Sunday, August 26, 2012

a new kind of armor...

Ephesians 6:20-30

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 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. 13 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. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 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. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 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. 19 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, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak. 

I have unique and wonderful parents-- Growing up my Dad was a part of a group called the ‘SCA’ - or the Society for Creative Anachronism. This is a large international group of folks who dress up and recreate life in the middle ages... yes- it is a little odd- even as a kid- I knew when we went to the events that these were some unique people- but they clearly loved what they did. 

We would go to events where we would all dress in robes and smocks that my Mom made- mine was grey, my sister’s was brown. We had little rope belts and would we wear our summer sandals. We would sleep in canvas tents, sit around camp fires and drink from wooded goblets while singing old Gallic songs... We met all sorts of wonderful people and learned to make jewelry and how to properly eat a turkey leg.

The biggest event for this society is a battle which takes place every two years... thousands of people come together to camp, to set up a time period marketplace, to socialize- and to fight in a real life battle...

In order to participate in this battle- which involves a great code of chivalry- you must have a full suit of protective, time period armor....

So- in order to participate in this great event- my Dad spent a full four or five months making himself a full suit of metal armor.

I remember going with him each week to his fellow SCAer’s house. I would play with the dogs and the other kids while my dad worked away to cut and hammer metal, rivet leather, and to weld pieces together.

My Dad tells me that there are a few things he learned through the process of making a full suit of armor. 

First- the process of making armor is never complete. Even after months of preparing and work- each time my Dad would put his armor on, or put it to the test- he would learn of new areas that needed addressed- he would find spots that weren’t protected or pieces that needed further shaping and adjustment. 

Putting on armor is a continual process.

My Dad also learned that making armor was both a personal and a group project. While each piece had to be customized and fit to protect my Dad’s exact body shape- he also needed the community of SCA friends to help him learn how to make the armor, how to bind the armor, and to maintain the armor. While the armor was ultimately personalized for him- it couldn’t have been made without the support of his community.

Putting on armor is both personal and communal.

My Dad also learned- perhaps the hard way- that armor is useless if it prohibits you from moving or speaking. I know you’ll be shocked to hear that those pictures we see in cartoons of men in suits of armor waddling down a haunted castle hall aren’t realistic... If a person can’t move and bend in armor, then the protection they receive will be futile when faced with someone who is nimble and flexible. In order to achieve both flexibility and protection, armor is designed using layers of different materials to protect different parts of the body. 

Putting on armor requires flexibility and creativity.

Finally- and this was the most important and the simplest thing my Dad said about his armor suit... You make armor, and put armor on for a reason- for a purpose. Armor is a highly functional protective layer that you add to your skin. Armor is worn to allow someone to move into dangerous situations with a grounded-ness- an assurance that they are safe- that they can move freely into risky situations.


Paul’s letter to the Ephesians ends with an invitation for followers to ‘put on the ‘armor of God’. This comes after what can be seen as a two part epistle laying out the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of the Christian message: 
  1. the first half says that through the death and resurrection of Christ- all of humanity- and all of creation is called to unity.... 
  1. The second half says that this gospel message calls us to a new way of living and being in right relationship with God and with our neighbors - 

In the last section of the letter- in todays reading- after the people understand the why and how - 

Paul reveals the fine print: “This isn’t going to be easy.” You are moving into dangerous territory.This way of life which Paul has laid out in the following chapters is a subversive way of life- one that values relationship over status. One that values peace over violence. One that calls for unity over division. 

Following this ‘way’ brings conflict and struggle. -- Paul says that the forces you will face are greater than the Roman soldier outside your door. Greater than the physical conflicts you face on a daily basis in the market, and in your home-- there are forces working to keep you separated from God and in conflict with each other... These forces come from within and without. These forces are here and now- and they are in the future-- this is not a one time conflict-- you are living in a world where you will always face conflicts. ‘The wiles of the devil’ separate us from God- these ‘evils’ can be found in Addiction and doubt,  division and jealousy, insecurity and hunger, death and violence.... The conflicts will not only come from those you live with- but they will rage in your own head- in your own soul...

Paul tells us that there will be conflict, which requires that we be proactive. Paul tells us we are given the ‘armor of God’ to provide strength and protection.

Now, this text - the fine print- is full of vivid imagery and rich metaphor. While the imagery and metaphor used would have been clear and relevant for the early followers of Christ who heard this word- this text has taken on many meanings throughout time. 

In a world where too often religious conviction has been intertwined with political conquest- images of a ‘Christian Soldier’ can stir up conflicted feelings and emotions. When Mark and I were discussing this text he told me a story of walking into a sunday school class- years ago- not here- where this lesson was being taught- and two children- probably similar to mine- were battling it out with their ‘swords of the spirit’ while they whopped each other with full force on their ‘helmets of salvation’.

Unfortunately - too often as Christians we have lived this scene out- we have seen this as our duty- to whop people over the head with our version of truth and righteousness-  seeing it as our duty to enforce violent submission in the name of God in Christ. We have a painful history of violence in the name of truth - from crusades in the middle ages to contemporary exploitations of the word of God used to justify hate and violence. 
Paul’s letter instructs followers to ‘put on God’s armor’... Followers must stay the path in the midst of all of the many forces which seek to divide.

Be assured that like the armor my Dad made- this armor will need adjustments throughout time. This armor will need to be both be developed personally, and in community. This armor must be layered and have a level of flexibility... and ultimately this armor serves a vital purpose. However- this armor has a purpose that is quite different than the armor of ‘this world’.

Paul’s letter calls them to ‘arm’ themselves-- but with no ordinary armor- not with the armor of the Roman empire- but with the armor of God. Protected by God’s gifts of righteousness, faith, prayer, the word of God, and salvation- followers are able to live more fully- our strength in God provides security in adversity-- With the armor of God we can face anything. 

This armor does not give us permission to whop someone over the head with ‘truth’, this armor does not give us permission to force a person to see the world the way we see it... 

We put on armor so that we may stand firm- so that we may remain grounded in God’s love- so that we may proclaim the gospel of peace. That we may speak this peace and declare it boldly. So that we may stand strong against all that wants to separate us from God and from our neighbor...

Where forces of evil work to divide- our armor of God unites. Where forces of the devil work in our mind and in our spirit to wreak havoc within-- the armor of God allows us to stand firm in the truth that we are loved. We are washed in grace, we are liberated from pain and addiction. Where systemic forces work to create and perpetuate myths of ‘us’ and ‘them’-  Our armor reminds us that we are loved- and so is our neighbor.’

Protected by the armor of truth, righteousness, prayer, and peace we are able to step out in faith. To speak the gospel of peace and unity. To walk the way of Christ. To live in relationship with both God and our neighbors.

What freedom will you find in the knowledge of God’s love and desire for unity? 

How will you speak the gospel of peace with your feet and with your words?

Proof of my stylish outfit-- you can see that I was thrilled...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Life Prevails

I am a couple weeks late- but here is my sermon from a couple weeks ago for those who were interested... It is a bit long for the screen (and perhaps the ear too?- I'll work on that!)

I preached this the week before the theater shootings here in my home city.... It turned out to be timely to address how we respond to horrible events...

In this light I have a couple questions to reflect on:
Do we tend to 'bury the body' too quickly in our culture?
Have we moved through this horrible event and onto the fun of the olympics and the division and vitriol of political shouting too quickly?
What does it look like to move onto feeding the hungry? 
Is what we seem to move onto in our culture the life that God calls us to after a tragedy?

I hope you'll return to these questions after reading :)

Here goes:

Mark 6:14-29

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised fro m the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Well- what an exciting text we have today!  This is a story we all remember. In the middle of gospel stories of feeding people, performing miracles, giving sight to the blind- we find a gruesome tale of jealousy and beheading! 
This difficult text is especially poignant to me today- at this point in my journey and in this place together as a church. As conflicted as I was when I saw that this was the lectionary text for my first sermon with you all-- the more I sat with it the more I came to appreciate it.
Let me explain.
Marks Gospel moves quickly- the most compact of the four gospels- this one is full of non-stop action. It is best read as a whole- from start to finish. While I won’t do that today- you’re welcome- I do want to catch us up to speed a bit.
Mark introduces John in the first chapter, verse three.
John is the one. The messenger who prepares the way for Jesus. The one who makes the path straight. Appearing in the wilderness, proclaiming repentance and forgiveness- John draws the first crowds.
John baptizes and speaks truth. He is a non-traditional kind of guy- marches to the beat of his own drummer. He stands out as different than most who speak with authority- he is different.
He wears that camel tunic and a leather belt- he lives in the woods and eats bugs... 
And he claims that it is not he- but the one who will come next- that the people should be excited about. 
He baptizes with water- but the one they should be preparing for will baptize with the Spirit.
John baptizes Jesus and then disappears from the story with a quick passing note of his arrest.
Life goes on in typical Mark fashion-- we fly through the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as disciples are gathered, people are healed, miracles are performed, parables are taught, sermons are preached. At this point, nearly halfway through the gospel, Jesus gets organized, rounds up the disciples, and sends them out two by two. 
And this is where we are.
In similar fashion, I meet this text as a new minister, fresh out of seminary- rosy-eyed, optimistic- ready to take on the world. I have glimpsed the power of this message, and I’m ready to share what I’ve learned- to live what I’ve been studying!
This beautiful church- this amazing congregation who I’ve slowly been getting to know... Have seen miracles- have seen life- this congregation has been here for more than a hundred years living this gospel story... and again-- we are at this point- sent.
We are rounded up. organized. empowered.  As Daphne preached last week- we are called to leave the center of the raft and move to the edge- We are sent.
And then this passage comes to us this morning!
In the middle of healing and miracles we are blindsided with jealousy and beheading.
Our story today is a familiar story- not only because it is a memorable Bible story- but because it is a story we see played out around us everyday on the news, on TV drama- in our own lives.
In Mark Chapter 6 v. 14 we enter the scene- we meet Herod. 
This Herod is a complex character- He hears of the events going on around his corner of the Roman Empire- healing and miracles- and wonders who is exerting this kind of power. Perhaps he is threatened- he is certainly worried. He connects Jesus-this person who is going around healing and performing miracles- to John the one whom he had beheaded.
Herod flashes back to the events-- the conflict he struggled with and the choices he made.
Herod had arrested John for speaking out against the unlawful nature of his recent marriage to his Brother’s wife, Herodias. While Herod suspected a prophetic presence in John, John was ultimately arrested for speaking truth to power. 
As John sits in prison, Herod has a big birthday party with all of his friends, officers and diplomats, - all of those with political power and prestige are gathered together eating and drinking.. Herodias’ daughter brings entertainment to the party and performs such a moving a dance that it inspires Herod to offer her anything she wants- Even half of his kingdom. 
The young girl, unsure how to respond, consults her mother- who- still filled with bitterness and anger over the judgement she received for her unlawful marriage- requests the head of John the Baptizer...
the girl returns to Herod and makes the request--
I want the head on John the Baptist--- on a platter.
Herod- conflicted- feeling the pressure of the public promise he just made her, and the eyes of the gathered guests- orders his guards to deliver the head.
John is found in the prison- his head is severed, and the bloody mess is delivered - on a platter- to the girl and to her mother.
Is this what we are being prepared for? 
We were just called and sent- ready for mission- sent with nothing -not even two tunics- told to proclaim that all should repent-  anoint the sick and feed the hungry...
And then this?? 
John- the one Mark began with- the messenger who has been sent to prepare the way... is caught up in a soap-opera-style-drama and ends up with his bloody head on a platter... 
Is this what we are to become? the main dish?
Bombarded by a 24/7 news cycle that tells story after story of corruption and violence -Life can seem to be a bit of a bloody mess. We can become disenchanted and overwhelmed. While extreme stories of beheading- be it John the Baptist, or the latest victim of terror and exploitation- can seem disconnected from the pain and drama of our own lives--
We don’t have to look far to experience jealousy, revenge, corruption and hatred.
This is the world we live in.
This is the world we are sent into to live in ministry- as a community of followers of Christ.
How did the Disciples respond to this news? 
Imagine it- newly organized and sent, they get word of the beheading of their friend- their mentor- the one who is paving the path-  ...
They get word that John’s head is in Herod’s court and his body lay, lifeless, headless, is the prison grounds. How do they respond?
in Verse 29, Mark tells us that, when the disciples heard, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
They do not seek revenge. They do not form a coup. They do not run in fear. They do not- as Christian Piatt named in his blog this week (click here to read Christian's blog) say, “well, everything happens for a reason.” or “It’s ok, he is in a better place.”, or “God needed another angel in heaven, so He called him home.”
Rather, in line with traditional Jewish ritual, the disciples go to the prison, gather the body, wash it, and anoint it with oils and spices, wrap it in cloth, and lay it in a tomb.
After all this they go to Jesus- tell him of the events- of all they have done and taught. Jesus invites them to rest-- but they soon find that there is no time for rest.
The crowds are already gathered- people are running ahead to meet this person they have heard about-- a beheading cannot stop the momentum of what has begun.
There are people who are hungry and sick and in need of healing.
In the face of death- even John’s death- Jesus and the disciples faithfully and courageously continue on bringing life and justice and mercy.
It is no mystery that this path is difficult.
As I have cautiously taken step after step into this path of leadership in ministry I have been warned repeatedly of the difficulties.
We know the statistics- we know the obstacles we face as a church. We know that churches can be grounds for pain and brokenness... We especially know that as we embark on new mission, as this congregation experiences growth and change- as we are sent out into the community, and in to the world- we will face unforeseen challenges.
It is no mystery that we will deal with drama. Pain. Jealousy. Betrayal. Revenge. Death. This is a part of being in the human family- it is certainly part of being a church family. It is a part of being sent into the world disciples. 
However... when you are sent-- when you feel called- 
when you see yourself, and your community of faith as connected to this bigger story- 
the story of God’s love for all of humanity- 
of God’s longing for life and wholeness for all of creation-- 
when you know in your bones that this is what you are made to do... 
when you look around you and see the signs of God’s grace- 
you keep on moving- even in the face of death.
John’s story cries out from the wilderness... prepares the way of the Lord. 
John spoke truth to power... and while this cost him his life .....  his life lives on as Jesus, and the Disciples, and the church, persistently act out truth to power.
In the face of injustice-- the voice that lives on is the one that keeps on bringing healing, justice and grace!
This is the power that overcomes death. This is the path that is prepared. 
John’s death does not preview Jesus’ death, rather the life that transcends is a sign of the life that will endure- even in the face of crucifixion. 
In the midst of drama- Revenge- Death.  the healing must go on. 
The people are gathered.
We must pay our respects, bury the body. and feed the hungry

This is what we are called to do. 
This is the truth that speaks loudest to power. 
As we meet drama, injustice and death- May we reach in to the source that sustains us. 
As we meet obstacles- May we remember that we are a part of this big story- God’s story.
And this is a story of life and grace and healing- even in the face of death.
May our actions- bringing healing, grace, and life-  be the truth that prevails.