Soft on the outside

This week I’m preaching on Ephesians 6, where the Apostle Paul writes about putting on the “armor of God.” The armor includes things like the “belt of truth” and the “breastplate of righteousness,” and so on. If you Google “armor of God,” you get thousands of images with different ideas of what this armor looks like.

But I wonder if turning a metaphor like “armor of God” into religious clip art misses the point?

The armor of God is really our status as children of God, created, chosen, blessed, adopted, and redeemed by God. This status is who we are, not something we put on and take off when we’re under attack. And we are under attack. The Christian faith is realistic about the spiritual warfare going on all around us.

Eugene Peterson says that G.K.Chesterson once wrote that Christians, in relation to the world around us, are either crustaceans or vertebrates. Crustaceans have their skeletons on the outside; vertebrates have their skeletons on the inside. Crustaceans are solid on the outside, soft on the inside. Vertebrates are soft and vulnerable on the outside, solid on the inside. Peterson says, “It’s not difficult to recognize the higher form of life, Christian crustacean or Christian vertebrate. The armor of God is the embodiment, the internalization of the life of the Trinity—truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, word of God—Christ in us.”

The meaning of “armor of God” can best be understood in the church. That’s where we pray and worship and just hang out with other vertebrates like us, who are soft and vulnerable on the outside and solid on the inside.

The quotidian mysteries

Ever since I was little, I dreamed of growing up to do great things. My folks encouraged me to do my best in everything. In every job, every military assignment, I dreamed of making things the best they’d ever been. I really couldn’t imagine how to do things any other way. The bible encourages us in this. Ephesians 6:6 says “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.”

Doing your best is the Christian thing to do, is it not?

I was blessed to be able to take a sabbatical this summer. This meant having the time to reflect on what it truly means to rest. One kind of rest, probably the most important kind, is learning to rest in God.

In preparing for the sabbatical, I read a bunch of books by Presbyterian pastor and author, Eugene Peterson. One of Peterson’s great gifts is his ability to point to the way God works everywhere, in every moment, in everyone and everything. The greatest force in every situation, is not us, but God. This means that seemingly menial, quotidian (routine, daily) work, like doing laundry or taking out the trash, has the same significance before God as, say, curing cancer or building a skyscraper.

Because God is in everything, absolutely everything.

If Peterson is right, and of course he is, it means we can do our best in everything, but it need not kill us, because God is the greatest force in every situation, not us. We have permission to fail, because we know it wasn’t all up to us. And of course, it means that when we do the quotidian things that make up most of life, we can rest in the knowledge that we’re working arm in arm with the God of the Universe.

*The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work,” is the title of a short book by Kathleen Norris.

Force of the nots

Surely one of the most powerful verses in the New Testament is Galatians 3:28, where the Apostle Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

We need to teach this to our hearts in divided times like this.

When you look closely at the sentence in Greek, you find that the word “not” is used three times, and the conjunction “and not” is used twice. Five “nots” in one sentence. Paul isn’t saying that our differences are unimportant, or that they’ve disappeared. And he’s certainly not justifying slavery. Paul is pointing to the impact of the gospel; what God has done in Jesus Christ.

Jesus came into the world. He lived the life we could never live and died the death we deserved. Then he overcame death. When we trust him in faith, he adopts us as “sons of God.” In effect, we’re like “mini-Christs,” not unlike Jesus himself.

This oneness in Jesus supersedes every human category. Each person is someone God chose to create, to love, and to be with God for eternity. Each person you meet is literally of cosmic importance.

Yet we live in a culture that insists on labelling and categorizing everyone. Your group, gender, race, religion, preference, and so on, becomes what defines you. And however we see ourselves and others, we can find a cable channel or an internet site to reinforce our point of view, deepening our divisions.

We need to let the “force of the nots” act on our hearts. We need to stand up for the oppressed, and stand against every label that obscures our best and truest identity.

You are all one in Christ Jesus.