The Full Armor of God
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.
We need armor
I think it’s no coincidence that Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians by exhorting them to put on the full armor of God. Put on the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, all that, because in many ways, Paul knows what’s coming. It’s not easy, this life, this life of discipleship and following Jesus. Think of everything just our church, much less churches around the world, has overcome through our 170 years. Our organization and charter, building campaigns, uninspired preaching, power-hungry church members, family feuds, low attendance, unmet pledges, leaking sanctuary ceilings, replacement steeples. We need armor.
In the Gospel of Luke, an officer in the Roman army comes to Jesus and asks Jesus to heal one of his servants. When Jesus approaches his house to heal the servant, the soldier says, “No, no I’m not worthy for you to come into my house, just speak the word and he will be healed. I have soldiers under my authority just like you have disciples under yours, I don’t want to take up too much of your time.” And Jesus says, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Jesus says these words of a Roman soldier, one who had taken part in killing Jews and keeping the “Peace” of Rome.
The church historian Jerome who translated the Bible from the Hebrew and Greek into Latin once said, “Just as wise leaders of armies are accustomed to assault especially those places of a city which are least protected so that, when they have broken in through those places, the protected areas may be easily captured, so also the devil seeks to break in and reach the very citadel of our heart and soul through those places which he sees lying open or perhaps not shut up firmly.”
There is something about the Roman soldier, someone trained by one of the most powerful militaries in the history of the world, who is skilled in hand-to-hand combat, capable of brutal violence, who knows what it takes to be an officer and a soldier in Jesus’s army of disciples. It takes armor, strength, perseverance, skills, it’s going to take everything you got to fight the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers, the spiritual forces of evil.
Wearing God’s Armor
Lauren Winner, an Episcopal Priest, in her book “Wearing God” talks about the kind of clothes we wear and what they say about who we are. In Genesis, God clothes Adam and Eve with their own skin, God gives them skin to live in the world. And one way to talk about what happened in the Fall was that the glory which Adam and Eve wore in the garden had been stripped off. Jesus, then, comes to strip off his own glory and puts on a body thus reclothing Adam and granting to us the glory we once lost.
Winner talks about her own experience with clothing. We wear different clothes for different occasions, or when we feel different moods, or when we want to look professional, or hip and cool, or comfortable. In a way, clothing protects us and is our attempt from becoming too vulnerable.
She says, “Clothing doesn’t just shape identity. It also communicates something about our identity to the people we meet. I am not just trying to convince myself that I am a professional when I wear those Talbots suits -- I am also trying to say to my colleagues and students: I am a grown-up, I belong here, I take this work seriously, please take me seriously.”
In Galatians, Paul says “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” It’s interesting to think that God doesn’t give us a new kind of skin, or different clothes, but that in our baptism and through re-creating us, God clothes us with God’s own self. You have been clothed with Christ. Covered with the armor of God. What does it mean for us to see ourselves as clothed, armored, with God?
Belt of Truth
A part of that armor is the belt of truth. It’s not the belt of half-lies or falsehood or fibs. It’s the belt of truth. I wonder if there’s any significance to truth being a belt. It’s something that holds everything else in place. If it falls or fails, the rest of us comes undone. And it has to be tight. It can’t be sloppy or hanging halfway off; the belt of truth must be secure.
John McCain - American hero, POW, senator, presidential candidate. Saw a lot of change through his years in the senate, but he was committed to the American people. He wasn’t there to keep his seat, win re-elections, he believed in America and was willing to gain enemies because of his commitment to the American people. At times, he was ridiculed and mocked and he even ventured out beyond the platform of his own party to bring them back to where the people needed them, which is why he got the nickname “Maverick.”
Christianity needs the kind of disciples that John McCain was for the US Senate. Committed, devout, ready and willing to go and spread our agenda throughout the world. People who so believe in the truth of Jesus Christ that they’re willing to go to the ends of the earth to tell the world about Jesus.
Shoes of the gospel of peace
Paul says we need shoes that will enable us to proclaim the gospel of peace. Again, there is this weird connection between the gospel being the gospel of peace, and yet it requires us to have armor. But at the same time, I think about people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, and too many others to name, who knew that in some sense, peace requires everything you have.
The great preacher Frederick Buechner once wrote, "If you want to know who you really are as distinct from who you like to think you are, keep an eye on where your feet take you." Peace is the goal. Our feet, not our words, will get us there. Paul doesn’t say any one style of shoe is THE most appropriate for spreading the gospel of peace. I suppose wing-tips or high heeled pumps will do, even Crocs or flip-flops. But my experience is that spreading peace is hard work. My money would be on work boots as the best, probably a pair with steel toes.
We prepare ourselves to go out into the world. We don’t go barefoot or in flip-flops. We have to find the best pair of steel toed boots we can find because we know our toes are going to be stepped on.
We’re still called to preach the good news and share the gospel of Jesus Christ and that’s why we need all the armor we can get. It’s not to save our life. We don’t wear armor so we might be spared, that is not a promise of the gospel. The promise of the gospel is if we seek to save our life we will lose it and if we lose our life we will find it. But we wear the armor of God because there are other people in this world who need to hear the good news, to tell them that they are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, members of the household of God, rooted in love, united in the Spirit, imitators of God...
Last week we talked about Paul’s words in chapter 5. He speaks to wives, slaves and children, all people who had no rights, no status, no power in the ancient world and says, “You, you are to put on the armor of God because no one is going to give you anything, no one is going to treat you like how you want to be treated, no one is going to say you deserve rights or higher wages or freedom, put on the armor of God and be the united, Body of Christ in a broken, destructive, violent world.” The world isn’t suddenly going to be a nicer, gentler, peaceful place. Paul, after is in prison, he’s been beaten, lashed, whipped, almost stoned to death. We shouldn’t expect the world to think what we have to say matters or is anything they should care about. But nevertheless we put on the armor of God and go out and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
On the night before he was assassinated, MLK preached in Memphis, TN to a group of sanitation workers who were on strike. Local residents had objected to the sanitation workers’ practice of eating lunch outside the trucks. And so the workers were instructed to eat in the truck -- but the cab of a truck will not accommodate a crew of four. One rainy afternoon, two of the workers crawled into the compactor on the back of the truck to eat their sandwiches. Something shorted in the electrical gear, the system engaged, and the two workers were compacted, like garbage.
So MLK was there preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan. He was asking why the priest and the levite did not stop to help the man in the ditch, and he said maybe they were just plain afraid. You stop on a road like that, and you may well be the next victim. You open your home to the wrong people, and they will rob you blind. You stand up for the wrong cause, and your reputation may wind up in the ditch. In his speech, King says even honorable people ask, “What will happen to me if I stop?”
King said the person in the ditch, left for dead, there in the side of the road, is the church in America. He said the American church had lost its way, it had gotten entangled with racism and hatred and violence and it needed rescuing. And he turned and looked at the members of the black congregation in which he was preaching and said, “The Good Samaritan who can help the American church out of the ditch, out of its racism, is the foreigner, the other, you, the black church.” They needed to put on the armor of God and the shield of faith and go out to preach the gospel.
In the last line of his sermon, King said the real question was not, “What will happen to me if I do stop?” but, “What will happen to them if I do not"?