New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
August 26, 2018
|from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Clairborne|
How many of us have done battle in our heads? Prepared what you would say, during the awkward silence between what they said, what you said? Or utter in your mind all the awful things that you know would not only wound someone but you’d deeply regret later? Or after the skirmish is over, think of all the things you wished you’d said? Or depending on the person, do you just come loaded for bear?
It’s no wonder when we’ve weaponized fear. It’s no wonder that not only we struggle but even more so those who are criminalized and marginalized every day struggle with the question, how do we know we can talk to someone, trust someone with who we are? It’s no wonder that we seek out like-minded people, allies, safe havens, and bunkers. It’s no wonder why some folks who’ve suffered trauma are triggered because we have leaders who behave and sound like an abuser. We say we want to live in peace but we’re ready for war because some of us fight a daily battle.
I chose this passage because I know there are other folks who read this passage quite literally and consider themselves spiritual warriors, who feel themselves threatened by the very existence of those who are completely unlike them. And I wonder what it must be like to put oneself on the outside on purpose, to make oneself an adversary.
I chose this passage because there are people who do battle daily with their inner demons, whether to take that drink, take the pills, shoot into a vein, gamble some money, cut their skin, who’ve been brainwashed that they can pray the gay away. And I wonder what it must be like to feel cut off from everyone else.
I chose this passage because we are living through days in which it feels very much like everything is on the line. Climate change isn’t going anywhere. Environmental protections are being stripped away. Immigrant children are still locked up and taken to jail when they turn 18. Gun violence still happens every day whether we hear about it or not. The chasm between the 1% and the 99% continues to widen and deepen. The familiar binaries and categories of previous generations are giving way to a more expansive view of what it means to be human; while some mourn these changes and some celebrate them, others are trying with all their might to maintain the status quo and keep the battle lines drawn. And I wonder how we will live through this time, and if we will remember that it is the armor of kindness and compassion, the armor of justice and peace and forgiveness and truth that makes us the best of what it means to be human.
In the letter to the Ephesians, the author, maybe Paul, maybe someone writing in his name, communicates a similar sense of urgency and apparent inevitability. The letter was written not long before Nero began his persecution of Christians, only a few years before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. He uses themes and language that seem outrageous to us: the wiles of the devil, cosmic forces, spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, all wrapped in the militaristic language of armor and battle. And yet we know there is evil in this world; though we may not deal with it as closely as many do, we cannot think ourselves so removed from evil that we do not have to fight it. Though we may scoff at the notion of the devil, temptation has many forms and more of them are deviously familiar and comfortable and personal than overtly offensive.
As for putting on armor, it is nothing less than putting on, clothing ourselves in Christ, in the new life we receive from him. It is an armor not of empire but of the Beloved Community; an armor that inevitably leads to peace. I love that it is what is on our feet that makes us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. When my brother was in his 20’s, his employer could tell what mood my brother was in based on his footwear. If he was wearing his soft-toed Army hiking boots, Rick was in good mood. If he was wearing his steel-toed combat boots, well, be warned. If anyone is ready to proclaim the gospel of peace in this congregation, it’s Storm in his muddy, bare feet at a folk music festival.
Rather than weaponizing the word of God or hate or fear as some would do, it is the disarming power of love, righteousness, compassion, truth, and faith that gives us the strength to stand firm, to be strong. And when I say "stand firm", I mean to stand firm here (holds fist in front of abdomen). But we cannot nor are we being instructed to do this alone. Every verb and use of the word “you” in this passage is plural. It is only in community, in covenant with one another that we are able give and receive strength, to confront hard truths and speak truth to power, to learn and relearn what Jesus meant when he said to forgive seven times seventy, to love our enemies and pray for them, to love our neighbor as ourselves.
“Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt.”
Whatever battles we are called to fight, whatever struggles we wrestle with, especially in solidarity with those who have no retreat, let us remember that peace begins in the mind and in the heart, both within us and in our life together as church. If our prayers are for anything, they are the seeds of a peaceful heart, a peaceful mind. And it is in that peace, the peace that Jesus gives, that we are able to stand firm together, to be strong in the face of evil. Amen.