This morning’s sermon text was requested by Dean Sieck. The sermon begins at the 35 minute mark.
I listen to the podcast The Daily narrated by Michael Barbaro, every morning when I walk our dog Leo. One morning last week the podcast shared the story of Micheline, a woman from Burkina Faso. Micheline received asylum in the United States several years ago. She escaped a brutal husband and thankfully found her way to this country before Attorney General Sessions closed the door on women seeking asylum for abuse.
But I am not here to share my broken heart at the horrific zero tolerance and no discretionary policies of our present administration. It is sinful and it is wrong. The cruel language and the “otherizing” of our neighbors to the South will never lead to just and fair policies. I suspect a vast majority of you are in agreement.
Rather, I was taken by the discipline Micheline showed as she made it through the struggle to survive and finally find love and freedom. She said that during her ordeal what “saved” her was a song that she was taught at church: “God will Make a Way.” This song was a piece of her armor – to use Paul’s language – the armor of God that she put on to stand against the rulers, the authorities, and the cosmic powers, the evil of this present age.
It is wonderful and inspiring what people do to get through their days… what “armor” folks put on to face what they have to face.
It is an honor to witness the strength and courage of Leonor as each day she arises to another day in Sanctuary away from her home. I know she goes into the chapel to pray!
You have heard about my grandmother who, widowed and infirmed, forced herself every day to make herself look good and demand by her presence that she deserved her place in the world. She would fashion her belt and put on her best shoes on her feet – she had a breastplate of righteousness.
Every morning, I come in here and stand before this cross and dedicate the day to the Lord. I walk out on the front steps and I say to myself: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let me rejoice and be glad in it.” And I walk across the street into the park and I say my prayers. There are days where I don’t feel very glad at all; I don’t feel like rejoicing – it is my armor and it helps me from feeling overwhelmed sometimes.
I think of the rabbis holding Sabbath services in secret in the death camps of Poland. I remember those who every week serve at Labre or the Food Pantry.
Paul was in prison. And I promise you that whether or not he was a Roman citizen, being in a moldy prison cell was desperate. Paul spent a lot of time in prison – perhaps as much time in prison or in transit to his trial as he did in freedom travelling about. There were many days when he faced emotional, spiritual and physical hardship. In 2 Timothy 4:6 Paul writes that his life is being poured out down the drain.
Christian life is no bed of roses. There is as much struggle as triumph, and the faithful life is marked by spiritual disciplines of determination, perseverance despite the odds, putting on the armor to face each and every day.
But even when things are bad for him, Paul encourages his readers in Ephesus to hang in there, “keep on keeping on” … pray in the spirit at all times, persevere in praying for the saints… just as he himself does in all boldness.
Paul uses the metaphor of the Roman soldier – and the armor that the soldier put on as a metaphor. The Ephesians would have recognized a roman soldier – they were everywhere: Rome controlled the world – there was law and order, there was safety, there was protection.
And so to put on the armor; the breastplate of righteousness; the belt of truth, the shoes that would make you run faster and jump higher in your faith and the shield. You are to project a grounded strength and to claim dignity in the face of indignity.
We may use different words, or have a different worldview, perhaps not as beset with demons, however I recognize the reality of evil that infect hearts and minds and policies – I think Paul’s definition of “devil” is open to interpretation – but I agree we are up against the cosmic powers of this present age. And the reality of sin and brokenness is everywhere present – it has seeped into everything. As the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote: “The only verifiable doctrine of Christianity is sin… just read the headlines.”
As Christians we take sin seriously and give evil its due, and if you want to name the devil as the agent of all that is wrong, go ahead – but God is victorious and nothing can separate you or us from the love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And it is in this truth that we go forth prepared and armored for life, for battle (so to speak) albeit non-violently. Trusting God and being disciplined against the powers and principalities of this age: Witnessing to racial inclusion and reconciliation, hospitality and joy, hope and equity.
Against the powers and principalities that try to demonize and “otherize” Brown and Black people and hold up lies as truth, we have to put on the armor – all of it – daily and not give up!
But all of us find ourselves in personal daily battles as well; routines that we have to get through.
I am thinking of my step-father-in-law John who is a devoted husband to Deanne’s mom Dorothy who is far advanced with Alzheimer’s. Each day he tenderly cares for her and it is the same routine every day. It is part of his faith discipline. He holds no regrets, seems not to carry any resentment – he just does what he does.
What is your armor? What do you put on every day? What gets you up in the morning? What allows you to press on?
Because I know many of you are carrying burdens.
Most of you are involved in life – right, and that isn’t easy.
It is hard growing old. It is hard watching the person you have lived with and loved face infirmity and disability.
It is hard to carry the daily concern for someone you love. It is hard figuring out what to do in a difficult relationship.
It is hard being 20-something – so what now? – working two jobs, having only the blurriest of ideas of life ahead.
It is a discipline of the highest sort to be a parent – will they ever grow up? If that child doesn’t stop crying….
Paul encourages you to put on the daily armor, to stay disciplined in faith, hope, and love.
Do you pray? Do you begin your day offering your work and life to the God who loves you? Do you end your day reviewing what happened – and perhaps noticing where you might have seen a glimmer of God – or experienced faith, hope or love?
Do you read the Bible? Do you join with others for mutual support and nurture? We shouldn’t be alone.
Are you doing something that expresses your deepest convictions?
You see, you have to develop muscle, spiritual muscle, the muscle to even put on the armor – prayer muscle memory for going into the day to day.
For as wonderful as life is in so many precious and amazing ways there are still “flaming arrows” metaphorical and otherwise – and you have to be ready.
But here is the thing: over time and with practice, through the struggle, something begins to happen – you move from glory to glory, the outer nature which is wasting away is replaced by the inner nature which is renewed day by day and the eternal weight of glory beyond all measure starts forming in you – and you get wisdom!
Alice Walker, in her foreword to Zora Hurston’s recently published work Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo, writes about Cudjo Lewis who was on the last slave ship that sailed from Benin in 1860. Cudjo struggled mightily to gain his freedom and maintain his dignity.
Walker writes that by the end of Cudjo’s life:
“…we see something else: the nobility of the soul that has suffered to the point almost of erasure, and still it struggles to be whole, present, giving.
“Growing in love, deepening in understanding, Cudjo’s wisdom becomes so apparent, toward the end of his life, that neighbors ask him to speak to them in parables.
“Here is the medicine:
“That though the heart is breaking, happiness can exist in a moment, also. And because the moment in which we live is all the time there really is, we can keep going. It may be true and often is, that every person we hold dear is taken from us.
“Still. From moment to moment, we watch our beans and our watermelons grow. We plant. We hoe. We harvest. We share with neighbors….
“Life, inexhaustible, goes on. And we do too. Carrying our wounds and our medicines as we go.”
Putting on the whole armor of God so that you can stand firm – day by day, by day, by day. Yes, this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
God bless you.