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Put on the Whole Armor of God

Ephesians 6:10-20 and Excerpts from Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown

Sunday August 22nd, 2021

Happy Sunday! I am truly grateful to be back among you, thank you for the beautiful music. I had a wonderful time away, resting and camping and reading with family in the Pacific Northwest, some of whom we hadn’t seen in 19 months, it felt really precious. Thank you for supporting me in that time of rest in what has been an extremely challenging season.

In our tradition, today is the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost and a good day to be alive and here together. I did laugh that the text is about putting on the whole armor of God as we have to go back to masking.

As we come to this time in our service, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and let yourselves arrive and take in some deep breaths and hear whatever it is the Spirit has for your heart today. Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. (Psalm 19)

Not long ago, my husband came into our kitchen and announced loudly, “My world is broken!” For years, he has been leading a meditation in Virtual Reality on Friday afternoons with people from all over the world. It was well attended and focused on the concept of the overview effect which is the term astronauts use to describe the feeling of oneness they experience when they see planet Earth from space. But recently the platform that hosts these events did an update to the software, which is basically the architectural backbone of the platform. The update, though, had some detrimental consequences to all of the things that Jeremy had created- in every single part of the original code, which made some parts of it totally obsolete. Attempts to try and fix one part of it, moved the parts next to it, which kept breaking the whole thing. Suddenly his whole world was broken. And when he said that I laughed because doesn’t that feel like where we are a little bit too?

It turns out that we are also waiting for something like a system wide update, which requires the language of code to be updated, which will change the core structure of what is possible. Parts of our world are indeed broken. And it does feel like in some places we are waiting for a system wide update.

The answers and the expertise, the people and the possibilities are already here, the wisdom and wonder we need, but what if not every part will integrate the update?

What do we do when it feels like our world is broken? When we are stuck, trying to tweak small parts using tactics familiar to us, but still finding ourselves in places we don’t want to be? What do we do when we are overwhelmed with all that is wrong, but don’t what to give up on what is right? How do we have hope when some of what we love is literally on fire?

Part of the answer for me right now is this: I believe there is literally a force that can be described as an energy of love, a power of peace, a generator of grace, that could be given the name God, if you had to name it, I believe It is ahead of us, with us and in us. And this presence can accompany us in our search for wisdom.

I am learning that in a community overflowing with Ph.D.’s, sometimes there is the sense that “We’ve got this! We know the answer! We know how to do this.” When perhaps this is a moment where we need to find all of the ways we can to say, “We don’t know how, but we care, we don’t know what’s next, but we are still here, we don’t know where this path will lead, but we promise to keep caring about love.”

And here’s another part of the answer. I believe this is a time that is calling for us individually and collectively to do what the First Century poets called “putting on the whole armor of God.” In the context of these words, that early community of faith was being harassed, discriminated against and persecuted. As scholar Haruko Nawata Ward writes, “Roman Civilization was built on militarism.” And yet those early “Christians were called not to bear arms against any human agents because their battle was a spiritual one.” The movement they were building was so countercultural to the broken world, the militarized, desensitized world around them that they needed resources, spiritual and physical to keep going, to be shielded and supported in living a different way. They needed something like what could only be described as the “whole armor of God.” They needed protection- they needed sanctuary among them, between them, around them and within them.

So part of what this means to me, in a time like this, is that we have to put on our spiritual armor to protect what is good, in times of chaos and uncertainty, violence and meanness, disconnection and social isolation, we must be more intentional about protecting what is precious, about protecting how we are together, protecting the places that are safe for us literally and spiritually. In a time of tearing down, whether that be protecting our human bodies and hearts or the clean water in our heartlands, I believe we are being summoned to put on spiritual armor and preserve sanctuary in our beings and in our lives, in our forests and fields, in our communities of faith and our families. I felt like the Olympics this summer offered us a beautiful example of drawing a line around what is good.

As Parker Palmer shared recently in the podcast On Being with Krista Tippet, “Sanctuary is wherever I find safe space to regain my bearings, reclaim my soul, heal my wounds, and return to the world as a wounded healer. It’s not merely about finding shelter from the storm: it’s about spiritual survival. Today, seeking sanctuary is no more optional for me than church attendance was as a child.” He goes on, “We live in a culture of violence. Even if we’re not at daily risk of physical injury or death, as are so many in the gun-obsessed U.S., our culture relentlessly assaults our souls with noise, frenzy, consumerism, tribalism, homophobia, racism, and more. It’s common to become desensitized to these assaults. We “normalize” them in order to get on with our daily lives, disregarding our need for sanctuary as we do. “ But the truth is we need it. He goes on, “Fed by the taproot some call the soul, we need neither to flee from the world, nor exploit it. Instead, we can love the world with all of its (and our) flaws by trying to live in a way that models life’s finest possibilities. That kind of love is possible, I believe, only if we know when and where to seek sanctuary, reclaiming our souls in order to engage the world in life-giving ways.”

So what do we do when it feels like our world is broken? And we might not get the system wide update that we imagine. But we can in a way update language of code where we need to, which will start to change what our core structures can do. And to get there- we remember that we are excellent at loving. We remember that there is a kind of energy that some call Holy that offers wisdom, peace, possibility and hope. We get there by calling upon our ancestors in faith, knowing that those who have gone before us also needed something like what could only be described as the “whole armor of God.”

This week when I was working in our garden, where all of the food is being given away. I started talking with a gentleman who has volunteered in our garden for a while now. He moved here last year and has volunteered in our soil for a while now. “Tell me what we can do to preserve this garden,” he said to me when I first met him. He so loves the garden and the community and connections it creates and we both celebrated that it will likely never be a lawn again. “Not on my watch!” I said. It is now food and fun and faith that seeds will keep coming up again. We both agreed. It is a sort of sanctuary.

Which reminds me that we are too. This body. And so we must preserve it, preserve the love we hold in this circle.

Hear these final words from scholar and leader Adrienne Maree Brown about what we are to focus on now: “Small circles rooted in love. Relinquishing control and offering love. Mundane practices as acts of love. Humility in the face of the unknown is self-love. Seeing and shaping the whole, not as a million overwhelming waves, but as a sea-this is collective love. Living in generosity and gratitude, every day is living love. Being nature, is being love. It certainly feels like love is the way…”

Beloved of God, wherever it feels like your words are broken, remember that you are excellent at loving, that we can shape the whole, that there is some kind of energy available for us to tap into that offers wisdom, peace, possibility and hope. Now is the time to put on the “whole armor of God” using prayer and patience, curiosity and compassion, showing up and sharing a way forward, to save all the sanctuaries within us and around us and between. We need one another, we need sanctuaries to get through. Circles rooted in love have always been true. May it be so. Amen.

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