The Rev. Melanie McCarley
I am a woman of a certain generation who was born and raised in Virginia. Therefore, I’m quite familiar with the importance of what it means to put on one’s armor. No, I’m not talking about donning chain mail, sword and shield. I’m talking makeup.
This lesson was imprinted upon me as a child. I remember one busy morning when my mother discovered that she had left the house without lipstick. No matter that we were in the car and headed to church. We hit the brakes, turned that vehicle around and returned to the house so she could make herself presentable. That we might be late for worship was of no consequence—a well brought up lady simply did not enter the hallowed doors of the sanctuary of the Lord (or any place fifteen steps outside of one’s home) without first “putting on her face”. Think about it, women don’t refer to makeup as “war paint” without some elemental understanding that to enter the world meant, that on some level, we must arm ourselves the best we could—and, in southern speak (at least if you were a lady), it meant looking good even if the entire world might be oriented against you. Makeup, a smile—and, if the occasion was particularly important—pearls, those were, and in some places, still are, the armor of choice.
Times have changed somewhat since then. But I suspect each of us have been taught this lesson no matter from which part of the world we might hail. Whether your armor is a business suit and bow tie, a blazer and school pin, a dress with heels or a Hollister shirt, jeans and Nike Air Jordans, we all know what it means to “put on our armor.”
But clothing isn’t the only thing with which we outfit ourselves. Some folks cloak themselves with an impenetrable defense of sarcasm; others with anger or self-righteousness and still more with a feign of nonchalance and the catchword “Whatever”, uttered with a bored affect. If you think about it, indifference can be as much a form of armor as is bullying.”
This is my round-about way of bringing us to what we heard in the epistle for this morning: “….take up the whole armor of God….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…take (up) the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (And put on the) helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Like many others, I confess to a certain dis-ease with the employment of military imagery used in promoting our faith. It conjures up images of the crusades—and other events in our history that were sad distortions of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, I also believe there’s a great deal of hope and comfort to be found in this passage as well. So let’s take a closer look at just what it is that we are told forms our true defense against the evil powers of this age that are rallied against us.
We begin with a belt of Truth, followed by a breastplate of righteousness. Shoes heralding peace, a shield of faith, a helmet of salvation and a sword which is the Word of God. With the sole exception of the sword, as the Word of God, the rest of this armor is purely defensive in nature. It’s designed to protect. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation. Then there is the sword of the Spirit—which is the word of God. Notice, if you will, that the one weapon you have at your disposal is not your own words—it’s the word of The Lord. So, God’s word, rather than our own, is our weapon to wield against evil. Ephesians isn’t the only place we hear about the Word of God—in the epistle to the Hebrews we are told: “For the word of God living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, … it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Now, consider just what it is that we are armored against. Most important to bear in mind, it’s not other people. Verse 12 says: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against rulers, authorities and the cosmic powers of this present darkness…” So, put to rest any thought that we are kitted up to defend ourselves against other people—individuals whose political allegiances, economic theories, nationalities or lifestyles differ from our own. Instead, think of yourselves as armored against systems, structures and habits that are inherently evil—those that are racist, misogynist, hedonist or materialist, to name just a few. Why are they evil? Because they encourage ourselves, and others, to fail to live into the best of who God intends for us to become; they are, at their core, dehumanizing. And our defense—well, it’s not to launch some sort of bloodbath—it’s to live wholeheartedly (in body, mind and spirit) into the promises of God.
If we listen closely, what we discover is that our greatest protection against evil isn’t found in something as mundane as makeup, blazers or name brand clothing. Nor is it found in items such as mace, knives or handguns. Our greatest protection against evil are the spiritual and moral virtues of God: Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation and the Word of God. Period. As for those who might say to themselves: “Well, that might have been all well ad good for first century Christians, but it makes no sense for us today.” Consider this: the author of Ephesians isn’t naïve. These letters were written in a time of persecution, when it wasn’t uncommon for Christians to die for their faith. So, it’s particularly important for us to pay attention to what is being said in this letter. In difficult times it’s easy to be tempted to vengeance, self-interest, fear, hatred, greed and protection—and, quite frankly, that’s exactly what the evil one wants. But it is precisely these times in which our character and faith are called forth. Today’s lesson, in many ways, is a call for us to become large-souled people, compassionate, yet firm, speaking clarity and truth in an age of distortion. This passage—it’s not literally a call to arms. Instead is a call for moral greatness. And I submit to you that this is Good News—because it holds within it a promise—that no matter what forces are arrayed against us, God is with us. And, in the end, with God on your side, evil has absolutely no chance at all of winning. And that, is Good News indeed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.