This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, August 26, 2012.
10 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. 11 Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. 12 We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.13 Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand.14 So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15 and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. 16 Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.
18 Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers. 19 As for me, pray that when I open my mouth, I’ll get a message that confidently makes this secret plan of the gospel known. 20 I’m an ambassador in chains for the sake of the gospel. Pray so that the Lord will give me the confidence to say what I have to say.
Ephesians 6:10-20, Common English Bible (emphasis added)
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world. Amen.
This week we finish our reading through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Two weeks ago, we discussed Paul’s insistence that “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” He was reminding the Church, then and now, that the way we talk to each other matters. We need to choose our words carefully in order to preserve unity among the believers. Last week, we addressed Paul’s commentary that these were evil times. Far from being an opportunity for us to watch this evil world self-destruct, Paul reminds us to be careful to live our lives wisely, not foolishly. We must “take advantage of every opportunity because these are evil times. Because of this, don’t be ignorant, but understand the Lord’s will.” We must consume every minute of every day growing in faith and love toward God and neighbor.
Watching what we say. Doing good at all times. Maintaining unity among the community. These things are easy to say. But they are hard to live out. Putting our faith into practice is not easy. The demands of our faith are difficult and even risky. The only way, Paul explains in our reading for today, to keep faith in the midst of these trying and evil times is to dress appropriately.
When picking out your clothes for the day it is always important to consider where you’re going—the environment in which you will be spending time—in order to make sure that you will be dressed appropriately. Unless you’re on a college campus, wearing flip-flops in the snow is not dressing appropriately. You wouldn’t wear your pajamas to a Michelin Star restaurant. You wouldn’t wear your Speedos in the winter in Alaska. Surviving demands that we dress appropriately according to our environment. Dressing inappropriately—putting on the wrong clothes for our environment could result in getting hurt, discomfort, and—in some situations—even death.
In our Epistle lesson for today, Paul reminds the church yet again that the times in which we live are evil. And, if you don’t dress appropriately, you will lose faith. Let’s be honest. Faith ain’t easy. If you don’t dress appropriately, you will surely fall unable to stand up to the evil powers of this world. So, Paul reminds us, dress appropriately.
13 Pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. 14 So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15 and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace.16 Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.
Given the violence of the past few weeks in Aurora (CO), New York City (NY), Chicago (IL), and South Bend (IN), I feel that I should take a moment to be very clear: this passage of Paul’s letter is not advocating for physical violence or spiritual arrogance.
Taken out of context, this section…has often been used to support one or both of two approaches that are, in the end, incompatible with the mystery of the gospel that the letter as a whole reveals — “fortress” or “fight first” mentalities. In the fortress mentality, since we are so surrounded by evil, the attempt is to hide behind the armor and shield ourselves from contact with the world Christ came to redeem. In the “fight first” mentality, we are called to wage active, first-strike, spiritual warfare in full confidence (arrogance?) that we have all the truth and every other institution needs to learn it exclusively from us. This letter as a whole calls us neither to fear of evil powers nor to arrogance, but rather to humility and confidence in the One who has himself conquered all things and is at work making one new humanity, despite all divisions and powers of division, in him.
Paul is advocating that we dress appropriately in order to preserve our faith and the unity of the community of believers. He is not advocating that we thrust our convictions on others. Rather, we are called to dress ourselves appropriately so that we might stand firm in our faith with the community of believers as we seek to live out our faith in an evil time. Therefore, dress appropriately.
Stand with the belt of truth around your waist…
The Truth of God’s love and peace is the foundation which holds everything together. Like a belt, God’s truth must encompass and touch every part of our lives. Become a student of Truth found in God, and put the love and compassion you find there into practice. Dress appropriately.
Let justice be your breastplate…
The forces of evil in this world are given life through our greed, hatred, pride—anything that keeps us from a relationship with God and neighbor. Rooted in God’s truth, seek justice for all. Be like Christ in your relentless and extravagant love for others. Heal the sick, advocate for the voiceless, empower the helpless, clothe the naked, so that the forgotten people of the world might know that they are not alone: they are loved by God and God’s people. Therefore, dress appropriately.
Put shoes on so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace…
Be ready at all times to share the Truth of God’s love in your life with others. Nothing dispels darkness and evil faster than bearing witness to the Truth. So, recall all that God has done and is doing in your life and in the life of the community. Bear witness to the peace that comes with Christ and share it, when opportunity presents itself, to all who will hear it. Therefore, dress appropriately.
Carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one…
“Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” Faith is trusting that God is always faithful. It is the assurance that the love of God known through the Scriptures and traditions of the Church will be made available to us now and in the future. It acknowledging that whatever evil may come our way, God is always there to give us the strength we need to make it through. Therefore, dress appropriately.
Receive the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word…
Receive salvation through God’s Word, Jesus Christ. He brings light to darkness, redemption of sin, and unity in the midst of diversity. Receive Christ and the salvation he brings. And, dress yourself appropriately: rooted in the Truth of God, seeking justice, sharing your faith, and trusting in God’s eternal presence.
10-12And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you… 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 [resource] 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.
My friends, dress appropriately. And, pray that your fellow Christians will dress appropriately too. We’re in this together. Evil targets all those who seek to live according to the way of Christ. Therefore, pray for all believers that they might be able to stand firm in the face of evil. “As for me, pray that when I open my mouth, I’ll get a message that confidently makes this secret plan of the gospel known… Pray so that the Lord will give me the confidence to say what I have to say.”
Heed these words. The times we live in are evil. Dress appropriately. Pray for all believers, even your leaders. Our faith depends upon it.
 Ephesians 5:16-17, Common English Bible (CEB).
 Ephesians 6:13-17, CEB.
 “Planning: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (August 26, 2012),” GBOD.org/worship <http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.3879973/k.9C35/Lectionary_Planning_Helps_for_Sundays.htm> Accessed August 25, 2012.
 Hebrews 11:1, CEB.
 Ephesians 6:10-20, The Message.
 Ephesians 6:19, CEB.