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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, December 13, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Ephesians 6:10–17

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For 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. Therefore 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. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (NRSV)

When I was a seminary student and intern at United Church of Hyde Park, this was the lectionary text I was supposed to preach for the Sunday sermon. I hated its warrior imagery and fought with Larry Turpin, the pastor and my supervisor, about changing it. He insisted that one doesn’t get to choose scriptures for your sermon when you’re following the lectionary and that’s the point. What can you find in these holy words that has meaning for us today?

I visited Ephesus in 2010, and it wasn’t difficult to imagine a world ruled violently by first-century Romans. Everything would have been clear cut: who ruled and who was being ruled. This text takes common imagery and converts it, somewhat sarcastically, for purposes of building the young church. Borrowing from First Thessalonians and Isaiah, each part of a Roman soldier’s uniform has been “turned upside down” in favor of truth and love. Read it again with these definitions in mind:

  • Breastplate—wearing the virtues of faith and love, proudly
  • Belt—ties us to Christ, like a badge of courage
  • Helmet—holds our heads high, in the hope of salvation
  • Sandals or boots—prepares us for a long march or a stretch, such as a pandemic
  • Shield—protects us from evil and keeps us “whole” in God’s eyes
  • Sword—comes in the form of words we use, the sword of the Spirit comes from our mouths

That’s a very different image than the Roman soldier who could beat you into submission, isn’t it? Imagine yourself clothed in God’s glory, in Christ’s love. That’s how I read Ephesians now.

Dear God, protect me from the wounds of others, and keep me holy in your eyes. Supply me with those external protections and internal faith that carries us all into your heavenly world. Amen.

Written by Maggie Shreve, Parish Associate for Jail Ministry

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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