2Timothy 1:3-7; Ephesians 6:10-20
We begin this morning with Paul’s letter, or at least someone writing in the same tradition as Paul, to Timothy. And I love how it starts— naming and remembering that Timothy’s faith started with his mother Eunice, and before her, his grandmother Lois. This is a celebration of faith shared with generations- women who are so passionate about their faith, that they are living it out in ways that Timothy not only noticed, but felt compelled to explore for himself. We often think this is how faith grows best- shared between generations as people see for themselves what it means to be a follower of Jesus. After all, we learn a lot from those we know best-- we learn what's really important and what's stated as important; we learn what's implied and what's at stake.
A few years ago I heard Kenda Creasy Dean speak. Kenda has been studying teenagers and doing youth ministry for over 25 years now. She stoked up to the podium and the first words out of her mouth were, "I have good news for you and bad news for you about youth today. The good news is that we’ve passed our faith on to our children. The bad news, is that we’ve passed on our faith to our children, and it sucks.”
What she went on to say is that often the faith we pass on to our children is a faith that is watered down and simplistic, something she and many others calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. She says the moralistic part is that we tell our kids that our faith is really just about being nice and about not making too many waves; the therapeutic part reveals that what we think religion is for is to only help us out when we're in trouble; and the deistic part of it says that God is out there somewhere, but not a part of our every day lives. In other words, our faith will help us out when we fall, but it doesn't shape our lives otherwise. It's kind of like believing in Santa Claus-- someone who gives you what you want once a year, but doesn't interfere in your life-- someone who expects you to be good and not bad- who may even keep a list of your behavior and judge you for it, but in general just doesn't get involved.
So many of our young people-- and older ones too!-- have gotten the impression that this is the God of Scripture because of our actions or inactions, and nothing could be further from truth. The God we worship is very involved in our everyday lives-- forming us, freeing us, loving us into the people we can be-- extending grace and forgiveness and expecting us to follow suit! Our life in Christ is about rearranging our whole lives to serve God— living each day to recognize God’s grace when we fall short, asking for forgiveness, and then extending that grace and forgiveness to others, taking up the power we have in God’s love to be part of transforming this world! This is not about being nice-- this is about being transformed by the living God. It takes a combination of our head, our heart, and our hands. We can't think our way to God. But we also can't love God without engaging our minds and our hands in serving God in our communities.
It's been a devastating week for us as Minnesotans as we've seen one of our own- a beloved child of God get shot because of fear. It's been a devastating week for us as Minnesotans as we've seen one of our own- a beloved child of God shoot someone to death out of fear. It's been a long week, a long month, a long year, a long 500 years for our nation as we continue to live into the narrative that was created long ago-- a narrative none of us created and all of us have the power to begin breaking down.
Do you think of yourself as having power through God’s love? I think this is something we shy away from as progressive Christians. We know what has happened in the past when people have used their religion to get their own way— horrible things like the Crusades, slavery, bombs, shootings. So we become quiet and live in fear. But by the grace of God, we do have power. We are not powerless. It is what we profess every time we baptize a child-- we promise to work against the forces of evil in our world. We absolutely should be hesitant about how we’re using our power, because we so often have gotten it wrong. But we also have to recognize that to stay silent and not use our power as children of God is also sinful. God has given us tools to use in this world. And Ephesians tells us about those tools.
The author of Ephesians describes these tools as armor, which I find extremely unhelpful with what is going on in our world. It is an uncomfortable metaphor to say the least. But if ever there was something that needed reframing, perhaps it's the armor we wear as Christians. God gives us these tools:
1) Put on the belt of truth around our waist- this is what we start with-- naming the fears we have; naming the forces of evil that surround these events that are part of a greater system; naming that we aren't sure how to end this trajectory that we are on as a country, and naming that we all need each other in order to change who we are and become instead who we want to be.
2) Put on the breastplate of righteousness-- not self- righteousness, this is God's righteousness. We are to put God's righteousness close to our hearts-- setting aside all of the ways that our mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers have taught us that are not faithful, and hanging on to the ways they have taught us that are faithful to God, listening well to those in our community who have the least power like Jesus did. Becoming defensive about our own righteousness is not going to help us. We have to cling to God's righteousness, and God alone, because ours isn't enough.
3) Put on shoes that will ready us to proclaim the Gospel. They will look different for each of us, and that's good. You have people you can share the Gospel with and I have people I can share the Gospel with-- that's great! If you can proclaim the Gospel in high heels or Birkenstocks or hunting boots, go for it. But notice what you're wearing and why. If the shoes you are wearing are preventing you from sharing the gospel-- which is good news-- then take them off. Blessed are the feet of he who brings good news-- even if that's hard news.
4) Take the shield of faith (to quench the flaming arrows of the evil one)-- protect yourself from despair, from thinking that this is just how it's always going to be or falling into the trap of believing the lies around us that separate us from our neighbors. We have to hold on to our faith which tells us that God can breathe new life into dead bones, that new beginnings are always possible with God in the here and now. We have to carry the image of the peaceable kingdom that our Biblical ancestors began dreaming about so long ago, knowing that God gives us those dreams as visions of what can be.
5) Put on the helmet of salvation and find peace in knowing that we don't have to save ourselves, that God walks with us and is always in the process of saving us through daily grace.
6) And don't forget the sword of the Spirit— which is the Word of God. A word intended to bring life, not death, to save the world, not condemn it. A Word that shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
AND THROUGH IT ALL WE PRAY!!! Which is why I’ve been encouraging all of you to pray regularly— daily— for God to break through and do new things through this community of faith. It’s why our CORE Team and Ad Council have committed to praying daily and why we’ve been taking prayer walks. It’s why we have the prayer chains outside of the Sanctuary.
We have to be in constant prayer to know how to use the tools God has given us. We will know that we are not using them faithfully if we don't have to pray about it. It's not easy to tell the truth; to live out righteousness; to wear shoes that make us ready to proclaim the Gospel. It's hard to give up what we know in order to live by following Jesus. But it's exactly when we give up our lives as we know them, that we will gain new life in Christ. It is when we decide to use the power we have to follow Jesus instead of ourselves that we will find the kind of life that will shine God's love on this earth. And that's a faith worthy of passing along. So let’s set aside the other armor that we wear: the armor of fear or hatred; our armor of apathy or indifference; our armor of actual weapons. Let us set aside even our armor of white privilege, and choose instead this armor of faith: using the power we have and the tools God has given us to change our systems of power that are broken and to live daily in God's grace.