(Ephesians 6: 10-18)
When I was a young police officer in Houston, I used to get dressed in station’s locker room rather than at home. For me, it was a ritual as I took off my civilian clothes and put on the uniform of a police officer. My gun belt held my holstered pistol, a handcuff case, speed loaders, buck knife, mini-flashlight, and walkie-talkie radio. Under my shirt I wore my bullet-proof vest that protected me front and rear. Unfortunately, back then we wore dress shoes which did make it more difficult to chase fleeing miscreants. Now they actually wear athletic type foot wear. My badge or shield represented the oath of office I took and my authority under the law to do what I was sworn to perform. Our hats were designed to make us look taller and also had a shield on them to help us stand out in a crowd. Last, but not least, was my nightstick which, if used properly, could convince the most reluctant of offenders to comply with my commands. Once everything was in place, I was ready, as my partner was fond of saying, “to crush crime,” because the streets of Houston were a mean and unforgiving environment and those who wanted to hurt you didn’t wear an easily identifiable uniform. Everything I put on had a specific use and when used properly my chances of going home at night were enhanced.
When reading our scripture reading for this morning I was reminded of my ritual and the symbolism that the Apostle Paul was using to help his readers understand the seriousness of the struggle in which they were engaged. He tells them to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, to put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. What I find significant is that he says “the full armor of God” which tells me that God will provide us with many tools that will be of great use in our battle against the forces of evil and hatred and all that is wrong with this world. He says that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. To a first century Christian this description must have been very scary. Living under the authority of the mighty Roman Empire they were well acquainted with the abuses of power, the power of the haves over the powerlessness of the have-nots, and how hard the privileged fought to maintain their status quo by keeping others down.
Therefore, he says, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. His readers were very familiar with the battle dress of a Roman soldier and understood that when they were fully dressed, they were ready to defend Rome and stand their ground. He says to stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around their waist, a reference to Isaiah 11: 5; Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The forces of evil fight with lies and, sometimes these lies sound like the truth. But we have God’s truth which is stronger than these lies. He says to stand with the breastplate of righteousness in place. Like my bullet-proof vest the breastplate of a Roman soldier protected both the front and the back of a soldier, protecting them from frontal assaults and from those would attack from behind when they weren’t looking. God’s righteousness is the breastplate that protects our heart and ensures his approval. Stand with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Even a Roman soldier’s feet were protected with hard, studded shoes so they could march long distances extending the reach of Rome. Just as they were ready to march on to victory and conquest, Paul is telling his readers to be ready to march and spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The footgear God gives us is the motivation to continue to proclaim the true peace that is available in God, news everyone needs to hear, news the forces of evil want to squelch. In addition to this Paul tells us to take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. The shield of the Roman soldier was four feet by two feet and made of a thick material designed to stop flaming arrows, a defensive weapon you could place between you and your enemy designed to withstand the most piercing assault. These arrows that pierce us are things like insults, setbacks and temptations, but with God’s perspective we can see beyond our circumstances, ward off these attacks, and know that ultimate victory is ours. He says to take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. It’s our salvation that helps us stand tall in battle and stand out in the crowd, and the Spirit, the word of God, is our most potent weapon we have at our disposal when we take the fight to the streets.
In closing out his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul tells us to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, he says, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. He’s telling us that our best defense is our prayer life. When in doubt and in all things, go to God in prayer. God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in our daily lives, especially during those times when we are threatened and under attack from that which would separate us from the love of God.
In our Christian life we battle against rulers and authorities who fight our efforts to bring salvation to the last, the lost and the least, and to establish God’s kingdom on earth. This is not to say that all people in authority are evil, because they are not. Many are actually with us fighting the good fight. But there are those who serve in positions of authority who are in it only for themselves or have motives that are far from altruistic. All you have to do is read books on history or watch the evening news. They’ve gotten theirs and will employ whatever tactics necessary to keep the disenfranchised from getting any of it. And, should someone stand and speak for the voiceless they will be subject to all sorts of assaults, to silence the voice of those who speak for the voiceless. That’s why when we stand to speak for the weak, the poor, the displaced, we must depend on God’s strength and use every piece of his armor. God is depending upon us to be his foot soldiers standing tall on the front lines defending the defenseless and taking the fight to the oppressors.
Just as the world needs brave men and women who put on the uniform of the United States of America to defend the freedoms of people all around the world from acts of tyranny and despots, God needs his people to put on his full armor and engage ourselves in the epic struggle for the salvation of mankind until Christ returns in all his glory. This is our call to arms from the Holy Spirit who leads us into a battle where evil never sleeps or plays by the rules of engagement.
Let us pray.
Merciful God of all the nations, we sing a song of peace for lands afar and ours. Yes, this is our home, the country where our heart is, where we have our hopes, our dreams and our holy shrine, but we know there are also hearts beating around the world with the same hopes and dreams that we cherish. We pray to be united as one people with our prayer that your kingdom comes on earth and that your will be done. We pray that Jesus Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him. We pray, through the power of Christ, that all hearts unite and learn to live as one. Hear our prayers, God of all the nations; myself I give thee; let thy will be done. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.