My nephew and I are often exchanging books to read, we share the same interest in fantasy and science fiction, he’s an English major like me. The most recent recommendation he made was a book tilted The Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. I went to the used book site I buy books from on the Internet, and learned that this was the first in a series of four books, so I bought them all. As they came I realized that each book was 900 pages long, plenty of summer reading I figured. It's also been made into an HBO series. This is an epic story of Kings and Queens, Knights and courts and battles. Well of course the knights and the warriors don their battle armor, so I’ve actually been thinking about this image of armor and battle for quite a while now. In the fantasy stories there seems to be much romance in knights doing battle. The armor these particular knights put on shows their status, the armor is inlaid with gems, it shows who they are, the house they belong too has a symbol that is represented in the armor, and it shows their allegiance, the king they serve. Putting on this amazing armor however also means they go to do battle on their King’s behalf, and more than likely die in the process.
The people in Ephesus, the audience for this letter, were mostly Roman Gentiles, not Jews. They were warriors and familiar with putting on armor and going to war. These days we aren’t so comfortable with going to war for Christ, there’s been so much abuse in our history. Nevertheless, here it is, and there is a wonderful juxtaposition as well. Paul instructs them to put on their feet whatever will make them ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. What can we claim from this for ourselves?
The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes that will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit. For Paul this is not as much about protection against the powers of darkness as it is dressing in the strength of Jesus. It is not so much about insulation from the evils of the world as it is about taking on the church’s holy calling of reconciliation. I think we must dress ourselves so that we may be ready, protection is not the point, being ready in truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and spirit is the point. How do we get ready? How do we dress ourselves with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and spirit?
We engage in ways that help us learn about where we’ve been, so that we may know where we are going, so that we may know what the work is that we are called to do. In dressing ourselves we engage in theological reflection, which is a fancy way of saying that we must reflect on our life and make faith connections. Theological reflection is simply wondering about God's activity in our lives. Asking ourselves where is God present? What is God calling us to do? By taking time to ask questions about what happens to us—seeing our experiences through the lens of faith—we become clearer about our connection to God. We all ask questions about relationships, our work, our children, our government, and our situation in life. We all reflect, wonder, analyze, think, assess, and discuss with friends as ways of trying to understand our life. Theological reflection simply refocuses all that thinking to encourage a stronger sense of relationship with God, asking, "Where does God fit into the picture?" "What is God calling me to do?" "Who is God calling me to be?"
Part of this wondering process is to find ourselves in the biblical story. You’ve heard me over and over ask the question, I wonder where you are in this story? This is a way to get you to see the biblical story as your story, but in order to find ourselves in the story, we must know the story. So dressing ourselves is to read and study scripture, so that we have a framework for wondering about how God fits into the picture. I encourage you to take the opportunity to study scripture here at St. Andrew’s. There is already a bible study at 5:30 on Tuesday nights, there is an intensive course called Education for Ministry that also meets on Tuesday nights, if these don’t fit for you, I’d be happy to find a time for another group to meet together for study.
Another part of dressing ourselves is prayer. In one sense, the whole reflection process is prayer, because it is intentional quiet time when we are conscious of God's presence in our lives. Yet concluding with an explicit prayer draws our whole reflection into an expression of our deepest hope. It takes all our hurts and joys, all insights and lingering questions into an intimate conversation with God. I have found that people using this process as a personal spiritual journey have deepened their prayer life or sometimes even discovered a prayer life if they had not experienced one before. It also takes the process of reflection from the posture of thinking about God to one of being with God, whether we do that alone or in a group.
And what is it we are getting ready for? We are standing ready as agents of resurrection, we are standing ready as people who are marked as Christ’s own forever for the purpose of being bearers of the kingdom in all places and at all times. Our job then, or the work that we are called to do, dressed in word and prayer, is to proclaim with our lives God’s presence with us. It is to proclaim with our lives that Love wins. If we were actually wearing armor, people would know right away we were warriors. We aren’t wearing armor, we are dressed in word and prayer, do people know right away who we are? Do people know right away that we live our lives as agents of resurrection? Do people know right away that we carry God’s presence with us? How would they know that to see and hear us?
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is about healing and reconciliation. As agents of the resurrection, as co-workers with Jesus in enacting the kingdom, it is our job to participate in activities that bring healing and wholeness to this broken and fragmented world. It is our job to give ourselves away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return.
This way is not an easy way, it takes preparation. That’s what’s in John’s gospel today. Many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. Dressing ourselves in our armor and going out to do what we are called to do is not easy work. And it involves risk, a warrior risked death, we risk life. The life that John is all about, the life that is abundant and amazing. The life that brings healing. The life that is the good news, good news that spreads in our families, our communities, our country.
Clothe yourselves in word and prayer, and go forth into the world to show that Love wins.