Tuesday, September 1, 2009

We are what and who we wear . . .

“We are what we wear.” It sounds like it should have been a clothing add from the 80’s or early 90’s, but it is also a truth that the world recognizes. I was reminded of that fact watching a movie I had yet to see. The movie was Hancock. In it, Will Smith plays a drunken, misunderstood, selfish superhero. Hannah fell asleep, so I did not get to finish it yet, but there was a wonderful teaching in it. The “image consultant” who takes on the cause of Hancock shows the hero the new uniform. Hancock, predictably, is not about to wear the uniform. And the consultant reminds Hancock of the film footage and of the fact that a uniform denotes purpose. We know what firemen and police officers are doing because of what they wear. We can identify doctors, accountants, librarians, construction workers, and countless others by how they dress. Their uniforms give away their jobs. Their uniforms, in a way, give away their identity.

Paul, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, reminds us of this truth this weekend. We are what we wear. And Paul reminds us what we should be wearing and why we should be wearing it. You and I and all Christians, writes Paul, are engaged in a battle against powers and authorities unseen. Our real enemies are then enemies of God who seek to lead humanity from the mercy and love of the cross and the glorious promise of salvation. Some may be seen, but others exist in the spiritual realm, wrecking havoc as they struggle against the Gospel of Christ. You and I and all Christians, therefore, need to dress accordingly. We know we are in a battle, and we had better be prepared. So what do we wear?

Paul reminds us that we wear the armor of God. First, we are given a belt of truth. When we read that, we should hear the world and Caesar’s question “What is truth?” In a pluralistic age which denies any group’s claim to know Truth, we should not be surprised that Paul reminds us that we have been given the Truth. The truth has been revealed to us. We know that God exists, we know that He loves each one of us, through the work and person of Christ Jesus. Better still, we know that Jesus is who He says He is, the messiah, by the fact that God vindicated Him on that Easter morning and raised Him from the dead. This, the world, is not all that there is. There is a Creator, a loving God, who stretched out His hand to save humanity, a humanity which so often determines to save itself and yet fails repeatedly.

Next, Paul reminds us that we wear a breastplate of righteousness. Given that Paul was a lawyer, we probably should not be too surprised that he uses a term like righteousness. For Paul, the term means simply that we are made right before God. Our debts to Him have been paid; our sins against Him have been atoned—through the sacrifice of Christ. As a result, you and I are made sons and daughters of the living God. We are adopted into His family and restored to relationship with Him. And it is fitting that we should carry such good news close to our hearts. When the world tries to remind us that we are not special, that we are not significant, our breastplate reminds each one of us that the Creator of the universe thought us worth the cost of the cross and that we are special to Him.

Our helmet, according to Paul, is a helmet of salvation. We are reminded of the glory which we are promised by God. Yes, bad things may happen in the world. We may suffer from diseases, famine, the sins of others, or even the forces of nature. We may, in fact, suffer to the point of death. Yet each of us has been promised through Christ an eternal salvation. Whatever we suffer for His glory will be redeemed. God will vindicate all His adopted children just as He did His begotten child. We may die for a time, but we will live forever in the presence of our God, our Savior, our Creator, our Father.

Add to all this the shield of faith. In our daily life and work we will be assaulted by these forces and their puppets who rebel against God. Diseases may well afflict us; aches and pains will no doubt assault us; coworkers may use us as rungs on a ladder, companies may dismiss us as heartless institutions are wont to do, we may lack for many wants, we may be persecuted as Paul was during the composition of this letter, at times we may feel like we are in a long tunnel with no light in sight (or worried that the light is a locomotive heading our way), but we can trust that God will vindicate us. Whatever is meant for evil by others in our life, He will conquer for us. We may not know how, we may not see how such redemption is possible at times, but our shield of faith allows us to withstand the arrows and trust Him to act when necessary.

I intentionally left off the sword and the footwear. At a later date, I want to take up specifically the sword He gives us to bear and how we wield it so wrongly so often. The footwear I save for last because it reminds us of our need to be comfortable and well supported as we labor for Him. Speak to any veteran about their supplies and their attire, and you will quickly learn that the shoes are very important. A soldier is near worthless if he or she is suffering from blisters on their feet, if their toes are frostbitten, or if the sweat has led to other problems. The footwear, though seemingly insignificant, is amazingly important. You and I are told to get comfortable in our labors for His Gospel. None of us are given the same gifts and talents, yet we are all called to go forth into battle in His name. While it is true that God may use you in ways that you would not choose (Paul is in chains for no real reason), often He sends us into those places where we are most familiar to testify to His saving grace. Your work or school environment, your family, your social club—all these and countless other places may be the very place He has sent you as His ambassador and asked you to labor faithfully.

We are what we wear – I mentioned earlier that Hancock drove this home for me late last week. While I have not yet seen the entirety of the movie, I have seen enough to guess. I will be sorely disappointed if Hancock’s image is not restored. But we are all confronted with that same question each and every day as we head off to work, or school, or play. What will we wear today? Will we wear the same old same old, will we put on the armor of God and go forth into the battles He has called us? Will we garb ourselves in drab clothing and testify that the world is right, we are not special? Or will we put on His righteousness, His truth, His promise of salvation and go forth as ambassadors of the One who redeems all and has acted to redeem us?


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