This is a draft of my message for Sunday, August 26. It uses John 6:56-69 and Ephesians 6:10-20 as the lessons. It is WAY TOO LONG, almost twice the length that I target. I’ll whittle it down to a presentable length, but want to preserve the “Director’s Cut.”
The audio version is from Redeemer.
Sorry that some parts aren’t as loud as others; I had to move.
Here is the Preaching Preview.
Her is The 60 Second Sermon Summary.
I open in prayer, with words from our Psalm: The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. AMEN.
Grace and Good News to you from our Creator and Lord. AMEN.
I had an interesting dinner experience on Friday. I went to what is, according to Bon Appétit magazine, America’s Best New restaurant. It’s here in Oklahoma City. It’s called Nonesuch, and it is on North Hudson and Northwest 7th, about 3 blocks northwest of the Oklahoma City Memorial. It was a wonderful experience, very good food.
But what caused me to have such an interesting experience was the layout of the restaurant. It only seats 25 people, and you are seated around a counter top; you are seated at the bar. There are no tables, and there will be people seated next to you that you don’t know. So in between the ten courses, you have plenty of time to talk.
From the couple who were seated to my left, I got some suggestions of other interesting restaurants to go to in the City. From the gentleman on my right, who was a private pilot who flew a VIP into Oklahoma for the evening, and happened to know one of the chefs, I got an insight on what it means to be on call for a wealthy employer.
Now because Nonesuch was just written up as the best new restaurant in an international magazine, they have had reservations go through the roof, and people are coming from all over to this restaurant. The group on the other side of the pilot drove up from Dallas.
Each of them, separately, asked me where I am from and what I do. Now, the moving from the dairy lands of Wisconsin to OKC is an interesting story, the second question creates a fork in the road. When you ask a pastor what they do, the conversation goes one of two ways. Either it ends, abruptly, or hang-on-kiddies, we are going for a ride.
The couple to my left are recent transplants to OKC from the Northwest. They apologized and said they aren’t particularly religious, but had gone to some church services with friends from here. They didn’t like it because they felt the church was “too judgy.” I told them they didn’t have to apologize, and that it was nice they went with friends. I asked why, if you aren’t religious, why did you go? They paused because I was getting my next course just then. But the lady said they just have some questions and wondered if they might find answers.
I said that a lot of people want to know why things happen, and especially why certain things happen to certain people. Then I said, I don’t know or have those answers. But I do believe with all of my heart that God loves us and cares for us. God doesn’t cause harm, but is with us to help us get through the harm. And yes. Some churches are very judgy. I said I hope that my churches aren’t too judgy, because we believe that we are all judge to be guilty of our sins. It is only by God’s unmerited gift of grace that we are forgiven and reconciled to God.
As they were leaving, (they were a few courses ahead of me) I told her I hoped they would try other churches, suggested looking for one with Lutheran in the title.
One of the waiters had heard my conversation and said that his mother was a Presbyterian pastor, who started out in Oklahoma City, but had moved to other churches in the Texas and Oklahoma area. I asked if he still went to church, and dropping his head, he said that it wasn’t as often as he should. He said it is just too hard to find the time. Then he said, with a lowered voice, or to make the time.
My conversation with the pilot was of a whole different tone. He said he also wasn’t very religious, but he had a lot of opinions and a lot of questions. He asked why the God of the Old Testament was so violent, but that Jesus preached a message of peace. He asked why people felt they could use the Bible as a weapon. He wanted to know how so many people could take a message of love and use it to create hate.
I wanted to ask him who in his life the church had hurt, because it was obvious that his questions came from a place of pain. But I tried to answer his questions without defending the misuse of Scripture. I told him that people would grab a hold of piece of scripture and believe that the only way to understand it is their way. And to those who would differ from their reading, they turn that passage into a weapon.
I said that the Old Testament is a story with huge amounts of violence because it is the story of a people claiming a land that others claim is there’s as well. I said the Old Testament was written by a committee of people who thought that their civilization and way of life was going to die off, and they told their story as best they could. While they wanted to be honest, they prettied up some parts, hid others, and sometimes were honest with the misdeeds that were done.
We talked about various translations and how the decision of translators can impact whole groups of people. I talked about how I believe the Bible is divinely inspired but authored by humans of a particular place and time who used their society, as they knew it to explain their relationship with God. But just because that is when and where they recorded their interaction with God, their norms are not forced upon us. Their misogyny, their sexist views, their narrow understanding of relationships and sexuality, their views as people as property do not, and should not be imposed on us today.
The more that we talked, the more that I knew that the pilot was a religious person. He was religious, but he was not now. Something had happened to him. Something changed him.
Ultimately, as some of the restaurant staff was listening in, I said that all four Gospels record Jesus summarizing the Law of the Old Testament, the Law he said that he came to fulfill. In each case, he said to love God, often quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5, You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might, and a version of Leviticus 19:18, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. If we focus on loving God, and loving others, we are doing God’s will. I said we don’t do those things to try to earn God’s love; we already have it. God sent God’s Son to die on a cross to show us that not even killing God’s Son can cause God to stop loving us. But we Love God and Love others because God first loved us. It is by God’s grace that we are loved. We should love others in response to that gift of grace.
I left as the restaurant was starting to close, and yes, I did mention the names of the churches, and I thought about what they had to say.
All of them are typical of what we in the church business call the nones and dones. This comes from surveys that are conducted, and when asked their religious preference, people say “None” or admit that they are Done with going to church.
Something, or someone, in a church has hurt them, or someone they care about, or they weren’t getting enough out of their church experience to make the time commitment to be a part of a worshipping community. They find it hard to reconcile the message of love and mercy that Jesus Christ preached and lived with the hostility presented by those who claim Christ’s name.
For them, it became to hard, and they walked away, just as the people I encountered at the restaurant on Friday night had walked away. And it is like that for so many people we know in our lives today. Something or someone hurt them, which hurt their relationship with God.
I had that happen to me. I left my family church after an incident. I found the people to be hypocrites, and I stopped going. Eventually, I came back. But I almost left again. After a decade away, I came back, and found out that my church hosted a Saturday morning breakfast once a month. I had that Saturday free, and decided to go and help. But when I got there, I couldn’t find which door was unlocked to come in to help. Eventually, I found the door, and explained why I was late. Then someone, in too loud of a whisper said, “If you came to church more often, you’d know which door to use.” It took all of my strength to not walk out of the door I just came in through.
That’s one of the problems I have with today’s lesson from Ephesians, to put on the whole armor of God. You see, one of the things that we are told to do in this final passage from Ephesians is to proclaim the Gospel of peace. Yet the whole time we are to be proclaiming the Gospel of peace, we are to be engaged in battle with the wiles of the devil and the cosmic powers of this present darkness.
But we think that this battle is for our soul, for our selves. But the language says that this battle is a battle for the community, not a battle for each of us individually. In the Greek that this letter was written in, it isn’t just the nouns that are plural, but the verbs as well. So the you that is told to put on the whole armor of God isn’t you, but y’all and all y’all. Together we put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. Collectively, we use these weapons to defend the community against the forces of darkness and evil.
Speaking of these weapons, please notice that all, but one, of them are defensive weapons. The belt, breastplate, shield, and helmet are to defend and protect one against the wounds and weapons of the enemy. While the sword of the Spirit can be used defensively, it is also an offensive weapon. A weapon that is itself the Word of God.
That is the weapon that was used against the couple who sat to my left. That was the weapon that was used against the pilot who sat on my right. That is the weapon used against your neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family. That is the weapon used against me. And it is the weapon that we ourselves have used.
The author of the letter to the Ephesians time after time calls for unity. He knows that the differences between the Jews and the Gentiles threaten to destroy this community. The calls to share God’s grace and mercy with each other and the salve that he wants them to use on the wounds they have inflicted upon one another.
The sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, should never be used to harm someone. To use the Word of God to hurt, you must have judged them worthy of harm, and judgment is something beyond our responsibilities. It is something we feel compelled to do. But when we judge we forget about our faults, frailties and failures, our struggles and sins.
The sword of the Spirit, Word of God should be used to ward off those voices that try to prey upon our weaknesses, the voices that tell us we are unworthy, unloved, unappreciated, and undeserving. From time to time, I believe the sword of the Spirit should be plunged into the ground, as was the legendary sword, Excalibur, to show people that here, the Word of God will not be used as a weapon to attack them.
I find it fascinating that given the specific items that we are told include the whole armor of God, that to proclaim the Gospel of peace, we are to wear whatever footwear we want. Given everything else, you’d expect the combat boots of courage, the high heels of heaven, the gym shoes of generosity or the sandals of salvation.
Then I realized, you need to be accepting and comfortable to talk about the Good News of peace. You have to be willing to go, and walk with someone, sharing the journey and path that they are upon. So for some, you may need the combat boots of courage, or the high heels of heaven. For me today, I am wearing the flaming Crocs of comfort and the socks of Ananias. Because, for me to proclaim the Gospel of peace, I need to be reminded that I am loved, and that I have responsibilities. And after my dinner experience on Friday, I need the fire of inspiration to share the Gospel as well.
We all know people like the followers of Jesus who walked away. We all know people like those I met at dinner on Friday. Can we be willing to, while wearing the whole armor of God, help them move past their hurt and pain, and return to the loving God who cares for them.
If you are worried about what to say, join me in the final words of this lesson, as we make it a prayer for ourselves. Pray for us, so that when we speak, a message may be given to us to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which we are ambassadors in chains. Pray that we may declare it boldly, as we must speak.