First day back from vacation. Our main scripture for reflection today is EPHESIANS 6:10-20
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
I want to begin with a reading from Ti-Neshi Coates “Letter to my son” from Between the world and me.
And yet I am still afraid. I feel the fear most acutely whenever you leave me. But I was afraid long before you, and in this I was unoriginal. When I was your age the only people I knew were black, and all of them were powerfully, adamantly, dangerously afraid. It was always right in front of me. The fear was there in the extravagant boys of my West Baltimore neighborhood, in their large rings and medallions, their big puffy coats and full-length furcollared leathers, which was their armor against their world. They would stand on the corner of Gwynn Oak and Liberty, or Cold Spring and Park Heights, or outside Mondawmin Mall, with their hands dipped in Russell sweats. I think back on those boys now and all I see is fear, and all I see is them girding themselves against the ghosts of the bad old days when the Mississippi mob gathered ’round their grandfathers so that the branches of the black body might be torched, then cut away. The fear lived on in their practiced bop, their slouching denim, their big T- shirts, the calculated angle of their baseball caps, a catalog of behaviors and garments enlisted to inspire the belief that these boys were in firm possession of everything they desired. I felt the fear in the visits to my Nana’s home in Philadelphia. You never knew her. I barely knew her, but what I remember is her hard manner, her rough voice. And I knew that my father’s father was dead and that my Uncle Oscar was dead and that my Uncle David was dead and that each of these instances was unnatural. And I saw it in my own father, who loves you, who counsels you, who slipped me money to care for you. My father was so very afraid. I felt it in the sting of his black leather belt, which he applied with more anxiety than anger, my father who beat me as if someone might steal me away, because that is exactly what was happening all around us. Everyone had lost a child, somehow, to the streets, to jail, to drugs, to guns. It was said that these lost girls were sweet as honey and would not hurt a fly. It was said that these lost boys had just received a GED and had begun to turn their lives around. And now they were gone, and their legacy was a great fear.
Sometimes, I start out with a clear idea of where I want to go in my reflection and then something takes me in a slightly different direction. I started out thinking about evil. And what it was Paul having us prepare ourselves for. But I couldn’t get Ti-Neshi Coates out of my head. Thinking about fear. What it would be like to live with fear all the time. What that would do to you. And for African-Americans, what it’s like on a daily basis. Especially in this year. Most of us don’t live with that kind of fear. We begin with a basic sense of safety and security in the world. We worry about money. Or relationships. Coates makes us wrestle with how the experience in this culture, this socio-political system, has beren a direct assault on the bodies of black people and continues to be so. How does our seeking to live out an incarnational faith commitment relate to this reality? How do we respond to one who has rejected our faith tradition as one which seems to accept the disrespect for and abuse of black bodies?
Then there are these words:
12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
The most dramatic time I heard these words was in Guatemala. In the 1980’s. I remember speaking with our missionary friend there, in a hotel room, the radio turned up to block the bugs. Many of our Presbyterian friends were indigenous people of various tribes. Whole villages were disappearing. Tribes that had existed 1000’s of years wiped out. Under the presidency of Efrain Rios Montt, el Viejo, the old man. The darling of other missionaries and North American Christians because he was a born again Christian from an American based group, el verbo, the word. (And the Reagan administration, obviously.)
So we went to El Verbo headquarters. Chain linked fence with razor wire on top. Barking German shepherds. Their spokesperson, Kurt Meyer, in his black leather jacket. After listening for awhile, I interrupted his lecture on saving power of Jesus to ask about genocide. And this passage was his response. The indigenous, and other enemies weren’t people, they were earthly minions of the forces of cosmic evil. Therefore, their deaths were justified. I knew then there would be little dialogue between us.
So back to my original thoughts. Yes, there is evil in the world. But mostly it is done by people. People just like us. And if we separate ourselves from that, or if we see those we disagree with as not being people, all is lost. And violence, sometimes unspeakable, is done to others.
While I was gone, there was the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We hosted here at West-Park a photography exhibit of survivors and the screening of an important film. We know now that it was not as my father believed, that this bombing had saved him form being sent to Japan. It’s clear now that Japan was ready to surrender. And that the offering up of over a quarter of a million Japanese (mainly) civilians, and the sewing of their land with atomic salt like Sodom and Gomorrah was more to send a message to the Soviets.
What does Paul see? The location for Paul of evil was The Roman empire and its corrupting influence on its collaborators. The armor we need for protection in the struggle against empire is:
TRUTH….there IS truth…we must move beyond the relativism of our liberal elite power structure and must be willing to speak it. There is truth. As when Jesus says, I am the way, the TRUTH and the life…
RIGHTEOUSNESS….which is all about right relationships. How we treat each other. How we begin to create a new reality even within the shell of the old, as Dorothy Day expressed it.
All towards Proclamation, speaking this new reality more than in our words but in our actions.
To understand that to say Jesus is lord is a powerful political statement for there can be no other.
FAITH…..to stake our lives on this truth and in this HOPE.
This seems to me to be the ultimate word of God… the sword of the Spirit, that WORD of creation that expresses the SPIRIT that has been there from the start, the SPIRIT that sustains us still.
Let’s listen again:
13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
It is not TRUMP. It is not even Bernie. What we’re called for is not reform of a system that can never fulfill the full will of God’s intention but the creation of a whole new way of living. Liberated zones. Safe spaces….where our SPIRITS and our bodies can be safe and free.
Let those with ears to hear, hear.
And so we share our prayers, we sing our hymns, share our peace and go put into the summer day. It is good to be back.