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...

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