Summary: This sermon (preached the Sunday after the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly) illustrates the Ephesians "Armor of God" imagery with the actions of the ELCA.
Several weeks ago, when I chose today’s Ephesians text to be my preaching text, I didn’t realize that the text corresponded with the weekend after our ChurchWide Assembly and how absolutely appropriate it would be today to talk about Holy Armor.
Many of you have noticed that our PowerPoint announcements this morning have been filled with slides of pictures and actions of the Assembly. I wanted to make sure we all know that media depictions and idle talk before, during and after the Assembly have been largely inaccurate in their descriptions of what the Assembly was really about. As the ELCA is being battered and bruised and will certainly decrease in numbers before it rebounds, we need our Holy Armor.
Before we come back to 2009, let’s visit Ephesus at the time Paul was writing. Emperor Hadrian had called Ephesus his favorite city, and Roman soldiers were constantly present. In their daily work, these soldiers wore the first three items Paul considers Holy Armor: the belt, the breastplate, and the shoes. The other items were left close by, impractical to be carried with them constantly, but ready if needed for fighting.
The Roman belt served two purposes: first, it was used to keep his robe tied out of the way during battle, and second, other armor was fastened onto it.
Paul tells us to “fasten the belt of truth around [our] waists.” In our holy armor as in Roman armor, things can be hooked onto a belt, but the main purpose of the belt is to keep our pants up. That’s what the truth does in this battle. When we don’t wear a belt, our pants may fall down and we’re “exposed” to the world in what is a pretty embarrassing situation. And the fact is that if we allow anything less than truth to reign in our lives, we will eventually be exposed and embarrassed. But when we always have the truth on our side, no matter how much Satan wants to embarrass us, he can’t, because we have truth protecting us.
When you hear criticism about the ELCA’s recent actions, put on your belt of truth and know that our new social statement is not just us “caving to the culture.” The document doesn’t look anything like the cover of “People” magazine or even the MSN homepage. It is thoughtful and deeply theological, with 57 supporting Scriptural references and quotations as well as quotations from other historical documents of the Lutheran church. The document affirms marriage and speaks against non-marital cohabitation. It specifically speaks against exploitation and harassment, and it acknowledges that Lutherans disagree about some issues and that’s not going change. That’s the belt of truth!
Back in Ephesus, the Roman breastplate not only protected the soldier, it was metal and was shined brilliantly. As a result, when soldiers approached, the glare of the sun’s reflection made it impossible to tell the size of the Roman army. Additionally, they were trained to strike the breastplate with each step so that it would sound like a much greater group.
In our Holy Armor, we are told to put on the breastplate of righteousness. This covers us from the throat to the waist and protects us from the poisonous arrows of sin. There are many ways to interpret this verse. In one way, our previous wise choices are like armor, protecting us against the temptations of today. The more we resist sin, the greater our strength to keep resisting it. That feels good, but it’s not infallible. The stronger way to look at this is to interpret this breastplate as being comprised of the righteousness of Christ (rather than our own righteousness) makes for a very effective defense.
Throughout the ChurchWide Assembly, pastors and laity approached the microphones with their Bibles in their hands. They stopped the debate every 20 minutes for prayer and prayed before the vote on each resolution and recommendation. People on all sides of the issues made mention of our Savior, his earthly ministry, and his sacrifice. That’s the breastplate of righteousness. Wear it proudly.
Roman soldiers wore thick leather boots and would often drive nails through the soles to act as spikes or cleats. In close combat, those nails could keep the soldier from falling backwards.
Paul doesn’t write about boots or nails. He simply says, “as shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” Our world is filled with peace-stealers. Watching the news or reading the paper can easily steal our peace.
It is interesting that peace is linked with shoes here. Shoes are for walking, for action. When we’re scared, we don’t move. When we’re cynical, we want to retreat back to the “good old days,” whenever they were (but we quickly find in doing that that those shoes no longer fit us). We’re called to move ahead.