Scripture: Ephesians 6:10-20
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. ~ Ephesians 6:10-11
During the first lockdown last year it was a challenge to keep our children engaged and active. As we struggled to deal with the changing landscape of school, work and daily life we had to find new ways to entertain and engage with our children as we balanced work on top of all of that. Our youngest daughter developed a passion for doing flips, cartwheels and aerial spins on our play structure and in the backyard – whatever the surface, whatever the time you could find her doing cartwheels and handstands. Bethany and I quickly realized that this passion was backed up by skill and ability and so we encouraged her to try out for the competitive gymnastics team.
She was accepted onto the team and late last summer we received her ‘gymnastics kit’. Now I must admit I was shocked by how much stuff was in it. Having only watched gymnastics every four years at the Olympics I thought that gymnastics was the kind of sport that didn’t require much in the way of equipment – just a leotard and the apparatuses in the gym – but boy was I wrong. Her bag was full: chalk block, skipping rope, yoga mat, stretching bands, exercise roller, sliders, tape and so much more – all with their specific purpose and all necessary to maximize her training for her to be the best she could be.
I think that we in the church often think it is ‘easy’ to be the church, that we don’t need much in the way of equipment. After all, when we begin following Jesus we just need a willing heart and a trusting faith – there is no entrance exam or technical know-how needed, and while baptism at some point is expected one can still follow Jesus and even be a part of the church community without it.
On the surface and in theory, the life and calling of the church might be easy, but we live in the real world, with real people and very real challenges. As the last year and a half of the pandemic has reminded us there are outside forces that make the life of the church challenging at the best of times and nigh on impossible at the worst of times.
If we were left to our own devices or needed to rely on our own power and ability these challenges would overwhelm us and we would succumb to the forces of the world which do not want to see a thriving and life-filled church worshipping the One true God. The calling and life of the Church may be too difficult to live out of our own power, but thankfully in his letter to the fledgling Church in Ephesus Paul reminds them, and us by extension, that we are not left defenceless and naked.
Paul wrote “therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all these take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to withstand all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” God bestows these gifts upon the Church, God gives the Church these gifts to ensure that we can live out the calling to be redeemed, reconciled and renewed so that we can be the Church.
But what do each of these mean, and how can we, so to speak, take up the whole armour of God as the Church and as individual Christians. Paul begins his exhortation to the church with the belt of truth and so we begin there too. Understanding and claiming truth is an important step in our identity as a Church, though we have to be careful in what we mean by truth. For the Church the only truth which matters, the only truth which has bearing on our life together is the Truth revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says he is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is the Truth and therefore, for us to fasten the belt of truth is to allow for the life and teaching of Jesus to be the only influence in our life together as a Church. We need to hold fast to Christ, we need to recognize that it is in Christ we have renewed relationship with God, and it is in imitating Christ that we experience most fully what it means to be the Church. We need to forgive as Jesus forgave we need to care for the poor and marginalized just as Jesus did. This is what I think it means to fasten the belt of truth.
Paul continues by stating we need to put on the breastplate of righteousness. In Christ God has made us righteous, he has restored us and the Church to the right relationship with God: this is the breastplate of righteousness. As we strive to recognize the Lordship of God, as we strive to honour and glorify God in all that we do as Church we live into the righteousness that God has promised us.
Paul continues the armour metaphor by suggesting that for shoes we put on whatever allows us to preach the Gospel of peace. As a Church we need to remove obstacles that stop us from proclaiming the Gospel, we need to find ways to make it easy for us to share the Good News of peace which we have experienced in Christ. There is something quite encouraging for me in this statement, as we are called to do whatever makes it easiest for us to proclaim the Good News not to take on challenging strategies or programs that will help us evangelize, but rather to do the simple things. Actions as simple as letting your neighbours and friends know you are praying for them or as simple as going out of your way to help someone in need even in the littlest of things.
The next two pieces of the armour of God are I believe interconnected: the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. We are a community that has received the gift of faith from God and the assurance of salvation in Jesus Christ. As we claim the faith and trust in God’s promises and as we claim the assurance of salvation in Jesus Christ we can live in confidence, we can face the challenges and obstacles of the world in the sure knowledge of God’s love, mercy and faithfulness. Individually we may have our moments of doubt, our moments when we are not so sure of our salvation in Jesus Christ: but that is the gift of community. While we as individuals may have these moments of doubt, as the gathered community of the Church we are here to bear witness to the faith that God has given to us, we are here to bear witness to the salvation that God has wrought for us in Jesus Christ. Even in your moments of doubt or difficulty, know that you are upheld in faith and assurance by the community of Christ’s Body.
Paul ends his list of the armaments of God with the Sword of Spirit or the Word of God. The word of God, the Holy Scriptures that we read and pray faithfully week in and week out, is one of the primary ways in which we as a community are formed by the Holy Spirit and one of the primary ways we can continue learning what it means to grow into the full stature of Christ. Just as water streaming over rock will slowly overtime erode the rock and make grooves and channels, as we continue to read and pray the Holy Scriptures our imaginations are slowly transformed by the working of the Holy Spirit. Reading and studying the Bible provides us with the greatest opportunity to learn what it means to be the Church and is the foundational gift of God to the Church where we can more deeply learn about the other pieces of the armour of God.
As we continue to open up from the months-long pandemic and face a new reality of church and life in this world let us also remember that the Church is involved in the spiritual warfare against the powers and principalities of the world. Remember that we are not alone, that we are not left defenceless in these challenges, God has given the Church gifts, God has given the Church everything we need to be his Kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven, and for that, I say thanks be to God!