Proper 16b, 2012; On being fully dressed

John 6:56-69

Words matter.  At or around the birth of a baby we hear, “it’s a girl; it’s a boy;” and these are words, not only of paint colors and wardrobe choices, but of joy and heritage and family.  When someone is lonely, “hello, friend” are lifesaving words.  And in the aftermath of shootings and car accidents and storms, the words “I’m okay, I’m alive,” are hard to match for their preciousness and joy.  She’s okay.  He’s alive.  How sweet is the sound of a well-timed word!

Some words are more difficult to hear … “we can’t find him; she didn’t make it; I’m sorry.”  We have probably heard words like these more than we care to remember.

Sometimes we need a translation for the very words that we are hearing.  The apostle Paul writes in this letter to the Ephesians with words of battle, of how we as Christians dress for war.  But many of us are far removed from war, its strategies, hardships and attire.  Armor and war are things that we know from history, television, and video games … perhaps putting on the armor of a Christian needs some explanation.  Care to join me?

“Be strong in the Lord,” Paul tells us.  Recognize that there is a war going on; not among ourselves in flesh and blood and bodily disagreements, but the realm of powers and principalities.  This is spiritual warfare, a fight against evil everywhere … even “in the heavenly places.”  Be strong in the Lord.  We must arm ourselves for battle – for hardships of every kind and in every place that we know.  Here are our Christian garments:

We fasten the belt of truth around our waists.  It is hard to be a truth-teller.  Tell the truth, even when that’s hard to do.  We have the best truth that there is, that in whatever hardship we find ourselves, God is present.  He who threw evil out of the realms of heaven can throw evil out of our lives.  God’s truth is our gospel, our risen Lord.  We gird ourselves with Truth.

A breastplate is the piece of armor that covers our front; we wear the armor of righteousness.  (Huh?)  In very simple words, “do right.”  Do the right thing, even when we are surrounded with criticism, scorn, or unbelief.  We do the right thing in the empowered Spirit of God, knowing that it is not what we DO that makes us good, but God who declares us righteous and so we are.  Put on the covering of righteousness.

Finally, finally, I get to talk about footwear from the pulpit!  We are standing in our armor; we must put on our feet whatever it is that allows us to walk with and in the peace of the Lord.  For one theologian, this means her fuzzy slippers; for another, his flip flops.  Shoes that pinch and bind and bother our bunions are not what allow us to stand in peace; stand in that which gives you the courage to speak God’s peace.

Well dressed so far, we add to our protection the shield of faith.  Whatever is not covered in truth, right-doing, right-being and peace, we guard and protect with faith.  Faith is one mighty shield; there is nothing than can penetrate that armor.  Our shield of faith “quench[es] all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”  We hold our faith before us.

Our helmet is salvation, Christ the Lord.  We are putting on the armor of Christ, covered in His salvation.

We also carry a weapon, which is the word of God, the Word, the Christ, the Spirit; God.  Our sword is the word of God.  We are to know it, to study it, to pray it so that we can pick it up at all times.  Carry the Word of God.

Words matter.  The words that matter most are the living words of God.  Here are words that are alive!  The bible is the living word of God; its message reaches out to us from the time of creation until today and beyond.  Battles are fought.  Battles are won.  God wins.  We have a place and a part in the victory.  Carry the word of God on your person, in your home, in your heart.  Pick it up; let it change you.

We carry this sword of the spirit, the word of God; Paul tells us to pray in the Spirit, too.  Is this hard for you?  It is for me, too.  As hard as it is to pick up the bible, dust it off, show it off, and, well – read it?  It is hard to pray in the Spirit.  Let’s try:

Our Father, who art in … what are we having for lunch, did I pay the phone bill, do we have any milk, which game will I watch today, why won’t “they” sit still, “and away our minds wander.  We are not praying in the Spirit at all, but distracted by every though and whim that enters our mind simultaneously with our prayers.”  We must work at praying in the Spirit.  Ask God to take away our distractions to help ourselves focus on our relationship with God, to allow ourselves to be quiet, to be still, to pray.

Sermon writer George Stein gave me many of those words about the Lord’s prayer.  His thoughts hit very close to home.  As well-dressed as we are, I share with you his mother’s daily morning prayer … perhaps we can pray in the Spirit together for the next few moments.  Clear our minds, deep breath, stray thoughts go away:

“O God, this morning I come into the stillness of your presence to begin this day with you, so that out of this moment, I may take with me a quiet serenity and strength to last me all day long.  I have come to find wisdom, so I do not make any foolish mistakes.  I have come to find peace, so that nothing would worry or upset me all through today.  I have come to find love so that nothing would make me bitter, unforgiving or unkind.  I have come to find justice, so that I would always work for the poor and disadvantaged in the world.  I have come to begin this day with you, continue it with you, and end it with you, so that this would be a day which has nothing to regret.  Here this morning prayer, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.”  (George Stein, sermonsfromseattle.com, accessed 8/24/12)

Fully dressed, go forth into the world.

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