For me, it is a pair of boots. Brown boots to be exact. Jedi boots. This week’s readings from Ephesians, the “put on the armor of God,” the “withstanding of evil,” the breastplate, the belt, helmet, and the shield, immediately drew me back to one of the most empowering experiences I have had in the life of the church: Dressing up for worship as a Jedi Knight. According to Wookieepedia (yes… that’s “Wookeepedia”), “Jedi Knights, like the Order they served, were guardians of peace and justice…” http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Jedi_Knight
In my last church, the Sunday closest to Halloween, everyone was invited to dress up in their costumes for worship. I am not much of a “costume person,” but I am passionate about the importance of developing relationships between ALL members in the life of the church, across ALL ages, and so I felt obligated to participate. Each and every year, THIS was out of my comfort zone.
Yet each and every year, I put on my brown boots. My cloak. My belt. I grabbed my light saber. And then I went to church. You know, there is something about just pretending to be a guardian of peace and justice that is empowering. Grounded in a force beyond oneself. There is a connectedness to a larger story. A Great Hope.
A Great Hope which moves us to action. However, there is a great caution for us as church as well in this reading. The imagery of armor and war has long been misused by not only political leaders, but by the wider Church as well. Brian Peterson, a New Testament professor highlights the fact that, “The church has too often aligned itself with various empires and military forces. Church history contains too many examples of crusades and of blessing the armies and weapons intended to annihilate other members of God’s creation. A text that seems to blend the church’s faith and military force is a dangerous one, both spiritually and politically.”
We have heard a bit about flipping recently in the news. Sometimes, in the midst of lies, corruption, conspiracy theories, a war economy, things need to be flipped. Sometimes, as we listen to sacred biblical texts, previous interpretations need to be flipped too. We have such an example before us today. For in Ephesians we are told to get ready. To not sit still, but to get ready to move. To put on our feet the shoes, or “whatever will make (us) ready… ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” Rolf Jacobson, an Old Testament scholar notes that, “…this is all about the gospel of peace. Our struggle is not against the enemies of flesh and blood. Turn (this passage) on its head… (for) this is about peace… not about war.”
Flipping the imagery, shifting into a fully clothed immersion of radical joy and the all inclusive peace to be found in God’s cosmic realm brings along a second caution—for neither reading today lets any of us off easily. For there is the unavoidable echo of conflict all around. Evil. Struggles. How do you, how do I, embody truth, righteousness, faith, and pray… as we rush through our busy lives? Struggle with the day-to-day realities of our physical limitations? Chronic health challenges? Mental health concerns? Financial worries? Exhaustion? Isolation? How do we “stand (up and against)” when we feel so beat down?
This. Is. Complex. It is complex in its simplicity. Not unlike the classic prayer I was taught as a child (and my apologies in advance if my experience with this prayer is not like yours…):
Now I lay me down to sleep…
For years, while I might not have prayed every night, when I did pray, this was the prayer I recited.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep…
Long into my twenties, I was sort of stuck… here… at the occasional nightly prayer. I only knew one way to pray, and this was it. I did not feel comfortable praying anything else, or at least I didn’t take the risk to pray in any other way—other than kneeling by my bedside, or lying in bed.
If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
Scary. Static. Isolating.
Not at all reflective of the extravagant happiness and joyful singing that the writer of Psalm 84 experienced. That “Woo Hoo!” of the Spirit that leads the heart and flesh sing with joy (Psalm 84:2b). Not a prayer that provided me with a cloak of strength and hope. Not a prayer that connected me to anything other than my moments of rest, my inevitable death, and a distant God.
But wait. LOOK! Flip over the story. In the psalm, in fact in both readings today, we are not faced with a solitary person’s prayer laced with fear and anxiety. No. The writers both call for a community’s response: “For our struggle is… against the rulers… against the spiritual forces of evil…” (Eph. 6:12). The prayer of the psalm is written with plural pronouns, they, those, our, everyone, or as theologian Fred Gaiser says is “… the community of God’s people in and with whom God is present. We might know them best in the church building, but we will recognize them wherever people and the creation are being nourished, wherever they are providing “rain” for the earth…”
Not at all solitary… and packed with action. Response. This is a prayer, a Word, that splashes about everywhere, and clothes us with strength. And… LOOK AGAIN! Open your bulletin. Prayer is everywhere. In our gathering each week, we share in an “opening prayer” or a “prayer of confession.” As we hear God’s Word read, we respond in prayer before the reflection. In the “sharing of our lives,” we prayer our prayers of concern, of loss, of thanksgiving, of joy… and continue the ongoing prayer that Jesus taught the disciples… “Our Father…” There is the “prayer of dedication” as we gather our offerings each week.
Packed with prayer, immersed in prayer, clothed in prayer, worship reminds “…us what we can celebrate together: food, the bounty of the earth, the gifts of life and work, the pleasure of relationships, the real unity of community, peace and interdependence, and a call to serve others as we have been served.” . Because, as Diana Butler Bass says, “We need to let loose in thanks.”.
Those things we can celebrate together.
Journey through… together.
This is the armor which God provides. Our faith provides. Our foundation. Our helmet, belt, and shield. In our “going out,” worship becomes living prayer for the week ahead. Bass writes that, “Communal gratitude might heal our civic heart, putting us on a path toward a new future of national emotional health and well-being. We—that is, those of us in divided, discouraged, and dissatisfied Western societies—could use a big-scale gratitude intervention…”
Worship in the shape of prayer. Life in the shape of worship. Stretching our one hour of worship into a full immersion of the whole presence of God each and every day of our lives. For our struggle is real. Our prayer, and our need for prayer, is real too. That need for a big-scale God intervention—of truth, peace, and faith. Together.
So be strong.
In song. In laughter. In tears. In hope. In grace.
Take that risk.
That risk to pray outside the lines.
To live fully into God’s living prayer.
Across comfortable boundaries.
Put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
And then show up.
See God’s dwelling place wherever you are.
And with whomever you gather.
Reflection on Psalm 84 and Ephesians 6:10-20 offered August 26, 2018
 “Commentary on Ephesians 6:10-20 by Brian Peterson.” Ephesians 2:11-22 Commentary by Kyle Fever – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL). Accessed August 23, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3750.
 “Commentary on Psalm 84:1-7 by Fred Gaiser.” Ephesians 2:11-22 Commentary by Kyle Fever – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL). Accessed August 24, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1823.
 Bass, Diana Butler. Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. HarperCollins Publishers, 2018. Pg 131.
 Ibid. 128.