Better together

Ephesians 6:10-20

I remember, back when I was in third or fourth grade, one of my favorite playthings was a twelve-inch action figure named Sir Stuart.  He was the “Silver Knight” in Marx Toys’ “Legendary Noble Knights” series and, along with my GI Joe collection, the Silver Knight was among my most prized possessions.  He had a manly visage, fully articulating torso and limbs, and the coolest suit of plate armor you could ever imagine!  Serving as squire to Sir Stuart, I learned a lot about all of the stuff a knight had to wear and carry around during medieval times.  In addition to a helmet, breastplate and shield, there were pauldrons (for the shoulders) rerebraces (upper arms), vambraces (lower arms), gauntlets (hands), faulds (waist and hips), tassets (upper legs), greaves (lower legs), sabatons (feet), and let’s not forget the cowters (elbows) and the poleyns (knees).  Now, the armor worn by soldiers in Biblical times wasn’t quite as complex, or as heavy, as it was in the fifteenth century, but it served the same purpose, which was to allow the wearer to better do his job, and to protect him from people and situations that could cause him harm.

As most of y’all know, I wore the armor and regalia of a “centurion” for the better part of three decades during my career in law enforcement and the military.  And that armor and regalia had a lot in common with the armor described by the writer of the letter to the Ephesians.  I wore a Kevlar® vest to protect my vital organs.  I had a thick leather belt on which I carried the tools of my trade.  The boots I wore kept my feet warm and dry on cold, rainy nights as I stood the watch, so that others could sleep in safety.  Certainly, I had a shield symbolizing all of the authority and responsibility conferred upon me as a result of the oath I had taken to serve and protect.  And I had a sword… in a manner of speaking.  I only had to wear a helmet when things got really bad.  And like the armor described in Ephesians, the armor I wore could be hot and constricting and smelly.  I guess, even with all of the advantages of modern science, some things never change.

I even had a special prayer pasted up on my bathroom mirror that I would recite, either aloud or in my head, each day before I left for work:

My Lord, I am ready on the threshold of this new day to go forth armed with thy power, seeking adventure on the high road: to right wrong, to overcome evil, to suffer wounds and endure pain if need be, but in all things to serve thee bravely, faithfully, joyfully… that at the end of the day’s labor, kneeling for thy blessing, thou mayest find no blot upon my shield. This I ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with God the Father in unity with the Holy Ghost, for all ages of ages. Amen.

Sounds a little “Rite I,” don’t you think?  Perhaps even a little corny… I don’t know.  What I do know is that it made a difference for me to get properly “prayed up” before putting myself out there to “suffer wounds and endure pain if need be,” in service to those I was sworn to protect.  And you know what else made a huge difference?  Having a radio!  As beneficial and reassuring as the armor was, having a radio meant that I was never alone.  No matter what I got into, someone was always listening out for me.  Help was only a radio call away.

Well, I guess most of us don’t really need to wear physical armor in this place and at this time in our lives. Others assume that burden on our behalf. And, in any case, the writer of the letter to the Ephesians was only drawing metaphorical comparisons between “physical” armor and the spiritual protection we must put on to withstand the “wiles of the devil.”  He was particularly concerned with our metaphysical struggle against the rulers… authorities… and spiritual forces of evil in the world.  He admonishes us that only by putting on the whole armor of God can we stand firm in opposition to these “cosmic powers of darkness.”  We can’t make it on our own.  And he’s right, and I think the text says pretty much everything that needs to be said in this regard elegantly, if a bit esoterically.

So, aside from the always-valid and timely reminder that the Devil is real—and that he’ll ensnare us if he can—what else can we glean from today’s passage from Ephesians?  How might we use this passage as a bridge to yet another metaphor that might add context for our own lives.  OK, I’ll take a leap here… so, stay with me: The Wizard of Oz! Get it?  Not so much? OK, I’ll break it down for you: Dorothy is a pretty but otherwise unremarkable girl growing up in a similarly unremarkable place.  She is loved by many, including and especially her canine companion Toto, but she (like many kids her age) tends to take that for granted.  The events of her day-to-day life have been recounted, up to this point, only in black-and-white. Maybe some of y’all have felt that way from time to time.  Suddenly, however, Dorothy is ripped from the humdrum life she knows, landing in an altogether different world that is very remarkable indeed: full of color… and inhabited by witches, and munchkins, a scarecrow, tin man and lion who can talk… mean  trees… and flying monkeys.  But despite all of the color, despite all of the wondrous things she has seen and the new friends she has made, Dorothy comes to understand where her heart is, and wants only one thing: and that is to go home.  But the only way she can get there is to journey through dangerous lands to a far-off city… to find a wizard that no one has seen or heard from in recent memory… to see if he can help her.  There are no guarantees.

But she finds him… and, of course, she eventually manages to make it back to Kansas.  Y’all know the story.  But here’s the thing: Dorothy couldn’t have done what she needed to do to return home without her friends.  Without the scarecrow’s brains, the tin man’s heart, the courage of the supposedly cowardly lion and the faithfulness of Toto, she never would have made it.  Similar parallels could be drawn for Frodo in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or for Luke Skywalker in Star Wars for that matter, but I won’t belabor the metaphor here.  The point is that we’re all better together.  We humans were made to be in community with God and each other.  And, if you think about it, perhaps you’ll agree that most of the time, we require the help and support of friends to do the things we need to do.  The important things, at any rate.

A couple of Sundays ago, our passage from Ephesians reminded us that we Christians are “members of one another” in the most basic sense (4:25).  We are part of the same body—which is Christ’s Body (1Cor. 12:27)—and we’re meant to cleave together.  Earlier, the Apostle Paul had admonished the church in Rome that the best way for them to resist the powers of darkness was to “put on the armor of light . . . to put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:12-14).  So, if we’re members of one another in Christ’s Body, I wonder if part of what constitutes the “whole armor of God” in today’s passage, along with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith and all the rest… is koinonia. That’s the Greek word used by the earliest disciples to describe true Christian community.  We need to look after each other… help each other… and be accountable to each other… in love, and without judgement.  As members of the same Body, we are to “put on” one another.  We were made to be together.  Or, to borrow a concept from South African ubuntu philosophy, “I am because we are.”  And, if that’s the case, we’ll each be better Christians… when we’re all better Christians.

Armor is good.  And we are all called to take up the sword of the Spirit and be “doers of the word” (Jas. 1:22-25).  But even more than armor and weapons, we need each other.  We can’t make it on our own.  We need the help of Christian brothers and sisters to accomplish that which God has purposed for us, which is to stand firm, “fighting for the right under Christ’s banner against sin, the world, and the devil, until the end of days.”[1]  And you know what? Living in koinonia… as Church… has a lot of the same advantages and disadvantages as wearing armor.  On one hand, it protects the things that are most important, it slows us down and limits our range of motion (in a good way!) to save us from getting too far ahead of ourselves.  It offers comfort and shared sorrow when life’s miseries flood around us.  And it gives us the authority to speak truth to power when the need arises.  On the other hand, living in relationship with one another can be a “dear, difficult business.”  That’s the term my maternal grandmother used to describe marriage.  We may sometimes feel stifled and moved to anger… or thwarted when we can’t do what we want to do when we want to do it.  Living in community means subjecting ourselves to the best and the worst of each another.  In short, like armor, life together can be hot, constricting and smelly.  But we are called to koinonia so that together, as one Body, we can better spread the Gospel of Christ to a world in need of hope.  So, “put on” one another… and bear with one another.  And pray for one another.  We are better together.  I am because we are.  And the day we finally get that truth through our thick, thick skulls, is the day we’ll hear the Devil’s knees begin to shake.

[1] cf. BCP 1928, p. 280 (Holy Baptism)

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