Saturday, October 13, 2018

Don't Fight Naked

Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Moorhead
Installation of Pr. Mary Suomala Folkerds as Lead Pastor
October 14 & 17, 2018
Ephesians 6:10-20

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Whenever I hear these words from Ephesians six I see in my mind’s eye a t-shirt that was popular among kids at an ELCA Youth Gathering some years ago.  

On the front of the t-shirt it read:  DON’T FIGHT NAKED—a phrase guaranteed to get your attention…

…and on reverse side of that t-shirt it read:  “Put on the whole armor of God…”

Don’t fight naked….put on the whole armor of God!

There’s a word for us here this morning….a word for all of us…and a word especially for you, Pastor Mary, as you’re installed into the office of Lead Pastor.

Don’t fight naked…put on the whole armor God.

But really now (you may be asking) is “fighting” the best verb to describe what it means to follow Jesus?  Isn’t all this warlike language and suit-of-armor talk sort of old-fashioned….OK maybe if you’re at a Renaissance Fair but not in a living, vital faith community like Good Shepherd?

For good reason many Christians nowadays chafe at using military language to describe the Christian life.   We shun words like “crusade” or “battle” or “war”—sanitizing old hymns, stripping them of even a hint of Christian militancy.

The last thing we need, some might say, is to conceive of the mission of God as some kind of warfare or conquest.  Such violent language flies in the face of the grace, mercy and peace we know in Jesus Christ who, warned his followers not to take up weapons to defend him, declaring instead that “all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”  (Matthew 26:52)

So what about it?  Should we simply ditch all language of Christian militancy?  Or would we be wiser to dig down deeper into this language to figure out what’s underneath it?

A while back Professor David Lose, who was then teaching at Luther Seminary in St Paul, addressed that very topic, and here’s what he had to say:   
In recent years, the presence and influence of the Christian story in contemporary culture has shrunk considerably. The proliferation of different and competing stories about reality—some of which are religious, while many more are about material wealth, nationalism, or ethnicity—has occupied more and more of our attention. We may see these stories proclaimed on the front covers of magazines or more subtly hidden in the logo of a powerhouse brand, but they are all around us, each inviting us to subscribe to a particular understanding and worldview about what is good, beautiful, and true. Taken as a whole, the proliferation of all these different worldviews has crowded out the biblical story as the narrative by which to make sense of all others and rendered it just one among a multitude of stories.[1]

Dr. Lose is right.  Whenever we share the Good News about Jesus with others--we’re always stepping out onto a crowded playing field.   The second we open our mouths we find ourselves competing with other values, alternative stories, and a host of different ways of making sense of reality.

When our Lord Jesus entered this world, he set foot on “occupied territory.”  The good news Jesus brought to us, was always bumping up against other “gospels” and that’s just as true for you and me, today!

As the writer of Ephesians makes clear, we’re in a contest with “the rulers…the authorities….the cosmic powers of this present darkness and the spiritual forces of evil.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Before we even try speak or live in line with Jesus and his utterly unique good news, we must remember that other gospels, other “takes” on what matters most have already entrenched themselves, already embedded themselves in our world….dressed up in slogans like

“Dreams don’t work unless you do!”

OR:  “The glass is always half full.”

OR:   “My country, right or wrong!”

OR:  “Whoever ends up with the most toys wins.”

Slogans like those all have one thing in common:   they’re all about you and me and what we can, should and must accomplish.

What sets apart the real, authentic Good News about Jesus is that it’s all about God, and what God has done, what God is doing and what God will continue to do to make you and me and all things new in Christ Jesus.

Because that’s such an alien notion in this “make your own bliss” world, we’ll come up against “pushback”….we’ll encounter resistance….and we need to be ready for that if the real Good News, the only Good News, will ever gain a hearing.

That’s where all this “whole armor of God” stuff comes in….not in order to force the gospel down other folks’ throats!

Rather: it’s about coming onto the field, equipped to bring an alternative word to a messed up world.

Think of this whole armor of God stuff not about “mounting an attack” as much as it is about taking a stand---resisting the resistance of the world.

So we notice how nearly all the pieces of armor named here are defensive, not offensive in nature.  

Rather than sallying forth “naked,” we come on the field dressed for the occasion:   wearing all the great protective gear that God has already bestowed on us:   

truth that holds us together,

God’s gift of righteousness covering our hearts,

peacemakers’ shoes on our feet,

sturdy faith to shield us,

the cross we received in baptism, on our foreheads, like a helmet.

In this whole array of “armor,” there’s only one offensive weapon:  God’s promise-keeping, barrier-breaking, sin-forgiving, future-opening Word.

What rich irony there is here, as God’s Word is likened to a kind of sword.  
For this is anything but a destroying, devouring sword…

It is, rather, a word, a sword that “cuts to the chase” and gets right to the heart of the matter….pointing us and everyone to the weakness of the Cross, the uncanny power of a rescuer who recuses by emptying himself out for us, giving himself utterly for us, finally dying for us, so that death itself dies and new life flows forth.

Pastor Mary, God gives these astounding gifts to all of these folks, who call Good Shepherd their faith community….and God gives these same gifts to you, in full measure, so that you might carry out your daunting, daring call to be their lead pastor.

But there’s more.    The image that’s painted for us here in Ephesians 6 isn’t of a solitary soldier, putting on God’s armor, to launch a daring solo campaign….

No, the pronouns here (in the original Greek) are all plural, not singular, so that we might better translate this text this way:  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you all together may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. All of you, stand therefore….” (Ephesians 6:13-14a)

You already know this, Pastor Mary, but let me say it once again:   you do not do any of this alone!

You’ve been called to be not the senior pastor here—as if your ministry was rooted in your age or wisdom or experience….

No, you’ve been called to be the lead pastor here….because these people are going some place…always, and forever moving together toward God’s promised future in Jesus Christ.

Thank God we never head out into this world naked.   Thank God the Spirit sees to it that we’re always truly “dressed for the occasion.”   Thank God we have everything we need—and then some!

In the name of Jesus.

[1] David Lose, “Stewardship In An Age of Digital Pluralism,”  Word and World (Supplement Series 6, October 2010),  p. 112.

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