The pastor of our Methodist Church in eastern Missouri has been giving a sermon series on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). It’s been a useful reminder about the reality of the spiritual battle waged against Christians by powers and principalities. This past Sunday we had a guest preacher, the Rev. Richard Hadley. He’d preached for us before, so we knew we were in for a powerful message–and we weren’t disappointed.
Rev. Hadley’s focus was the helmet of salvation. Paul offers no explanation about any of the pieces of armor in the letter to the Ephesians, and the helmet is no different. We are merely instructed to put it on.
But Rev. Hadley told us something I’d never heard before, despite the hundreds of times the reference has come my way throughout the years. It turns out the armor is not simply protection which God offers us. Instead, scripture tells us it’s something God puts on, too.
Check it out:
God saw it, and it displeased God
that there was no justice.
God saw that there was no one,
and was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so God’s own arm brought victory,
and God’s righteousness upheld Godself.
God put on righteousness like a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on God’s head;
God put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped Godself in fury as in a mantle.
(Isaiah 59:15b-17 NRSV)
This changes things, doesn’t it?
Rev. Hadley pointed out something else which was profound. He suggested that our senses filter the world differently when wearing God’s head protection. When he said it, I immediately envisioned a high-tech superhero contraption, like something the Transformers or Iron Man would wear, tricked out to offer vision far beyond what is human.
Wearing this superhero gadget allows us to filter as God filters, and recognize who is and isn’t the enemy.
When we put on God’s helmet, we can see the reality that lies behind flesh and bone, skin color, gender, and political stance. We can recognize that individuals are not actually the enemy, no matter their behavior, no matter how anti-Christ their decisions.
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.
(Ephesians 6:12 NRSV)
Through this super helmet of God, we can see these people as simply deceived, and therefore deserving of our sympathy and our sorrow.
This is supernatural indeed, and something I struggle with as I watch the news or read the latest update about Methodist churches which fight to retain an archaic, exclusionary stance toward LGBTQ people. I struggle when I see evangelical leaders who do not stand up against ungodly political actions and demand better from our Christian representatives. I struggle as I read stories about families and church whose rejection results in the suicide of transgender youth.
I struggle when I hear about all of these people because it is so easy to view them as enemies. Enemies of LGBTQ people, and enemies of goodness and righteousness and love.
But they aren’t the enemy. They are victims, too, they just don’t know it yet.
The salvation Jesus offers is one of love; a love so deep and sacrificial that it shines throughout the centuries. We have a God who says, “Look! I will love you, even though you did this to me.” And God keeps on loving us even though we still crucify God with our demands that loving isn’t enough and that righteousness only comes through the particular set of rules our religious affiliation proclaims necessary.
Jesus shows us that even though we keep doing what the ancient priests and Pharisees did, right up to demanding death, he doesn’t view us as the enemy. Jesus asks the Parent to forgive us, because none of us know what we are doing.
This is why we must put on the helmet of salvation each day. Not merely to protect us from whatever hammers of hate the evil one wants to throw at us in its effort to suck us into a maelstrom of anger. We do need protection from all that, desperately. But the world is in dire need of our mimicry of Christ’s salvific decision and demonstration.
We need the helmet of saving love to filter away the falsehood presented in the face of those whose behavior affronts us, so that we can see the face of those who Jesus adores. We need to wear it so we can see our “enemy” as our own beloved.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t do this on my own. The only way possible is for me to employ the armor which Isaiah describes and which Paul instructs us to put on.
Heroic, supernatural, superhero armor. God’s armor. The forces Godself uses and has offered to us. The armor that allows us to love as Jesus loves.
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