Proper 16 Eph. 6
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Is there anything worse than poitical ads, commercials and phone calls during an election year? Every time a commercial comes on, my kids give a collective ‘ugh.’
I mentioned a few weeks ago the difficulty we have in moral discourse. Political discourse is even worse. All of the Facebook aficionados in the congregation no doubt see where all of our ‘friends’ are politically because it can get pretty venomous.
Romney will throw gramma under the bus. Says one, Obama will drive the bus that runs over gramma says another. It really is an impossible situation. While my kids watch the commercials, they ask, ‘is it true?’ Because everything you hear on TV is true, right?
The problem we have as political creatures is to see one candidate or party as evil and the other as not.
Paul invites us to a different kind of outlook. Paul has followed our baptismal covenant well. Most of his book has been about renouncing that which is evil within us. Now he speaks of that which is evil without. The devil and the world.
Interestingly, when he speaks of ‘the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ He is not just talking about the demonic realm. There is evil in the world that goes beyond us—evil that is human inspired but beyond us. Paul is actually referring, in part, to the ‘realm’ of Caesar.
He is, also, talking about the devil. For Paul, the cosmos is shot full of evil in every realm—personal, political, and demonic.
The mistake we can make in this text is to see it as some kind of individualized way to attack the devil or the evil in the world. Put on the armor of God and go attack devils.
Paul’s primary image of the church in all of his letters is the Body of Christ. Here in Ephesians he is extending the metaphor. It is as if he is saying, ‘I’ve talked about a body—here is how the body is dressed.’ Elsewhere he says, to ‘put on Christ,’ so here, in Ephesians, is how it is done. So, it is not how we dress in the morning to fight the devil—but how the community of faith, the church, protects itself against evil.
The battle imagery is kind of an ironic twist for Paul—he is bringing something from the realm of Caesar to make his point. Battle gear that is actually representing things that are quite simple and ordinary.
A belt of truth. Roman soldiers wore a kind of toga that they would trip on if not placed on the body correctly. The belt kept that up so they could run unhindered. Paul exhorts the church to speak the truth in love and to let truth be our guide. Without truth, we are encumbered and unable to move.
The breastplate of righteousness. A breastplate, of course, protects the heart and vital organs. The church is best protected when it does what is right. Righteousness in the Scripture also talks of the ability to seek that which is just—to look for the good of others over ourselves.
Shoes. For protection and swiftness—always being ready to proclaim the gospel. As Frederick Buechner says, “If you want to know who you really are as distinct from who you like to think you are, keep an eye on where your feet take you.” How do we proclaim the gospel of peace, and do we proclaim it at all?
The shield of faith. The Roman shield was leather and was wet to extinguish flaming arrows from enemies. It was also big enough to cover oneself and about a third of the one fighting next to you. They also linked shields together to protect each other.
Paul says that it is faith that acts as this shield. Again, it is not straining to have faith, you yourself and you. It is similar to what one of our prayer book prayers says, ‘Regard not our sins but the faith of your church…’ the faith is a collective faith, one that stands beside each other—when we are weak, another is strong for us. When we struggle with unbelief there is another to walk beside us.
The helmet of salvation. The helmet protects the noggin. Think of the imagery that we saw last week—Bennett being ‘marked as Christ’s own forever.’ Paul puts it this way in Ephesians, ‘In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.’
Then there is the sword of the Spirit. The only offensive weapon. This is the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says, Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Word of God, of course in the Scripture has a dual meaning. Who is the Word? Hebrews 4:13 says,
13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
‘To you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid.’
The Word of God is the Scripture and the Christ who is found in the Scripture. Paul begins and ends here. With Christ and in Christ. He leaves us then with the exhortation to pray.
When Paul penned the words on the armor of God, I do not think he had any particular church in mind, only an ideal to strive for. No church completely embodies faith, righteousness, gospel proclamation, and perfect teaching of the word of God.
Today’s culture makes it difficult to be a follower of Christ mostly because we have taught ourselves that the land of distraction is where we live with omnipresent media there to woo us to that land if we ever venture elsewhere. Like Peter we must say, ‘Where else can we go Lord, for you have the words of eternal life.”
So all of these images are before us as we consider what God is doing with us and where he is leading us as a parish.
We were asked by our vestry to talk about how we have experienced God in our parish, in the areas of healing or hospitality or just overall.
It would be easy to go into ‘happy talk.’ Paul is a good reminder that if we need all of that armor, there are attacks to our sense of faith, to our security of salvation, attacks on our trust in the Scriptures. Attacks from the rulers and authorities, the devil, the flesh, the world. There are economic realities that have affected all of us.
But there is healing and there is God’s presence. There are so many things that I have seen and experienced as your priest that really go beyond words and explanation. I have seen miraculous healing in our parish. I have seen prayers for healing go unanswered but healing and grace still present in funerals and memorials. I have seen marriages fall apart and fail, and marriages healed.
When I think about healing and hospitality and God’s presence I think of faces. There was a recent Sunday when Cedric and John Burtness were sitting up here at the altar. Cedric is a little Burundian guy about 9 and he was dressed in oversized acolyte garb. John was helping him get through the service and they were following along in the bulletin together. Kneeling side by side.
They say you don’t choose your family. That is so true in the church. Epiphany is different because we have embraced the ‘urbanness’ that I really believe we have run away from over the past decades. There are rumors that Epiphany once had Easter fashion shows and wine and cheese parties during holy week. We were the talk of the town and the church of what’s happening now. We’ve had lots of adversity since.
Adversity can destroy a church. Or it can make it a light shining in the darkness. The more we embrace who we are and who we are not the better.
Remember the lesson from the old cartoon Tooter the Turtle. Tooter always want to be something he’s not. He asks Wizard the lizard to change him into a bullfighter, or gold digger or superhero. Mr. Wizard always allows it with his magic but inevitably Tooter gets himself in trouble and needs to come back. Tooter then says the famous words, “Help me, Mr. Wizard!” Mr. Wizard would rescue him with the incantation, “Twizzle, twazzle, twozzle, twome; time for this one to come home.” Then, Mr. Wizard would always give Tooter the same advice: “Be just vhat you is, not vhat you is not. Folks vhat do zis are ze happiest lot.” It is what we need to learn as a church. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else or be anyone else than what we are.