Ephesians 6: 10-20
It’s really too bad that the local Christian bookstore closed last month. Besides all of the supplies that could be obtained there; besides all of the Bible covers, and the wall hangings, and the Cd’s of music and the DVD’s, they had a toy section!
I loved going into that section, and seeing the Veggie Tales Noah’s Ark, or their Nativity scene (which I still kinda want).
But one thing you would always find in that section was what looked like a child’s make-believe gladiator suit. There would be a chest protector, a helmet, a belt, a sword. And the chest protector would have the word “righteousness”; the sword would say “spirit”. The helmet, which was always too small for any but the youngest heads, would say “salvation”; anf the belt, of nylon, or pleather, or whatever, would say truth.
It was a toy that taught this sc ripture. It’s too bad that we have to send for this stuff by mail order, now, because I really could have used the toy set this morning. It helps us remember what it is that we are supposed to be carrying forward vinto the world.
Paul was working with what he had. This was the bronze age (I think). Only certain cultures had the wherewithal to be able to make these items. They didn’t play sports back then, not any that required protection, and maybe the blacksmith had a leather apron. There were not a lot of needs of protective gear.
Imagine: if one person is wearing metal breastplate, and a helmet, and maybe shin guards, and everyone else is wearing woven cloth, and throwing rocks and swinging sticks, guess who wins the fight?
I don’t know how they’d keep bees, if they did-maybe they just ran up, grabbed a piece of comb, and ran for the hills.
My point is, if Paul had lived in a culture closer to ours, he would have had more options than just the militant one provided to him by the Roman army. He’d have available to him beekeeper’s net hats; he’d have mechanic’s gloves that for so well that he could pick tiny screws up while wearing them; he’d have those plastic shields that surgeons wear on tv that make them look like welders, and oh yeah, welders’ helmets!
For me though, the best image that comes to mind, as a substitute for warlike imagery, are football uniforms. Take the helmet of salvation (which of course will have a 49ers’ emblem on it!), and the forward pass of the spirit; and the thigh pads of truth, and the shoulder pads of faith.
I’m not saying that military imagery is bad for everyone, but I do know that there are people who would prefer their religious metaphor to be more peaceful. So we can play around with the more modern choices.
Paul is of course employing metaphor, teaching about what it is that we need to carry with us out into the world; truth, righteousness, faith, and and salvation, and we always are accompanied by the truth that we carry into the world is that God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son; it isn’t necessarily the most important bit that the gift was made; rather, that God does love us, that is the important part; that God loves the world now is the message we give.
And as far as righteousness goes, Paul doesn’t mean self righteousness, the arrogance and pride that so many of our co-religionists exhibit. Instead, he means the humility and humbleness of knowing that our work is never ending, and that it is true, but we are imperfect messengers, unable to get the message perfectly as God intends.
Truth. Righteousness. A drive to share the gospel of peace. Not a gospel of division; not a gospel of Methodists are better than Presbyterians, or Catholics; instead, a gospel of peace, saying that we are all children of God. And this is also how we are to live together.
This is what Paul is saying. It’s a metaphor. And we can change the metaphor to what works for us! It doesn’t have to be the armor of Roman soldier; it can be a bicycle helmet, it can be a beekeepers’ net hat.
Paul is talking about a mission; and in a mission, you have to wear what you need to get the job done. Whatever you require to share the love of God is what is necessary.
A preacher I read in the past, in seminary, has a line that fits here. Barbara Brown Taylor writes of the concept of preparedness. She writes that if the church were serious about being church, they would issue crash helmets, and the pews would have seatbelts. Ordinands and confirmands maybe should be given boots and backpacks.
To do church right is to support each other in bringing the love of God to a world that obviously needs it, but doesn’t always want it. We are not here to force the message, but we are here to share and be open with the message. We all know that there is pushback to our message, largely because it has been presented so imperfectly over time.
This is why we need protection and padding.