This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.
The Revised Common Lectionary reading for August 22, 2021
Second Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the devastating loss of human life, the threats to human dignity, and the fear of a looming humanitarian crisis cast a dark shadow over the reading of Ephesians this week. War metaphors to describe faith in Christ should always give us pause. This is especially so this week.
As we read the author of Ephesian’s language about putting on the armor of God, it is impossible not to think about the wars waged in the name of Christ over the centuries. My mind also goes to old Sunday school posters showing a man in armor – often anachronistic medieval armor – with each piece labeled.
While the labels were things like “peace” and “righteousness” and “truth,” I can’t help but feel like images of the warrior with shield, sword, and a full knight’s steal armor were painting a more lasting image than the words that went along with them. The lesson was simple: we are to be warriors for God, and if this means fighting an actual violent war, then so be it.
It is easy to read this passage and quickly presume that we are the warriors of God, and that all who oppose us are “the rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.” It is a short step then, to name those forces of evil. Once they are named, they can then be vanquished, and the armor of God can help us achieve this. For far too long and far too often, this passage has been used to justify militaristic, protectionist discrimination against those considered to be the “forces of evil” and the “darkness of this age.”
To get the full picture of this armor, we must take this letter in its context. This is not meant to be turned into a recruiting poster for God’s army. This is not a rallying cry for Christians to attack and belittle those with whom we disagree. This is certainly not a letter for those living comfortably within the dominant culture.
The letter to the Ephesians was a letter of encouragement to a people facing troubling persecution. Ephesus was a cosmopolitan city with important temples and pagan institutions. It was growing much more difficult to participate in the commercial and social life of the city while still following Christ. This letter was meant to remind the Christians how to live in a pagan, oppressive community.
This still feels like a call to arms for Christians who feel they are under attack. The enemies they may name today are secularism, atheism, and liberalism. Many fear the “gay agenda” or buy into conspiracy theories about powerful cabals of child-trafficking predators who are trying to run our government, steal elections, and inject the mark of the beast into our arms. Many Christians feel as if they are fighting a valiant spiritual war by denying the full humanity of LGBTQ people, long-term effects of institutional racism, the existence of a deadly virus, and the efficacy of a vaccine that has proven safe and effective.
It is important to not fall into the same trap and demonize and dehumanize others. People cannot be easily categorized or labeled. Terms such conservative, traditional, orthodox, liberal, and progressive do little to describe humans who care, love, hurt, and learn. The only path we have is to stand firm, but to stand firm with loving kindness. The armor of God is truth, justice, and peace. So, how do we live in a world of increased polarization, misinformation, and vitriol?
The writer of Ephesians does not offer a solution but does give us some guiding principles. Stand firm, but not obstinate. Do not react in anger against your neighbors. Do not respond to violent and militaristic oppression with violent militaristic opposition. Who is my enemy? Not people deceived by misinformation, but forces of oppression, consumerism, addiction, racism, sexism, and homophobia which can be found inside ourselves as much as they are found in others.
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” ~ Nelson Mandela
“Somehow, we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race, which no one can win, to a positive contest to harness humanity’s creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a peace race. If we have a will – and determination – to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.