Meg Peery McLaughlin
August 22, 2021
(Day before School)
Prayer of Illumination
There is so much news, God, that breaks our heart. So so much.
Speak your good news we pray.
To strengthen our hearts, minds, bodies to do your will
and to rest in your grace.
In Christ’s name, Amen.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[a] 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. 13 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. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 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. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
For many friends among us, tomorrow is the first day of school.
I know you across the street had your first day on Wednesday.
I hope it went really well and I wonder what you wore.
My guess is you thought about it.
Growing up, first day of school outfit planning was a thing:
honestly, a chance to swindle my parents into a shopping trip;
and not just for pencils and binders, but new shoes, trendy tops.
Remember hyper color shirts? Oh yeah.
First day of school outfits are still a thing,
but now I’m the one buying.
In these covid days, what students wear to school is the focus of national debate. Are these required or not?
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbot said that no institution could require mask wearing.
But one school district near Dallas found a creative loophole.
Be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves, Jesus says.
The School Board announced an amendment to their dress code,
allowing them to get around Abbot and require masks for all students and teachers.
Is this really the focus for the Lord’s Day?
Don’t we say it’s what on the inside that counts?
The Apostle Paul begs to differ.
But perhaps preaching about a dress code feels superficial; cliché.
You’ve heard all the lines:
Dress for success. Clothes make the man.
Put on your big girl pants. Fake it till you make it.
As my friend Jenny McDevitt says, the most annoying thing about cliches
is that they always contain at least a sliver of the truth.
And the truth is, what we wear matters.
Talk to the father who just returned home from his daughter’s White Coat ceremony.
Talk to the bride who will stand on these stairs in her grandmother’s wedding dress.
Talk to the army reservist about his field fatigues.
Talk to them and they will tell you:
those times when what we’re wearing matters most …
it’s not really about the garments themselves, is it?
It’s more about what they represent to us,
or what we represent when we wear them.
It’s more about what they say about what we are doing,
what we are about, what we are for.
Pastor David Cameron has a son who is autistic.
He doesn’t speak, so much of the communication in his house is non-verbal.
When David and his wife Kathryn come down each morning,
the first thing their son does is check their shoes.
He has learned that the shoes they have on speak volumes about the kind of day that is planned.
Scuffed up sandals mean a casual, more relaxed day at the house.
Dress shoes mean work .
The Apostle Paul wants to dress us for work.
Put on the armor of God, he writes,
so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
When scripture speaks of the devil,
it is not speaking of a kind of pitchforked monster,
it speaks instead of the power of evil,
any force that stands against the way of love,
“the devil” has become in English a proper name for what was originally in the Hebrew Scriptures a generic word for “adversary.”
I want to go slowly here,
for Paul is clear to say
that our adversaries, our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh.
It bears repeating again:
our enemies are never other people.
Paul says our struggle is against the rules, against the authorities,
against the cosmic powers, against the spiritual forces of evil.
One scholar says that
Taken together, these four terms describe “enemies” that span both the earthly and heavenly realms—transcendent realities with earthly, political manifestations. To struggle only against “blood and flesh” enemies fails to address the root issue, which is the cosmic force itself. The believer is therefore called to the greater struggle against the cosmic forces that threaten the world .
So friends, this is bigger than any individual
bigger than Greg Abbot or Nancy Pelosi; or Jeff Bezos and even Christian Laettner?
This is bigger than your neighbor who refuses the vaccine
your cousin who hangs the confederate flag
Our enemies are never other people, and yet we are being asked to fight.
Fight ideals that deny, demean, and diminish life.
Fight the myth of scarcity, fight systemic injustices,
fight inherent cruelty and the overwhelming fear
that lift up one person only by pulling another person down.
Our enemies answer to the names of greed, racism and sexism, nationalism and militarism,
homophobia and Islamophobia
and I know there are some who are ready to stop talking about these things,
or at least not talk about them in church.
But friends, our history has taught us — and is still teaching us —
that when evil rears its ugly head,
it is not very often that it backs down without a fight.
The theologian N.T. Wright says that there are three mistakes we tend to make when it comes to understanding evil.
First, we ignore it. We ignore evil except when it hits us in the face.
Second, we are surprised by evil when it does;
And third, we react in immature and even dangerous knee-jerk ways as a result.
Ephesians wants us to act — and react — better.
Ephesians wants us to withstand.
Put on the armor of God, we are told.
It’s not a debate, not a personal choice, it’s a mandate.
It’s how Christians stand firm, stand up, in the midst of all the hurt and mess.
In the face of the evil
that was the Pulse Nightclub shooting
the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre made it’s own kind of armor,
giant angel wings – long white wings that stuck out 3 feet on each side—
outfits that could be worn to protect heartbroken mourners
from the protestors spewing hate against LGBT folk.
In the face of evil
that was a white supremacy march in Knoxville
some protestors put on some armor that looked like a clown costume complete with red noses and floppy shoes.
When people started yelling “White Power”
the clowns joined in dancing around throwing Pillsbury’s best
yelling “White Flour!”
Perhaps that all sounds as creative as a hyper color t-shirt,
so mind you, what the Apostle Paul names as the dress code is simply the
basics of what anyone of us would already own, like a belt and shoes.
He asks that we wrap truth around our waist like a belt.
The truth that in life and in death we belong to God,
that absolutely nothing can erase the image of God that exists in each and every one us,
and we let that hold us up and hold us together like belts were always designed to do.
He asks that we wear the breastplate of righteousness,
guarding our very breath with nothing more than a right relationship
with the one who gives his whole heart to the one lost sheep among the 99,
to the prodigal who has made all the mistakes,
to us, friends, to all of us.
We’re to carry the shield of faith,
not because it keeps the worst things from happening,
but because it assures us that the worst things are never the last things .
We’re to wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
For our own words will get it wrong, or stutter on old scripts, or go silent when they’re needed most
but these words (Bible) are life and life abundant,
and they tell the story of a love that cannot and will not be defeated.
I don’t know what you’re going to wear tomorrow to school. (Thank you for wearing a mask.)
And no matter your outfit, put on the armor of God.
Like David Cameron’s son,
the world is looking at our shoes to see what we’re about.
And we have work to do.