Amor of God
The epistle for last Sunday was Ephesians 6:10-20 or what is often called the “putting on the armor of God” text. For many worshippers and preachers alike, the message seems problematic. Modern readers of the text are often either, surprised by the armor imagery Paul uses or they delight in what they interpret as Paul endorsing militaristic posturing. But I believe both responses miss the mark.
Paul uses an image the people know quite well, the suit of armor of a Roman soldier. These are the soldiers that line their streets. These are the soldiers which have been entrusted with the responsibility that all citizens of Roman-occupied lands are loyal to government leaders and powers alone.
The uniform was unmistakable and symbolized worldly power and a deadly threat to their outward living of the Christian faith. Believers and followers of Christ were seen as disloyal to the powers on high and, as such, could be subject to torture, beatings, and even death.
And so, by using the armor image, Paul is challenging newly converted Christians to understand they are not powerless in the face of these earth powers. Instead, they have access to a higher power that surpasses all, the power of the Risen Christ.
He calls upon them to envision putting on an armor that can protect them and enable them to persevere regardless of whatever struggles or battles they face. Paul is not speaking of revenge or simply reverting to earthly forms of battle by putting on the steel of a breastplate, shield, and helmet, the leather of a belt and shoes, or the wood of arrows or sword, rather he is calling people of faith to engage in something higher, deeper, and more difficult.
The spiritual battle of living out the righteousness and truth of God and living by the word of the Lord calls us each to disarming actions such as showing forth ceaseless love, grace, and peace. Four times in Ephesians 6, Paul uses the word “stand”, as in stand firm in the righteousness and truth of God.
This kind of standing firm takes a deeper strength and test of character than those who might respond with anger, intolerance, hatred, and violence. It is easier to get angry, blow up, judge others, even hurt others and walk away than to stand firm in our commitment as Christians to love God and love our neighbors, especially those who feel like our enemies. It is a bold act of faith to stand firm in our conviction to love ALL people as God loves.
When the government of South Africa canceled a political rally against apartheid, Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu moved the rally into St. George’s Cathedral and turned it into a worship service. Soldiers and riot police followed and lined the walls of the cathedral with weapons and bayonets drawn.
Tutu spoke about the evils of apartheid and how rulers who supported it were doomed to fail. Tutu is a small man physically but not spiritually. He pointed a frail finger at the soldiers and police—“You may be powerful, but you are not God. God cannot be mocked. You have already lost.“ It was a moment of unbelievable tension.
Then Tutu came out from behind his pulpit and flashed his radiant smile and said, “Therefore, since you have already lost, we are inviting you to join the winning side. “The crowd roared. The police and soldiers put their weapons away and left the cathedral.
This was an example of standing firm. At that moment Bishop Tutu was wearing the armor of God which Paul describes. Tutu was wearing the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth and shoes ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
But we don’t have to be a Bishop Tutu to don the armor of God. It will look different for each of us. It will even change over time as we grow spiritually.
It is not an armor to fight back with the weapons of this world, but rather it is the armor
to protect our minds, bodies, and spirits so that we might face the difficult, sometimes even dark realities of this world with the righteousness, truth, and salvation of Christ Jesus to guide us.
When we face life’s struggles, may we, as Paul says, stand firm in the mighty power of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister