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The New Fashion

Sermon - 8/23/09
April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Ephesians 6:10-20

The mission of our denomination is “to be and share the good news of Jesus Christ, witnessing, loving and serving from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)  We pray that we may be a faithful, growing church, that demonstrates true community, deep Christian spirituality and a passion for justice. Amen. Have you noticed yet how sometimes that’s an easy thing and sometimes not?

What we believe about God and what we do in the name of God have a way of getting broken apart in our lives.  It happens!  In the life of Jesus faith and action are bound together and that is the difficult work of our daily living – to heal the brokenness in our own lives where our beliefs do not match our behavior.

For example, this congregation recently hired a woman to be the Associate Pastor.  Now, I know for generations that Disciples have ordained women and called them as pastors, and I know women have been guests in this pulpit, but for some I am the first woman. Seeing a woman at the table, presiding over the elements, is new to some and not to others.   

Now I know something else, and so does anyone who meets our congregation:  that this community calls both genders to lead and teach and grow together.  Your calling me to this position is a behavior matching a belief.

But there are other areas of our lives that are still fragmented. You see it once and you begin to see it everywhere, there is hardly a person or place or community that has escaped such brokenness – there is much work to be done toward reconciliation.   We are still being called to reconcile what we believe and how then we act.

We understand that after reading Ephesians now for 3 weeks we are participants in this most urgent work of reconciliation in the world.  This is how Ephesians is still speaking to us today.  They are telling us what they believe --  it is imperative that each of us joins in vigorously and perseveringly, to aid this cause, where we would all be brought together.  And so Chapter 6:10-20, Paul’s conclusion to the people of Ephesus: 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.


This passage is rich with imagery and interpretation.  I can understand how some might feel comforted and others queasy when hearing it read aloud.

I don’t disagree with the elements of the armor – truth, peace, the spirit, salvation….  Where I’m caught up is that we are at war.  Peace is a weapon in a warfare that we are not prepared to fight in.  I’m stuck on the image of the soldier for Christ. 

The Romans were soldiers in this time. 

And you can see it in your mind, can’t you?  The shield, the spear, sword in scabbard? , the helmet, with the eyes cut out and the long nose.  The image speaks to the Ephesian community.  But not to us. 

You know the Roman empire also believed in peace.  They had a vision of peace.  Just that on many occasions the pathway to peace was fought with thousands of soldiers, out on the battlefield.  Fighting in the name of their God, the Emperor, they put on their armor and fought to the death. 

You see the Roman theology of peace is:  piety, war, victory, peace. 

Paul's response to the Roman Imperial Theology is:  piety - nonviolence - justice - peace.

The Christian response in the first centuries of Christianity is that peace is not achieved through violence but in fact through justice. 

This is Paul’s Theology of Peace and our inheritance as Christians today. This theology is a salve – a healing, binding agent that binds brokenness back together.

Yes!  That is a theology I can get behind!  A call to something deeper, bigger, more freeing than a peace achieved through violence and forced obedience.    How can one really achieve a lasting peace through violence anyway?  And I would argue how can you achieve peace when you are dressed like a warrior?  in your full armor?

See the armor isn’t speaking to me this morning.  When I think of telling this part of Ephesians to Hannah, or any child, I don’t want them to go home with a craft that looks like a soldier – or have them say “I learned to fight my enemies” 

See what is speaking to me is the elements they are passing onto us – things recommended for the journey.  We have to take these words and teach ourselves in the same way we would teach the children – we too are learning! What it means to walk the way of peace through truth, justice, the Holy Spirit, prayer, salvation.

See now here’s where my mind goes next -

When I say I believe in truth, peace, righteousness, and salvation, and prayer – and these are truly put to use in my life there is vulnerability – a lack of armor - not a vulnerability in the armor itself {in the neck, under the breastplate} where someone else can pierce us – but  a beautiful vulnerability in the very action of using these tools – it is a lack of armor - it is the opening of me, the risk you take in showing such places inside myself – a place of peace, truth.

I know that this passage has helped many in times to carry you through a difficult transition – when God has walked with you, beside you as you journeyed – these words have described how you felt protected by God – secure in your footing when all else was unstable, insecure, uncertain.  I get that.  That speaks to me too, and then Feeling protected by God is one thing, expressing how that protection feels and what it means is another.  To someone who does not know the Christian language, has not heard the story of Jesus, has no connection to your culture and your feelings and they read this passage and wonder if you really are a little soldier.  What’s the new action wear for Christians?  What can Christianity offer as equipment for the journey?  Not the Christian journey, but the JOURNEY we all find ourselves on. 

When you bring peace to the table then your agenda is fluid, moveable – for you are seeking balance, equality justice. Shoes of peace – those are comfortable shoes, because no one said the path of peace would be easy so you need some comfortable shoes.  If you bring truth to the table, if you are genuinely bringing belief in truth, then your agenda moves with the conversation everyone has a truth and when each is free to express truth the scales move.  The belt of truth – maybe a fanny pack? You know with the pocket to carry perspective, patience, open eyes.  In addition to this list I think there is more to take on the journey -  Take with you education, hands that are capable of giving & receiving,  take a heart for prayer, and pray together, in any language, in any manner.   This is how God still speaks to us – through  our past experiences of truth, salvation -  and now we know there is more to add  for future Christians and the continued journey. 

And we can add that Not one of these elements alone can save.  Faith alone does not ensure success for a person who has no access to health care, employment, education.  Truth alone does not win b/c we all have truth – and that easily leads to butting heads and pushing one another into corners, submission.  Quoting the word God alone does not bring peace.  Don’t even get me started.  Any of them alone is like banging your shield up against the anothers – no you’re wrong. No you are.  My god says…well mine says…well God is on my side.  Mine too!

These words do mean something, but they cannot be used to guard us against them.

I like reading multiple translations of a biblical text – and some of you responded positively to my doing so last week so I’ll do it again. 

“God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we'll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

 13-18Be prepared. You're up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it's all over but the shouting you'll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You'll need them throughout your life. God's Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other's spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. “

I don’t know what these forces are that we are fighting – but I think the fight is just an illusion  - a distraction - designed to keep us apart.  And we personify these forces in order to make sense of an enormous task we feel called to – reconciling the whole world?  Let’s just pick one person – if I can save you…then I can go to work on you…  not seeing how she or she is using force as well. 

I watched the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and he was interviewing Betsy McCaughey, was the Lt. Governor from NY in the 90’s and she is currently an opponent of the House Health Care Reform Bill.  There is plenty more information on Ms. McCaughey and the health care debate on the internet – go for it!–  My point is this recent incivility on the news, on the web, in op-eds, in street interviews, on the blogs - just makes me want to pull my hair out.  I can’t even get Kelly really started on a conversation about updates in health care reform– he just starts to shake his head and hands and no words come.  This is place in our world where there is fragmentation about what we believe and how we behave. And we're trying here, as a country to find the outcome we all hope for.  That we can leave something important to our children, and for ourselves, a way that Americans will be cared for.  But sometimes I feel we are stuck in this completely out of control situation.

I love Jon Stewart, I was kickin' with the Daily Show back when Craig Kilborn was hosting and I’m generally impressed with anyone that agrees to even go on the show – because you know Jon is going to call you out, get to the heart of it, probably make fun of you a little bit.   Steven Colbert will definitely do all those things.  So Betsy McCaughey gets points for having the guts to go on the show, and she’s smiling.

Jon introduces her and she comes out carrying a big binder – it’s the first half of the House health care reform bill and I swear to you the first thing I thought of was it was her shield-  if you’ll pardon as I personify God for a moment as if God decided – NOW you will be inspired for your sermon – while I’m watching the Daily Show on You Tube .  She used it as a shield, but She also carried the bill around like the words held the key to the truth – that if we’d only read it we’d get it. 

And Jon Stewart’s response?  Well I did read it. And that’s not what it means.  And she’d say, well you’re wrong.  And he’d jokingly offer, well, you’re crazy!  And the audience laughs, me too.  They would agree and then finally disagree.  All the way through the interview. – Jon was criticized that he was somehow weak on the retort compared to his "spare no expense, leave no stone unturned" feel that his interviews normally have.

And I’m watching Jon Stewart and thinking about none of it makes any sense anymore –it’s funny, and it’s not funny, and I’m playing a role in keeping it at the superficial, fighting level -playing the game. Jon Stewart is so darn funny and smart!  And I’m looking at this woman who is getting laughed at by other Americans, and I’m laughing too, and I need her if I believe what I actually say I believe. 

This present moment, is the one we have. we are the lab.  We are being called to something deeper. Wider, More encompassing, more inclusive – God is luring us with reconciliation – suggesting we reconsider and keep trying. 

There is fragmentation among us – as to how God’s message is to be applied.  There are people here who have felt or currently feel trampled and beat up by another’s theology.  And universal is the feeling of irritation when that happens!  At least we share that, right?  But we do all believe that God’s love is for all and that love can be transformative and reconciling – There is a moment when someone tells me “you have offended me with your words or theology” – that is a moment for a choice – to review my words, re-think about what I’ve said, ask myself if I intended to offend or what exactly was I trying to say?  If reconciliation is my goal then though there is an opportunity to say who cares what you think or how you feel  - I can choose hold on to the other person, find a way to mend the brokenness. 

For years this congregation has been a welcoming community to gay and lesbian couples, transgendered persons, straight persons are welcome to participate fully in the life of the church and receive all the gifts of such partnership in Christianity– and a lived experience we have yet to face as a community is when one of our own – ones we call sisters and brothers - comes and asks to be married in this sanctuary.  In that moment we will be in a position to ask…what do I believe? How then do we respond?  That is just one example of how we are still called to engage in peacemaking dialogue with one another. 

“These things are So that you may be able to stand your ground”, Paul says - standing your ground needs not always be a defensive act.  To stand in peace, with perspective,  can be a teaching act. To stand with faith, hope, trust, with heart can be an encouraging act.   The book of  Ephesians says we are one body. And so we must pray that we would stop seeing in teams– there is no us and there is no them, There is only we. 

Paul ends with an appropriate prayer for himself and his friends on the journey. Pray that I'll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time.  And Pure grace and nothing but grace be with all of you…

Yes, God, hear our prayer – may we know what to say and when to say it and with courage and in the spirit of love.  And please, God, encourage us to keep trying, may we see one more chance every day on the journey. 



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