Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 21st Ordinary (Day 3)

Ephesians 6:10-20

10 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. 11 Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. 12 We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. 13 Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. 14 So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15 and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. 16 Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.
18 Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers. 19 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. 20 I’m an ambassador in chains for the sake of the gospel. Pray so that the Lord will give me the confidence to say what I have to say.


In this well-known passage Paul reaches the rhetorical climax of Ephesians. It is “the” point of the letter. Everything else in the letter points to this passage.
Ephesians is organized by three posture images: “sit” (ch.1-3), “walk” (4:1-6:9), and “stand” (6:10-20). Paul tells us we “sit” due to Christ’s victory, luxuriating in the lavish grace and gifts of the God who intends to bring all things together in Christ. We immerse ourselves in the “mystery” (ch.1) of God’s unfathomable and gracious plan to center everything in Christ. We then “walk” in the community of the faithful, learning and practicing the skills and dynamics which strengthens us to “stand” in the struggle against the spiritual forces of evil, who, though defeated by Christ, are not yet completely pacified.

We “stand” by God’s power and are suited out in God’s very own armor (isa.59)! And by “we,” Paul means the church, not individual Christians. It’s not that each of us are individually outfitted with each of this pieces of armor. Rather, it is that the church as a community is outfitted with this suit of divine armor for it is through us as his people that God continues as Divine Warrior to wage battle against all that opposes or hinders his will and way in the world.

Truth, justice, peace, faith, salvation, and God’s Word – it is interesting to note how this “full armor” of God is designed to reflect the fullness of what creation was intended to be.

Truth – rather than the lies of the serpent

Justice – rather than the cacophony of injustice and oppression after the fall

Peace – rather than the violence that pervaded the world

Faith – rather than distrust and suspicion of God and each other

Salvation – rather than a hopelessness of either despairing resignation or activism

God’s Word – rather than our reason as the standard of meaning and significance

Prayer - rather than self-assertion

This is the kind of people we are now to be in the world – a “new creation” people. We are to live the way God intended humans to live in the beginning amid the debris and disorder of a world gone awry. That’s why Paul pictures us in military imagery. To live God’s way now will necessarily be conflictual. The world is still not yet fully pacified; we are the people through whom God has chosen to implement and extend Christ’s victory at the cross and resurrection, thus we are in a struggle. As Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, and martyr for Christ, puts it:

“The church must suffer for speaking the truth, for pointing out sin, for uprooting sin. No one wants to have a sore spot touched, and therefore a society with so many sores twitches when someone has the courage to touch it and say: “You have to treat that. You have to get rid of that. Believe in Christ. Be converted.”

It’s a struggle already decided as to its outcome, but like the Allied forces in World War II who lived between D-Day (when the outcome of the war in Europe was decided) and V-Day (when the fighting actually stopped), the struggle continues and we must carry on the battle until the full pacification of the world occurs at Christ’s return.

These battles, as Paul has made clear, are a nonviolent struggle against the spiritual forces that oppose God and refuse to admit defeat even though they are in their death throes. While it is, tragically, easy to forget that the fight we bring to the world is, as Archbishop Romero says, the “violence of love,” neither Jesus not Paul can reasonably be blamed for that.

“We must overturn so many idols, the idol of self first of all, so that we can be humble, and only from our humility can learn to be redeemers, can learn to work together in the way the world really needs. Liberation that raises a cry against others is no true liberation. Liberation that means revolutions of hate and violence and takes away lives of others or abases the dignity of others cannot be true liberty. True liberty does violence to self and, like Christ, who disregarded that he was sovereign becomes a slave to serve others.”

And again,

“We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.”

Herein we see the point and purpose of our lives as God’s people, just as Paul intended when we penned this concluding and climactic paragraph to the body of his letter to the Ephesians! May we hear and heed God’s Word to us today.

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