Thirteenth Weekend After Pentecost (B/RCL)
August 22-23, 2015
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Here’s a paraphrase of most of this weekend’s lesson from Ephesians, found in The Message:
10-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.
19-20 And don’t forget to pray for me. Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time….
So the bad news is:
This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.
The good news is that God equips us for the battle, dresses us for success with defensive gear and offensive weapons, sends us into the fray with all we need to win the day.
This imagery is startling; it’s so martial, war-like. But think of the time when the letter was written. In the 1st century the near and far reaches of the Roman Empire were well-populated with Roman soldiers. Picture the get-ups the actors wear in Gladiator, Ben Hur, Quo Vadis, The Robe: helmet, breastplate, belt, sandals, sword and shield.
Various modern-day professions wear different kinds of protective “armor.” Radiation techs wear radioactivity sensors to track the amount of exposure they receive. Members of the “ground crew” that loads luggage into the belly of the plane and members of the “grounds crew” that mows the lawn wear ear protection. Some dentists and probably most surgeons wear space-age looking clear masks. Construction workers wear metal-toed shoes. Metal workers wear eye goggles.
See a SWAT team on a TV show or the evening news, and its members carry huge shields like the days of old. The material out of which they’re manufactured has changed but the purpose hasn’t: protect the bearer from incoming missiles. Those door-shaped shields used to be made of wood and covered with canvas. They’d be soaked in water before battle (can you imagine how heavy they must have been??) so that flaming arrows shot at the soldier and stuck in the shield like pins in a cushion would be extinguished.
Speaking of flaming arrows (which we’ve probably seen in cowboy and Indian movies): what destructive stuff gets inside our safe space? What distractions derail our good intentions? What circumstances threaten to burn to the ground that which we love? The answers are somewhat different and somewhat the same for all of us. The shield of faith, trust in God, can deflect and neutralize the most dangerous “incoming” influences. Faith is a gift of God -- that we can embrace and the Holy Spirit can strengthen -- by our dwelling in the Word of God, called the “sword of the Spirit” in this passage from Ephesians.
The thing with actual armor is, it both protects and weighs down the person wearing and carrying it. Have you ever seen a museum display of a knight dressed in full armor and sitting on a horse? He couldn’t climb on or off the horse under his own power. Squires had to use a pulley system to get him up there and down again! Knights on horseback represent a different era than the 1st century Roman Empire, but the point remains: armor can be a lifesaver or a handicap.
The same is true for us. There’s invisible armor we can wear that isn’t necessarily “the armor of God” and that hampers us rather than helping us – the kind of armor we use to keep others at arm’s length, to protect ourselves from hurt, to hide what’s most vulnerable about us. Sometimes we need to deploy our emotional force field for safety’s sake. But sometimes we do better to risk meeting each other face to face, supported and encircled by the belt of truth. God’s truth is, we are all saints and sinners at the same time. Let’s put aside any pretensions of perfection and deep-six repeated apologies for our inadequacy. Portraying ourselves, God’s deeply loved children, as less-than-adequate, even as damaged goods, doesn’t glorify God.
Some things don’t change much; today’s Kevlar bullet-proof vest, like the old-time breastplate, still protects heart and lungs. I think of tracing an invisible breastplate on myself when I make the sign of the cross, and over the congregation when I give the benediction: claiming all that is encompassed by the cross as safe space.
There’s a blessing inherent in worship – because time lovingly devoted to God is a gift God multiplies and enriches and then returns to us. The Holy Spirit loves to catapult us from this worship space back into the world, ready to share the goodness we have found here and the God we have met here. We will meet trials and temptations in the week to come, because we live in the world and we are human. We are prepared, though, because we realize that we’re “up against far more than [we] can handle on [our] own,” and we know that the Lord dresses us for success with defensive gear and offensive weapons, sending us into the fray with all we need to win the day, for Jesus Christ has already won the war. Amen
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham