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Sunday 23rd August

The reading from Ephesians that we hear today is a traditional Sunday School favourite, conjuring up images of full Roman battle armour, mixed with fervent sword-swinging righteousness.

The Church has so many rousing hymns that build on this militaristic imagery. Who doesn't love the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic? It was written at the outbreak of the US Civil war to give soldiers something to march to. In it, God "is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; he has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword…" Dear me!

Likewise with Onward Christian Soldiers… "Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; Forward into battle, see his banner go!" Then there's Soldiers of Christ, Arise, and Stand up, stand up for Jesus: "this day the noise of battle; the next, the victor's song."

We have a history that remains grateful for those who nobly and sacrificially entered into wars to defend the innocent and secure freedom. I think we need to find a middle ground, abhorring war while honouring our fallen and respectfully recognising the valour of those who returned to us. For worship though, we tend not to use militaristic vocabulary so much these days, and the Anglican evangelical organisation called "Church Army" sometimes wonders about changing its name.

I'm even more cautious about the claim in Joshua (our lesson today) that God "drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land." Is this a case of "history is written by the victors"? What about the Amorites; did God love them too? Claiming that the Christian God is on our side (whoever we are) in many countries and conflicts has privileged the invaders over many indigenous peoples, and is a stain on British, Portuguese, Spanish and French colonial history.

As for our Sunday Kids, they're contextualising the armour of God as protection from the many things that tempt and try us in today's world. I'm looking forward to hearing from them at the end of the service!

Ellen