“Marching as to War”

Rom. 8:12-17

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

100 years ago, Europe was in the midst of the Great War – the First World War. I myself never served in the armed forces. I can only imagine what it must be like to fight for one’s country in battle.

I can only imagine, for example, what my grandfather had to endure in the trenches of World War I. What it must have been like for him to receive his orders, and pack up his equipment, and clean his gun, and then crawl out of the trench and go forward to face the enemy.

One day, my grandfather climbed out of his trench and was hit by an early “chemical weapon” – called mustard gas. Though he survived the war and liv

Think of the fear the soldiers must have felt; the temptation to stay in the trench and not come out! Soldiers in battle would seem to have a personal understanding of St. Paul’s words when he described the new life Christians receive from God. He wrote: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”

By the grace of our “adoption” into the spiritual body of Christ, we become “heirs with Christ,” heirs to the promise of Heaven.

This spirit of adoption frees us. The Spirit frees us from “a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear” – or as an older translation puts it “a spirit of bondage to fear.”

 

Soldiers know all about fear. Yet good soldiers know something else; they know that if they are in bondage to fear, they will end up dead!

Of course, there are other sources of trauma in this life besides fighting in a war.

Anxiety can hover over any part of our lives. So is there anything we can do about this fear?

Well, Christians might put the question differently: Can we see what God has already done about our mortal bondage to fear?

Paul tells the Roman Christians: “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” We are “adopted” by God. This adoption leads us from fear to faith.

Isn’t it often said that “There are no atheists in foxholes”? No unbelievers in the trenches? In fact, there is more than an accidental connection between the dangerous occupation of military service and religion. Faith gives us a whole armory of “spiritual weapons” that we can use to combat fear.

So, as Paul says in another place, because Christ brings us to the love of God, we are saved from our anxiety. We are saved because in Paul’s words, “Perfect love casts out fear.”

The practical love of God counterbalances the real fears of human existence. God is love for us–the love of the Creator for his fragile creation, the love of the Redeemer for those who are enslaved by fear, and the love of the Holy Spirit for those who tremble from inner turmoil—the love of God casts out our fear.

 

We also see how faith gives us an armory of spiritual weapons in the popular hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers.” This hymn has sometimes been misunderstood; people have thought that it is “militaristic” even “pro-war.”

(A few years ago, liturgical scholars in the Methodist Church very nearly took “Onward Christian Soldiers” out of their hymnal—until thousands of lay people who loved the hymn protested and the hymn stayed in the book.)

Now, just as St. Paul uses the image of “slavery” to suggest how human beings might become completely caught up in fear, so this hymn proclaims that Christians march “as to” war.

“As to” war. We march under the banner of Christ because this life is a spiritual battlefield. Only Christ can keep us from being paralyzed by our worries.

Even if we don’t feel in our hearts anything like “perfect love;” even if our fear seems so well-entrenched that it couldn’t be cast out — even so, we march on. Christian soldiers. Marching as to war. Under Christ’s banner.

And, as we march on, we may find that prayer from our spiritual armory has a way of giving us hope. “Onward Christian Soldiers” makes the old images of war into new images of faith.

As Incarnation’s most famous neighboring clergyman once noted, there is “a power in positive thinking.” Norman Vincent Peale was right — there is power in hope.

Yet, our positive thinking doesn’t take place in a vacuum. We don’t just stumble forward, out of the trenches, leaning on what strength and courage we can come up with from our own resources.

We march as Christian soldiers, we march as to war, in a world created and redeemed and sanctified by God. A world which is certainly a battlefield—Christians would never pretend it isn’t.

But God helps us to see that our world, torn by strife, marked by the forces of darkness, isn’t a world of slavery – it’s a world of freedom.

“At the sign of triumph, Satan’s host doth flee,

On then, Christian soldiers,

On to victory!”

 

Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war, with the Cross of Jesus, going on before.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is

most justly due all might, majesty, dominion and praise, now and forever, Amen.

 

 

 

 


Leave a Reply