Lectio: Romans 13:8-14
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Meditatio: “The Armor of Light”
I have read Paul’s Letter to the Romans through 3 or 4 times, and I have never noticed this phrase before — which is surprising, because with my fantasy-fueled imagination, “the armor of light” conjures whole worlds and storylines and epics to mind. I probably missed it, because this passage is somewhat overshadowed by the first 7 verses of Romans 13, where Paul instructs the Roman Christians to submit to the political authorities. Fascinating what the Spirit holds up for us at certain moments in our lives.
“The armor of light.” Paul talks further about such armor in Ephesians 6 — more well-known to most Christians — and holds in his mind this surprising image of how we Christians are to live in a world that is hostile to our message, just as it was hostile to our Lord. We are to put on armor — of light, of God, of Jesus Christ.
I have never worn (real) armor, nor, I thank God, felt that I really needed to. I have, however, put on pretend armor, and while I’m sure it’s like comparing an apple to the wax facsimile, I did feel that somehow the armor changed me. And that makes sense: costumes help make the character, and we make a change in wardrobe to help us mark a change in identity. I’ve had to buy some new clothes now that I’m going to be “Pastor Cody” instead of “Student Cody.” We don’t like admitting this, it seems, because we’ve seen too many movies that all told us “it’s what’s inside that counts.” And then we all got excitable when Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins says, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” I think Paul understands that both are true, that we are a complex mix of our inner character and outer comportment.
And armor, like any external accessory we attach to ourselves, teaches us how to wear it, and that has an impact on the way we behave while we wear it. You can see it in these funny college photos. There’s an aggression and intent that gets put on with the armor. It seems to me that this aggressive posture is what most preachers understand Paul to mean when he teaches us to “put on the armor of light.” It’s even more suggestive when we read Paul in context, where he pairs his instructions on God’s Armor with his instructions on how Christians engage social and political powers. The macho-preachers want us all to strap on our Jesus armor and either form our defensive line against the world’s onslaughts of temptation and backsliding, or take our religious war to Washington and take back our country. But when we read all of Romans 13, or all of Ephesians 6, and Paul is talking about the Christian posture toward power, but he is not giving instructions to seize power aggressively, or resist power defensively.
This is why I love lectio. Today’s lectionary reading of Romans begins with love. Reading and re-reading and meditating ties together two contradictory images: armor, and love. The armor of light is not a militant posture toward the world, with its powers and dangers. Nor is the armor of light a defensive posture against the world, with its threats and temptations. This is not what it means to be disciples of Christ. When we “put on the armor of light,” we are choosing to act in radical faith that the Lord of heaven and earth is, in fact, Lord, and is even now reigning, so that nothing on earth can shake us from his protection or his provision. When we “put on the armor of light,” we are choosing to act in radical hope that our Lord and Savior is not done working for our good, but is even now drawing all things together — yes, even terrorist attacks and political truancy and economic recessions and world wars, if we can believe it — toward the promised new heaven and new earth. And most of all, when we “put on the armor of light,” we are choosing to enact radical love toward God, and therefore, toward God’s good world, which is the summary of the commandments and “is the fulfilling of the law.”
This is how armor can be all light, when it reflects into the waning night the day that is near. We must reflect into our murky worlds the light of the day that we know to be near. This is our task, and our identity.
Oratio, from Ephesians 6
Lord, arm me with your love, that I may boldly welcome the world anew, and see it for its coming glory, waiting to be revealed.
Fasten the belt of truth-spoken-in-love around my waist, so that I may temper the words of my mouth with your love for those who hear them.
Put the breastplate of righteousness over my calloused heart, that I may be prepared to embrace those who are different from me.
Put shoes of love on my weary feet, that will make me willing to cross the threshold of my comfort zone, and make me ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
Give me the shield of faith, not to protect me from others, but so that I may defend the powerless, and quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
And put on my head the helmet of salvation, so that my ears may hear the cries of others in need and not hear the lies of the evil one, and that the vizor might direct my eyes away from “the works of darkness,” anything that might be “provision for the flesh,” and direct my eyes toward the day that is near.
And train me to hold the sword of the Spirit, which is your Word. Let me hold your Word with respect for its edge, and with discipline for its careful use.
Amen and amen.