Spiritual Warfare: Armor of God: Footwear - Romans 5:1-2
I was in high school. We were standing around during lunch in the school lobby waiting for time to head back into class. Suddenly another student walked in carrying a handgun that he had gone out and gotten from his truck. He had gotten into an argument with another student and was going to settle it one way or another. I remember watching as teachers grabbed him and escorted him out of the lobby as quick as they could...though I still remember the gun in his hand as they escorted him by where I was standing. When that happened over thirty years ago, it was a rarity to hear of a student bringing a gun into the school…and yet now, it seems as if we can’t go a week, much less a month, without the report of a gun appearing in a school somewhere in this country (whether it be a college campus, a high school, or, as it happened this past week on Thursday, a middle school). It is to the point that schools are now having to practice active-shooter lockdown drills. This is not a message about gun control, though…this is a message about war that we find ourselves in the midst of that would even bring a child or anyone else to think it would be okay to take a gun into school…the war continues to escalate…the weapons of fear, mistrust, hate, and bitterness raining down on the world like the bullets of an automatic weapon or a barrage of bombs dropped from a plane.
And we are called by God’s Word to fully enter into this battle. Yet, we are not called to take up the weapons of our enemy…we are not to employ fear, hate, vengeance, or violence in our arsenal…those are our enemy’s tools. If we fight him with his own weapons, we end up fighting on his behalf. The Kingdom we fight on behalf us does not employ the weapons of the world, but rather employs the divine tools of war. Jesus makes that clear in his conversation with Pilate when he says, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over….”[i]. This conversation with Pilate follows only verses after Jesus’ command for Peter to put his sword away as Peter tried to defend Jesus with worldly weapons when they came to arrest Jesus. The weapons of the world are not the weapons of God’s Kingdom…and are not the weapons that those who follow Christ are called to employ in this Spiritual Showdown that we find ourselves in the midst of.
We are to equip ourselves for battle from the Divine armory. Each week in this series we are considering another component of how we are to make ourselves ready as we put on the whole Armor of God.
We began with the Belt of Truth—the Belt of Truth being that piece of armor that prevents us from being gutted…in wrapping the Belt of Truth about us, we are wrapping Jesus, the one who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life, around us. It means that as we engage in this Spiritual Warfare that all we encounter will know that they have encountered one who follows Christ for with Christ wrapped about us, we are seeking to ensure that our actions, our words, and, even, our thoughts, are guided by and reflect Jesus.
As we considered putting on the Breastplate of Righteousness we were met with so much. We realized that just as the breastplate covers our heart and our lungs, so too does the Breastplate of Righteousness remind us that the Righteousness we are covered in does not come from us…we are first seen as righteous through the outpouring of the blood of Christ upon us and we become righteous through the breath of God, the Holy Spirit filling us. We also recognized that in wearing the breastplate, we are bearing the crest of our King to the world. When folks see us coming, they should know that a servant of Jesus, our King, is arriving, and that we will be about the work of the King—the work of restoring creation to God’s original intent—all of creation and God in perfect harmony and all finding they have all they need to consider where they are living as paradise.
Today…well today, today we are surrounded by shoes—we are not at Imelda Marcos levels—but we have a lot of shoes on hand! What’s with all the shoes and the request I made this past week for y’all to bring them? It is because after the Belt of Truth and after the Breastplate of Righteousness, Paul addresses footwear: “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” And, my brothers and sisters, Paul packs as much into those few words that it rivals the number of shoes here in our chancel area this morning.
When Davey was running cross country at Williams High School, I learned something about running shoes (and as he continues to work selling running shoes, I am learning even more). There are plenty of great brands of running shoes out there. When Davey was in high school the most common brands were Asics, Brooks, Mizuno, and New Balance. I was buying shoes for Davey one time to replace a pair Asics he had been using. I thought I would step up to the next level and purchase him some Brooks (having noticed that one of the top runners on the team wore Brooks). Running in those Brooks, Davey soon developed shin-splints. He stopped running in those and went back to Asics and the shin-splints quickly healed. Lesson learned…just because they are great, does not mean that they will work for everyone.
Paul didn’t know about Asics and Brooks, but he did know that not everything works well for everybody. He said put on your feet whatever you need to proclaim the gospel of peace. What we need to put on will differ as much as these shoes. Some of us will proclaim it through the spoken word—sharing with others the stories of what a difference Christ has made in our lives and can make in theirs, and how he can bring peace into their lives. Some of us will proclaim it through song—as we do when we sing as a congregation, or when the choir sings, or when First Friday shares their gifts with us. Some may share it through visual arts, others through writing, still others through acts of compassion and service. Paul says put on whatever works...look at these shoes…different styles…different brands…different colors…all of which fit our different feet which carry us forward with our different gifts to proclaim the one gospel of peace.
Which brings us to the next part of this loaded verse…just what is this gospel of peace? Well, that’s probably why Paul said put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the Gospel of Peace…and why I suggested you bring your favorite or most comfortable shoes…because like the races of the early Greeks, what makes up the Gospel of Peace is a marathon of an answer…I’ll offer you up four parts of it.
First, the Gospel of Peace is that through Christ, and the work He completed on through the manger, cross, and empty tomb, we have peace with God. Before Jesus there was a huge gulf between us and God. We were filled with our sin. Because of our sin, God’s holiness demanded justice, and, as Paul notes, the wages of sin is death. We were unable to make peace with God ourselves…yet Jesus brings us that peace as He, as the sinless Son of God, died in our place for our sins, so that, as Paul tells the Romans, “since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[ii] That, my brothers and sisters, means that we can live, not in cowering fear that God is going to strike us down with a lightning bolt because of our sin, or that God is sitting up there wanting to send us to hell because of our sin, but in the confidence that God, in love, has come in Jesus, and made peace with us and desires nothing other than to continue to love us.
Before talking about the Armor if God in Ephesians, Paul points out that the peace that Jesus brought was not just between us and God, but between us and those around us, particularly those who are not like us. Paul points out that through Christ, we Gentiles (anyone here not of Jewish descent) and the Jews, who were not just separate from one another, but often hated and despised one another, were now to be considered no longer enemies, but one, and at peace with one another. Paul says, “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”[iii] What does that mean for us, my brothers and sisters? That means we have to stop letting things divide us from one another. We have to stop hating on one another because our skin color is different or our language is different or our political views are different or our economic or educational or anything else is different. As I’ve said through this series repeatedly, we are not each other’s enemy…no one made of flesh and blood is our enemy. Jesus died to end the hostility between us that we might live as one people at peace with one another.
That brings us to the third part of the Gospel of Peace…and that is that as far as we are concerned, we are to make an effort to live in peace…to avoid violence and to work to end violence. Paul told the church in Corinth, “It is to peace that God has called you”[iv] and “…agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”[v] He told the church in Rome, “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”[vi] Paul told the Thessalonians, “Be at peace among yourselves.”[vii] We, my brothers and sisters, are called to be peacemakers…that we might be called the children of God.[viii]
Finally, my brothers and sisters, is the ability for us to have peace in the midst of the storm. The Gospel of peace is that we don’t have anything to fear. As Paul told the Romans,
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[ix]
It is living with this assurance that we can live with a sense of calmness and confidence no matter what is going on around…it means that we can live free of worry, free of fear, free of anxiety—despite storms raging around us—despite the loss of loved ones, despite unexpected or bad news, despite race riots and police shootings and political shouting and terrorist attacks. It means while the media and everyone else are running around in a panic, like Jesus who slept in the stern of the ship while the disciples feared for their lives[x], we proclaim the Gospel of Peace by offering a non-anxious presence because we know Who is in control…and Who has already claimed victory in this war.
So, my brothers and sisters…get those shoes on…whatever ones you’re comfortable with…and be ready to proclaim the gospel of peace we have been given. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And, my brothers and sisters, as we prepare to receive Holy Communion, if you brought one of your shoes this morning, I encourage you that as you come forward, after receiving communion, pick up your shoes and spend some time at the altar, asking God to make you ready to go into the world to proclaim His peace, and then return to your seats…prepared to go as peacemakers and peacebringers into all the world.
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…Amen.
[i] John 18:36
[ii] Romans 5:1
[iii] Ephesians 2:14
[iv] 1st Corinthians 7:15b
[v] 2nd Corinthians 13:11b
[vi] Romans 14:19
[vii] 1st Thessalonians 5:13b
[viii] Matthew 5:9
[ix] Romans 8:31-39
[x] Mark 4:38