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  • Writer's pictureLES HENSON

Riding Out to Meet the Enemy

In the second movie of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Two Towers, we discover Aragon and his fellow traveller in the throne room, of Theoden, King of Rohan. When the King understands that the enemy is on the move and determined to destroy his kingdom, he is confronted with daunting, choices. The guidance that Gandalf gives is to "ride out and meet the enemy.” But the King is worried about the welfare of his people. War is dangerous and it is always attended by great loss, in the past, they found, safety behind the walls of a fortified fortress known as Helm's Deep. With, his desire to protect those for whom he is responsible, Theoden announces, "I'll not risk open war with my people." However, Aragorn, a warrior with the true heart of a King, responds, "Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not."

These are true words today. We face an encroaching wickedness that seeks to destroy the world of humanity. Christian leaders, like Theoden, face a similar crisis and must make choices for the good of their people. Theoden chose the delusion of safety in the fortress called Helm's Deep. Resulting from that decision, the film portrays men losing ground to the advance of evil. Once in the fortress, the men feel a sense of safety, but the walls are breached, so they retreat further into the keep. Eventually, the hordes of the enemy capture the entire fortress except for a small room with, a barricaded door. With the constant pounding of a battering ram against, this last remaining door, which separates them from, their total destruction, in helplessness, King Theoden cries out, "What can men do against such, reckless hate?" Aragorn once again gives Theoden the answer he had brushed aside in earlier counsel, "Ride out with me."

With backs against the wall and no way out, and with no hope of victory against an army of tens of thousands, this suggestion now comes across as only a way to die in a blaze of glory. Theoden says, "Yes, for death and glory!" Aragorn corrects him, "For your people." Then Theoden responds with passion, "Let this be the hour when we draw swords together!" They mount up and charge the enemy on horseback, becoming the warriors they were always intended to be. They meet the enemy head-on and as they plunge forward in reckless abandonment, the enemy surprisingly falters at their boldness and falteringly begins to fallback. At that moment, reinforcements return to assist and in the end, the battle is won. Evil is sent running, and victory belongs with the brave heroes who, against all odds, rode out to meet the enemy head-on.

This is a parable for our churches today under the good intentions of well-meaning Christian leaders, the church has fallen back on its heels in a defensive posture, seeking refuge in its own fortresses of buildings, programs, and schools and ministries. Seeking to avoid the threat we were always meant to thwart, we have lost ground, over and over again until at last, we have nowhere left to go. Surrounded by wickedness, we are now seen, as an impotent, frightened and hiding from the world, that, in reality, faces us. We have allowed the enemy to take over the culture and society, and we complain from the safety of our fortified refuges. However, this is not how Jesus intended his church to be. He pledged to build his church so that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. Rather than hiding behind locked doors, we are asked to participate with Jesus in the tearing down the very gates of Hell. We are called to move out into the world and engaging the world with love and compass on its own ground not as enemies but as potential friends. That is what it is to be the people of God at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

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