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“Sin’s Obscurity and God’s Purposes”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 8:26-39
Genesis 29:15-28

 

Romans 8:26-39

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Genesis 29:15-28

Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.


 

The fact is that almost any behavior can be justified using the Bible.  In the Bible, there is rape; there is murder; there is mob mentality; dismemberment; racial discrimination; genetic engineering; magic; divination; genocide; the stealing of land and possession; slavery; concubines; polygamy; royal, live versions of “The Bachelor,” stonings; rebellions; terrorist attacks; deceit; human trafficking; executions; child sacrifice; and even the sanctified killing of babies…

Now you may say, “Yes, but we know those things were wrong; they are only in there to teach us that they are wrong.”  And you may be correct.  But how do we know which is which?

 

In the Bible men are not to have long hair.  Pork is not to be eaten.  Women must have long hair and wear a head covering.  Women must separate themselves from community and isolate during their seven days of menstruation.  Animal sacrifices are to be brought.  Circumcision is a thing.  Animals are not to be cooked in their own milk…

The lists of do’s and don’ts are extraordinarily long.

And why?
Most of us would say we are now exempt from this long list of rules.
Why?
Because in Christ the old is gone and the new has come.
But this also does not mean we simply drop all the stories.  They still have value.
But it places a particular burden on the reader. 

And this burden is that of prayer, study, and discernment.

For without prayer, without the leading of the Spirit of God, our own minds and hearts can rationalize and excuse any plethora of behavior.

The Bible was used in support of slavery.  It was used in support of keeping women silent.  I has been used to justify slaughtering entire nations, burning “witches” at the stake, and it is probably still used my some today to justify polygamy.  After all, even this story of our beloved patriarch Jacob, we hear of how he takes two wives – both Leah and Rachel.  And though he did not ask for this, he nonetheless walked this path.  And this is a path so many of our Fathers in the faith walked.  Abraham had one wife, but he slept with his wife’s slave.  David had many lovers, including one he stole from one of his most loyal and honorable servants.  Solomon had many lovers.  …And these are only the examples we know about.

The responsibility of reading the Bible prayerfully – opening oneself up to God in a listening, in a conversation – is most imperative.

 

And then we must read it intelligently.  It is our responsibility to learn the cultures in which these passages were written.  Context absolutely matters when interpreting scripture.  We need to be able to take a step back from any one particular passage and begin to see the meta-narrative – the overarching themes, direction, point of it all.  We need to read enough of scripture that we can allow them to inform one another, to converse, to challenge, to be in tension.  Just like we are strengthened by those with whom we disagree, scripture is best heard in tension with other contrasting scriptures.  This is part of how we tease out and understand the deeper meaning.  For example, Paul says, “Women keep silent.”  But then he praises Eunice, who was a church leader.  Paul says, “Slaves remain as you are.”  But then he says, “there is no longer Jew nor Greek, man or woman, slave or free.”

When heard together, these passages can be quite bewildering, but it can also lead us to dive deeper, to ask the questions.  And in the asking, in the seeking, God says we will find.

 

In my own seeking on these questions, I came to believe that Paul was both pastor and prophet.  He would, at once, see the end vision AND nurture the people on a path to get there.  The path and the end vision are not the same.  One is stark, the other gradual.  But in the end, both aim in the same direction.  Paul also believed Jesus would return within his lifetime, and so he encourages people to set down their own needs and to instead focus on God, compromise, lay down their own lives for the sake of others.  And while these instructions stand well on their own over the test of time, they also help us understand why Paul did not try navigating faster toward the final vision of equality, the final vision of family unity, the final vision of freedom.  He felt the time was short.  So he cut to the chase; “better to loose ones life and save ones soul.”

 We are called to read the scriptures with discernment.  Discernment is a coming together of everything:  prayer, listening, studying, comparing…

 

In our Old Testament scripture passage today, we witness deceit; polygamy; the possession, trading, and bargaining of men over women’s lives; and the possession and trading of enslaved persons.

Would you have wanted to be deceived as was Jacob?

Would you have wanted to be secretly switched out with your sister for a bridal night with her betrothed?  Unwanted, yet forced into the middle?

Would you have wanted to have your betrothed, given secretly to sleep with your sister, on your own wedding night?

Would you want to be the property of anyone, much less such a deceitful man, and then all of sudden given as property to his daughter?

 

None of this is good.

None of this is fair.

None of this is right.

 

And yet, God still speaks to us through it.

God meets us in the mess of the world – the messes we’ve made and those that have befallen us – and is present…in healing, in restoration, in mercy, in justice, in growth, in redemption.

And are we ready for the whole shebang at once?!?

Though I have long yearned and cried and prayed for God to make all things right.  If God did, then I too would be wiped out, for I too participate in societal sins – many of which I am not even aware of.

Will my children and my children’s children look back on me and condemn my depletion of this world’s fossil fuels, the littering of our oceans, the cutting down of our forests, the wiping out of entire species?…

Will my children or my children’s children look back on me and condemn how long it took me to realize that I am gay?  The fact that my lack of self-awareness took a toll on my former husband?  The fact that it took me so long to speak God’s words to me, those words spoken into my theoretical questions from Seminary 20 years ago about whether or not it was right to be gay.  Those words God spoke into my heart saying, “I have made people this way.  And it is pleasing in my sight.”  Will they look on my silence on the matter for so long …with indictment?

Will my children’s children be able to tolerate the abuse I bore?  Will they have compassion on the slowness of my own empowerment?  Will they shake their heads at how I silenced myself, made excuses for my abuser, put my own needs last, discredited my own emotions, failed to listen to my own heart and soul,…for so very long?

Will my children or my children’s children look back at the trash I created, at the possessions I owned, at the chemicals I used on this earth?

Will they look back on the segregation I tolerated, the privileges I received?

Will they look back on my ignorance to my own state and sins?

Will they look back and be able to see in hindsight all my flaws?

 

They probably will.

 

God is walking us all toward a more just and whole world.  Our rates of growth vary.  Some of us walk.  Some of us run.  And some of us lie down and refuse to move.

God loves us and all of creation.  And this love comes through in our continued awakenings, openness, growth, and change.  This love comes through in discipline, in turning us around, sometimes gently and sometimes most abruptly.  God gives us vision of the end AND paths to get there.  God has compassion on us, in our becoming.  God loves us, just as we are.  AND God is calling us to lay down the sins and weights that cling so closely and to run this race set before us – with intelligence, energy, and love that covers all things!

 

Thanks be to God for working all things together for the good of all those who love God and are called to be part of God’s purposes in the world.

Thanks be to God for not giving up on us – for correcting us as a parent who loves her child and running like the father of the prodigal son, welcoming his wayward son back home with great joy and gladness.

Thanks be.

 

May we fulfill the purposes God is working in our lives.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~

 PRAYERS 

                                                                                     Psalm 126
O Lord God,
May those who sow with tears
Reap with joy.

Thomas a Kempis (Germany, 1380-1471)
Make that possible to us, O Lord, by grace, which appears impossible to us by nature.

Martin Luther (Germany, 1483-1546)
O God, we believe this life is not a state of being righteous, but rather, of growth in righteousness; not a state of being healthy, but a period of healing; not a state of being, but becoming, not a state of rest, but of exercise and activity.  We are not yet what we shall be, but we grow towards it; the process is not yet finished, but is still going on; this life is not the end, it is the way to a better.  All does not yet shine with glory; nevertheless, all is being purified.

9th century Latin Hymn
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by Thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight

Emmanuel, you have come to us.  You dwell among us.  You make all things new.
Come, O come, Emmanuel!
And hear our prayers…

 

“Family in the House of God”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Philippians 3:4b-9
Matthew 5:21-22

 

Philippians 3:4b-9

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.

 

Matthew 5:21-22

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.


 

 

“You have heard it said…But I say to you.”  Matthew records Jesus as saying this over and over again, in succession.  The teaching we read today merely starts this series of teachings.  Jesus is re-framing things for his listeners.  Jesus is contrasting our ways with God’s ways.  Over and over again.

Basically, for everyone who has studied the law and scriptures and who think they know something about holiness, goodness, and truth, Jesus is shining a brighter light, revealing the flaws in their thinking.  It’s as though the people of God have been trying to work and see inside a dim room, but when Jesus comes, he throws open all the curtains and the light of day comes streaming in.  All of a sudden what was once believed to be white is seen for the yellow-stained color it is.  All of a sudden what was considered black catches the light to reveal a deep blue-ish purple.

You see, in the light of God’s truth and presence, the things we once viewed as holy are uncovered for the pale reflection of holiness that they are, and the things we once viewed with disgust and judgement, we can now begin to see the beauty in.

God is like that.

 

So Jesus is waking the people up from their slumbers.  Jesus is turning on the brights.  And the people have the chance now to finally see themselves and one another in the light that God sees them.  God’s holiness is not attainable.  God’s righteousness cannot be achieved.  God’s goodness is far above what we pass off as good.  And even in the blackest of sinners, God’s fingerprints can still be seen, there are still glimmers of light.

 

This teaching, emphasized over and over again by Christ, can be seen in the movie series, Star Wars.  There are heroes.  They are often clumsy or afraid.  They may not have the faith they need at times.  The sometimes fail and miss their chances.  They are far from perfect.  And then there are the “bad guys,” as we often say, who do heinous things at the expense of human life and creation’s vitality.  They exploit and control.  They deceive and trap.  They use their life force for evil instead of good.  …And yet, the riveting parts of the stories are where that glimmer of goodness inside them steps forward.  Where the “bad guy” sacrifices himself to save another.

Goodness.  In the darkest super-villain.

This is what makes these movies so compelling.  This is what tugs at our heart-strings.  The characters are not one thing or another.  They are not flat.  They are not only good or only evil.  They are a complex mosaic.  They grow.

And so Star Wars shows us people much like ourselves – full of dichotomies and complexities – sometimes doing good, sometimes doing harm…

And we relate.

 

While we are ever tempted to label and dismiss one another…  While we are certain we are right and someone else is wrong…  While we stoop to calling one another names…  God sees things in a different light.  Apart from Christ’s own sacrifice, even the best behaved among us is a sinner, with evil in their hearts.

And so Jesus’ words call the people to suspend their judgements.  Jesus’ words call the people to humility.  Jesus’ words call the people to listen and to open their hearts to learn.  Because as long as we think we already know something, as long as we are convinced we are right, as long as we feel justified, we are living an illusion.

 

The truth is:  none of us know it all, none of us are right, none of us see clearly, none of us has the corner on the truth.

 

As much as it may not seem fair, Jesus is RAISING the standards of the religious communities of his day.  Rules that perhaps before felt challenging or even impossible, are now that much more impossible.  It is at once inspiring and defeating:  God’s ways are beautiful and wholly pure, but we dreadfully fall short of God’s good way.

And that is perhaps what Jesus is leading to.

Could it be that Jesus is toppling over their human constructs of goodness and evil in order to make room for the truth?

Could it be that Jesus is pulling back the curtains on their partial understandings in order to open their eyes to wonder and concern?

Could it be that Jesus is encouraging the weak and challenging the strong in order to help each and every one of them see their utter and complete need for God’s mercy and grace?

 

Here on earth it is remarkably easy to start thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought.  All we have to do is turn on the news and in a few short minutes, we can name a handful of individuals worse behaved than ourselves.

Here on earth it is remarkably easy to start thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought.  All we have to do is score higher on a test than someone else, and the feelings of superiority begin to bake in.

Here on earth it is remarkably easy to start thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought.  All we have to do is pass someone holding a card-board sign on the side of the road and wonder what it was they did wrong…

 

We are skilled in our judgements.  And yet our judgements are flawed.  They are flawed to the core.

 

Paul also spoke to this flawed way of thinking.  And he too sought to re-orient his listeners and their judgements:

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.

Christ reorients our hearts.  Christ shows us the dinginess of our greatest gains and achievements and invites us to lay those down in exchange for a that higher righteousness that only God can give.  For we cannot achieve God’s holiness on our own, but we bear the imprint of our Maker and we are loved beyond belief.  And our lives, no matter how stained and fractured, are of great value to God.

 

Do we mirror the heart of God toward one another?

Do we mirror the heart of God toward ourselves?

Have we set aside jealousy and competition?

Have we stepped out of the rat race and into the flow of God’s unbounded love?

 

Christ is calling each of us

to come in,

to set down our loads,

to pull up a chair,

to know and be known…

For our God has called you “daughter.”  Our God has called you “son.”  Our God has called you “friend.”  You are family in the house of God.

 

 

 

 

“A Dance with the God of the Universe”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 139
Jeremiah 18:1-11

 

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.


 

Repentance is a turning.  It is a 180.  It implies turning away from evil AND turning toward good.

In this scripture, we find God speaking to Jeremiah as he gazes on the work of a potter.  Just as the pot went bad in the potter’s hands & the potter then chose to make it into something else, so is our relationship with God.  It is a relationship!  Like a dance partner, God is responding to our every move.  God is not only attuned to all our goings & coming, all our words & thoughts, all our actions & inaction.  God is also responding to our choices.

 

How amazing is this, that the God of the universe is interacting with you and with me,

Dancing with you and with me.

 

Have you ever given it much thought?

 

We are not controlling the outcomes.  We are not manipulating God.  But God is responding to our lives and choices.  So when we do good, God builds us up, and when we turn toward evil, God sets out to put a stop to it and keep us down.  When we align ourselves with evil, we set ourselves against God.

Our God is a holy God.  Thanks be to God, evil is an intolerable violation of God’s goodness and truth.  Thanks be to God, we have a God who comes beside us in doing good.  Our lives matter.  And each life matters.  Therefore, evil is not benign or acceptable.  Not at all.  Evil kills and steals and destroys all that which is good and holy and true.  And our God takes action.

So we need to make decisions.  Everyday we are faced with the choice to follow or to turn to our own way.  Everyday we are faced with temptations and shortcuts.  Everyday we are faced with opportunities to love and to serve.  We are faced with the opportunity to speak truth or to lie.  Everyday we are faced with the choice to build up or to tear down.   Everyday we have the chance to bless or to curse those with whom we come in contact.

 

So what is the trail of our lives?

What is in our wake?

What story do our lives tell?

How many have been impacted?  And has it been for good or for evil.

 

God is responding to each of our choices, our decisions, and indecisions.

 

Do you want to align your life with God, coming alongside God in doing justice and loving mercy?  Do you want to set yourself in opposition to God and all that is good and holy and true?

 

Some have interpreted the Presbyterian concept of pre-destination to mean that God arbitrarily favors some over others, saving some and damning others.  That is not what I understand from the Bible.   While our actions have consequences and we can choose to step out of God’s life and salvation, I read that our God wills that all shall be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.  I read that Christ came, not to condemn, but to save the lost.

Our God has met us more than halfway.  Our God knows that we are made of dust.  We are not expected to be perfect.  And God knows we will stray.  But our God is inviting us, over and over and over again to return to God.

It is never too late to return to God.

And this scripture assures us that if we will but turn from our wicked ways, God may turn aside the consequences we had coming.  Because our God loves mercy.  And when we turn TOWARD God, we find a God ready and willing and waiting to welcome us back home.

 

Our lives are not planned out for us in advance.

The dance is not mapped out.

Our words, our choices, our actions matter.

And our God is here.

 

May we be a people of returning.

May we continually turn away from evil and toward God.

May we allow God to take the lead…

that we might indeed live into that fullness and quality of life Christ died to give us.

“Not Against Flesh and Blood”

Rev. Katherine Todd
2 Chronicles 20:12b-17                                                                                Ephesians 6:10-17

2 Chronicles 20:12b-17

For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.  Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the middle of the assembly.  He said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s.  Tomorrow go down against them; they will come up by the ascent of Ziz; you will find them at the end of the valley, before the wilderness of Jeruel.  This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

Ephesians 6:10-17

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  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.  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.  Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.


I find this imagery of the armor of God both empowering and unsettling.

Through-out church history, we find a stained path – of things done that we should not have done, things said that should not have been said.  There is a whole bloody past of atrocities committed in God’s name.  But all this is easy for us to say – for us who stand on the shoulders of all who have come before – for us who are the beneficiaries of those who paid for our freedoms with their sweat and blood.

In hindsight, we can see what our ancestors couldn’t – the world they were creating.  In hindsight, we can see what our ancestors couldn’t – the cumulative knowledge we have gained to this very day.

There is many a victim in our world who has been battered in the name of God.  While the crusades and inquisitions have passed, thanks be to God, harm done in God’s name has endured.  We have eviscerated people cultures in the name of Christ.  We have confused Christ with our own cultures, imposing our ways upon others in the name of God.  We have used isolated scripture passages, most often without scholarship, to condemn and to judge one another.  We have taken verses out of context and interpreted them through the lenses of our own experiences, culture, economy, and world view.  And in far too many cases, we’ve not even realized we were wearing lenses at all.

Now when I say “we,” I realize not everyone of us has done all these things recently or perhaps ever.  I say “we,” including myself in collective humanity, to acknowledge that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.  I say “we” because usually we have all played a part in these social situations, to some degree or another.  I say “we” because healing begins when we stop pointing the finger and stand up and take responsibility for righting the wrongs.

We as a people have used God to promote our social world views.  We have used God to promote our agendas.  We have used God.

Wearing Christ like a gold star, we have used Christ to elevate ourselves.  We have reasoned backwards that if God has chosen us, we must be good and others must be bad.  We have sought to sort and label one another – between those who we believe are condemned and those we believe are saved, those who are in and those who are out.

The problem in all these things is that we have taken the place of God.  We have judged, AS IF we are in a position to condemn and to judge.  We have sorted, AS IF we can see and understand rightly.  …all this despite Christ’s warnings: “judge not, that you may not be judged…”  All this despite God’s word that declares “God’s ways are higher than our ways and God’s thoughts than our thoughts.”

Clearly WE do not have what it take to see and determine rightly.  And yet we try and try again.

Now, does the fact that we can never fully see and understand God in this lifetime mean we shouldn’t try.  Absolutely not!  We are called to seek God’s face.  We are called to spend time in the Word of God, learning through prayer and study.

But in all things, we must remember that God is God, and we are not.

Can we speak definitively for God?  Probably not.

But we can speak to our experiences of God.  We can comfort how we have been comforted.  We can love as we have been loved.

And so, in returning to the scripture verses at hand – these verse about battling and armor – we recognize the thorny weight of history around these images of battle.

But let’s take a deeper look.

This scripture verse talks about battling the spiritual forces of evil and distinctly says that our battles are not against flesh and blood.  Our fight is truly not with one another.

Let me say that again:  our battle is not with one another.

So for all the fighting we are doing amongst ourselves, this verse does NOT support that.  The battle is NOT against one another but with the spiritual forces of evil.

So if we are using the Word of God to batter and tear at one another, we are misusing the Word of God.

If we are using Scripture to condemn one another, we are misusing the word of God.

If we are using Scripture to sort and judge one another, we are misusing the word of God.

Secondly, you’ll notice that the battle is not ours, but Gods.  This is a great relief.  We are not the beginning or the end of this story.  We are not the first to battle temptation and sin and evil.  We will not be the last, but the battle belongs to God.

This is a great comfort to me when I am tempted to believe that the weight of it all is hanging on my shoulders alone.  We are not alone, but we are following God’s lead, in God’s strength, in God’s way.

And God equips us.  We don’t wield the battle tools of this world.

Our belt is truth.

Our breastplate is righteousness, the righteousness that comes from Christ alone.

Our shoes are whatever help us proclaim the Gospel of peace.

Our shield and defense is faith.  Trusting and believing in God, we ward off the attacks of the enemy.

Our helmet is salvation – that free gift of God, on which our whole life rests, and in which we are able to stand with confidence and hope.

Our sword is of the Spirit, and is the Word of God.  God’s Word is power.  God’s Word stopped a storm.  God’s Word brought the dead to life.  God’s Word is life and power.  God’s Word is how we take on the evils of this world.

So as we face the disappointments, the challenges, the frustrations, and the evils of this world, let us not forget that the battle is the Lords, and that the battle is not against other people but against the spiritual forces of evil.  As God is for us, so we are for one another!

Star Wars is an epic series about the forces of good and evil.  In it we see unlikely heroes taking on those under the power of the dark side.  But what this series does well is in reminding us that even those most hardened by sin and evil, are still being called to light and love and life.  Even those who have done the most harm are not beyond redemption.  Vador is not too far gone to love and save the life of his son.

And that is exactly what Christ has shown us.  God is calling each one.  God looked out at all God had made and called it “good.”  Who are we to call bad what God has called good?  Who are we to condemn who God is calling?

When we find ourselves temped and tried and tested…  When we find ourselves pressed on every side…  When we find ourselves focusing on the people who have done us wrong, let us remember that God loves that one.  Let us remember that the battle is not with them but with things much bigger than all of this we can see.

And so we do not fight against one another.  We fight FOR one another and against the spiritual powers of evil.

We do not fight as this world fights.  We fight in God’s way and with God’s gifts.

We do not fight in our own strength.  But we fight in the power of God’s strength.

 

Let us not be dismayed.

Though evil is all around us.  We are not alone.  The battle is God’s.  And our God has equipped us.  So let us actively use all these good gifts of God and BE ABOUT the good fight, trusting that goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, lightness is stronger than darkness, life is stronger than death.