An abridged ending to Ephesians might read: “Finally, siblings, be strengthened by the Lord and stand! Stand. You can stand. Hang in there! Keep praying! Pray for confidence to keep at it. Let us find peace, love, and faith in Christ.”
The writer of Ephessians reminds us that the Apostle of Paul was imprisoned for preaching radical inclusion. Acts 17 tells us that when Paul and Silas came into Thessalonica a mob chanted outside city hall; “ these people who have been turning the world upside down, have come here” Later arrested in Jerusalem Paul is not silenced by prison. “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. (“Secrets plan” how could we not explore that! Ephesians 3 details the secret plan that those once called unclean are God’s children too and part of the same body.” It’s not about your Jew or Gentile roots, being male or female, enjoying privileged or enduring oppression, our identity and salvation come through the immeasurable riches of Christ’s grace. (Galatians 3) This was a new and inclusive insight that rocked the church. Oh that even today we might come to “see the many different varieties of God’s wisdom through the church” and stop judging. Eph 3) An imprisoned and shackled Paul tells us Remember, I am “an ambassador in chains for the sake of the (radically inclusive Love of God) gospel.” It is easier to believe I can keep standing when I hear that word from someone imprisoned for their convictions.
I do not know about you but I am weary in the battle against Covid 19. I am tired of the setbacks and our societal failure to take the advice of our leading scientists. I grieve and at times grow angry that many Christians leaders seemingly ignore our best science. Worse than their ignorance, they seemingly forget that Jesus sums up our Christian duty as Loving God and loving neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22) Fixated on personal liberty and politics, they forget that Christ calls us to die to ourselves, take up our crosses and take risks for the good of others. In Philippians 2 Paul calls us to adopt the self-emptying attitude that was in Christ Jesus: “with humility watch out for what is better for others.” So, if the CDC, your school or your neighbor asks you to wear a mask or get the vaccine- do it for the benefit of our world, your nation, your neighbor and our children. But let us not grow weary in loving others, especially those led astray by proof texting preachers.
Paul preached hope and strength even with chains on around his ankles. Before we explore Ephessians message more in depth, I want to address two potential interpretive hurdles. First let’s not confuse Paul’s military imagery with his non-violent message(Eph 4). I am glad that when I grew up in the evangelical church, the christian marketing machine was not using this passage to sell plastic “helmets of salvation” as children’s toy sets. No doubt I would have struck my brother John’s plastic “shield of faith” with my “sword of the spirit” if my parents had bought such toys! Paul is not inspired by Roman military pageantry. Paul sees the Roman soldier from the backseat of the police car literally feeling Rome’s grip through his leg irons. Our second interpretive road hazard comes in the way the second generation writer of Ephesians, worries about: “the tricks of the devil and forces of cosmic darkness” In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul writes “we know that a false god has no real existence in this world” Now, whether you embrace the idea of cosmic forces of evil or simply humanity’s potential for evil and oppression, we should agree that “rulers and authorities” indicate systemic injustice and oppression. We put on God’s armor or our spiritual uniform so that we can keep standing and make a stand when dealing with personal heartache, community setbacks, systemic evil and all other threats to our souls and lives.
In a hard spiritual season How do we stand? The writer calls us to get dressed! Just as our morning routines of shaving, showering, or perhaps exercising prepare us for the day, spiritual routines anchor our souls in Christ preparing us for the day. Everyday put on your spiritual uniform through quiet time with God. It is a kind of armor!
Stand with the belt of truth around your waist…
- Truth heals and liberates us. Truth is a kind of foundation that always liberates us and upholds us. At times the church has resisted the scientific truth clinging to a literal reading of scripture. The church once jailed scientists for telling us the earth rotated around the sun. Why is this, when Jesus taught more with deeds, parables and broad rules than narrow doctrinal rules? When will we learn that the legalistic letters of religious law kill but God’s Spirit brings faith and life? (2 Cor. 3) God created our brains and wants us to think! God gave us the church community to bind and loosen up Scripture (Matthew 16&18). God gives each of us the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, the indwelling Christ, that goes ahead of us leading us and speaking to us even today. (Matthew 28) Jesus tells us that the truth always sets us free. (John 8) We do not need to glue a bunch of obscure Bible verses together to know how to respond to Covid 19. Love your neighbor as yourself! That is enough!
Stand with justice as your breastplate.
- Each day, pray asking: how can I “love mercy, walk humbly and do justly” this day? (Micah 6:8) Justice incarnates the Golden Rule. Justice always looks out for the good of others. Justice is a Jesus mindset; that thinks not only what is good for me, but what is best for everyone. Justice calls for personal sacrifice and sometimes flips over tables or gets arrested for seeking to bring about heaven on earth. Justice feeds people, clothes people, speaks up for the poor and oppressed. When justice guides your decisions , you will not live alone, for you will become open to people everywhere.
Stand ready to share the good news of peace. Put on peacemaking like comfortable sturdy shoes!
- Put on peacemaking as your foundation. Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called God’s children. Absorb that insult, love your enemies, forgive 70 to seven power, carry the roman soldier’s pack an extra mile, give without expecting rewards…keep at it…build your house on the rock and your foundation will hold when rains and storms of life assail us all. (Matthew 5-7)
Stand with faith as a shield that extinguishes the fiery devilish darts and angry tweets of unhappy people.
- The earliest Christians were called the Way. (Acts 19;9) Faith is a way of life, a set of actions- faith is not a set of ideas. Faith enacts the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus’ actions and attitudes. Such practised faith extinguishes so many of the blows of those lost souls who have wandered away from Love. Jesus’ way is the way of the cross reminding us to pray: “Oh Father-Mother- Creator forgive them- they don’t really know the Way of love. (Luke 22:34) Faith without actions is dead. Love others! Practicing our faith builds a kind of spiritual muscle memory that sustains us in the difficult seasons of life.
Accept God’s helmet of salvation, put on Jesus’ ballcap that names as beloved. God so loves you- God loves you without limits or conditions. .
- Tillich described salvation as accepting God’s deep acceptance of us. When we come to understand the immeasurable love of Christ- we can withstand almost anything- even the cross.
And grab onto God’s word- the sword of the Spirit- who dwells with and in us through Christ
- My wife Connie lights a candle each morning as she does her devotion, perhaps asking the Light of the World to light her path that day. Open the Good Story- Hebrews 4 tells us God’s Word cuts deep inside of us removing the phoniness and selfishness that the world peddles. The Bible connects us to the Living and Present God, who is not the God of the dead, but is the great “I AM” of our everyday living. (Matt 22) John Wesley said to always read Scripture looking for applicable light- and to apply any spiritual light received immediately!
How do we keep standing in this difficult time: we get dressed spiritually everyday, Every day we put on our Spiritual uniform in prayer.
Lord, Help me be about truth today! You gave me my mind! Help me think and learn! Jesus, guard any coldness in my heart and help me make justice my foundation. Help me to love mercy, walk humbly, and do justice! Lord, let me bring the good news of peace. Help me to not run into conflict, but order my steps today so that I might be a channel of your peace. Lord, help me practice my faith, so that your forgiveness might absorb any attack and help me do the things Jesus did! Oh Jesus, the Christ, help me remember that I am Beloved, baptized into and upheld by your immeasurably Love. Holy Spirit, as I open the Bible today- let its characters, stories and guides shine light onto my path.
May that be our daily routine remembering in prayer:
Bringing Good News of peace
Remembering our Belovedness
Doing the things Jesus did
Letting God’s Light shine on our path
And then fully dressed let us stand! & Keep Standing:
Staying alert ! Hang in there! Knowing, You can do it!
Keep praying for and with other Christians.
Keep Praying for confidence to not stop boldly share God’s radically inclusive love
Hang on, finding peace, grace, and love in God..
Pray for confidence to keep at it. Let us find peace, love, and faith in Christ. And may God’s grace flow into us and then through us into the world.
This uniform, this daily pattern of seeking truth, justice, peacemaking, belovedness, practice, God’s word, prayer and love will help us keep standing. It will remind us of who we are in Christ and who God calls us to be. May we be people growing into the image and likeness of Christ. Amen