Against the Odds: The Breastplate Of Righteousness
In the newspaper, a few weeks back, there appeared a list of Erma Bombeck’s ten rules to live by—and as a way of getting into our sermon for today, I thought I’d share those ten rules with you.
The first one is this -“Never have more children than you have car windows!” The second one -“Gravity always wins. Accept that. Science is trying to reverse the aging process: the kicker is that you look young on the outside, but inside you’re still aging. So remember: There’s no advantage to looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger on the beach if you can’t travel two feet away from a restroom!” Rule number three -“Never loan your car to someone to whom you have given birth!” Rule number four—”Pick your friends carefully. A ’friend’ never goes on a diet when you are fat or tells you how lucky you are to have a husband who remembers Mother’s Day…when his gift to you is a smoke alarm!” Rule number five -“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart!” The sixth rule -“Given a choice between the man of your dreams and a plumber, choose the latter. Men who can fix your toilet on Sundays are hard to come by!” The seventh rule, a bit more serious one—”Know the difference between success and fame. Success is Mother Teresa. Fame is Madonna.” Rule number eight -“Never be in a hurry to terminate your marriage. Remember, you may need this man or woman someday to finish a sentence!” Rule number nine—”There are no guarantees in marriage. If that’s what you’re looking for, go live with a Sears battery!” And rule number ten—”Never go to a class reunion pregnant. They’ll think that’s all you’ve been doing since you graduated!”
Great fun! Yet, you know, if you strip away the Bombeck brand of humor, you discover, to your surprise, some wonderful nuggets of truth in her ten rules for living. In fact, what’s so fascinating is that you begin to discover some distinct parallels to the Bible’s ten rules for living. Of course, we know those ten rules for living as the Ten Commandments. I don’t know if you have ever thought about this, or not, but the Ten Commandments do not so much condemn us for riotous living, as they call us to righteous living. They are designed, not so much to rob us of our fun in life, as to lift us to a whole new joy in our living. We need to remember that in a world which now denigrates and devalues religious faith and righteous living—in a world where we as Christians are now viewed, at best, with suspicion, at worst, with scorn—in a world like that, we need to remember God’s call to righteous living.
Such was the experience of the Christians who lived in the city of Ephesus. They were living in the midst of a society which opposed their faith and attacked their standards. Little wonder then, that Paul was moved to write to them these words: “If you are going to stand for Jesus Christ in the midst of a society which stands against Jesus Christ, then you had better put on the whole armor of God.” And Paul then outlines the pieces of the Christian’s armor. The second piece of the Christian’s armor described for us by Paul is what he terms, “the breastplate of righteousness”. Understand, please, that for the Roman soldier in that day, the breastplate was actually something more than what it sounded like. It was made of tough stiff metal and it covered not just the front of the soldier, but it covered the soldier’s back as well — it went from the neck all the way down to the hips. In other words, it served as protection for the entire upper body of that Roman soldier, particularly protecting the heart from the arrows or the spears of the enemy. That was the Roman soldier’s breastplate. Now righteousness, for Paul, rightly meant right living. Therefore, Paul is saying to us that the best way to keep your heart safe in life is to live your life according to the rules for living which God has established. In other words, when Christ commands the center of your life, then you will center your life on Christ’s commands. I want to say that again when Christ commands the center of your life, then you will center your life on Christ’s commands. That’s what Paul means when he says: “Put on the breastplate of righteousness.”
We need to put on the breastplate of righteousness in our national life.
Up in Burlington, Wisconsin, there is a group known as the Liar’s Club. Anyone can join for a dollar and for a big enough lie. Believe me they have had some whoppers submitted over the years. For example, one aspiring member told about a fog that was so thick that when they cut down a tree, it didn’t fall over until the fog lifted. Another said his wife was so lazy that she fed the chickens popcorn so that the eggs would turn themselves over when she fried them. And then there was another fellow who said that it was so dry last year that the bullfrogs born in the spring never learned how to swim. And one aspiring member put it this way, he said his wife’s feet were so cold that whenever she took off her shoes, the furnace kicked on.
Well, we know that that’s not really lying, I mean that’s tall tale telling and it’s a form of entertainment and so we can laugh at it and not take it very seriously. But my friends, there is a serious side to lying and it is not entertaining at all. Did you catch it in the newspaper the other day—USA Today—down in the left-hand corner of the front page—the results of a national survey? It revealed that today only 13% of the people in America regard the Ten Commandments as still being valid. Only 13%! Then the survey went on to reveal that 90% of the people in America today—90%—regularly lie. Shocking! John Gardner, the wise social critic, puts it this way, “Deception and duplicity, both in public and in private, are more widespread in our society today than has ever been the case in all of the history of this land. “
“Semper Fidelis” (Always Faithful), is the great driving motto of the U.S. Marine Corps. For two hundred years, the Marines have stood for discipline and loyalty and faithfulness. Imagine then the damage done to that image, when just a few years ago now, two United States Marine guards, stationed at the U.S. embassy in the city of Moscow, in a “spy secrets for sex” scandal, actually escorted Soviet agents into the most sensitive chambers of the U.S. Embassy building. The damage-absolutely incalculable! That sterling motto “Semper Fidelis” once tarnished is so hard to ever recapture its spit and polish shine. And in fact, there is a sense in which the United States Marine Corps has not yet managed to overcome the damage done by that break in its integrity.
Now you take that little incident and multiply it by all of the deception that exists in this nation, and you begin to understand the scope of the problem. The fact of the matter is that unless there is a basic level of morality and integrity, society begins to break down and break apart. Unless people are fundamentally true to their word, democracy cannot work. The more people turn away from righteous living, the more problems we face as a nation, and the more our society disintegrates. I like the way Ted Koppel put it. A few years ago Ted Koppel was invited to be the Commencement speaker at Duke University. Instead of following the normal pattern for such Commencement addresses, and delivering some words about some international issue or delivering a dose of politically correct pablum, Ted Koppel decided to zero in on those students, and he spoke to them about some things that even their professors had been side-stepping. He spoke to them about personal morality, and when he finished, he received a standing ovation.
Right in the middle of his address, Ted Koppel had this to say. Listen. “We have actually in this country convinced ourselves that slogans will save us. Shoot up, if you must, but make sure you use a clean needle when you do. Enjoy sex whenever and wherever you please, but always make sure that you do it safely when you do.” And then Ted Koppel said: “My answer to that is no. A thousand times no. Not because it isn’t cool or smart, or because you might end up in jail, or you might die of AIDS if you do. My answer is no; just because it’s wrong. Have we forgotten that we have spent 5000 years as a race of rational human beings trying to drag ourselves up out of the primeval slime by searching for truth and moral absolutes? Remember what Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai were not ten suggestions. They were ten commandments.” And so they were, weren’t they? Not suggestions, but commandments.
My friend, Dwight Sample, just this last week introduced me to the recent pronouncement of Pope John Paul II. It is entitled “Veritatis Splendor”—”The Splendor of the Truth.” It is an amazing piece of work. To be sure, it has been both lampooned and harpooned in a hostile press, but the fact of the matter is the magnificent words of the Pope are right on target. And his basic message is a call to righteous living before humanity staggers more deeply into the night of moral nothingness. God bless the Pope for having the courage to say it. My beloved, do you understand that we are now engaged in spiritual warfare in this world, and the battlefield all around us is strewn with bleeding bodies- couples divorcing, children rebelling, students stealing, business people cheating, politicians influence-peddling, even ministers manipulating. Our only hope as a nation is to stop playing fast and loose with the commands of Jesus Christ. Our only hope is to stop saying, “What can I get away with?” and instead start saying: “What would Jesus do?” Our only hope as a nation is to put on the breastplate of righteousness.
And not only do we need to put on the breastplate of righteousness in our national life, but we need, I think, to put it on in our home life as well.
My colleague in Christ, Bob Ware, out at Tabernacle Baptist Church, had it right in the newspaper this last Wednesday—Dio! you see his quote? He said: “There’s something terribly wrong in this country, and I believe it’s the family. We can cuss the school system; we can blame the HRS or the courts or even the churches, but when the smoke settles, it’s the home.” He had it absolutely right. He may have mixed his metaphor, I think “smoke clears” and “dust settles”. It doesn’t matter. He was right, because when the smoke clears or when the dust settles, it’s the home. Therefore, let me offer to you—parents or grandparents, or to you who think you might be—let me offer to you some guidance for whatever it’s worth. Call it “Edington’s Construction Tips for Building a Moral Home.”
Number 1. When no one is watching, live as if someone is. That means look at the way you are living your life. Look at how you are using alcohol or prescription drugs. Look at how you use profanity. Look at how you may be cutting the corners of what is right financially in order to get ahead. Look at how you are relating to people of another color. Look at the way you are living. You may be delivering a bad message to our kids. Instead, I call you to live in such a way that when your children think of caring or fairness or honesty or integrity, they will think of you. When no one is watching, live as though someone is.
Number 2. Listen twice as much as you speak, and pray twice as much as you fret. Create an atmosphere in your home where children will want to talk to you about anything and about everything. Be interested in them and in what they say. Be alert to them and to their needs. Sometimes, opportunity knocks so softly. Listen, and be alert. And pray like crazy for our kids. Our kids are vulnerable. They can be misled. They are ripe for exploitation. Bathe them in the power of prayer in order to ward off the infectious disease of evil that exists in the society around us. Listen twice as much as you speak, and pray twice as much as you fret.
Number 3. Remember that the most important things in life are taught, not bought. Help our children to learn that their sense of self-worth and self-esteem is never dependent upon what they possess. My beloved, I have never yet seen a hearse with a U-Haul trailer hooked on the back of it! You can’t take it with you. So teach our children the joy of living life in the Christian style. Living within limits. And don’t worry yourself sick about not being able to give your kids the best, because what your kids really need in life is your best. Remember, the most important things in life are taught, not bought!
Number 4, Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground. Keep your eyes on the stars. Keep your eyes upon God. Make the worship of God the top priority in your family life. Frankly, I believe that up until age 16 church attendance ought to be mandatory. And that means, you understand, that church attendance can’t just be a little matter of convenience for the parents. Keep faith in God the top priority in your family life. Help your children learn how to look up to God. Keep your eyes on the stars but keep your feet firmly fixed on the ground. That means that you need to know the adversary; to learn about drugs—their names, their effects, their uses. Find out where the trouble spots for kids are in the community in which we live. Learn what it is your children are being taught in school. Know where your kids are, who they’re with, and what they’re doing. Monitor your children’s television consumption. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Keep your eyes on the stars, but keep your feet on the ground.
Number 5. Don’t worry about who’s right, but decide what’s right. Establish a set of house rules. Do it, if possible, in conjunction with your children, so that they not only understand the rules, but they understand the reasons behind them. Set curfews. Be awake when your children come home at night. Talk to your kids about the power of peer pressure, and don’t take the easy way out. Some people today are saying that in response to our kids’ inquiry about sex, we ought to just give them a condom. Rubbish! Does that mean then that when they want to go drinking that we will go down and pick up the tab at the local bar? Or when they want to experiment with drugs that we will see to it that they have a clean, sterile needle and syringe? Or when in some moment of adolescent depression they hint at suicide we will rush out and buy them a loaded gun? Come on now! Come on now! You see, the fact of the matter is that our children and young people respond wonderfully to a call to righteous living. I can’t tell you how many times young people have said to me; “I just wish my parent would give me a reason to say NO.” Our friends in the Southern Baptist Church have created a wonderful new program designed to strengthen the moral fiber of both our youth and our parents. It’s called “True Love Waits”, and I’m going to ask this Presbyterian Church to buy into that Baptist program, because I believe it will help us in our homes to decide what’s right.
Number 6. Never give up on your kids. Miracles happen every day. Love them, tell them you love them, and never stop telling them that you love them. And remind them, over and over and over again that they are special. They are special to you, and they are special to God. Never, ever give up on your kids.
Well, there you have it: “Edington’s Construction Tips for Building a Moral Home.” We need to put on the breastplate of righteousness in our home life. I got into this sermon with Erma Bombeck; I wonder how I’ll get out of it . I think maybe with a little girl named Rosalie Elliot. She was in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. representing her state of North Carolina. She made it to the final round. There, with the pressure mounting, she was given to spell the word “avowal”. When she had finished spelling the word, the judges, because of her soft Southern accent, were not quite sure what she had said for the next to the last letter of the word. Did she spell it a-v-o-w-a-l, which would have been correct, or did she spell it a-v-o-w-e-l? They couldn’t be sure. So they had a tape recording of her response, and they listened to the tape recording, and still, because of that soft South Carolina accent they couldn’t quite tell whether she said an “a” or an “e”. It was then that the Chief Judge, John Lloyd, decided to ask the only person in the place who knew the answer. He put the question to Rosalie Elliot. Rosalie had already heard the whispers coming from the crowd, ” a” . . . ” a” . . . ” a” . . . Rosalie Elliot looked at John Lloyd and she said: “Sir, I’m sorry, I know now that the correct letter is “a”, but when I spelled the word, I used the letter “e”—and with that she turned and walked off the stage. The crowd sat in stunned silence for the longest time. They didn’t quite know how to respond. Suddenly they began to clap, and before you knew it, the whole place was standing in ovation and admiration.
How does the Bible put it? “A little child shall lead them.” Rosalie Elliot had the courage in her Life to put on the breastplate of righteousness. May our Lord Jesus Christ give us the courage to do the same…