Scripture: Ephesians 6:10-20
This passage from Ephesians has a very special place in my heart. It was the passage that popped into my head a little less than two years ago, when I was off on medical leave. You may recall that I went to the desert as part of my recovery and healing—a very healing thing to do! While I was on a back road in southern Utah, in the Utah desert, I stopped for lunch. After lunch, while I was just standing and looking—no one was on the back road so I was all by myself—I had this strange and powerful sensation of someone being behind me. When I turned around, no one was there. I was left with the impression that God or something otherworld was present with me, kind of surrounding me in this benevolent and loving embrace. As the feeling ebbed, into my head popped this passage from Ephesians about putting on the armour of God.
The passage from Ephesians was completely unbidden. In fact, it was an image that never appealed to me as armour is not an image that resonated. A student of Paul wrote about the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, peace for shoes and the shield of faith. First Century Christians would have been aware of what this person was referring to as the Roman army was everywhere and that would have been the kind of armour that the soldiers wore.
Fortunately, this experience occurred early in my sojourn to the desert and I had some time to think about what the images meant. I realized that I couldn't "put on" righteousness, peace, truth and faith because I was holding my own armour too tightly around me. Obviously it wasn't real armour that the writer to the Ephesians was writing about, but it was the idea that we "put on" the light of God in living our lives. I realized that I couldn't put this "armour" or "clothing" of light on because I was holding onto my own personal problems and wearing these as armour and clothing. I realized that I needed to let go of some of the things that were causing me grief and then put on the gift of light and the "armour of God."
What I have learned over the years is that we harbor a number of illusions about life. One of those illusions is that we are "in control" of our lives. Yes, there are aspects of our lives that we can control, and we can live healthy and whole lives pro-actively. But, as Nolan and Jill found out, things can change in the blink of an eye and you can crash your motorcycle. Illness can come upon us despite our healthy life-styles. Accidents happen. Things happen in life to all of us, to any of us. Stuff happens! I think that one of the legacies of the west that is not always helpful is this legacy that we are in control of our lives, that we have a manifest destiny. That idea of manifest destiny, the idea that North America would become the hub of the world, was just so much hubris. It was based on Christian ideals, but they were ideals that were morphed into something other than Christian. Power and wealth have become the watchwords and we have lost some humility and some sense of our own vulnerability.
I had a Chinese professor who taught Christian Education when I was in seminary. She spoke from her culture of humility and vulnerability. She used the image of the reed as a symbol of strength. She indicated that many of us are used to images of strength as being powerful bodies, or strong oak staves, or concrete. For Anne and her culture, the reed was the symbol of the strength. "Why," we wanted to know. "Because," she said, "the reed can bend. Reeds grow in water and when the current becomes strong after a heavy rainfall or after the spring run-off, the reed will bend and move with the current. Concrete will erode and break up, oak staves will break in two, and powerful bodies try to resist the current. The reed moves with the current and is supple enough and strong enough to withstand."
The student of Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus about being strong in Christ. That strength comes from speaking words of truth, righteousness, peace, faith. It comes from light and hope. For me, ultimately, it comes from love. Love provides the source of strength that enables us to live in the midst of uncertainty, or when our worlds have been changed due to accident or illness. Love enables us to be open to whatever might happen, to be like the reed that can bend in the current but not break, that can flow with the river. Janet and I just finished a book leant to me by my mother. It is a Canadian book and the author is Louise Penny. She wrote a murder mystery set in Québec City and involving the homicide Chief Inspector of the Sûreté du Québec; it is called Bury Your Dead. The Chief Inspector and his squad are on medical leave because they were injured in a case, but he is drawn into a case in Québec City. The Chief Inspector in this story is a humble man who leads through gentleness, thoughtfulness, humility, a sense of team, and an appreciation of life. Reflecting on his learnings as a young officer in the Sûreté, Penny writes of him,
(As a young officer) Gamache (the main character of this story) remembered being show into Chief Inspector Comeau's office his first week on the job, certain he was about to be fired for some mysterious transgression. Instead the wiry, self-contained man had stared at him for a few seconds then invited him to sit and told him the four sentences that lead to wisdom. He'd said them only once, never repeating them. But once had been enough for Gamache: "I'm sorry. I was wrong. I need help. I don't know." 1At confirmation, it is customary to offer something that we can all chew on. So, with humility, and standing in the tradition of Jesus, following Paul's teachings and many who have come after, I offer the simple idea that money, status, power and position are not ideals to which we aspire, nor do they bring happiness. Wisdom, with humility and a genuine concern for the other that we know as love, will lead to a life that is well lived. Those four sentences that Penny offers are ones that open us to wisdom and to a gentle love that will not prevent bad things from happening to us, but will enable us to live through these difficult times with a sense of perspective and a sense of hope, with a sense of presence. Wisdom, with humility and love, will give us the strength of the reed so that we can go with the current and not be so resistant that we will snap in half when the current against us becomes too strong.
Rachel, as we mark this milestone with you in your life, and as you prepare to leave home, remember those four sentences. Remember that you are loved, and remember that love will see you through with hope and wisdom. We will remember that, too!
1 Bury Your Dead by Louis Penny, Sphere Publication, 2011, page 213.