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August 26, 2018

“Timeless Fashion for the Christian Wardrobe”

Ephesians 6:10-20

 

When my daughter Abby was three, she began riding her little pink bicycle with training wheels, a bell and basket on the handlebars, completing the ensemble with pink tassels on the grips. In little time, Abby was riding around with speed. She became so confident. For her next birthday , we got Abby a bigger bike, still with training wheels, still with girl frills, but a bit taller in the saddle. She rode it for a couple of days, then had her first real accident on a bike. She fell and skinned her knee and an elbow, and things just weren’t the same after the accident. For a really long time after that, she not only had her helmet on her head; she also wore two elbow pads, two kneepads and gloves on both hands. For a year or two after that bike accident, Abby rode very slowly and was constantly afraid that she would fall again and get hurt. No matter how much armor she had on at that time, it just wasn’t enough. Life on a bike was just too scary those days.

 

It reminds me of the world in which we live-just a bit too scary these days.

 

 

Locally, it appears that for the foreseeable future, we will have smoky summers. Financially, it is quite a blow to Ashland, as we depend upon tourism during the summer to support our local economy. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has lost $2million so far this year due to the smoke and cancelled performances. And tonight is the final Green show for the season, due to the smoke as well. It is affecting our psyches. When we don’t see the sun, the blue sky or the surrounding mountains; when we can’t breathe deeply; when we can get out and go for a run or hike or walk, we can find ourselves sad or depressed.

 

Nationally, it feels to me as if our government is on shaky ground- allegations are mounting against the president which could become more serious; Russia is still trying to hack our next election in November (July 28, Russian hacker unsuccessfully tried hacking into the DNC computer, but were thwarted), and North Korea appears to not be following through on denuclearization.  Our nation is on shaky footing.

 

We live in a world where we must be prepared against so many potential dangers to our person and property. We're nervous about terrorism and domestic threats; we are layered with insurance; our shelves are stocked with vital medicines and vitamins; we get regular examinations; we have locks, alarms and warning lights on our houses and cars;  we try to forestall nature's onslaughts with regular weather reports; we inspect our food chain like it was the racing sheet; we send up satellites to be our eyes in the sky; our nose is backed up by smoke detectors.

 

But are we really ready? Can something slip through all these defenses? These thoughts come to mind when reading today's passage from Ephesians. The Christian is told to check his battle gear: helmet, sword, coat of mail, belt, boots, and shield--the whole kit. We need to be prepared for anything. Clearly, the author thinks there's a real threat out there. In fact, Paul says there’s a war on. He says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”(Ephesians 6:12)

 

We had quite the discussion in Bible study this past week about this very verse. Is there truly a spiritual dark realm, which thwarts our attempts to live a good life? If we buy into such a theology, then can’t we just abdicate our responsibility from when we do something wrong or sinful? Isn’t this just Flip Wilson theology? “The Devil made me do it!”

 

Well scripture certainly believes in a personified evil, and an evil leader, and Paul emphasizes his struggle with evil in many places in his letters. Perhaps his most personal struggle with sin and evil comes in Romans chapter 7. Paul struggles between trying to do good and sinning instead. He writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…It is no longer I who do it, but the sin living inside of me. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it…So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. (Romans 7:15-21)

 

Theologians have struggled with the problem of evil for centuries, and we won’t settle things in this section of the sermon. So whether it is the evil within us, an external evil force outside of us, or some combination of both, we need help to fight it.

 

These bits of armor mentioned were a fashion statement for Christians in the first century, and are the fashion rage for today’s Christian as well. Just how do these spiritual pieces of clothing help us? Let’s look at each individual item to find out.

 

 

First, we are to put on the belt of truth- to speak truthfully. This can be misconstrued to mean that we can therefore speak forcibly to one another, proclaiming our truth- “Honey, I’m gonna speak the truth to you in (and let you have both barrels).”The reality is that we are called to speak God’s truth to one another in LOVE-(Ephesians 4:15). We are called to speak truths to one another and to the world in the compassion and agape love of our Savior. Speaking truth in this way allows for clear, honest, open and loving relationships with others. Living out one’s relationships in such a way helps clear up feelings of anger, resentment and misunderstanding, and leads to a better, more open and trusting society. 

 

Next, we are told to put on the breastplate of righteousness. What does it mean for us to be righteous? It means that we are living rightly in God’s eyes. It means we are following the path that God has placed before us. Jesus boiled righteous living down perfectly- “Loving the Lord with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.” (Mark 12:28-31) But there is more to this picture of righteous living. We are called to follow God’s example in Isaiah 59:17, when God personally puts on the breastplate of righteousness and goes forth to bring about justice in the world. Theologian James Cone says, “Any talk about God that fails to take seriously the righteousness of God as revealed in the liberation of the weak and downtrodden is not Christian language.” Living rightly, living as God wants us to live including bringing God’s justice to those in need.

 

Next, we are called to have our feet with the proper gear. We need to have our feet fitted with the boots of peace. You and I need to be bearers of peace in this world- no easy task. As the psalmist reminds us in psalm 34:14 to “seek peace and pursue it”, as Paul reminds us in Romans 12:18- “if it is possible, as it depends upon you, live at peace with everyone”- you and I are called to be bearers of peace in a frightening world, a world where Evil sows seeds of difference, lies, struggle, hatred, and violence. We had some discussion as well about these boots of peace in the Bible study. Someone suggested boots are uncomfortable, and perhaps running shoes might be better. Perhaps putting on uncomfortable footwear reminds us that being bearers of peace in an un-peaceful world is also uncomfortable?

 

 

 

Our next accessory is a shield of faith, so that we might be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the Evil One. Roman soldiers used to have shields covered in leather, which were then soaked in water. This would enable them to put out flame tipped arrows.  Our faith can protect us from evil when we rely upon it to do so- We can see that which is against God’s intent for this world as we live lives of faith, as we are guided by God’s word, rather than by pundits, politicians, etc. We can know when we ourselves are tempted to do evil, and can turn from that evil with God’s power. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Sometimes I personally need to remember and even speak this passage when a flaming arrow that is an enticing voice suggests something apart from God’s love.

 

Our last two items for battle are the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. The helmet of salvation reminds us that we, first of all, are in need of salvation. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, (Romans 3:23) and are in need of help- We need the forgiveness of Christ so that we can be restored as children of God. We need the grace of God, so that we might begin again each and every day forgiven and renewed. Wearing that hat every day helps us to live lives in humility, rather than seeing ourselves as superior over another, for we are all fallen. None of us is perfect, save for Christ.

 

The sword of the spirit reminds us that we are called to fight our battles led and guided by the Holy Spirit, to depend upon and be led by God’s word.  The spiritual battle in which Christians must be fortified with the whole armor of God is often more subtle than war, terrorist threat, or an enraged gun spree. One can be spiritually killed by routine, by giving into complacency, by accepting the materialistic lifestyle, by seeking self-satisfaction in all things, or in numbing ourselves from the world’s pain through apathy or substance abuse. To that end keep alert, Paul commands, and pray in the Spirit at all times.

 

What do we gain by putting all of this armor upon ourselves? We live in a world where the ultimate victory has been won- Christ upon the cross has defeated sin and evil decisively. Yet skirmishes and battles still remain. As Yogi Berra said about a baseball game, "It ain't over til it's over."

 

Yet if we put on this armor, we will be prepared for anything that comes our way. We who believe that good is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate will be able to go into those battles still being fought. We will be able to speak in love and have healthy, whole relationships; we will be enabled to live lives rightly in God’s eyes and spread God’s justice; we will be empowered to demonstrate peace to a world at war; We will be able to live our lives in humility, led by grace; We will be led by God’s spirit in what we say and what we do.

 


in 1869, although the text when first published was attributed to “Pauline T.” Whoever wrote the hymn was able to live in confidence and hope.  They had their Christian armor on for life in the “How Can I Keep from Singing?” American Pastor and hymn writer Robert Lowry is credited by many to have written the words to the hymn, mid 1800's, not long after the Civil War had torn the nation apart. The words ring true for us today as well.   “How Can I Keep from Singing?” May we go from this place today, knowing that no matter what happens, if we have our armor on, if we hold onto our faith, ultimately, we’ll be all right. Alleluia. Amen.

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