Sermon text: Ephesians 6: 10-20
When I was at Camp Sequanota the other week I was there during Theme Week—everyday had a different wacky theme or subject. Thursday’s theme was Prom Night. I, of course, wore my tuxedo jacket, cummerbund, and bow tie over top of my shorts and tee shirt. This was the very same tuxedo jacket that I wore to multiple proms when I was in high school (the jacket still fits!, however, I have gone up a pants size since then). I got a lot of mileage out of this $99 tuxedo I bought from Lester’s, which I had to buy and wear for all of my high school band and orchestra concerts. We dressed to impress.
It’s crazy to think how that tux played these diverse roles—as performance ensemble, as a party jacket, as an over-the-top prop…and now that it’s been donated to the camp’s costume closet, it will appear in campfire skits for years to come. Each scenario came with its own set of unique circumstances, and that outfit helped me to participate. After all, a tuxedo is something you intentionally have to wear. It’s not something you just casually decide to sport on a whim.
Our clothing goes beyond the basics of fabric and thread. Our clothes can shape our identity and tell the world what we are about. The obvious way we might see this is through message tee shirts. We can instantly know who a woman wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers tee shirt cheers on. The guy wearing a Metallica concert tee is a safe bet for liking the band.
But it goes beyond message tees. If I see you in a baseball uniform or in a swim suit, I know what’s going on. If I see you in scrubs or safety green coveralls, I know you’re working. Same can be said with a soldier in fatigues. I’m not going to lift weights at the gym in a three-piece suit. No, I’m going to have my athletic clothing on. Our clothing communicates something about us—what we’re doing, who we are.
For that matter, when we change our clothes, we change our sense of self. Our clothing can change how we interact with the world. When I’m visiting someone in the hospital doors open faster for me when I’m wearing my clerical collar as opposed to when I’m in a set of street clothes. This collar communicates to the doctors and nurses something about who I am; they help heal the body; I help heal the soul. However, if I’m vacation then I have no room in my suitcase for a cleric. Flying in a clergy collar is dreadful. You better believe I’m making room for swimsuits and sandals.
With this in mind, what does it mean for us to put on the armor of God?
At the end of Ephesians the writer is calling the Christians of Ephesus to suit up like a soldier, to be equipped for spiritual warfare against the forces of evil. “Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
For a good while this passage has been a favorite in the church, especially for children and youth programing. You can get a lot of mileage and stir up imaginations with images of armor and swords. Just this summer we were the Knights of North Castle for Vacation Bible School, on a mission from our king looking for the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and the shoes of peace to go spread the good news. There was even an earworm of a song that taught the kids all the pieces of the armor, one that I hadn’t thought about for months but has now been stuck in my head this entire week while writing this sermon.
We like this imagery. We connect with this imagery. In our church we even have the sword of the Spirit, the Spiritus Gladius, carved into our lectern, where that very sword is sharpened and provisioned from the Biblical armory as it spoken each week. This imagery is the stuff of fantasy and glorified history, and by the end of the rousing speech we are all prepared to hold the line and form a shield wall on the bloody pitch.
There is something beautifully ironic that the writer of Ephesians uses the image of the Roman soldier to symbolize the Christian equipment to evangelize a gospel of peace. I’m currently on episode 53 of the podcast called A History of Rome, and the Roman Republic and Empire was anything but peaceful. There is battle after battle, war after war. Violence saturates their history, the conquest, and their Pax Romana—the peace of Rome that rested over their territories that was forged in blood.
The garrisoned solder was the antithesis of the gospel of peace. In fact, Roman solders dressed in this very garb crucified the Prince of Peace on the cross. But here we are reminded that the best armor isn’t made of iron, leather, and chain mail, it is made of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and the gift of salvation. In the same way that the Roman legionaries donned this kit to conquer the known world through bloodshed and force, we Christians are called to wear armor as we share the message of God and Christ crucified.
Our clothing communicates a message to the world. It says something about us. How are we lacing up for the ministry and mission of God? Are we doing so with intentionality, like a solder preparing for inspection, or haphazardly, like your neighbor getting his newspaper in the morning in a bathrobe and pair of flipflops?
When we wear the armor of God we communicate to the world that we value and embody the character of God. We are putting on Christ. Our jerseys indicate that we are on Team Yahweh. When we wear this armor, we show that we are serious, dedicated, committed. It is not by chance that we live, believe, act, and love this way in the same way that we don’t just happen to accidentally wear a tuxedo. God has given us this outfit, these qualities, and we have opportunity and blessing to wear them.
So let us answer the call to arms and be equipped for action. Let us wear that which protects and proclaims. Let us show our colors, our allegiance, our loyalties. Let us be intentional about the clothing we wear, serving with valor, with humility, with love, with Christ. AMEN