Proper 16 B 2018
St. Stephen’s, Oak Harbor
Blessed be the Name of God
Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus from prison. He had a particular word for his readers, a word to help them in their difficult calling, being faithful in following Jesus. In the midst of our reading this morning, Paul names that calling very clearly, “to proclaim the gospel of peace.” What he wanted to do in this 6th chapter of his letter was to make them ready for that work, “to make them ready to proclaim the gospel of peace,” and to keep them safe.
The text from Ephesians is built around the beginning of verse 11 in chapter 6: “Put on the whole armor of God…” As Paul continues, he identifies the elements in this protective array: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. Set out in such fashion, Paul is persuaded that we can defend ourselves against any assault, and having defended ourselves, stand strong in the grace of the Lord and pursue the gospel of peace.
In preparation of this morning’s sermon, the preacher discovered a unique and I should say dismaying internet resource. He found a website titled “Armor of God PJ’s.” Yes, children’s pajamas emblazoned with the elements of the text from Ephesians 6. The commentary associated with the pajamas suggested how safe and secure our children would feel, protected through the night by these Scriptural pajamas!
Paul’s point, of course, is not sleepwear for children. What he’s concerned about is
to teach his readers about the Christian life and about the world in which that life is to be lived. Paul is certain that the life we are called to lead is not an easy one. It is not simple or stress-free or uniformly blissful. He is convinced that we Christians will be assaulted by all sorts of distractions, temptations and whatever else and that we cannot go it alone. His armor metaphor is ample testimony of that! The armor, belt, helmet, shield and sword—these are all understood as agents of the Holy Spirit whose protection is the legacy of our profession of faith.
You doubtless don’t need me to help you “get it.” What Paul says is clear enough, so long as the metaphor is agreeable, the whole armor of God. For my part, I want to take a different approach and I want to use the pajama business to help me make a point.
Paul is right, of course. We need all the help we can get—and the Holy Spirit of God is clearly and most certainly our steadfast aid and comfort. I just wish Paul hadn’t invested so much metaphorical energy in an image that invites putting on, or taking off. However much children might feel protected by their Armor of God pajamas while they slept, come morning, they would take them off and put on “real” clothes. And here, you see, is the problem.
If we content ourselves with the notion that the Christian life is something to put on and take off, something to pick up and put down, we deceive ourselves, we deceive ourselves badly. The life we have chosen, a life lived in Christ, this life is not subject to fashion or fad, not subject to winter storage, not to be sent out to the laundry for care. No, our life in Christ is really not like clothing at all, not even armor.
I like to change clothes. I think that there are “proper” outfits for certain activities and I find myself changing clothes so as to be “properly” set out. When I work in the
garden, I have overalls to wear and a particular pair of Keen slip on shoes. When I’m doing woodworking in my shop, I have a proper set of clothes including a work apron Amy made for me. When I’m cooking, I wear chef’s pants and a t-shirt that says “chef” on it. Should I go out dancing with my beloved, I would wear proper jeans and the appropriate footwear, Justin ropers. Changing clothes suggests a change of focus, a change of activity, perhaps even a change in identity or self understanding.
When I was first ordained, I served three small congregations in northeast Missouri. In the town in which I lived, I very often frequented the one grocery store in town. If I went to the meat counter set out in clerical attire, the butcher invariably addressed me as “sir.” If, however, I went up to the same counter dressed in “civilian” clothes—a denim shirt and jeans—I was “bud.” This same butcher would say to me, “Something for you, Bud?” My clothes signaled to the butcher who I was and what greeting was suitable for the person he imagined me to be.
The Christian life is not like a suit of clothes. It does not wear out. It does not go out of season. We do not outgrow it. Unlike our clothes, it fits us all our lives.
“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” In the baptismal rite in the Prayer Book, after we have been washed with water, a hand is placed on our head and a mark is made on our forehead, often with oil. With this laying on of hands and anointing, we are marked for all eternity, marked indelibly as Christ’s own. This mark, the one on your forehead and mine, is there forever. We cannot wash it off. More fiercely ours than any tattoo, this mark will be there no matter what, no matter what we do, no matter, in fact, how much we may wish otherwise.
The mark of our anointing is indelible. And its consequences are clear. The
covenant that we have made with God at our baptism and that we have renewed at every baptism gives compelling voice to what we do and must do, as Christians. We have committed ourselves to the apostles’ teachings and the fellowship of the followers of Jesus. We have promised to resist evil and should we fall away, to return. We have promised to proclaim in what we say and do, the good news of Jesus. We are committed to serving Christ in everyone. We are obliged by our own promise to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being. These promises, made once upon a time and renewed countless times after, these promises constitute our Life, the Christian Life. They are what direct us, what describe us, what challenge us.
Armor of God pajamas, purchased only through the internet, are available in children’s sizes 4, 6 and 8 for $39.95 each. Cheap enough for what they promise—protection, rest, reassurance, confidence. And, of course, soon enough, they will be either outgrown or threadbare, passed along or discarded. The whole armor of God, passed along or discarded! This is surely not what Paul had in mind!
Unlike these “precious” pajamas, the mark that you bear, the sign and seal of God’s Holy Spirit, is durable goods. In the life we live, very few things are “always,” but that mark is one of them. By that mark, you are made strong, resilient and a proper instrument for the work of the gospel. It is our true blessing, for which we are truly thankful.
Dear Friends, by water and oil and the Holy Spirit, we have been made “ready to proclaim the gospel of peace,” just as Paul hoped. The forms of that proclamation will vary from person to person and they will vary from context to context, but it is what we are called and equipped to do, “to proclaim the gospel of peace.” Sometimes that may be a quiet task, peaceful in the way that is serene and harmonious; sometimes that proclamation
may be a more vigorous and challenging task involving speaking and acting for just causes and the redress of grievances. Sometimes that proclamation brings disquietude, even disruption and protest, in pursuit of a peaceful end. Paul seemed to think that armor was necessary, and a sword. All these variations are there in our lives and may well await our attention, depending on how we are called or led. The mark on your forehead will lead the way, not invincibly for certain but faithfully in every instance. I ask you, then, to be mindful of this calling and its grace-filled proclamation, “the gospel of peace.”
Blessed be the Name of God