Summary: Second Sunday in Lent. This sermon focuses around the idea of God as shield but God as heavy to carry as Lent requires reflection and repentence.
“Carrying the Weight of God.”
The Rev. Rian Adams
Second Sunday of Lent, Year C
The Genesis reading says God spoke to Abram and said, “I am your shield.”
A shield has one job… the difference between life and death is how well a shield does that job. A shield's vocation is to protect the one holding it.
It’s evident from the start of the story that God seeks a relationship with Abram. That relationship means that God protects and guards him. There are a few layers in God's announcement, and I want us to look at them today.
In the original Hebrew, shield (Mah-gane) is mostly in masculine form. It means "to protect." It's a picture of God's mighty arm bearing a huge shield that prevents arrows from nicking our vulnerable places.
But interestingly, it has a feminine use too. It means, "to gather under.” God gathers us under wings of protection.
A far more enlightening feminine use is "the thick hide of a female crocodile." I wonder… can that expand our understanding of shield to include something we wear and not merely something we hold? It’s a powerful image of mother God shielding us with her thick skin. The blows reach her skin, they pummel her, she feels the pain, but it doesn’t breach her. When arrows try to puncture our soft hearts, her skin is the shield that absorbs the spear.
That adds a layer of ___ to Abram's shield.
The shield imagery doesn’t stop there. God our shield is mysterious
If you Google "shield" the first shield you find, in search and images, is the shield of Captain America. I find it interesting to note: The most popular shield on the internet belongs to a superhero.
Captain America is the archetypal hero. He is the pillar of justice, good, and morality. Google shows us that a hero is the first picture of shield our soicity sees.
That mythical shield comes from the most durable metal on earth. If you’re a comic geek you know that Captain America's shield was an accident.
The shield’s creator worked with Wakandan Vibranium… but it gets better. The metallurgist worked long hours and fell asleep before the final metal blend was complete. He took no notes, so the shield’s contents are a mystery.
The image creatively suggests that the God who shields us will always be a mystery. We will never quite figure out how, or why, or even when God shields us. But we can know that God does.
The writer of Ephesians says to pick up the shield of faith. It's not the shield of certainty; it's the shield of faith. It's an admittance that God will always remain a mystery, and we should have space for God even when we do not understand God.
God protects us in ways that are mysterious. My guess is we can point to pivotal moments in our lives when God shielded us from injury, deceit, or distress.
Hindsight helps us see the mystery of God at work in moments of hopelessness. But, that mystery offers a holy invitation to discover deeper purposes.
The mystery of God is heavy!
While I served as a soldier in Afghanistan, my body armor, my shield was roughly 75lbs of gear. I carried these body shields on my chest and back. Every day I shouldered the weight of my vest, attached the Velcro, buttoned the snaps, and prayed that I wouldn’t need it.
I wore these shields for months. What stands out is how quickly my body normalized the pressure. The armor merged and became one with my body. I wore it as a second layer of skin.
When I came home, I felt exposed without my body armor. My body familiarized the weight of its shield and I would unconsciously reach for it because it was a source of security and comfort.
But it was not without its difficulties. First, it was heavy. My shoulders still ache from the weight. I get 5 CCs of steroid in my right shoulder every 120 days. The pain can be so bad I welcome the cold steel of an 18-gauge needle as a companion who visits for dinner.
The body armor was heavy, but that paled compared to the sand. The sand in the deserts of the Middle East and South West Asia work their way between the collarbone and the shoulder strap. Hour after hour it rubs and grinds. You treat it with cream and band-aids, but they don't work. It was a double-edged sword.
New medical studies suggest the same. According to the VA, the volume of military members suffering musculoskeletal damage multiplied by 1000% between 2001 and 2010. Military doctors claim a direct link between body armor and chronic injuries.
Carrying the weight of body armor for prolonged periods inflicts a hard toll on the body. That leads me to a curiosity; I wonder what the weight of a shield can teach us about God?