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  • Rev. Sarina Odden Meyer

Ephesians 6: The Armour of God

Ephesians 6:10-20

Isaiah 59:15b-21

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

We are in the last week of our sermon series on Ephesians. I have always loved this passage on the armour of God. It has been a great help to me when I have had to have courage to follow God into the unknown, or to stay faithful to God when it seemed like everyone around me was going away from God. I was surprised, though, that when I read through this in preparation for the sermon today, I felt uncomfortable with it. Over the last several years, I have shifted my thinking on war imagery. Based on conversations I have had with people, I get the impression that many people have shifted their thinking on war imagery as well. For many of us, when we hear about the armour of God, we are reminded of times when Christians have gone to war in the name of Jesus. Things like the Crusades come to my mind, even things like the Manifest Destiny that Europeans used to justify taking land from the Indigenous people in the Americas. As we are all well aware, our society is looking back on what was done in the past and questioning the ethics of the decisions that were made and the actions that were taken. While our society, and we as part of our society, are working out these important and complicated issues, we might find ourselves hesitating when we come to a passage like the armour of God. We don’t want a text like this to inspire us to run roughshod over others, or to inspire us to take up arms against each other.

Today, I want us to keep in mind the fact that the whole first three weeks of our sermon series on Ephesians have been about bringing peace between God and humans through Jesus, and also God bringing peace between Jew and Gentile by breaking down the dividing wall forever. And that God continues to work in our lives to break down the dividing walls that we build. In Ephesians, the peace of the Gospel is about bringing people together. This morning, I want to do three things. First, I want to give us a visual of the imagery in this text. Second, I want to explain ways that this text can help us in our walk with God in our inner self. And third, based on the parallels in our Isaiah passage, I want to explain how this text relates to our walk with God in the world.

We have a special guest today, Junia, who will put on the armour of God. Our text says in verse 14,

“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 of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench 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.” ...

How does this imagery help us in our inner life in Christ? It’s helpful to remember that we are not fighting against other people. In verse 12 it is clear that our enemies are not flesh and blood, but spiritual. That’s why the armour of God is not a manual for how to maintain the physical armour of a Roman soldier. This is all metaphor, designed to give us courage in the face of the struggles of life. Sometimes all of our friends are doing things that draw us away from God. We might wonder why we shouldn’t do those things, too. Things like pornography, or being financially dishonest are unhealthy and destructive, both to ourselves and to others. Every time we do things like that we chip away at the new life, the peace, the hope, the joy, the healing that God brings to our lives through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We become people of darkness and not of light. We become incapable of having peace and also incapable of giving peace to others. The decision not to do things like that is harder, though. It requires courage. It requires not giving up when the going gets tough. It requires forging a new road, for ourselves, but also a new road that others could walk with us on.

When I read this passage on the armour of God in the face of all of the struggles and challenges that many of us are facing, it made me think of when the government calls in the army for emergency relief. The Canadian Army Disaster Assistance Response Team comes with their protective gear and all the tools they need to bring healing, hope, peace, salvation (saving lives). They wear their armour and they use their military training to bring order out of chaos, to rebuild where there has been destruction, to bring help when all hope has been lost. In a disaster, most people go the other way. To bring emergency relief, to put on their armour, to take up their tools, and to walk that hard road, that takes courage. That’s what the armour of God is intended to do: to give us courage to walk the road that Jesus is on, the road that leads towards healing, rebuilding, hope, peace. Sometimes the armour of God gives us the courage to even forge a new road when everyone around us is walking in a different direction.

This can be lonely. But one of the main lessons in Ephesians is about the new humanity that God has created in Jesus. The new community, the new church. All the verbs in this passage this morning are in the plural. As a community, we are called to put on the armour of God, to give us courage and strength and defence to forge a new path together. The importance of coming together on Sundays for worship is to be in the presence of God - with others - who are trying to follow Jesus, too. In our own struggles, it helps to talk to other Christians. It helps to pray for each other. It helps to know that others are going through the same struggles, or have gone through the same struggle and have come out on the other side. These verbs are plural because God is bringing us together in Christ, holding us together by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can together put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and discover together what it is that we should wear on our feet that helps us proclaim the Gospel of peace...

Finally, how does this imagery of the armour of God help us in our walk with God in the world? The author of Ephesians did not make up the armour of God. It appears in the Old Testament. There are many references to it in the book of Isaiah. The passage we read from Isaiah 59 is part of a longer passage about how injustice and oppression have become the norm in Israel. At the beginning of the chapter we learn that there is lying in everyday life and lying in the legal system. They engage in violence and destruction and no one knows peace. This is fascinating to me because it says that our inner life dictates how we engage in the world. And we see in our passage today in verse 16 that God was appalled that there was no one to intervene in all of this destructive behaviour. So God puts on the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation to go and do something about it: to bring justice and peace to the people again.

We learn two things about how the armour of God helps us engage in the world. First of all, what’s going on in our inner life dictates everything that we do. We cannot go with God to bring justice and peace to the land if we are creating destruction in our personal lives. If we don’t get our inner selves built up with courage from the armour of God to forge a new path and leave sin behind, then we become part of the problem that God needs to fix. We can’t go with God to bring justice and peace if we bring oppression and destruction.

Secondly, we learn that our engagement in the Christian life is inner AND outer. Both our inner life and our engagement in the world matters to God deeply. God was appalled that there was no one to intervene. That means that God intends that as part of our Christian life that we will intervene to bring peace, equality, justice, hope, healing into this struggling and suffering world. We might get all pumped up, we’re going to put on the armour! We but have to remember that we are like the Army Disaster Response Team: we are sent into the chaos to rebuild. The armour gives us the courage for that long and hard, patient road. We are called to be in the midst of it, to stand in the gap with people, with Jesus, in the middle of their struggles to bring peace and justice into their lives again.

My favourite author is Tamora Pierce. My favourite series that she has written is called the Protector of the Small. It is set in a fantasy world called Tortall. This series is about the first girl to openly train as a knight. She already has to forge her own road, but she also interprets chivalry in a revolutionary way. She wears all the armour and learns all the fighting techniques, but she always uses it to protect, and her protection gives new life and freedom to people and animals who are oppressed. She ends up getting the hardest assignment in the war in the last book, which is to protect the refugee camp. The general gives her that assignment because he knows that she will do everything in her power to protect the weak. Her presence there is the deciding factor that enables them to win the war. When we put on the armour of God to go into the world, it should always be to live well and to protect the weak in the name of Jesus.

What might this look like in real life? You know we’ve been giving furniture and household goods to Chez Doris for asylum seekers. They came to my house twice to collect things after we moved and I actually went to a neighbour of a Briarwood member when she was donating to them when she was moving. It was one of those armour of God moments. I had different plans for the afternoon, but I ended up spending 4 hours there. I had to keep turning to God to know what to do, but I was equipped with everything that I needed to proclaim the Gospel of peace. I provided pastoral care for everyone there. For the woman who was moving, who was aging and unable to understand what was happening. For her son who was really struggling with feeling guilty and needing encouragement. For the refugees who were loading the truck in the blasting heat and humidity. I ended up going out to get snacks and gatorade for them. And they couldn’t finish by themselves so I helped them find the strength to get the last few large items into the truck (with my broken toe), which they wouldn’t have been able to do on their own. I brought truth and righteousness, the word of God and the Gospel of peace into that situation and they were so grateful. I wasn’t planning to do that. I had other plans for that day. But if we are always equipped with the armour of God, both in our inner life and in our interactions with others, then we will be ready to intervene in Jesus’ name when no one else is there. Amen.

#Ephesians6 #Isaiah59 #ArmourofGod #Community #Justice #Peace #HolyLiving

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