Within the body of New Testament letters, none may be as fascinating as Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This morning, I encourage you to resist generalizing the New Testament letters as different expressions of the same message and truth. Instead let us spend some time exploring Paul’s circumstance and his message so that we may be guided in our lives of faith. We might find that the variety of circumstances which we face are comparable to the circumstances that people faced 2,000 years ago.
Unlike many of the letters attributed to the Apostle Paul, the letter to the Ephesians is not as personable or as familiar as other letters. It sounds as though it is addressing a community he is not familiar with. Because the letter is written from prison, scholars wonder if this letter signifies Paul’s insistence that, regardless of where he was or what trouble he was in, the good news of the Gospel should be made known. Particularly in our passage read this morning, the mention of the armor of God is suggestive of more than a mere military triumphalism or the passion that many associate with the love of God and country. No, when Paul talks about the armor of God he is suggesting a spiritual existence that is as beneficial to each of us as it is to our neighbors and even our enemies. Paul uses the everyday image of a Roman soldier to express something about God and his people.
As many of you know, last week my family and I went to the beach. It has been a regular occurrence for eight years now. Somewhere near the end of July, we have a week exclusively devoted to family time. The problem is not with our ability to have fun once we have arrived. Perhaps you have the same problem that we do: packing; we just cannot resist the temptation to pack too much. This year we solved the problem by taking two vans! One for people and one for stuff! What goes through my mind while packing my large family? What if I have to go to the hospital with one of the children? Or two? Or four? What if we need to dress up? What about beach toys or what about toys in case it rains? Mired in senseless anticipation, I pack way too much; just ask my husband who has to carry my suitcase up the stairs! And now, this morning, it is as if the Apostle Paul read my mind prior to leaving town last Friday.
All of the questions revolve around what to pack and how much? Now, my mother is known for her practice packing for long trips. Yes, she plans out what she anticipates needing and practices putting it into her suitcase to see if it fits. Good idea right? One that I do not practice but should! Like my mother, the apostle Paul suggests that we should look at what we are taking with us but in a spiritual sense.
For the Christian, the question is not which of our baggage we can leave behind. The question is how much of our baggage are we willing to bring with us. From the literal standpoint to the figurative, and more spiritual, ask yourselves this question: Have you ever heard someone refer to your personal baggage positively? Have you ever heard someone say in a dire moment that they are happy that you brought all of your baggage to the Church? “Bagggage” is that word that is tossed around to generically refer to emotional or spiritual issues within our lives that weigh us down. Baggage can weigh us down. More often than not, our baggage is caused by the shame or circumstances of our past. But what if God has created us in such a way that our baggage is not to be cumbersome and heavy? What if the tragedy of the past can be redeemed in the future? The good news of Jesus Christ is not that the past disappears, but that the darkness is transformed into light. The resurrection of Jesus Christ tells us that grace abounds despite our baggage. I sometimes wonder what it was like for the early disciples to come to terms with what they had done to contribute to Christ’s death. Were some ashamed for having been too greedy to care about Jesus’ life? Were some concerned with their own well-being over a concern for others? Were some regretting not having said anything to stand up for Jesus Christ? I often wonder what kind of baggage the disciples carried. One thing I can guarantee is that they were human like you and like me. They carried the baggage of guilt from a past they did not want to acknowledge. They bore the burdens of family expectations which bristled with the call to discipleship.
The question for us this morning, then, is how can people with so much baggage even take one more step forward to abundant life in Christ? The answer, for the apostle Paul, is to bring it all with you. For every occasion, your baggage is going to be needed. Because, my friends, our pasts have forged the armor of God by his grace. Pasts littered with unfaithfulness are not reasons to be burdened, they are moments of grace.
Through death and darkness, God gives to us experiences to share with others. In that sharing, grace is made apparent; Jesus Christ is revealed in our intentions as well as our actions and therefore our lives. God has given us the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith and the helmut of salvation in Jesus Christ. With this armor we stand against the temptations and evil of this world and rest in the promises of the new world to come. Like the gift of the Holy Spirit after Christ’s ascension we are not left alone for God has given us protection in his armor. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.