Clothed by God

JulianA sermon offered on the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 26, 2018.  The scripture readings are Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18Psalm 34:15-22Ephesians 6:10-20, and John 6:56-69

Listen to the sermon HERE

Gareth Southgate has become known for wearing a waistcoat.  He’s the manager (or coach) of the England National Soccer team, made famous in the recent World Cup.

What do we “put on” that makes us feel strong? What do we put on ourselves that helps us fight the things we fear? Do we put on a particular label? A lucky shirt? Makeup? Jewelry? Does wearing a cross help us when we’re afraid. Do we carry a talisman or a lucky object?

Most of us probably have something. The tie we wore when we got the big job. The shoes we wore when we fell in love. The ring, the blouse, the t-shirt… you name it. In today’s second reading, St. Paul suggests a whole wardrobe, but he’s not really talking about physical, material things. Just the opposite, in fact. Paul is suggesting that when we’re afraid, when we’re insecure, when we’re not sure we’ve got the strength or the confidence to get through the morning (much less the day), that there’s an entire closetfull of things at our disposal that well keep us safe. In fact, they will save us.

“Put on the whole armor of God,” Paul says. The physical things we fear, though they might be scary, are not really the things to fear at all, Paul says. Rather, it’s the spiritual things that can level us, that can bring us down the deepest, and that can even kill us. And then Paul goes on to talk about these various things we might do well to put on, or at least to try on.

Put a belt of truth around your waist. The waist is at our center. What if truth were really at the center of all that we are, and all that we do? There would be no fudging, no little white lies—instead, I guess we’d simply keep silent, rather than telling a lie.

Put on a breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate would cover the heart. Paul imagines our hearts to be covered with righteousness. “Righteousness” comes from an Old English word, “right-wise”—to be both virtuous and wise, to be right wise. To live from the heart, remembering that the heart and the head are in separable.

Paul says that for shoes, whatever makes us ready to proclaim a “gospel of peace” will do. He’s talking about our having a good foundation, a foundation that allows for peace, for us to talk about peace, to work for peace among other people, and to encourage peace in what we say, in where we go, and in what we do. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.

Faith, itself, Paul says, is like a shield. It protects us from all kinds of things. Even if our faith is weak, it’s a shield. Even if our faith is confused, even if it’s conflicted, when arrows from the evil one come toward us.

Senator John McCain died last night and for most of his life was a faithful Episcopalian. He knew so much of the Book of Common Prayer by heart that when he was captured as a prisoner of war, he could recite whole sections, psalms, and prayers. He could lead religious services in prison that helped sustain himself and helped sustain others.

God gives us a helping hand and our shield of faith is enough. Whatever faith we have is enough, and God works with that, and God honors that.

Any faith, any faith at all, becomes what Paul puts so dramatically as the “shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” A “helmet of salvation” and a “sword of the Spirit” might sound vague, like they are accessories that we really don’t need. Except that the sword of the spirit is the Holy Scriptures, and the Holy Scripture is the way in which we come to understand salvation—salvation being, God’s plan from the beginning of time, to save humankind from itself.

So, here, St. Paul gives us an inventory of a kind of holy closet … The things we can use to protect us, to strengthen us, to keep us strong and faithful against any foe.

Julian of Norwich had a vision of God, and in reflecting upon it, she writes “God is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us.” (Showings, Chapter 5, Long Version)

Clothes do, perhaps, make the person. But not the physical clothes—it’s the spiritual ones that count. And the best thing is that we don’t have to worry about back-to-school sales, or being up on the new fall fashions—God provides us with the means to be clothed in exactly what we need.

In the Gospel, the disciples say to Jesus, “This is a hard saying.” But Jesus suggests they clothe themselves in his spirit, in his light, in his love.

God gives us armor: a belt of truth, a breastplate of righteousness, peace-making shoes, a shield of faith, a helmet of salvation and sword of the Spirit— and all of them are custom-tailored to be exactly what you and I need. God does not give us a size that’s too big, or too small, but always knows what will be right. It is for us to step into that which God provides.

As Julian says, “God [himself] is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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