On October 30, 1935, at Wright Air Field in Dayton, Ohio, the U.S. Army Air Corps held a flight competition for airplane manufacturers vying to build its next-generation long-range bomber. It wasn’t supposed to be much of a competition. In early evaluations, the Boeing Corporation’s gleaming aluminum-alloy Model 299 had trounced the designs of Martin and Douglas. Boeing’s plane could carry five times as many bombs as the Army had requested; it could fly faster than previous bombers, and almost twice as far. The flight “competition,”… was regarded as a mere formality. Rumor had it that the Army planned to order at least sixty-five of the plane that had come to be called the “flying fortress.”
The Model 299 test plane taxied onto the runway. It was sleek and impressive, with a hundred-and-three-foot wingspan and four engines jutting out from the wings, rather than the usual two. The plane roared down the tarmac, lifted off smoothly, and climbed sharply to three hundred feet. Then it stalled, turned on one wing, and crashed in a fiery explosion. Two of the five crew members died, …
An investigation revealed that nothing mechanical had gone wrong. The crash was due to pilot error. The pilot, the Army Air Corps’ chief of flight testing, had been preoccupied with the many procedures required to fly the complex new plane and had forgotten to release the rudder and elevator controls. The flying fortress was deemed… “too much airplane for one man to fly.” The Army Air Corps declared Douglas’s smaller design the winner. Boeing nearly went bankrupt.
Some still believed the flying fortress was a better plane. So, a group of test pilots got together and considered what to do.
They could have required Model 299 pilots to undergo more training. But it was hard to imagine having more experience and expertise than the U.S. Army Air Corps’ chief of flight testing. Instead, they came up with an ingeniously simple approach: they created a pilot’s checklist, with step-by-step checks for takeoff, flight, landing, and taxiing.
With the checklist in hand, the pilots went on to fly the Model 299 a total of 1.8 million miles without one accident. The Army renamed it the B-17 and ultimately ordered almost thirteen thousand. And, because flying the behemoth was now possible, the Army gained a decisive air advantage in the Second World War.
When I googled “Military Checklist” there were a plethora available. When we are faced with complexity, checklists are essential.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul provides a checklist – everything we need to stand firm when faced with the complexity of life.
Paul writes, “Put on the full armor of God.” The checklist may seem curious to us today, but they would have heard the allusions to Isaiah’s description of the armor that God wears and realized that we are asked to put on the very same model of armor that God wears!
In the first Century, when Paul was writing, the pervasive military strength of the Roman Empire would have made the descriptions of armor familiar to the Christians in Ephesus.
First on the checklist is a belt of truth. Men wore long robes, and if you didn’t first pull up and tie your robe around your waist, you would be tripped. If we don’t carefully tie up our long robes with a belt of truth around our center, we will be tripped up by lies.
Second is the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate protected the vital organs, and a weak place would allow the sword of your enemy to penetrate. Doing God’s Will is our basic protection.
Our feet are fitted with the good news of peace. Every soldier will tell you how important properly fitting shoes are. Shoes that pinch, weigh you down, cause blisters, or let in moisture can make all the difference in battle. The shoes that allow us to move with ease are sewn from the good news of peace.
The fourth component on the checklist of God’s armor is the shield of faith. The image that the Ephesians would have in their minds may not be the one that we think of – we tend, probably, to think of medieval shield types. Roman shields were about 2.5 by 4 feet, made of leather, and they were soaked in water so that when your enemy shot a flaming dart at you, your shield doused the flame. When Roman soldiers marched into battle, they stayed in such close formation that their shields overlapped. Shoulder-to-shoulder they were able to march headlong into enemy forces and when the enemy was worn out, they were still standing. Shoulder-to-shoulder, we, the church, face our adversaries with our shields of faith overlapping to protect one another.
On our heads we wear the helmet of salvation. The helmet protects the most vulnerable and vital part of all. Our most basic protection is our salvation, giving us forgiveness for our sinfulness and strength to stand up to our temptations.
Finally, we are issued the last component in God’s armor. The only weapon we have to defend or to attack against the sins of the world – the Word of God.
Here, receive your standard issue armor, says Paul – Truth encircling you at your very core (belt), doing God’s will (breastplate), travelling in peace (shoes), marching shoulder-to-shoulder with your faith held in front of you (shield), protected from temptation by your salvation (helmet) and armed with God’s Word (sword) – receive your standard issue armor, says Paul, and pray. Pray with intensity without ceasing, for yourselves and for others.
The whole armor of God is standard issue for Christians. And we are challenged to go down the checklist and ensure that we have them. New Testament scholar Carl Holladay writes, “It may be that some find the militaristic images used in this passage unsuitable to the message of the gospel. But they are just that – images. What should be noticed is that the “weapons of warfare” depicted here are those things that bring about justice and peace… Christians are challenged by these words to be vigilant in their struggle to bring about peace and justice.”
God has provided us with the armor we need to wear to bring God’s Kingdom to fruition. God’s vision for humanity can only be achieved when we battle the forces that threaten it.
God’s Kingdom is under attack in the lies and falsehoods that are so prevalent in our culture today. God’s Kingdom is under attack as people are treated unjustly. God’s Kingdom is under attack when we approach in anger rather than peace. God’s Kingdom is under attack when our faith doesn’t motivate us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and protect one another. God’s Kingdom is under attack when we give in to temptation, when we forget God’s Word, when we believe we can do it on our own rather than turning to God in prayer. God’s Kingdom IS under attack.
It is a lot easier to fly a simpler plane – but the “flying fortress” provides a distinct and decisive advantage. And it is a lot simpler to go through life reacting out of our instincts rather than referring to our checklist and putting on God’s armor, but wearing the belt of truth, the breastplate of God’s will, the shoes of peace, lining up together with our shields of faith in our helmets of salvation armed with God’s Word and praying provides a distinct and decisive advantage.
God’s Kingdom is under attack. Put on your armor, go down your checklist and head into battle. Amen.