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August 26, 2018

“The Struggle is Real”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Ephesians 6.10-20

Psalm 84

August 26, 2018

When I was younger I danced competitively nearly every weekend. I came equipped with a large duffel bag and garment bag of dance gear: make-up, shoes, tights, leotards, and bobby pins. I was also equipped with muscle memory that knew the movements and a mental memory that remembered all the intricacies of the choreography. I had a toolbox that I took with me everywhere I danced, prepared for anything. I brought extra tights, extra bobby pins, and extra snacks, because I never knew what I might come across.

The scripture passage we read today is passing a duffel bag of equipment to the Ephesians to prepare them for their lives as Christians. The past few weeks we have read from this epistle and the author has informed the Christians about how to live everyday life. One week we learned about how to love our neighbors and express our emotions in positive manners. Last week we learned how to be rejoicing spirits and not “be stupid” in evil times. Here we read the summary of all this talk about being a Christian. “Finally,” the author begins – and maybe we think, “finally!” as well. Here we are – ready to take these words of wisdom out into the real world.

The author likes to talk about the “evil days” because it was thought that the Ephesians were living in the end times. We hear about forces of evil often in this pericope. Some of the evil that the Ephesians were experiencing was based on their community and what was happening in their context. The Roman Empire was in charge and Christians were persecuted.[1] The people really needed encouragement for living in evil days.

We are not short of evil in our time, either. Hate speech, hateful action, separation of families, and the perpetuation of hateful messages by groups like the KKK remind us that we are not living in a golden era. There are evil days – and sometimes it feels like evil weeks.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could find the source of evil and just nip it in the bud? If we could find the source that keeps people from thriving in life, maybe we could create a better world. Perhaps we think, “If we could just ban drugs that would solve our problems.” Or, “If we could just eradicate poverty we would be on easy street.” Maybe, “If we could just ban guns, the world’s problems will be solved.” Maybe all these ideas sound good, but the evil of the world does not just come from one person, or one thing, or one place. It is systemic. Banning drugs might somehow end the drug problem, but what about people living in poverty? Paying a decent wage might help people with living conditions and offer food, but what about racism? What about sexism? All of the –isms and issues in the world are tangled together.

This doesn’t mean give up hope. I don’t say this to disappoint. Alma Tinoco Ruiz, a United Methodist pastor, writes that we are susceptible to evil “influences.” We learn sinful ways from others. Oftentimes drugs are passed on generationally, poverty can be, too. Violence is, as well. It may not be generational, but it might be from friends or a trusted colleague. Often times that behavior is learned, and we are influenced by someone or something.

The hope, Ruiz writes, is that we are also “influenced by the love of Christ.”[2] Just as one can be influenced by bad habits or sinful ways from other people, one can be influenced by Christ – an even more powerful force than evil. We are equipped with the love of Christ in a way no one else can prepare us for the world. Just as I would pack my bag for dance competitions each weekend, we pack our bag of God’s love, the Spirit’s creativity, and Christ’s companionship every time we face the evil in the world.

The Ephesians passage uses a metaphor of a soldier, which was pretty typical for that context.[3] People were familiar with soldiers and their equipment. Even though we might think of soldiers as being ready for war, this is a peaceful vision. The Ephesians aren’t told to go into battle with swords swinging and arrows flying – they are told to be willed with truth and righteousness and faith. One is equipped with God’s word and grace and to take that in our duffel bag of life wherever we might go.

Over and over the author tells the Ephesians to “stand.”[4] To take action and be a presence can be difficult. In a world of evil days, to stand for anything can be a challenge. To stand can look like many things. Perhaps it means blocking a bully from harming someone. Perhaps it means refusing to laugh at the joke that harms someone else. Maybe taking a stand is finding that cause that touches your soul and bids you to advocate for it.

When I think of someone who took a stand and was equipped with peace and justice and love and truth, I think of Bree Newsome. Three years ago Newsome approached the state capitol building in South Carolina to find a confederate flag flying high. She climbed thirty feet up the flagpole and took it down. When the police came to arrest her she said, “In the name of Jesus, this flag has to come down. You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.”[5] Newsome was filled with the Spirit of God and took a stand with nonviolent resistance. That flag stands for hatred, but she stood for love. That flag came from a war and has a symbol of slavery and racism. So, when it is flown, that message is attacking others. Newsome could have taken many routes, but she put on the armor of God to push back against injustice.

How can we stand? How are we equipped for the evil days? I believe one way that we were equipped to stand was with this faith community. We are stronger as a community and our faith unites us. We do not agree on every theological issue but we can agree to end hatred and to aim for a peaceful world.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have “news fatigue.” I can read headline after headline and just because exhausted from reading all the anxiety that comes from a world that is frightened. How can we stand in a world that is filled with this negative energy? Our strength comes from God. The psalmist reminds us that God is our strength. God’s Spirit fills us up when we are feeling low. We are energized by retelling the stories of Jesus Christ. We are renewed at this table when we eat the bread and drink the wine. We are strengthened each week that we gather. We sit together in these pews and remind each other, verbally and visually, “I am here – I am with you – God is with you.”

So, today I have brought these blocks with me. I invite you to come up and take a block and a marker. Write on that block the gift that you bring with you. What has God equipped you with in order to stand together? Maybe it was faith. Maybe it is love. Perhaps it is the gift of listening. Whatever that gift is, write it down, and then we create a structure with those blocks.

 

 

 

With one block, we can be overwhelmed, and our block can be knocked over. Together, we build a structure that says, “God is our strength – God has given us these gifts – we work together – and we will stand together.” Be strengthened by God, by one another, and stand in the world. Amen.

 

[1] Haruki Nawata Ward, “Ephesians 6.10-20” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 374.

[2] Alma Tinoco Ruiz, “Reflections on the Lectionary” in Christian Century, Vol. 135, No. 16 (August 1, 2018), 21.

[3] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993), 388.

[4] Archie Smith, Jr. “Ephesians 6.10-20” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 376.

[5] Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2018), 115.