5th Sunday after Pentecost
July 9, 2017
Ephesians 5:21 through Chapter 6
In the same way that Paul emphasized the large story of the peace between Jews and Gentile Pagans as a sign of the healing power of God’s love, so here we have the smaller story, that of the Christian Household. Notice that the most ink is spent on talking to the ‘head of the household’ about caring for and treasuring the wife as Christ treasured and give his very life for the church. Husbands are not simply to be attentive or romantic. In effect, Paul lifts up the pattern of Jesus: strength becoming weak and love being manifest in submission to the needs others as the example of agape – self-emptying love. So too, other household relationships draw both responsibility toward each other and power over one another from the mystery of the love of God for humanity and especially for the church.
This is a continuation of the command to ‘walk worthy’ of the calling to which we, as believers have been called. So, we, the believers who have been invited into a new world through the death and resurrection of Jesus, are a sign to the world that the old ways have ended. In place of rivalry and boasting, we have the gift of reconciliation through God’s love. This is a mystery, like a marriage. The church does not exist only for itself, but as a sacrament, a sign to the world, and a realization of the purpose of the new humanity in Christ. Heaven and earth will be drawn together into the fullness of creation that God envisioned from the beginning.
“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….” What are the powers that that keep us from realizing the fullness of the promise that Paul claims is ours in the earlier parts of this letter? “Rulers, authorities, cosmic powers of this present darkness, spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
It’s hard for us, children of the Enlightenment and modern science, to imagine a world in which things like governments and their systems, ideologies, cultural norms, public opinion, propaganda, prejudices, racial and class biases, taboos and loyalties have spiritual power over people. But they do. We are conditioned by them before we can speak, they are in the air we breathe, and they are as destructive as the material powers that can destroy us with disease, AK-47’s, and bombs. So formidable a phalanx of hostility against all the powers inimical to life demands spiritual weaponry, says Walter Wink, in Naming the Powers. We are advised to put on the whole armor of God. These are both defensive and offensive weapons. They are the very weapons the Prophet Isaiah says God used when God saw there was no justice, no truth. “He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle.” (Is 59: 15-17. 
Just as Paul tells believers to walk worthy, so now he tells them to stand firm. This is not envisioned as a defensive stance, but rather drawing up a military formation for combat, a triumphant stance of victory.
Walter Wink, again: “But for all that, this armor turns out to be strange armor indeed. Faith, the gospel of peace, the word of God, truth, salvation, and righteousness – are not weapons in any usual sense of the world. It is a warfare to be waged with an enormous concentration of prayer (6:18-20, continuous with the weaponry metaphor). What good is truth – unless it is the way the Powers are finally unmasked? What use righteousness – unless it reveals God’s true will for the world? What value salvation – unless the certainty of it is needed for reassurance in the moments of despair or darkness when the gathered might of the Powers makes doubt seem only sensible? What can the shield of faith do – unless we have learned to discern when flaming darts are aimed at our hearts, with their insinuations of inadequacy and guilt or their appeals to egotism and the worship of the golden calf? What good is a sword made only of words, in the face of such monolithic evil – unless evil is not nearly so much a physical phenomenon as a spiritual construct, itself born of words, and capable of destruction by the word of God? And why pray – unless that is the only way we can consolidate, by continual affirmation, the divine counter reality which alone is real, and freight it into being?” 
Interesting enough, this instruction in weaponry is written throughout in the plural ‘you.’ All of us, the whole people of God, is addressed in this description of standing firm against the evils inherent in the world we inhabit. Paul imagines we are taking the fight to the enemy, and he expects the Church to win. We may have our individual battles to win, but this is a battle in which we stand or fall together. Wink says that it was precisely its sovereign freedom from terror before the Powers, its success in exorcisms and healings, its transcendence of conditioning and its indifference even before death that won the church awe and admiration from the pagans and release a flood of converts.
This whole letter lifts up the community it addresses with praise and encouragement in such a way that it is easy to assume that the struggles of the churches that are addressed in Paul early letters have been overcome. It is easy to assume that the unity displayed in their life together truly is the sign of God’s presence with them. I am skeptical. I have been a member of a church all of my life, and many of them have been loving and thriving in all the ways that the Apostle expects. Many of them have reflected the power of God’s love against a world in which evil systems betray citizens and discriminate against people because of cultural habit. But I think it is safe to say that none of them was without conflict, grudges, pastoral abuse, mismanagement of people’s money, insularity from the heartaches of the world, self-satisfaction, and intransigence when their ministry proved ineffective. In the same way that “Star Trek” lifted a vision of a world in which humanity was united against the forces outside, at the same time as we experience the drama of nations that can never share the same vision, so Paul lifts up a vision of the Church as sacrament for a peaceful world in the face of the difficulties of simply loving the people in the pew next to you. I don’t think the story of Ephesians is only aspirational. I do believe that feats of love happen here and in the worldwide Church all the time. But at the same time, we still live in a world in which the powers arrayed against us and in us are so strong that we can only rely on the weapons of the Spirit promised us in the reading today. May the vision of the healing of the church as an instrument of the healing of the world remain before our eyes as we experience our own struggles of faith and faithfulness, as we plan for our future, as we imagine ourselves part of the whole people of God, bringing in the fulfillment of God’s vision for all creation. Amen.
 Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. (Minneapolis, Fortress Press. 1999) 418.
 ibid. 416.
 Wink, Walter. Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament. (Philadelphia, Fortress Press. 1984) 86
 ibid. 87
 ibid. 88
 ibid. 88