August 30 2015 Sermon
Ephesians 6:10-20 10 finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
The Lectionary rarely grants the preacher an opportunity to wax eloquent on the topic of shoes. Such sermons are usually left for mothers, wedding planners, and the enforcers of dress codes. In the Epistle for today, however, Paul is outfitting the Christian from head to toe. Since he does not neglect footwear, neither shall we.
Soldiers know the importance of shoes. I suspect that most of us would not think first about shoes when planning for battle. If we were let loose in the armory, we would probably race to get first choice of sword and shield, worrying next about helmet and body armor. Only last, if at all, would we concern ourselves with our ankles, toes, and soles.
Nevertheless, books and movies are amply filled with images of poor, ordinary soldiers struggling to protect their feet from cold or from injury when their boots are literally falling off their feet. One just need remember Valley Forge or the Civil War.
Shoes—or lack of them—can turn the tide of battle. You may have heard the story behind Scotland’s choice of the thistle as its national flower. In order to take the sleeping Scots by surprise, an army of Norse invaders was ordered to remove their shoes so they could approach in silence. What the commanders hadn’t anticipated was that the field they had to cross barefoot was filled with thistles. Instead of attacking with the desired stealth, the Norsemen’s cries of pain sounded the alarm that led to their own defeat. Scotland has honored the thistle ever since.
Shoes and stance go closely together, and athletes and soldiers alike know the importance of the proper stance for true preparedness. Many, if not all, forms of martial arts depend on a proper stance. The one who has mastered this stance is all but immovable when assailed by his opponents.
So, then, perhaps even we can agree with the nineteenth-century journalist Walter Bagehot (pronounced “Badgett”) who said that the great soldier is not filled with romantic notions of saving his lady or his king, but rather is the master of very mundane details, “thinking, like the Duke of Wellington was said to do, most of the shoes of his soldiers” (The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 3rd edition [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979], 29.11).
It’s the same with the Christian soldier. Still that Paul should mention shoes at all may surprise us. How can the Gospel, the great Good News about Jesus Christ, serve as footwear for the Christian soldier? Remember that the command given to the Christian soldier is very simple: “Stand!” Paul says, “Put on the whole armor of God in order that you may be able to “stand” against the schemes of the devil” (6:11). The command is not “Attack!” and certainly not “Retreat!” but simply “Stand!” This whole armor of God he has placed on the Christian in baptism to enable one to stand his or her ground and to withstand the assaults of the enemy. What can make the fulfilling of such a command possible, given the strength and fury of our foe? The gospel.
What does a soldier needs from his shoes? First, Paul’s soldier needs shoes that provide protection. What soldier can stand firm and steadfast with wounded feet? If we are to maintain our stance in the onslaught, we must be certain that our feet will not be vulnerable, our Achilles’ heel.
Just as the shield of faith can protect us from the fiery darts of the enemy, so does the Gospel’s promise of forgiveness by Jesus’ death on the cross protect our stance from the shots and thrusts and stomps of the attacker. Neither our own courage, own strength, or own righteousness guards our stance, but the promise of forgiveness and salvation in Christ Jesus.
Second; Paul’s soldier needs shoes that provide traction. The peace we all enjoy in the Good News of Christ’s reconciling death banishes every worry from our minds, enables us to plant our feet firmly, to meet the attack without wavering or trembling or slipping. Always at peace because we are together again with God, we are never worn out with care and worry; we are always ready.
We can begin to see why the shoes of the soldier deserve such attention! Helmet, breastplate, sword, and shield can do little once the soldier has been knocked to the ground; the battle is already lost. We must remain firmly on our feet, and it is none other than the Gospel of Jesus’ cross and resurrection that allows us to stand.
Paul’s soldier is shod with the Gospel. That’s a bold choice of a soldier’s shoes. When Paul applies all this to his own situation, his own upcoming face-off with the rulers of this dark world, it is only the Gospel that he mentions again. He doesn’t speak of wrapping the Gospel around his feet; rather, in more typical fashion, he prays that words be given to him to proclaim the mystery of this Gospel boldly.
And yet, we still have the picture of the fully armored Christian warrior in mind. In that respect, Paul surprises us. Instead of his saying, “Let them feel the edge of my sword,” he seems to pray that he will have the chance to show off his shoes. If his shoes are the gospel, Paul prays that he might reveal the mystery of those shoes; that is, the mystery of the gospel.
We need to remember again that when Paul here uses the word mystery, he’s using it in the New Testament sense, not in the PBS sense. A mystery in the biblical sense is not a puzzle to be solved by carefully gathering the evidence and then figuring out the solution. A mystery in the biblical sense is a secret that can be known only through revelation; it is exactly not something we can solve by our own careful observation or ingenious cleverness.
Paul’s prayer, then, is that he be given the words to make known to the world this secret that God has at last made known to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, dead and raised. That will happen when the shoes enable Paul and all Christian soldiers to stand with boldness.
Paul’s use of boldness fits perfectly with his use of mystery. To speak boldly is to speak freely. It means to hold nothing back, not worrying about alienating or offending a hearer, but to speak the way you would to a close friend or loved one.
Certainly this often takes courage, but Paul’s main concern is that he be able to present the Gospel fully and naturally and in a winsome way. In his bold presentation of the secret, there will be no occasion for an “I hate to have to tell you this” or a “Maybe I shouldn’t say it, but” or a “Don’t take this in the wrong way.” He is speaking great Good News, and he wants nothing to hold back the joy he feels in sharing this message of salvation.
It is this same great Good News that allows Paul to take such a solid stance—without wavering or stumbling—before the emperor Nero himself. It is this same Gospel—and all that it speaks to us of the mercy, grace, and compassion of our God—that covers our feet and secures our stance. In its peace we are ready for the attack—and ready to proclaim. Our feet are protected, and our stance is made secure.
The Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ
Fills Us with a Peace That Gets Us “On Our Feet”
to Proclaim Boldly the Same Good News to Others.
No weapon, no strategy, no subterfuge, no insult can shake our stance when we remain shod in the Gospel of God. Amen.