Ephesians 6:10-20 NIV
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
There is much in Ephesians that I love, but I have to say, this passage irks me. I don't like its military metaphors. That discomfort, we all know, is a good reason to sit with the text, maybe even preach it. Nonetheless, I sat with Psalm 84. It is the perfect prayer for lectio divina.
Psalm 84 is a pilgrim song. It invites us to journey into the courts of God. It is full of rich imagery, deep emotion, and intense yearning for trust, gratitude, hope, and joy. I felt an invitation to read it as if I were a pilgrim, stopping at sites along the way, reflecting on steppingstones and stumbling blocks of the faith journey. And then, there it was, the stumbling block of language in Ephesians!
Only it wasn't there. Now I could read past it…to the verbs, to the action. Try it:
v 10 Be strong…
v 11 Put on God…take your stand against…
v 13 …be able to stand your ground…
v 14 Stand firm…
v 16 …extinguish the evil one.
v 18 …pray in the Spirit…keep on praying…for all the saints.
Sometimes reading scripture is as much about what's not there, as what is. To make it truly meaningful, we need to plug in our own metaphors, our own words. It's not just a case of using politically correct or feminist language. It's also about using language of the soul, present-day poetry, or terminology of the workplace for some situations.
Just over two months ago, our nation wept with the people of Charleston, South Carolina. That was a day when one person had the words all wrong and put on the wrong armor. It was also a day when a lot more people put on the peace of Christ's and the power of prayer. Just as it is possible to read Ephesians without certain words, it is also possible to remember and understand the history of civil rights without certain images. [Recommended reading: The Beloved Community-How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today by Charles Marsh (Basic Books, 2005).]
The movement was rooted in the Word of God before it became more disruptive, which is how too many remember it. There could not have been any more powerful reminder of the peaceable foundation of the civil rights movement than the lived faith and forgiving spirits of many of the victims' families. They are the embodiment of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s beloved community. And they are living the word of Ephesians without the armor…standing firm against evil and praying in the Spirit for all the saints.
God of all people, Open our hearts and minds more fully to the needs of this divided country, and to the healing words and deeds that we might bring to it. In Christ we pray, Amen.