“Well Dressed” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! It is the end of August (already!) and the last Sunday of our sermon series on the book of Ephesians. I have been talking about how God calls us Beyond where we are to a new vision of where God wants us to be. Last week you got a Ted talk from Coach Noffsinger about the Church of the Brethren’s vision for God’s adventurous future: this morning our text from Ephesians 6 has a darker side of living into that vision of God.
I don’t know if any of you remember a show which was on Discovery Channel called “Dirty Jobs.” It ran for 8 seasons and there were 173 episodes. I’m not sure I ever watched an entire episode, but I remember hearing a radio interview with the show’s host, Mike Rowe. He said, “my dad told me there are two kinds of jobs: jobs where you shower before you go into work, and jobs where you shower after you get done.” You can probably think of what some of those jobs might be, and what kind of work you do or have done. Being dressed appropriately for what you’re doing is not just about comfort and functionality, it’s about being dressed appropriately for the role you are in: Some of you might justifiably take offense if I stood up to preach wearing the T-shirt and shorts I had on to pick tomatoes last week, even though both of those activities happen here at the church. Sometimes what we wear is a matter of safety: someone doing welding in shorts and flip flops is going to have a bad day — check with Jason Ward if you don’t want to take my word for it.
I am on board with needing to wear the right thing for whatever we are doing, but I gotta tell you, this passage from Ephesians 6 is a tough one for me. It’s pretty well known; I would expect that many of you have heard it before. It is one of the few biblical passages that has spin-off children’s merchandise: you can go on line and purchase your own whole armor of God set for your child or toddler. A set of armor might slow down a toddler a little bit. But you can probably guess why this passage is tough for me — because of all the roles I imagine for myself as a Christian: preacher, pastor, leader, encourager, teacher, tomato-picker, whatever — warrior has never been on my list. People who wear armor, either men or women, are warriors, and, that’s a role I need to come to terms with for myself.
I have never come to work or gone out to eat or hung around my house wearing armor — at least not actual armor that anyone could see. Wearing armor sends a clear message: I expect to be attacked; I am prepared to defend myself. But I confess that I have come to meetings at church in metaphorical armor: I have shown up with the assumption that I am going to be attacked and the conviction I am prepared to defend myself. Those meetings have rarely gone well, as you might imagine. It’s good to be prepared, but when I show up on the defensive, I tend to experience everything as an attack, whether it was intended that way or not.
So before we armor up, let’s look more closely at what the author of Ephesians is talking about. Although it’s fun to visualize the equipment worn by Roman soldiers listed in verses 14-17, we need to keep in mind verse 10 which says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” The source of our strength is not ourselves, and our armor is not the product of human hands. Which is good, because verse 13 tells us “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against . . . the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.”
[Slide 1] So let’s go down this list. First of all, we’re told twice to put on the whole armor of God — these pieces work together. It starts with the belt of truth — the piece which holds the entire armor ensemble together. It’d be nice if that truth was whatever we wanted it to be, but it turns out people are not so good with truth. I heard an interview recently with an addictions counselor who said most humans — any of us, not only addicts — lie an average of 1-2 times a day. Not necessarily big lies, but shading the truth in ways which distort the truth. She challenges the patients she works with to try to go two weeks without lying. About anything: I read your email; I took out the trash; I floss everyday — anything. If we cultivate the habit of lying to ourselves and calling it the truth, we will be defenseless against lies from others, and unable to distinguish the truth when we hear it.
The breastplate of righteousness is next. Righteousness is what we know, but more importantly, it’s how we act. A breastplate is where knights and warriors would display the crest of their lord, or whom they were fighting for: I’m acting on behalf of my king. A breastplate is defensive — it might save your life, but you’re not going to run anyone through with your breastplate: to bash someone over the head with it, you’d have to take it off and leave yourself exposed. We give our allegiance to what is closest to our hearts.
The shoes which proclaim the gospel of peace are surely a reference to Isaiah 52:7 which says, How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Peace is the work of everyone, but it is especially significant for warriors, because for warriors, peace is the difference between life and death. Peace is not a product of military power, peace is God’s will for the kingdom of God.
The shield of faith, like the breastplate of righteousness, is a way to defend ourselves. Faith is our conviction that the God we cannot see is more powerful than forces of evil which we cannot see. Faith is what gets us through our most difficult times.
The helmet of salvation protects the most vulnerable part of us: our heads, our minds, our thoughts. If our allegiance is in our hearts, then our convictions and opinions are in our heads. Thoughts determine actions. We need to think and act as people who have been redeemed and saved by Jesus Christ and who are committed to following him.
The sword of the Spirit is the only piece of this armor which you could attack someone with, so I’m going to handle this sword with care. This passage tells us to stand firm, to withstand, and to stand. That means to hold our position, to persevere, to not give up. The word of God is the position which we hold, the solid ground on which we stand: nothing in this passage suggests that the word of God is something which we wield against other people, so we can run them through, or beat them into submission.
So once we armored with truth, righteouseness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Spirit, whom are we to defend ourselves against? [Slide 2] I believe there are evil forces that we do not fully understand, and which are beyond what we know. But there is also danger in assuming that everyone we encounter is a potential adversary who is out to get us. If we assume that everyone is out to get us, that almost guarantees that we will be treated as enemies, too. It is not other people, and especially not other Christians, whom we are to fight against. If we take that war into meetings and conferences and worship setting, we will be killed by friendly fire. We cannot use the sword of the Spirit against our brothers and sisters if we are wearing the belt of truth and shoes which proclaim the gospel of peace. We have to be strong in the Lord and trust in the strength of God’s power: if our enemies are not flesh and blood, the power of God is our only hope. We should be cautious about what armor we put on.
Because here’s the thing about armor: the armor we wear shapes who we are. [Slide 3] I’ll read this quote from theologian and author Barbara Brown Taylor, but I’ll leave the slide up for a bit for you to consider. She says,
“The hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as self — to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll convince, or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.”
If we are wearing the armor of manipulation, sarcasm, hostility, anger, or apathy, we will end up trapped in our own armor: it is impossible to respond to Jesus’ call to love our neighbor if we encounter everyone we meet as a potential enemy. Our armor will become a prison which traps us, rather than the strength which defends us. The whole armor of God: truth, righteousness, peace, faithfulness and salvation sets us free. They free us to be the people who God is calling us to be; they free us to act in the Spirit of God; and they free us to love others.
The book of Ephesians has been telling us how to live a holy life: how to get beyond where we are to the place where God wants us to be. This passage promises that a life of truth and righteousness is the protection we need against evil which is beyond what we know or understand. Stand firm in the love and the strength and the freedom of Christ. Amen