As it was then, so it is now.
The message of the gospel has always been the same. It is a call into a life and relationship with God . . . a call to transformation . . . and to become the family of God . . . to become one. Herein lies the difficulty then and now . . . transform into what? Humans do not like change . . . do not like going against the current . . . do not like being seen as different. Humans like to fit in. The call of the gospel . . . the message of Jesus . . . is a call to transformation . . . transformation that goes against the prevailing culture.
This was the message of the writer in the letter to the Ephesians and other Christians. A message that the author knows will not be well received from those who read it. The author anticipates a lot of excuses . . . protests of helplessness . . . as the readers look around at the forces that are all around them. It is hard work, but the author is not going to take any excuses. No, the author is going to remind that the power of God is theirs to claim.
The author begins with a common image . . . an image that would have been familiar to the people of his time . . . a Roman soldier and his armor. It is a militaristic image—after all; they lived in a militaristic time as a conquered people. It is an image that the people see on a daily basis. This is an image that the people knew and understood, but the author flips it upside down . . . the author reinvents the image in a most non-militaristic way. Using the common parts of the armor—belt, breastplate, shield—he assigns to them uncommon values: truth, righteousness, faith. Armor, often seen as a symbol of self-reliance, is transformed into a symbol of utter dependence upon God.
With armor a person does not have to rely upon others for his or her protection . . . the individual is covered—literally covered. It is a form of protection formed by metal and leather to ward off the attack by others. As long as one puts the armor on correctly, one is protected . . . no help necessary.
The armor of God . . . well, that is a different story.
The armor of God comes down to dependence . . . dependence upon God . . . it is an image and a way of life that doesn’t quite jive with society . . . it is counter to all that we humans learn and know. Thus it is that there will be opposition against the gospel . . . against God’s grace . . . against God’s justice . . . against God’s peace. God’s ways are marked for demolition.
Why? Because it all comes down to power. Power in the human realm comes down to and thrives in secrecy, in breaking apart, in violence, and in the capacity to drive wedges between groups by promoting fear and suspicion. Does that sound familiar? Does that sound like the times in which we live? But the strength of the Lord, the non-armor armor that ensures victory, is transparency, mercy, peace, and an absolute trust in the dynamic interplay of the Spirit and Word.
And, to make it work you have to depend on God.
It is said that “clothes make the individual”, and who we are to argue with a multi-billion dollar industry? The truth is that clothes do not make the individual. Clothes, more often than not, are an illusion that we humans want to project out into the world for others to see and think that that is who we are. It is what we want to think we are. Theologian and author Frederick Buechner writes: “If you want to know who you really are as distinct from who you like to think you are, keep an eye on where your feet take you.” In other words, it is not the clothes on your body that define who you are, but the actions of your life that show the world who you are. Actions always speak louder than words . . . and, clothes.
The Reverend David Cameron wrote that in considering this passage it was the shoes that caught his attention . . . “. . . and with feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” It was the shoes of the armor of God that interested him the most because in his son’s life shoes are a big part of the communication that take places in their lives. Reverend Cameron’s son has autism. Because of his autism his son does not verbally communicate much, thus most of the communication in the household is non-verbal. Shoes speak volumes to his son about what sort of day the family has ahead.
The first thing that his son does every morning is to check out the shoes on his parents’ feet. His son has learned that the shoes they have on tells him what sort of day it is going to be. If dress shoes are on it means work. If scuffed slip-ons are on it means it is a more casual, more relaxed day around the house. The shoes send the message.
Out of our personal and communal transformations into relationships with God we are called towards establishing God’s kingdom . . . a kingdom based on peace. Peace is the goal. It is our actions—our feet—that gets us there, not our words. It comes down to action. The author of Ephesians does not specify to any one particular style of shoe to get the job done in spreading the gospel of peace . . . in the end any pair of shoe will do. The goal is peace . . . peace comes through action, not words.
In the meantime, the armor of God will take care of the rest if we truly give our lives over to God in full dependence. God will take care of us. In a world that is counter to the world that Jesus spoke of and called us to . . . a world that sees and acts the opposite . . . our strength and protection comes not from this world, but from our trust in the God who loves us. It comes from putting our lives in the hands of God and living God’s will for us. Jesus never said it would be easy . . . no, he said it would be difficult and hard . . . that there would be those who are against us. Thus the need for the armor of God.
We are to seek the Kingdom of God . . . the peaceable kingdom . . . the kingdom of peace. We are to put on the armor of God . . . piece by piece . . . to go out into the world to establish this kingdom. The last piece of armor? The shoes. Which really are not important as far as safety goes. The shoes are important because they communicate action . . . communicate the desire to go somewhere, to do something. The shoes get us there.
So, what would be the best shoes to wear? Well, the Reverend Cameron says that spreading peace is hard work. He suggests that maybe a good pair of work boots—with steel toes—would be the best. Amen.