What Kind of Armor?
Passage: Ephesians 6:10-20
Date: August 27, 2006
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
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In my first or second year as a pastor I led a funeral service - that I think back to from time to time. I think back to it - and to the unpleasantness of some of the memories. The unpleasant-ness mostly centers around "being bold". Let me explain.
The man who had died had lived a long - productive - more or less happy life. He was a respected citizen of this small town. He had raised a family there and was survived by his wife of 60+ years. Occasionally feared - usually joked about. He was a long time church member and elder. This last fact - was IGNORED by a few members of his family - and to other members of his family - it was the only really important thing about him.He had been a church member. Some members of the family were believers - Christians - and some were not. Some led what they considered to be basically moral lives. Others didn't regularly assess - their moral standing.
And as I prepared for the funeral - I remember feelings of unpleasantness - as a grandson gave me some advice - he said: "be bold". He was from among a group of Christians in the family - not exactly out of the same congenial mold as his grandfather - and it seemed to me - considered himself to be decidedly moral - and pretty good - and without a doubt - saved. And so I wondered what he wanted me to be - bold - about.
If it was simply boldness about the faith of the man who had died - his grandfather - boldness to tell that part of this life - to be bold so that everyone might hear the power of his grandfather's faith, well, I figured I was ok with that.
Or was it - that out of love and concern - he hoped that someone present - might hear the bold message of the Gospel - and become Christian in response. I wondered.
Or was it - I wondered further - out of frustration and disdain for other members of his family - so that by my boldness - he might somehow be vindicated - and the moral life he followed be boldly praised - while they would be made to feel small and worthless - and unworthy - and unloved -- and even more disgusted with this grandson - - and with the faith he claimed - as did I - more or less -
- and well - that's where - as I said - there was some unpleasantness.
I still feel that way about it. It's unpleasant.
After the funeral - that grandson said to me, "It was - bold enough"
The words from Ephesians - which are the Scripture reading for this morning - draw a picture of Paul in a prison. He sits in his cell - looking up day after day - at the armor of Roman soldiers. Helmets - breastplates - and shields. Roman prison guards.
And in the words of chapter 6, Paul says, "...in opening my mouth boldly - to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel - for which I am an ambassador in chains - that I might declare it boldly - as I ought to speak".
The words are about putting on the whole armor of the Gospel...
Words about standing - against powers - and principalities - and rulers...
Words about "the wiles of the devil"...
And about casting light - into this present darkness...
I would bet that when this letter was circulated - and read - in the churches in ancient Asia Minor - in the context of the oppressive power of the Roman empire - in congregations that miraculously stayed united - even with Jewish and Gentile members all under one roof - - - I would bet that no one said: "bold enough". Instead - Paul is pretty darn bold. It seems to me that - one of the characteristics of some Christians - that many non-believers don't like - is boldness. Lots of people don't like it. But what is more bold that to proclaim resurrection in the face of death at a funeral service? And Paul can hardly help it. Paul even preached to prison guards.
And I think that the fact that he is in prison - makes it easier to hear. If one of the guards - were talking about the "armor of God" - and waving a sword around - THAT would be a lot different. Paul's - is the sword of the WORD of God - not a real sword.
And Paul is wearing a prison uniform - or rags - or whatever - at the time.
That's where the Gospel comes from. It comes from the beggars in the street - and from fisherman who left everything - and from sick people - and from prisons. It comes from people who were lifted up - and called - and healed.
According to Ephesians - the Gospel begins with the experience of baptism. Which is to say, that it begins with a whole new way of life - marked by holiness - and righteousness - and peace - and faith - and prayer. And that new way of life is in opposition to a life of greed and violence and war and unrighteousness. And that story - has to be a PART - of the bold proclamation.
Paul doesn't just tell about a shield - he tells us - it's there to protect us - and to help us stand. It is there to equip us - for what lies ahead in life.
I recently rode my bicycle to Estacada and back with a friend of mine. Each of us had turned 40 and so we decided that we needed to do something - to prove we still could. And as we were setting out on our ride - a friend of Nancy's happened to stop by the house. Before Tim and I left we talked briefly with them - and it became clear - that there were some doubts in their minds. Can you imagine? There was doubt about whether we were equipped - to complete this ride. Now granted - we didn't have the very latest in bicycling gear - the newest helmet - the most stylish gloves or jersey. But certainly - we were up to the challenge. On the way out the Springwater trail we overtook and passed by some very well equipped bicyclists. Who were stopped - by the side of the trail. Certainly - we were up to this challenge.
Anyway, we made the trip.
But it came to mind - as I read the scripture reading for today - because of a question that I think emerges out of the text. Namely, "are we equipped?" And in this section of Ephesians chapter 6 there is all this talk about equipment.
The text refers to a breastplate, a shield, a helmet. Armor.
It's the language of fighting. Of military and soldiers. It makes me uneasy - because I don't like violence. I don't like fighting - and I don't think it's particularly close to the heart of Christian spirituality. The idea of Holy Wars sends shivers down my spine.
And yet - the powers of darkness - as they are called in Ephesians - the wiles of the devil - evil and violence - and greed - are STRONG.
Powers and principalities - don't want us to live - a simple and peaceful life. Every day we are coaxed to consume more - with no thought to the consequences.
And sometimes - it seems to me - that God just - stands there.
God - I want you to stand up!
And yet - this letter - says that God gives us what WE need - to stand up - and to stand firm - in the midst of all this. Ephesians tells us to stand firm - against the powers that would push us down. And the key word - is "stand". At first it may seem easy - to just stand. What's the big deal? - unless you have a physical disability. Standing is basic. But have you ever tried to stand your ground - in the face of something - really powerful and violent? Have you ever stood face to face with someone who had bad intentions?
Look at the equipment Ephesians describes: A breastplate, a shield, shoes, a belt, a helmet... They are weapons of defense. This sword is not for tearing flesh. This sword, Ephesians says, is the word. That's what the Bible says. It uses a metaphor. The Bible says - don't take this sword literally. It's not literal. It's more real than that. It's true. That's not - how people have always used this text - or other texts in the Bible for that matter. But I'm not interested in going there with them.
I'll go with - what the Bible says. And the Bible - pictures armor that is for defense. Not aggression. And this "armor" - - - is NOT armor! It's truth - righteousness- peace - faith - salvation - prayer. The Bible does NOT say: "put on armor!" It says - put on truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and prayer...
And so I ask the question again: "ARE we EQUIPPED?" Have we equipped ourselves with these things? Or have we used armor instead? Literal armor. Instead of what the Bible says.
I haven't been to see the latest "Superman" movie yet. I'll probably go eventually, but I have been holding off. Part of the reason - I think - is something I heard about it early on. Nancy - has been to see it, and confirms that this is indeed the case: they changed the central core value of the movie. Through all the movies and comic books of the past, Superman was working for, "truth, justice, and the American way". In this movie, they changed the quote to, "Truth, justice, and all that stuff". I kid you not.
According to a story on World News on channel 2, back at the end of June - the reason - was to appeal to foreign markets. American movies make a lot of money these days - not in the USA - but in other countries. And the anti-American feelings around the globe are such that - the movie makers feared - they would loose money - if they did not change this phrase.
When I learned this I was deeply depressed. I wondered about what we stand for. And I wondered if we are equipping ourselves to be a positive part of this world in years to come.
An antidote to my depression came from what I first thought an unlikely place. Words about repentance. In Brian McLaren's book "A Generous Orthodoxy" in a chapter called "Why I am Depressed, Yet Hopeful" came words that lifted me up. Brian is part of the "emergent church" movement. He is from an evangelical background - in the vernacular sense of what that word has come to mean in our culture. But there is nothing all that vernacular - about the emergent church movement - or about Brian.
In the book - he recounts an historic exchange between a commissioner from President Grant, and Chief Joseph - as a starting point to his words about repentance:
"Why do you NOT want schools?" the commissioner asked.
"They will teach us to have churches", Joseph answered.
"Do you not want churches?"
"No, we do not want churches"
"Why do you not want churches?"
"They will teach us to quarrel about God," Joseph said. "We do not want to learn that. We may quarrel with men sometimes - about things on this earth, but we never quarrel about God. We do not want to learn that."
"Stories like these" - writes McLaren - "bring us to repentance and regret. There are many clever and pleasant ways of wriggling out of this repentance and regret. But to squirm out is to betray both orthodoxy and generosity of spirit. There is a high cost to repentance, to be sure: our pride, our superiority, our complacency, our smugness, our self-confidence, our judgementalism - all will feel the sharp sting of the shot of repentance. But there is a high cost to non-repentance, too, and I hope you will ponder that cost for a while - before you read the next sentence."
Did you rush on to begin this sentence without pondering the cost of non-repentance, as requested in the previous sentence? Please - do not read another page before doing so if you truly care about generous orthodoxy. Please put the book down. Just take a walk, or sit quietly. Breathe a prayer. Don't read any more, not yet."
Just stand still for a minute... If our hearts can respond to the Holy Spirit, through this painful process of repentance, then there truly is hope. If we can have the courage to stand. If we can just BE - - in the presence of God's Holy Spirit. And do that even in the midst of the challenges of this life - then there is hope. Even BOLD hope.
So - let me end with a poem by Mary Karr, called, "Who the Meek Are Not"
"Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent
under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep
in rice paddy muck,
not the serfs whose quarter moon sickles
make the wheat fall in waves
they don't get to eat.
My friend the Franciscan nun says we misread that word "meek" in the Bible verse that blesses them.
To understand meek (she says)
picture a great stallion at full gallop in a meadow, who - at his master's voice - seizes up to a stunned
but instant halt.
So with the strain of holding that great power in check, the muscles
along the arched neck keep eddying,
and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order.