“The Armor of Light”

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.

cardboard armor 1

One of the dorm events at Northwestern College, the Cardboard-Duct Tape Battle

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.

Another year's Cardboard-Duct Tape Battle, featuring a gladiator-style Sword and Shield pairing.

Another year’s Cardboard-Duct Tape Battle, featuring a gladiator-style Sword and Shield pairing.

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.

Contemplatio

 

 

Advertisements

“Enemies”

A Prayer for Seminarians, at the Start of a New School Year

Lectio: Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Meditatio

This week is the first week of classes at the seminary, and the first “first week of classes” I will not be attending in 20 years. It’s strange. I love school, and I excel in that environment, so I am sad to not return. At the same time, I graduated in May: I have achieved what seminary has offered, and the skills and education that I have received have a purpose, a trajectory, an end — ministry. I am somehow finished with formal preparation, and I stand on the verge of entering formal (read “full-time, ordained”) ministry. I am ready and excited and anxious and retrospective.

As I read Paul’s instructions to the Christian communities in Rome, I can’t help but hear them as instructions for the Christian community I am leaving behind (and, of course, the Christian community I will soon be leading).

city of godOratio

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; God-in-Unity,

Let love reign at Western Theological Seminary this year. In classrooms, offices, and library study carrels, let love for you, love for one another, and love for your Word and your people guide and go before faculty, staff, and students.

Proclaim your Good News every morning in Mulder Chapel, through the voices of middlers and emeriti alike, so that all members of the Western community might outdo one another in holding fast to what is good, and persevering through the weekly tasks of readings, papers, grading, and meetings. Send your Spirit upon them all, so they do not lag in zeal, but serve you diligently. Let them rejoice during breaks, be patient during exams, and persevere in prayer for one another always.

Thank you for all those who have been involved on summer maintenance crews, and who are eagerly working to provide housing to new students. Protect and provide for those who care for the buildings, for the internet and other technological resources, and for the coffee in the bookstore. In your hospitality toward them, move the students, staff, and faculty to extend hospitality to the strangers who frequently share this space.

And in those moments when frail human love fails — when blessings turn to curses; when hospitality is withheld; when institution comes before individuals; when grades are a tyrant, rather than a servant — go before and go between those who are hurt. Interpose your grace, that all may receive it, and give it to one another, and forgive one another. Raise up advocates and counselors and listeners, who might rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Let your love guide the members of the body of Western to live in harmony with one another, and live peaceably with all.

Where Satan sows the temptation to be relevant, to go along, to be popular, remind them of the sufficiency of your grace as the font is filled each morning. Let assimilating and conforming cease, and foster by your Word and by your Spirit a community where no one feels they must surrender their differences to belong or be valued.

Where Satan sows the temptation to perform, to compete, to impress, remind them of the sufficiency of your grace as the bread is broken each Friday. Let posturing and presuming cease, and foster by your Word and by your Spirit a community where no one feels they must claim to be wiser than they are.

Where Satan sows the temptation to oppose, to malign, to be against, remind them of the sufficiency of your grace as the cup is poured each Friday. Let gossiping and demonizing cease, and foster by your Word and by your Spirit a community where no one feels they must repay anyone evil for evil.

Surprise Western Theological Seminary with these sacraments, where the wrath of God pours out against all enemies to unity and love in small, simple ways. Overcome the subtle and secret evils among the community with your good gifts.

For all of these things, and for all the ways you stand ready to lead and love Western Theological Seminary, we pray with thankful praise and eager anticipation. In our Lord Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Contemplatio

Remembering St. Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day.

It’s interesting to me which saints’ days have become adopted for our American secular holidays. For instance, St. Valentinus, a third-century Roman priest, has become an opportunity in mid-February to celebrate love; alternatively, St. Patrick, a fourth- and fifth-century missionary to Ireland, has become an opportunity in mid-March to celebrate green beer. I, for one, find it unfortunate (and shocking!), that we don’t celebrate St. Lawrence Day (August 10): St. Lawrence, the second-century martyr, was roasted on a spit by Roman authorities, and became the patron saint of barbecue. How did we miss that one?

Sheldon Cooper, from "The Big Bang Theory," offering a more appropriate celebration of St. Valentine.

Sheldon Cooper, from “The Big Bang Theory,” offering a more appropriate celebration of St. Valentine.

Thankfully, today’s celebrations of Valentine’s Day have nothing to do with a priest’s violent death; regrettably, they also have little to do with why Valentine was martyred: for performing forbidden marriages in the name of Christ’s love for us. It’s hard to see in our socially accepted and expected ways of celebrating Valentine’s Day: flowers, chocolates, strawberries, hearts, Cupid, etc. anything more than yet another outlet for our cultural consumerism. I’ll admit, I bought my wife flowers, and chocolates, and earned points as a husband, and I also followed the social conventions of romantic gift-buying and date-planning. And I have loved all of it! There’s something deeply satisfying about being able to participate in romantic gestures, and know that they’re appreciated.

What are other ways we can celebrate Valentine’s Day? How can I celebrate my marriage in a way that really celebrates Christ’s love for us, in drawing us to himself and uniting us to each other as partners in discipleship? How can my sometimes-clumsy gestures of love for my wife really be equally-clumsy (if not more so) gestures of gratitude to God for his love for us?

For several years, my mom crafted a grand occasion on Valentine’s Day: a feast (complete with individual heart-shaped meatloafs and sparkling cider), gifts, cards, the works. We all dressed up and shared time together to celebrate God’s love for all of us and our love for each other as a family. That meal, a true “love feast,” was a profound example to us of how Valentine’s Day is about more than the grandiose romantic cliches we learn from romantic comedies and sit-coms, or the hand-decorated bags full of fun-sized candies taped to cards with terrible puns that we got from our classmates at school, or the Pinterest storm of sinfully decadent desserts, or whatever else we make today about to distract us from a profound encounter with God’s love for us.

I find it profound that we celebrate Valentine’s Day in the midst of the liturgical season of Epiphany, a worship season committed to listening for and paying attention to those places where God reveals himself, particularly in Jesus Christ. John 2:1-11 might be an appropriate text for today:

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

At this wedding feast, Jesus Christ transforms an ordinary celebration of human love into an extraordinary demonstration of God’s love, by transforming the water for purification into “the good wine,” declaring himself to be the purification of human love and the source of delight and celebration within human love. May Jesus Christ, through the powerful (intoxicating?) presence of the Holy Spirit, transform our celebrations of love and romance and affection today into moments in which God himself might show up, and bless us with joy and delight in his good gifts.

“In Truth and Love”

EPISTLE | 2 JOHN 1-6

1The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, 2because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:

3Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love.

4I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. 5But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. 6And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning — you must walk in it.

“…in truth and love.” (v.3)

In his second letter to his churches, John the Pastor has very little to say. This is the second shortest epistle (letter) in the New Testament (second only to John’s third letter), kept concise and clear. I am amazed that John has distilled his pastoral exhortation to two key points: truth and love.

What is more amazing to me is that John does not see truth and love in tension. I have been taught and trained that “telling the truth in love” is an impossible ideal. Instead, I have to choose one over or against the other. I can stand for truth, but I will hurt others; I can love others, but I will sacrifice the truth. For John, though, Jesus is both truth and love: the two are paired, shared gestures of God toward us in his Son.

He writes, “to the elect lady…whom I love in the truth” (v.1). John writes that “all who know the truth” love her also, “because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever” (vv.1-2). Truth motivates and compels us to love. The question remains then: “Which truth?”.

The only truth that could teach us to love and would motivate us to love, is the Truth, Jesus Christ. My theological education teaches me this has to be the right answer, but my overly academic mind rebels, demanding a more complex answer. After all, isn’t Jesus always the simplistic, “Sunday School” answer? But if my following Jesus on his the Lenten Journey to the cross has taught me anything, it’s that Jesus is anything but simplistic, anything if not complex. And then Easter morning opens with Jesus’ resurrection, which seals his radical complexity for all time.

Because Jesus is both the Truth and the Love, John sees God’s command to “[walk] in the truth” (v.4) to be part of, or partnered with, His command to “love one another” (v.5). My call to learn from Jesus and respond in faith does not end at the cross, precisely because Jesus does not end at the cross. At the empty tomb, my call is renewed and revitalized along with Christ’s life. If Christ is really alive, and I am really made a part of him, then truth and love both will have to be part of my discipleship.