Inspired by Revelation 12:3, 4a, 7-12; 12:18-13:18

We are now in week four of this five-week series in Revelation. The end is nigh. Some of you might be sad by that, and some of you might be relieved that it’ll be over soon! I’m having a blast! I haven’t had the opportunity to spend any serious study time with this book since seminary, so I’ve been in Bible nerd heaven! My hope is, for some of you, these five weeks will have given you a new appreciation for this book at the very least, and maybe even provided you with the much-needed hope that the author originally intended. Even after readings like today! Dear Lord! As if last week’s wasn’t bad enough! I read this and thought, “What the heck am I gonna do with this! Dragons? Really John! You’re not gonna make this is easy for me are ya, John?” Those are the kinds of conversations we Bible nerds have in our heads, in case you were wondering. 

A few thoughts though before we actually dive into the text itself. Two really, and they are actually warnings for us to keep in mind, two dangers that have been too easy for Christians to fall into when reading this passage of the dragon. The first one is that we shouldn’t get too bogged down by trying to decode what each and every reference and image that John used means. Don’t get me wrong, some of them probably did mean something very specific, as we will see in a bit. But some of the imagery used may not have, and when we try to force everything to mean something it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, the big message that John of Patmos is trying to get across. And we don’t want to lose that. Equally dangerous is making any of these images mean anything we want, and we will see the danger of that in a bit. 

So, with that in mind, let us turn to our text, which comes from the twelfth and thirteenth chapters. We skipped the rest of the opening of the seven seals, as well as the seven trumpets, don’t worry is just more death and destruction. After all that, we come to chapter twelve, and all of a sudden a dragon appears. And not just any dragon, this is the big guy himself, Satan! But why a dragon? Haven’t we had enough of the fantastical imagery in this book? How are we supposed to take this seriously? 

Well, oddly enough, that’s probably why John uses the image of a dragon, so we take this seriously! Not literally, but seriously! There’s a difference! The image of a dragon was just as familiar to John’s readers as it is to us. Here he’s borrowing from a lot of sources, Greek, Babylonian, and Hebrew mythology to be precise. And by “borrowing” I mean practically plagiarizing! The description of the dragons from those various myths is almost word for word! And that’s ok, because the point here is for us to take evil seriously. With that in mind, let’s keep moving. 

Apparently, the dragon and his angels got into a big fight with Michael and his angels up in heaven and they get tossed out. Which is great news for the residents of heaven, and really bad news for us residents of Earth, which is where they toss the dragon and his angels to. Thanks a lot Mike! Someone breaks out in song and sings about Michael’s great victory by the power of the wee little wounded lamb, and then the song ends with, “But oh! The horror for the earth and sea! The devil has come down to you with great rage, for he knows that he only has a short time.” And why is his time short, because he’s already been defeated, by the cross and the empty tomb! But that doesn’t mean that the dragon doesn’t have any fight left in him. 

As theologian Mitchell Reddish puts it, “John can sing the song of victory because he knows that the decisive battle in the great war has already been fought. It occurred on Calvary. The skirmishes still continue, but the outcome of the eternal struggle between good and evil has already been decided. For John, the coming assault against the church is nothing more than the futile, desperate last gasps of a dying Satan.” Ooh, I love that! However, these may be his dying last gasps but as we know all too well, this dragon’s dying last gasps have a lot of power to them. And this is a good place to pause and remind ourselves of two things. 

One, that Satan is not a force equal to God, the way it’s often portrayed. Believing that would be to believe that there are two gods. And of course, there are not. God always has been and always will be the ultimate power in the universe, and Satan will always be less than. And two, believing that Satan is a literal entity, a metaphysical being of some kind, is not a required doctrine for us as Christians. To quote Reddish one more time, “John uses the figure of Satan as a shorthand way to talk about the seductive and destructive power of evil.” And powerful it is! Chapter twelve ends with a cliffhanger, almost as if John is writing a movie script. He ends the chapter with these words, “Then the dragon stood on the seashore.” End scene. What a cliffhanger! You can just imagine the dragon being thrown down from heaven, landing on the seashore, straightening his back, then his neck and head, looking into Earth, plotting his next move! 

Chapter thirteen opens with just that, a great and terrible beast emerges from the sea. Here we have an example of what I was referring to earlier, when an image is symbolic of something or someone specific. This first beast is Caesar Nero. Now I won’t go into the many ways that scholars know this, but one is the number six hundred and sixty-six. This is code for Caesar Nero. How do we know that? Well, if you assign a number to each letter of the Greek alphabet and then add up the corresponding numbers for Caesar Nero, you get six hundred and sixty-six. It is not an evil number, a cursed number, or any such nonsense as that. It’s a name. Caesar Nero, the name of one of the most cruel, evil emperors that Rome ever had. We’re talking Hitler-level evil. But here’s the kicker, he was already dead at the time of this writing! So, why is John so concerned with him? 

Well, here’s more evidence that this book shouldn’t be taken so literally. Nero represented one of the greatest evils that they had experienced. And this author knew that the evil that Nero operated under, did not die with him, but continued on in other rulers, including their current one, and would continue in others, until the end of time. I know, that sounds very pessimistic but just take a look at history since then. For them, it was every Nero-like ruler that would come after. For us, it’s every Hitler-like ruler that the world has experienced. 

Next comes a beast from the land, the dragon’s other lackey. So, if the first beast was Nero and all other evil rulers of the world, who is this second beast? Well, this one’s not quite as precise but this second beast represents all those who assist the first beast, thereby assisting the dragon. Remember, both beasts are merely the pawns of the dragon. They have no real power but what the dragon gives them. Unlike the wee little wounded lamb, who is the ultimate power in the universe! 

John even has some fun with this by giving the beasts lamb horns, and a wound that has healed. He’s making them a parody of the lamb. No one can say that this John didn’t have a sense of humor! But more importantly, this is where we find the good news in all this chaos. In the fact that the dragon and his two beasts, don’t got nothing on the wee little wounded lamb. So much so, that John can poke some fun at them. 

So, we’ve come to the “So what?” part of this sermon. What does any of this have to do with us? John of Patmos has one question for us to answer, “Who is our allegiance to, and how do we know?” John saw the Christians of his day wavering in their allegiance under the pressure of Rome and its evil, powerful rulers. And he knew that if this baby religion was gonna make it, they were gonna have to choose one or the other. They couldn’t claim allegiance to Christ with their mouths and with their actions work for the advancement of an evil empire. And neither can we. As one theologian put it, “Revelation 13 calls for civil disobedience.” When the entity in power is working against the ways of the wee little wounded lamb, we are called to do our part in working against that entity. 

(A rare-for-me ad-libbed section here, in audio)...

Lord knows, the church has been duped into working for many evil empires in the past, in spite of the fact that John of Patmos has been warning us of that for two thousand years. In his day it was the Roman empire and the worship of its leaders. Fast forward to the last century and it was the support of many Lutheran Christians in Germany to Hitler’s efforts to unify their country, at the expense of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and others they found “undesirable.” Another example would be in South Africa, where the Dutch Reformed church was a heavy supporter of the government’s racist apartheid policies. Or take Nicaragua, and the Roman Catholic’s support of the Somoza regime and its atrocities and human rights violations. 

And here in the U.S., just take a look at how church leaders rally around the military during times of war, whether it’s World War I or Afghanistan, calling for the defeat of our nation’s enemies, godless enemies, portraying them as subhuman. Ah, and that’s where we get into some real trouble, isn’t it! When we portray our enemies as evil, whether they be Evangelicals or Muslims, whether they be Democrats or Republicans, whether they be white people or people of color, whether they be straight or gay, whoever our enemy might be, when we label them as evil, we’ve fallen in league with the dragon. Because it’s a very short step from that to losing all compassion and love for them. And that’s exactly what evil would have us do. 

Thankfully, we have another example to follow, the example of the wee little wounded lamb, who does not come to conquer us, but to love us; who does not come to make us bow, but to lift us up; who does not come for blood, but to give his own; who does not come to divide us, but to remind us that we are all family. John of Patmos did not share these scary images to make us aware that evil exists. Like last week, we could have told him that! But rather, to quote Reddish one last time, “to remind us of the important role we play in the ongoing struggle against evil.” And may we always be willing to see and fight that evil, when it manifests in our own hearts and minds, as we daily renew our allegiance to the one who has always been loyal to us, the wee little wounded lamb. Thanks be to God. Amen.


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

 Inspired by Revelation 6:1-8 & 7:9-17

We are now in week three of this five week series in the book of Revelation, or as we learned last week, the Apocalypse, or Revealing by Jesus Christ. I’ve had a few requests for Amanda’s sermon who kicked off this series with you two weeks ago. So, I posted it online along with my sermon from last week in case any of you missed it. I’m always surprised and humbled whenever I hear that some of you actually take the time to listen to a sermon that you missed, some of you even do that on vacation! I can’t tell you how much that is appreciated by preachers, since most of us put a lot of time and effort into these sermons. Anyway, let’s dig in to our reading for today, which comes from the sixth and seventh chapters of Revelation. 

And just when I think I’ve given you enough background and context, I always think of something else to share with you. And maybe it’s better to give it to in small bite size pieces anyway so I don’t bore you death. But the bite sized bit of information that I want to give you today, which is particularly relevant to today’s reading, is the both/and nature of this book. I mentioned last week that the author really wanted to give people hope for the present, hope they can sink their teeth into in the here and now. 

At the same time, as we hear in today’s passage, there’s also a future element to this hope, as well as the not so hopeful parts. My point is, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. It doesn’t have to only be about the present or only be about the future. It can be about both. And we see that in today’s passage especially. In fact, I think there is a danger in only seeing this about the future, or only seeing this about the present. But I’m getting ahead of myself as usual. Let’s take a look at chapter six.

Here we get to watch the wee little wounded lamb begin to open the seven seals of the scroll from last Sunday. We only read the first four because the first four reveal the four horsemen of the apocalypse. One of the most well-known group of characters from this book. Even if you’ve never read this book you’ve probably heard of the four horsemen of the apocalypse! I found some really cool black and white images of them that I could have used on the cover of the bulletin after I already printed them, and I was really tempted to print them again and kill a second forest but I restrained myself! One, it would have been an unnecessary waste of paper but equally important, it would not have been in line with the author of Revelation, who wants us to keep the wee little wounded lamb as central. So, that’s what we’ll do! 

But let’s talk about these horsemen! Talk about some vivid, creepy, if not altogether scary imagery! Each one appears after a seal is opened, and each one represents a series of events that the author wanted to warn those original readers of. The first one is on a white horse and its rider held a bow and wore a crown. This is the rider of conquest. Now you don’t have to be a history major in order to know a bit about the various nations that have conquered each other over the past few millennia. From the Egyptians and Babylonians to the Greeks and Romans, conquest has been a human endeavor for a long time. But, there’s no need to go that far back, when we have examples that hit closer to home, in which people are still feeling the effects of today.

In this 1872 image by John Gast called American Progress, we see our own version of conquest. At first glance, it seems like a very serene, picturesque scene. Quite peaceful, as conquest is often disguised. Upon closer inspection though, you can see on the left, the Native Americans fleeing, as well as the buffalo and bears and other native life. Now, some might say, but this was so long ago! Well, yes, but this was only one example. Talk to any person of Mexican or African decent and you will not only hear a similar story, but a story that continues to this day, only with a different looking disguise. But there’s another seal to open! 

This one ushers in the red horse, and its rider has a large sword. Red is an appropriate color for this rider because this is the rider of violence. Only instead of the institutionalized violence of the white horse, this is the violence that we humans choose to inflict upon each other.

Here is what I assume is an all too familiar image from this past week. Here we see Afghans fleeing their homeland to escape violence. Now, I’m not gonna get into why the violence has been there, is there, and will continue to be there. I’m not gonna get into who’s fault it is. Like many of you, I’ve been trying to make sense of this for the past twenty years and I’m no closer to that than when it started. What we have here is simply another modern example of violence that we humans choose to inflict upon each other. 

The next opened seal brings the black horse, and in its rider’s hand is a scale, a scale used to measure out grain for purchase. So which rider is this? The scale kind of puts you in the mind of justice, doesn’t it? And I don’t think you’d be that far off. Because what comes next are some seemingly strange words from the crowd. One of them says, “A quart of wheat for a denarion, and three quarts of barley for a denarion, but don’t damage the olive oil and the wine.” At first glance it sounds like one of them got into some wine! But no, what we have here is a description of the haves and have-nots.

A denarion is equal to a days wage, and a quart of wheat can feed one person for one day. So, if you had a family, I guess they’re not eating, let alone anything else you might need to live. And barely, is an inferior source of food, which is what you’d have to buy at these prices. But let’s not forget the olive oil and wine! The reason that it’s not to be damaged? Because olive oil and wine were only for the rich, and of course, they will be cared for. As it turns out, this is not the rider of justice, this is the rider of inequality. 

Here we see the poor in the slums of Rio, watching the opening of the Olympic games, if ever there was an image of inequality! Just imagine the money that the local government put into that stadium and those games, in the midst of the starving poor all around them. 

The fourth opened seal brings the pale green rider, and his name is Death, and the grave follows behind him. It seems like there isn’t much to say about this rider. Too many of us have known death all too well. But just when we think we’ve experienced all that death has to offer, death decides to get his creative juices flowing once again. 

Ok, so the danger that I spoke of before, in thinking this book is all about the future, is missing the stark reality that the four horsemen of the apocalypse have already arrived! They’ve been here! For a while! And they’ve never left! But that’s not the worst of it. The worst part is our participation, our cooperation, with the four horsemen of the apocalypse. That is what I believe the author is trying to warn us about. Not just that terrible things were in our future, but that we have a choice of whose side we’ll be on when they happen. 

We have a choice of whether or not to cooperate with the rider of conquest! We have a choice of whether or not to cooperate with the rider of violence! We have a choice of whether or not to cooperate with the rider of inequality! We even have a choice of whether or not to cooperate with the rider of death. As of the writing of this sermon, only 52.5% of Placer County was fully vaccinated. 

Then the author takes a break from the opening of the scroll’s seals, almost as if the author can sense that we need a break, we need a breather, that we may be on the brink of despair after seeing the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Because it would be easy for us to see them and give up here, and not even be interested in the other three seals, because it looks like we're doomed anyway even without them! I mean, I did warn you last week that death and destruction were on the horizon, but holy smokes. This is a lot! 

And so, the author takes a step back from the scroll to give us a word of hope and assurance. The author returns to the core of the message, the core of this great revealing. The wee little wounded lamb, who has come with power and strength, a power and strength that can overcome anything the world has to throw at it, even the power and strength of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Not even they can overpower the wee little wounded lamb. 

The scene ends with a promise, in spite of all the horrific images that we’ve been given of humanity’s future, we are given a promise. As people of every tribe and nation and people and language sing praises to the wee little wounded lamb, we are told that we will be made clean, that hunger and thirst will be no more, that the sun and scorching heat will be no more, all thanks to the wee little wounded lamb, who will bring us to the waters of life, while God wipes away each and every last tear, with the stark reality that for some this promise is fulfilled in this life, and for some in the next life. Regardless, that is the promise that we cling to, while we do our best to not only not cooperate with the four horsemen, but maybe even, cooperate with the wee little wounded lamb, and do our best to subvert the four horsemen of the aplocalypse every chance we get. May we be ever so bold, as to put our trust in the wee little wounded lamb. Thanks be to God. Amen.


The Wee Little Wounded Lamb

 Inspired by Revelation 5

It sounds like you got off to a great start with Amanda last week. (Click here for her sermon.) Thank you for providing such a safe and inviting place for her and all the seminarians that preach and lead worship here. That is a ministry in and of itself to them and I just wanted you to know how appreciated it is. As a seminarian not that long ago, I can tell you just how much of a blessing it is to have a place to spread one’s wings without fear of judgment. That is certainly not the case everywhere a seminarian goes. So, thank you again! I spoke with her and it sounds like she covered a lot of the introductory stuff that I would have. The one thing that didn’t come up in our conversation was genre. And if she already covered this with you, I apologize. Feel free to check your email or send that text you put off. 

The genre of the book of Revelation is threefold. Some of it is epistolary, meaning that it reads like a letter, particularly to the seven churches that it is addressed to at the beginning. Some of it is prophetic, meaning that the author claims that the message of the letter came from God through the author. Prophetic does not mean that it tells the future, as many would have you believe about Revelation. And the third and most important genre that Revelation falls into is apocalyptic. In fact, the name of the book in Greek is “apokalypsis i─ôsous christos” or “The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ.” So, what is apocalyptic literature? 

When we think of the word apocalypse, especially when we think of modern movies and TV shows, we often think of death and destruction. Just think of The Walking Dead, The Terminator, or The Matrix. Or books like The Scarlet Plague by Jack London, or The Last Man by Mary Shelley. The apocalyptic genre has been around for a long time in various media. But unfortunately, it’s taken on a new meaning since Biblical times. Because death and destruction was not the main purpose for the author of Revelation. To be fair, as you will see next week, there is a healthy dose of death and destruction in this book. But as I also hope you will see, it is not the focus or the point of this book. 

The word apocalypse actually means “to uncover” or “to reveal.” Hence the name, Revelation, The Revealing of Jesus Christ, or more accurately, The Revealing by Jesus Christ. Now, what is uncovered or revealed by Jesus, we will see in the coming weeks, but it is not a revealing of death and destruction, nor the end of the world. Spoiler alert, what is revealed is hope. And that hope will be revealed in a variety of ways over the course of this book. Again, if Amanda went over that already, I apologize. But you can put your phones down now as we jump into chapter five because a major plot point gets revealed in this chapter. Something that will be at the core of this author’s entire message. 

So, last week you entered into the throne room. This is one of the most visually stunning scenes in the entire book. It’s also quite creepy, with some imagery that you’d expect from a horror film, not a Bible book that is supposed to bring hope. Aside from that though, one thing that I think gets overlooked in this scene is its political nature. This is a throne room we are now in. What are thrones used for? They are a show of political power. There’s no way to sidestep that fact. 

I know there are a lot of people that don’t like politics and religion to mix but here is yet another example of that happening yet again in scripture. The author isn’t putting God on a throne here because that’s what God somehow deserves. The author knows better than that, and so do we. This was a political statement, a political statement to fly in the face of current political powers, then and now, who have a tendency to believe they are the ultimate power in the universe. Revelation has some news for them, then and now, as we will see. 

Next, we have the appearance of a scroll, a scroll sealed with seven seals. Most scholars believe that the scroll here represents all of God’s hopes and dreams and plans for creation. But no one can open it. Meaning, no one can fulfill God’s will, God’s intentions. And so the author weeps in utter hopelessness. But, all hope is not lost because lo and behold, another enters the scene who can open this scroll! One of the elders said, “Don’t weep. Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has emerged victorious, and can open the scroll and its seven seals!” Now, picture this like a scene in a movie. 

There is John of Patmos, in the throne room, eyes bloodshot, tears still streaming down the hopeless expression on his face. He’s told not to weep, the victorious lion is here to save the day! He turns to greet this mighty lion, to welcome this mighty lion, to pledge allegiance to this mighty lion, and with a sigh of relief, he looks behind him, sees nothing, looks down, and there he is. However, in a mighty twist, a biblical twist, it is not a mighty lion he sees, but a wee little lamb. And not just a wee little lamb, a wounded wee little lamb, one that looks like he’d just been slaughtered. And not just any wee little wounded lamb, but one with seven horns and seven eyes. Meaning, this little guy comes with ultimate power and strength, this little guy comes with God’s very own power and strength, the ultimate power in the universe. 

The wee little wounded lamb takes the scroll and the whole place erupts in praise and adoration, with music and incense and prayers, and everyone in the room, numbering in the millions, breaks out in song, in new songs, as if it’s the universes biggest flash mob! And all this fuss is for this wee little wounded lamb, who looks like he just came unsuccessfully from the slaughterhouse, and yet they claim he comes victoriously. Now, imagine your John of Patmos standing there with all that going on around you. What would you be thinking? They said a mighty lion was going to show up to save the day but all you got was a wee little wounded lamb who probably looked like he could barely stand on his own four hooves. This is one of the greatest literary twists in all of scripture, and that’s saying something because there’s a lot of them, and it just doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. So, what do we do with all this? 

This surprising image of the great victorious wee little wounded lamb completely turns this scene on its head. It is a reimagining of what victory looks like, of what power looks like, of what strength looks like, of what rescue looks like, of what love looks like. It’s a technique that biblical authors had been using for centuries, since those first stories of creation were first uttered around a campfire. An author taking a truth that you think you know, and flipping it on its head to reveal an even deeper truth that you didn’t even know you needed, but we do. You see, God isn’t about the kind of power and strength that we humans are enamored with. But it is things like love, self-sacrifice, vulnerability, the wounded healing the wounded, these are the things that God deems as power and strength. So, let’s take this technique and apply it to where this all started, the throne room. 

Because if God is in the business of turning truths on their head, then maybe we should be too. This image is probably what a lot of people imagine in their mind’s eye when reading these opening chapters of Revelation, with its beauty and grandeur and peace. And I’m not necessarily saying you’d be wrong, but I just don’t think this is where the spirit of this book is leading us. Because the fact of the matter is, there are too many people in the world that, when hearing the phrase the throne of God, don’t picture this, but rather picture something more akin to this next image.
Can you tell I’ve recently been to Disneyworld? For those of you who don’t recognize this, this is the main villain of Star Wars, Emperor Palpatine, in his throne room, on his throne. As hard as it is for many of us to believe, this is a closer picture to what people think of our God than the last one. 

People think of God and think things like judgment, condemnation, fire, hell, torture, jealousy, power, taking our loved ones from us, including pain and death in his plans. They don’t get the warm fuzzy feelings when God is mentioned that many of us do. However, I can guarantee you that not all of us do either. They hear God’s throne and picture something more like the one on the right than on the left. And if that sounds surprising to you, that’s because you know that guy on the left! So many don’t! And it’s not their fault. Not only has God been misrepresented for centuries, but the voices of truth in the world are often not as loud, not as bold. They are voices of a wee little lamb, not thee wee little wounded lamb who just came victorious from the slaughterhouse with seven horns and seven eyes! 

So what do we do? What does this throne room scene call us to do? Well, how about we follow the author’s lead, and turn this on its head, flip this truth into something that reveals an even deeper truth. What if we give up on both of these images. Because honestly, neither of these images is very inviting, especially for those who don’t know the guy on the left! And just so we’re clear, that’s who our focus should be on, right? On those who don’t know Jesus like we know him, not on ourselves, right? If our faith is ever gonna travel outside these four walls we have got to end our infatuation with ourselves, right? Can I get an amen to that? 

So, let’s reimagine this throne room scene into something that might speak better to those who don’t know that guy on the left, and if we're honest, that might speak better to ourselves as well. What if God’s throne room looks something altogether different. Remember, this author was speaking of the here and now. He knew his readers needed help in the here and now, not in some far-off fantastical future. So, what might God’s throne room look like now, for us and those God is trying to reach through us? 

What if, it looks something more like these next images. What if it looks like a coffee shop, where we make connections with new people and reconnect with long-familiar faces? What if, it looks like a brewery, where we celebrate living and lament life’s challenges? What if, it looks like a hospital room, where we say our first hellos and our last goodbyes? What if, it looks like the outdoors, where we
experience oneness with God’s creation and each other? 

These and more, are the places that the ultimate power in the universe shows up. What scenes would you add to these examples? Where do you experience God’s throne room, God’s power and strength, God’s kind of power and strength? And you can’t say worship! You can’t say this room! That’s cheating. And remember, it’s not about us anyway.

I believe what this throne room scene is calling us to, is not only to reimagine the room itself, but challenge us to bring it wherever and whenever we can, to so many people out there who do not know grace-filled God that we have come to know, in new ways, ways that maybe we haven’t tried before, in scenes that maybe we didn’t think God’s throne
room could manifest, where the ultimate power in the universe can be invited in by us for the benefit of others, in the most surprising of ways, in the most surprising of images. Even in a wee little wounded lamb. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Into Battle

 Inspired by Ephesians 6:10-20

So, we made it to the big finale in this four-week series on the letter of Ephesians. Next week we start a five-week series on another letter, that we’ve come to know as the book of Revelation. I’m super excited about that! I’m not sure how excited Amanda was to hear that not only was she gonna have to preach on Revelation but she gets to kick off the series with you but she’s a trooper and I hope you both have fun with it. It’s a fascinating letter that has been sorely misunderstood and misinterpreted. In fact, it may even be a bit of a letdown when you find out what it’s really about. But I’m getting ahead of myself once again, that and I’m kinda jealous that she gets to start that with you. Anyway, let’s wrap up this letter to the Ephesians. 

It’s been a short little jaunt through this letter but as you’ve seen, there’s been a lot packed into it for us to digest. Real quick, for those who haven’t been able to be with us each week; week one was all about our adopted identity as God’s children; week two was all about how that adopted identity put us all on a level playing field with everyone else; and last week was all about how we are called first, to do God’s will in the world, and then we are equipped to do it. So, now the question remains, equipped to do what? Which brings us to this final reading, and the answer is: equipped to go to war! I told ya, you’d never guess where this was all headed! War! Into battle! Armor and all. But with a bit of a twist, which by now, should be par for the course for you all by now.  

Before we get world war three though, this passage has been either loved by Christians over the years, or absolutely despised. The militaristic nature of this passage has just been to much to handle for many, seen as contrary to the peaceful nature of Christ’s good news. More than that though, I think the rejection of this passage has been more about how much conservative Christians absolutely love this passage. I remember back in the Nineties, conservative Christian bookstores, like Lifeway, sold these children’s costumes called the Armor of God. Now, I totally get this as a marketing tool. And if you were one of those who bought this for a child or grandchild, I absolutely understand the appeal here. It looks fun. It’s “biblical.” It was a genius idea. Did it teach what this passage was really about to the children who wore it? Well, probably not. In fact, probably the opposite! 

Unfortunately, many Christians have taken this passage and completely taken it out of context to serve their own purposes. To use it to attack people who don’t believe or behave as they do. To ostracize and shun groups of people who don’t measure up to their standards. To justify the horrible atrocities that have been committed by the church to the marginalized of society. Or, on a much smaller scale, many see this passage as a call to argue and debate whose right and wrong about God, as a call to point out people’s errors and misbehaviors, under the guise of “loving” them. Now, to be fair, the challenge for us today is gonna be to not fall into these same patterns, these same behaviors based on those misinterpretations. Because it’s easy to do, it’s so easy to attack others and convince ourselves that it’s all for God’s will. 

However, we can’t escape the call here to war, the call to battle. So what do we do with that? What does it all mean? Is this author contradicting the teachings of Jesus? No, I don’t think so, and for three reasons. One, the author explicitly states that our fight is not against human enemies; two, the armor that the author speaks of is not our own, not of our own making, but is God’s armor that we are called to pick up and put on; and three, the author is clearly speaking in metaphor, going so far as to tell us what each of the pieces of armor stands for! It’s really quite silly that this passage has been distorted so but it just goes to show you that people will make the Bible say whatever they want it to say. And no one is immune to that, and we must all remain vigilant against that habit, which is where the armor comes in! 

So, let’s take a look at this armor we are called to pick up and put on. The belt of truth, the breastplate of justice, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the spirit which is God’s word. I don’t know whether to look for Wonder Woman or King Arthur when I read this! Whoever this author was, he could’ve made a career out of merchandising! Let’s not get sidetracked here though. When you drop the fantastical imagery, you are left with truth, justice, peace, faith, salvation, and the Spirit which is God’s word. Those are the pieces of God’s armor that the author calls us to pick up and put on, to go into battle with. Against who? 

Well, the author makes a few references in this regard: the tricks of the devil; rulers, authorities, and forces of cosmic darkness; spiritual powers of evil in the heavens; and the flaming arrows of the evil one…Oh, that’s all? And we thought this was going to be tough! You’ve gotta laugh because what kind of a reaction did this author expect to get?! I think I’d rather just get drafted into WWIII! Tricks of the devil? Spiritual powers of evil? Flaming arrows? Forces of cosmic darkness? This is either a really bad joke or a trailer for a really good video game! I mean, come on! This is what God is drafting us for? This is what God expects us, little ol’ us to battle against? What in the world do we do with this? 

Well, first of all, last week I told you that if God calls you then God will equip you so, I guess God sees you all as a bunch of fierce warriors! Now, aside from that probably scaring the hell outta ya, take it as a compliment! But more importantly, don’t lose sight of the promise embedded here, the promise to equip you for the battle ahead. But the battle! What is this battle? Who or what is it against? How are we to fight? The fact that we are called to pick up and put on God’s armor speaks volumes in and of itself. It tells us that following God, answering God’s call, leads to an uneasy path, a path that will include conflict. Partly because God’s ways are often contrary to our ways. They will go against our human instincts. And so, sometimes the battle will be with ourselves. 

I know, not very exciting is it. And to be honest, I was just as surprised to write that as you are to hear it. And possibly disappointed? I was expecting something a little more adventurous than a battle with ourselves, especially after all the exciting armor! But as exciting as flaming arrows and forces of cosmic darkness are, those too are merely metaphors for what we are really battling. For some help with this, let’s take another look at what the armor represents: truth, justice, peace, faith, salvation, and the Spirit which is God’s word.  

I believe our foes here are simply the opposite of each of those. What is the opposite of truth? Falsehoods. What is the opposite of justice? Prejudice. What is the opposite of peace? Distress. The opposite of faith? It’s not doubt, but mistrust. The opposite of salvation? Condemnation. And the opposite of the Spirit which is God’s word? Misinterpretation of said God’s word. 

I believe that this war, this war that this author is calling us to, is against all these things: falsehoods, prejudice, distress, mistrust, condemnation, and misinterpretation of God’s word. Now, does that mean that we will at times be at odds with other humans. Yes. I don’t’ see any way around that. But we are not called to make other humans the target of our battles. But instead these things that the author mentions are our true targets in this world. The world in which we are called to bring truth, justice, peace, faith, salvation, and the Spirit which is God’s word. These are the gifts we are called to bring into this world. And not with timidity! But with strength! With resolve! With boldness!  

Because the opposites of each of these gifts, falsehoods, distress, misinterpretation, prejudice, all of them, do not come into this world with timidity! They come with force! They come like an invading army! They come like a plague! And if we are going to successfully fight them than we have to come at them with equal vigor, as the fierce warriors that God sees in us! Fierce warriors who remember that we have been adopted into God’s family, and as such are better than no one else, fierce warriors who, having been called, or drafted as this author might have said, we will be equipped for the battle ahead, for the battle within. So, go with my fervent prayers of protection, as you raise your shields, and draw your swords, my friends. God goes with you. God goes with you. Amen.