This Sermon was accompanied by a Power Point presentation of several different images.
Well, I’m glad to see that we all managed to do it this morning. Get up, get dressed, and get here. Now for most of us, that’s probably not much of a challenge. Ok, maybe it is. You might have to set an alarm or two, get up and put something on. That’s really important, and as a mom of a young boy that’s the part that can be challenging. Because some things, some outfits, some wardrobe choices are shall we say not appropriate for stepping outside the house, let alone for Sunday morning worship.
Most of us didn’t have that problem, although I myself will sometimes try on two or three different outfits before I’m out the door. You see, clothes are important and not just to simply cover up our bodies. If that were the only goal—to cover it up, what I’m wearing right now would be a bit more popular with not just us worship leader types. But as it is, what we wear is often more than just for modesty; it says something about us
Clothing, what we choose to put on is a statement about who we are, where we’ve been, what we like, the attitude we want to project, who we want to be.
Even St. Paul knew could figure that clothes make the man. What we put on determines what we do, how and who we are.
Of course, we aren’t supposed to take Paul’s words literally about getting dressed up in armor. As usual, what’s being said here in our passage from the Bible is deeper and more meaningful than just some literal interpretation.
Paul chooses, his words care fully.
You see, this letter to the church in Ephesus, what we read just a few minutes ago, were probably written while Paul was living under house arrest in Rome, guarded by a Roman soldier, a man clad (or wearing) the standard issue armor, Paul tells us to put on. Even if that isn’t exactly the case, the Roman empire had enough soldiers all around that it wouldn’t be hard to imagine or picture a helmet, shield, sword, and all.
In times of conflict, uneasiness, danger that’s the get up of power.
Now I don’t think we need to have great imaginations to know or feel the tensions and struggles, the fears, the conflicts, and dangers that exist, that surround us today. Paul’s words are as true today as they were then, our struggle is against the devil, against the rulers, the authorities, cosmic powers, spiritual forces in the heavenly places.
I’m not sure about you, but those last words caught me a bit by surprise. See, I’m used to that picture of heaven as pearly gates, gold, pillowy, marshmellow clouds, harps and all, far, far away from this world. That’s not exactly what Paul and the early church imagined. No, when they prayed “on earth as in heaven” they meant that the two are so intimately connected, tied together. And that we’re not just contending, our problems are not just the result of a few (as they say) bad apples, some individuals acting out. No, we’re right in the thick of a struggle between God’s will, God’s love as embodied in Jesus our Lord, and all the evils afoot. It’s not just a bad guy here, a villain there; it’s entire systems, addictions, fears, pervasive attitudes, our human weaknesses, it’s the isms we can name—classism, racism, sexism, homophobia, elitism. To make this clear, Paul comes out even way back when and says, we’re not in a battle of just flesh and blood. Violence, real weapons won’t solve this problem.
Paul then goes on to describe this armor of God that we are to put on, not
literally, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
Belt of truth,
Breastplate of righteousness
Shoes, whatever helps us share the Gospel of Peace
Shield of Faith to defend against the arrows of the evil one
Helmet of salvation
Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God
None of this is about us about us charging out after our enemies with the latest weaponry, be it—scholars point out that this is all defensive gear. Even the sword, that Paul doesn’t use the word for the long swords carried by the legions as they went out to conquer in battles.
No, the picture that Paul is giving us is one of armor meant to protect. The goal is to guard against evil, but not to run away and hide, to just keep to ourselves, but to enable us to withstand, to stand up, to stand for, and to stand with the Gospel.
Our world continues to give itself over to evil, to violence, to domination, and the powers of death. God’s apostle Paul is telling us to stand firm, that no matter how tempting or reasonable, or even desperate we feel, life becomes. That every day we are to put on God’s way.
That whatever our struggle is; when we’re struggling within ourselves with addiction, disease, aging, fear, struggling with what’s going on around us—the forces and systems that keep people poor, and uneducated, that keep us apart. When it feels like our jobs, or life, or the people around us are just trying to use us up, chew us up, and spit us up, when we feel like we are powerless and vulnerable, naked before all this.
Paul tells us to put on God’s power, that our strength is not in our muscles or might, but in a real power suit of faith, to let our life be a testimony, our words be a witness, our prayers never ceasing, with and through the strength of the Lord, and in the strength of his power to stand.