Having written that little one line summary, he goes on to give a series of examples of people who had life giving faith. He retells the stories of a whole string of heroes from the history of the people of God, people who had faith. What was distinctive about these people is that they trusted God’s promises to them. They did what God told them to do. They ignored the received wisdom, the world’s way of doing things, and did things differently because they believed that God is there. They had faith in God. They were sure that what they hoped for, the things God had promised, would come about. They were certain that God is present, even though they couldn’t see God.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to follow the examples of these heroes of faith. Our faith is in the God who creates us, who rescues us from the darkness of sin and death, who gives us life, who loves us, who promises us a future full of light and love. We hope for these things and are sure that they are ours. Even though we can’t see them all, and sometimes it seems like they are far away, we are certain that they are there.
Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
It is one of the saddest lines in the Bible. In the middle of Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the seeds he says, “Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. “
They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.
They have faith for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.
We are under attack. We will hit rocky patches. There will be times of testing. What will stop us from falling away? A shield of faith will stop us falling away.
So, how do we use this shield of faith?
In a letter written by one of the early church leaders, James, we read this: “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
This suggests to me that faith isn’t just about what goes on inside us, in our minds and our hearts, but has to have make some difference to what goes on outside us. It has to make a difference to what we do and to what we say. This is also seen in the stories of the heroes of faith in Hebrews. Their faith was visible to the world in the difference it made to what they did.
I said earlier that I don’t have a physical shield to show you because I didn’t take the time to make it. Now I might be a bit disappointed about that, but it won’t lead to me coming to harm. I don’t need a replica Roman shield to defend me. I do, however, need a shield of faith. If I had been as negligent about working on my shield of faith as I have been on my visual aid then I would be in serious trouble.
To work on our shield of faith one important thing that we need to do is to learn. However long we have been a Christian, there is always more to learn about our faith. We can learn more about what and who we have faith in. We need to spend time studying God’s word, and in God’s presence learning about our faith and how it fits together. Then when people ask us difficult questions about our beliefs we will not be shaken, but will be able to answer with confidence. Even when that answer is, “I don’t understand fully myself, but this is the way that I see it.”
A second important thing for us to do is to take a leap. I’m not very good at heights. But, I do love the sensation of cliff jumping, that is leaping off a cliff into water. I won’t claim to have done this from particularly high, but high enough that it took me some moments to decide that I was going to leap. I knew that I trusted the guides who told me that the water was safe to leap into. So, I had to decide to exercise my faith in them and leap. A leap of faith is not irrational or illogical, we take them often. However, they do often require courage. In order for our faith in God to grow and protect us we have to leap with it. We need to do things that are only safe if God is there. We pray for healing, we trust God with our money, with our families, with our lives. We do things God’s way, not the world’s way. We leap in faith.
The third thing we need to do is to lean. We need to lean on each other. We don’t need to learn on our own, we can learn with others: on Sunday’s, at a Bishop’s Certificate Course, at a Start Course, in a Bible study small group. We don’t have to leap on our own, we leap with others. We pray with others for others. We share our worries and concerns and encourage each other to live courageously. Sometimes, when we feel that we have no faith and God’s not there, we can gather with others and survive under the protection of their faith. I believe that shields of faith are most effective when we link them together and lean on each other.
Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Faith in God and God’s promises will protect us from the attacks of evil, hate, and doubt on our lives. For that protection to be strong, then we need to grow our faith by learning, by leaping, and by leaning. Then, together, not only will we be able to resist the attacks on us but will be equipped to turn the tables and claim new ground in the name of Jesus, our Lord and captain.