“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,[b] 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. (Ephesians 6:13-17 NRSV)
Every Friday afternoon you can see them. They spend up to three hours walking to the prayer houses. These women are dressed in their own particular armor:
Black shoes: remind her that she walks in a dark world
Black skirt: reminds her of her own sinfulness
White tunic: represents the righteousness that Jesus brings
Belt: tied tightly to signify that she is ready for action
White collar: symbolizes Jesus covering all of her mistakes
Black collar: shows that even though she is a Christian, there are still struggles to come
The white hat: symbolizes the crown she will receive when she enters heaven.
These women are members of the Central Church of Africa Presbyterian and they live in northern Malawi. They are going to their Guild Meetings for prayer and Bible study and service. On Guild days and Sundays they shed their bright colors for the armor that reminds them who they are and to whom they belong.
They need this reminder. The forces of evil and darkness are alive and well in her world.
The thing people don’t get about Christians is that we are counter-cultural. We turn to God and check in with what we believe before we take action in the world. We dare to believe in the power of prayer over the might of evil. We take our salvation seriously. While the world would allow the survival of the fittest, we respond to grace by helping others.
Christians believe in the reality of the ever present evil. We attempt to see how it distorts God’s good creation.
When we are doing Christian faith right, we are a strange and quirky people.
For the Women’s Guilds in Malawi, their faith is clearly reflected in their lives. Theses gentle people have a spiritual nature honed by God in the trial brought on by poverty. They are strengthened by Christ and they demonstrate that strength and love in their service to humanity.
They pray and study the Bible. They teach their children life skills and they find time to share the gospel. They care for the other regardless of their faith tradition. They only see their minister on Sunday because he or she has a flock of well over 5,000. So they recognize their need for each other.
I can’t help but think that their armor is perfectly suited to the task. They awaken every morning prepared to live out their relationship with God and with others. They understand clearly that they’ll do battle with the forces of darkness.
Let’s look again at Paul’s analogy from the Roman culture. Stan Mast of Calvin Seminary describes the Roman armor as follows:
The wide belt was not only a place to hang his sword but it also provided a way for him to gather up his clothes for battle (as in girding his loins.) The belt held everything together, freeing him up to do battle.
The breastplate guarded the majority of his body, especially the vital organs. He wore hobnailed sandals that both protected and anchored his feet during battle.
The shield was 2 ½ feet by 4 feet. It was about an inch thick, wrapped in leather and edged with metal. They would soak their shields in water before battle and hold them up to defend against flaming arrows.
Their helmets protected their heads. All of these were defensive weapons. The only offensive weapon they had was their sword which they took in hand only when ready to do battle. (http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-16b/?type=lectionary_epistle)
The analogy for us is a useful one.
All we know and understand is held together by the belt of truth. This truth isn’t rigid. Nor is it weak. This truth is valuable and reliable.
Evil has the power to hurt us deeply. It hurts us and, in turn, hurts others. Righteousness is what God does for us so that we can be in right relation with those we meet daily.
Shoes are the foundation on which we stand; we’ll need to be steady in order to proclaim peace (one of those counter-cultural ideals.)
The shield of faith quenches those arrows that the forces of darkness fling our way.
Take shelter in God’s salvation and be ready to proclaim God’s word.
Stand firm, the author tells us. Not rigid and stubborn and unbend-able. That position ends up breaking our spirits. Stand firm in the posture of one ready to receive and process new information. Stand firm as one who can accept new ideas and set aside the inappropriate. Stand firm as one ready to listen carefully, speak thoughtfully and ask questions in order to gain understanding.
Stand firm as one who abides in Christ as the branch abides in the vine. Live for Jesus. Live in gratitude for the grace given you every single day. Live out your salvation by fighting the forces of evil that cause injustice and addictions and poverty and violence. Live out your salvation by looking out for those who suffer in darkness.
Those are also counter-cultural ways of living. The world looks out for number one. We allow God to look after us while we care for the other.
We need God’s armor. We need it daily. It is armor that’s strong, and flexible. It is built on time spent with God: worship, devotionals, meditation, and Bible study.
God’s armor is what empowers us and protects us. God’s armor is a part of who we are in Christ.
All glory and honor be to God.