“What Armor?” Ephesians 6:10-20

armor paper doll

We come to the end of our look at the book of Ephesians with this well known metaphor of putting on “the full armor of God.”

Somehow this image “rings” with us.

Maybe you, (like me) remember a Sunday School lesson where the craft activity was a cut out paper doll and we got to put the “armor” on the Christian.

Here is the Belt of Truth.

The Breastplate of Righteousness.

The Shoes of Peace.

The Shield of Faith.

The Helmet of Salvation.

And lastly, (but by no means least!) tentatively picking up that Sword of the Spirit and being reminded that it is the only offensive weapon here, and it is under God’s control.  The Spirit is given at God’s direction, and Jesus’ promise.   You can’t take that weapon up on your own, it comes to you at the right time and at the right moment when it is needed.

I remember looking at my outfitted little Christian paper doll warrior and thinking how good it would be to be outfitted like that, shielded and protected from all the threats of the world.

I looked at that, and wonder why I can’t feel that way.

“Armor of God?   What armor?”

I confess that all too often in the midst of this world I feel exposed, unprotected and far too weak to face what life throws at me.

How about you?

As it turns out, the problem is how little I knew about battle, or armor, or the true nature of the strength that the author of Ephesians understood and to which the author referred.

You see, when I think of the “Armor of God” I think of the individual, all decked out, and ready to tackle anything all on their own, equipped by God for the battle.   I picture a solitary person in their suit of armor ready to stand the assault.

I’ve watched one too many old “sword and sorcery” B grade movies, where the knight in the shining armor is protected from all harm.

I’ve seen too many “RoboCop” reruns.   I look at this metaphor and think that the suit is meant to make you invincible.

I’ve seen too many “Marvel” movies, where “Iron Man” suits up and withstands whatever the bad guys throw at him.

But for the author of Ephesians, this metaphor had a very different meaning.  One that was consistent with what he has been talking about all along, which is the importance of the community.

“For OUR struggle…. The author says.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers, the spiritual forces of this present darkness…”

The person writing this would have known, (and would assume that we know) that the strength of the metaphor is found not in the individual “suiting up” but rather in the community “suiting up and standing together.”

The strength of the Roman Army was not found in the individual.  It was rather found in the formation, and in the connections of citizen soldiers who stood side by side and in formation.

The Phalanx of the Greek and Macedonian armies (from which the Romans took their initial tactics) were close knit interwoven armored warriors.  It wasn’t your suit of armor that you trusted in, or that made you powerful, it was your neighbor’s armor, and how those who stood with you suited up and made ready for battle.

It was how you stood and worked together.

Your shield was of limited use by itself, but linked together with that of your neighbor, it offered protection that was multiplied and formidable against outside attacks.

When the author talks about taking up the “Shield of faith,” it isn’t your stand-alone faith that is important.  It is the “faith” of your neighbor and how it is joined to yours, and how yours is interlocked with those around you — that is its strength!

This is what quenches the flaming arrows that are thrown your way, the shield of faith as it is connected to the faith of one another.

It wasn’t the Helmet of your personal salvation that gave you any kind of assurance.

You can’t see your own helmet after all, it was rather your neighbor’s helmet that gave you confidence.   They had their brain bucket on, which in turn reminded you that your own head was protected, your own Salvation is external to yourself.

“The breastplate of righteousness” is not about basking in your own self-righteousness.  It is rather depending upon the righteous actions of your fellow members of the Body of Christ.

My own “righteousness” is of little value, but when you, –and you, — and you, –and you act in a righteous and forthright manner, when you attend to being just and honorable and stand with me, then we are all strengthened with mutual trust in one another to withstand the lies and false dealings of this present age.

My righteousness is nothing if it is not accompanied by others who are trustworthy and who act in a forthright manner.   When that happens then all the powers and principalities out there who seek to do us wrong or to take advantage of us have no opportunity to do so.

I depend upon the righteous activity of those around me, and together we move as one against the threats that are much bigger than any one of us.

We get this illustration, this metaphor all wrong if we think of it as simply suiting up to be self-sufficient, or to be able to stand alone against outside threats or powers conspiring.

It was suiting up to stand together that gave the Roman army the advantage on the battlefield.

It is suiting up to stand together that will give the community in Ephesus the ability to stand against whatever is amassing against them.

Prayer becomes the essential activity.  Why?   Because prayer communicates concern, and connection with one another and with that God who equips you.

From time to time we wonder, “what good does it do to pray?”

If you understand prayer as simply your one-to-one time with God (which it certainly can be) then it’s hard to see how it does much good.  We reduce the ability of God to respond to a single action….God will grant something to me or not.

But if you understand prayer to be the way in which the community works together, holds itself together, communicates its ability to respond together, then prayer becomes a powerful force for maneuvering in this world together.

“I’ll pray for you.”

“I’ll pray with you.”

“Pray with me..”

“Let us pray together..”

This becomes the power holding the unit together, allowing it to move in agile and powerful ways, to cover one another, to protect one another, to work toward a common goal or direction together.

Prayer becomes a means through which, (when equipped with the sword of the Spirit) God can direct us all together, and can put the enemy to flight.

This is the image that the author of Ephesians wants us to capture, to understand.

This is not about you suiting up to do battle on your own.

This is about joining together with those around you to become a force to be reckoned with in a dark and dangerous world.

As I thought about the author of Ephesians use of this militaristic metaphor, (as unlikely as it may at first seem for peaceful Christians), I found my mind wandering back to the Gospel, and to Jesus, and curiously to those places where Jesus seemed “saddest.”

Jesus would not use the metaphor of militarism, not in the face of the Roman occupation.

But Jesus did seem to be most sad when his call for people to join together was met with individualistic rejection.

Think for instance, of the rich young man, who has kept all the commandments is told by Jesus that he lacks only one thing.

“Sell your positions, give alms to the poor, and come follow me.”  Jesus says to him.

And the sadness of the moment when rich young man turns and walks away from Jesus because he had many possessions.  He could not leave them to join Jesus and the disciples.

It is a sad moment, not just because he couldn’t give up “things,” but because he could not join!   He decides to “go it alone” again.

Giving alms to the poor would have been an acknowledgement that the needs of others were as important as his own needs.

Giving generously would have opened him up to all those opportunities to depend upon one another instead of just relying on his own resources or abilities.

It is a sad moment because he misses the power of being joined with Jesus, yes, but also joined with his neighbors.

Think of all the sad moments, all the times when Jesus made an invitation for people to join with him and to join with one another, and for a variety of reasons, they could not or would not.

Those are the moments when the powers of darkness seem most able to break in and create mayhem.

Those are the moments when we sense that what would make for the Kingdom of God to be visible is somehow obscured.  The promised Kingdom cannot be seen because we can’t envision being together on this, coming together on this, or on anything.

And when you think in that way, you begin to see the power of the Cross, which is the only place where Jesus could gather all together.   Some to scoff, some to weep, some to marvel, but together, and in that moment a glimpse of what could be.

I can tell you that the most heartbreaking moments of being a pastor are when you have a sense that the congregation is not joined as one and will not standing together.

Those are the moments when darkness tends to finds opportunity.

Those are the times when you cannot overcome the forces mounted against you, (whatever they happen to be) because you really cannot equip yourself to just stand alone.

The Sword of the Spirit only comes when the community is joined in such a way that it can be summoned and put to its intended use.

And so it is that at such times when unity and coming together seems difficult or impossible, we pray.

We Pray as Jesus did in Gethsemane, hoping others will join us, pray with us.

Pray as Jesus did, that we might be one.

We pray as the author of Ephesians directs us to, that we might be able to stand together.

The author of Ephesians wants us to see, and to know, what Jesus knew and came to show us.

The powers of darkness cannot take the field when the people of God come together and are joined as one.

“Be Careful How You Live.” Ephesians 5:15-20

“Be careful how you live…. because the days are Evil.”    That’s the phrase that lept from the page for me this past week as I read Ephesians.

That could have been written about our time, and not a time 2000 years ago.

The days are indeed evil or they seem to be.  There is so much in the news, so much in our local community and so much happening in world events that make us wonder if things in this world are not simply unraveling.

Violence seems to be escalating.

Polarization of political views, world views, and opinions have hit new heights.

We read about or hear about weird crimes being committed, hear about senseless actions taken, watch as demonstrations unfold by groups that we thought had long been discarded on the dust heap of history.  We are appalled that such things seem to have found new life, or worse, have been lurking under the surface all along, and we kick ourselves for not recognizing it sooner, or find ourselves even attracted to ideas that we would never have considered in other times.

The days feel evil, almost as if there is some malevolent force rippling through the fabric of our society.

I’ve had conversations, (as I’m sure you have as well) about how people are dealing with a world where the days seem evil.

Some are opting to tune out and not listen.  They are no longer reading the newspaper, or listen to the news.  They have dropped out of social media or “unfriended” any who bring a disharmonizing viewpoint.

The days do seem less evil if you just don’t listen, or don’t pay attention, or live in your own silo, or won’t let any of the negative messages get through.

That’s one strategy.

But it doesn’t really change the world, just limits your exposure to it.

Another strategy is to engage this world all the more.   Some have taken out subscriptions to newspapers and are diving deep into a variety of media and news sources.  They have expanded their list of who and what they follow in an attempt to find clarity and balance.

If one listens to all the varying viewpoints, perhaps one can discern the “middle way” or see glimpses of truth and understanding that will push back the darkness, arm one against the rhetoric of fear and confusion and give one a reasoned response.

Still others have adopted the strategy of putting on the “Rose colored Glasses” to filter out whatever doesn’t seem to fit.  This strategy acknowledges that there is evil in the world, but that it is overridden by all the rest of the “good” that is out there if you would only look for it.

For every sad or bad event there is a good one, a decent hopeful story to offset it.  Focus on the positive, and by doing so you can push back at the darkness.

And, I know of a few people who have opted for the strategy of “don’t worry, be happy.”

I wonder how much of our opioid epidemic is simply a population trying to self medicate itself in the face of the pain?

Pain over job loss.

Pain over relationships.

Pain over a world in rapid transition into an uncertain future.

People cannot long live in pain and discomfort. They will seek out ways to get relief.  We know this because the use of substances that provide a temporary relief have been used throughout the ages.

The Romans mingled lead in their wine to relieve the incongruities of Empire.

In the middle ages Mead and Beer provided a means of escape from the harsh realities of a difficult life of being stuck wherever you were born.

It was Gin that served that purpose in Dicken’s England, and Vodka in Stalin’s Russia.

Cigarettes and Alcohol were abundant during the chaos of the 30’s and through the World Wars.

The point is we intuitively sense what the author of Ephesians is talking about when he warns against getting “drunk with wine.”    The use of chemicals to dull the pain of living, or to fill the void of meaning is age old.

What may at first seem perplexing to us is the author’s suggested remedy.   If you’re going to get drunk on something, “filled” with something, let it be the Spirit!

“Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts and giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything…”

That’s what the author of Ephesians prescribes for Evil times.

Now at first that might just sound like a variation of “Rose-colored glasses” or “tuning out.”  As if by singing “Kum-bah-yah” and holding hands we might keep the nastiness of the world out of our corner of it.

But that’s not what the author is talking about.

Here the author is inviting you into the prophetic imagination of God as seen before in the likes of Moses, or Isaiah, Hosea, or Amos.

It is the imagination of God that does not just rose tint the world, or try to deny its darkness, but instead dares to shine a light into the midst of the darkness.

It is the light of the Prophets, promising that God is still around and about to do a new thing, or to address the injustice, or to change the world, beating swords into plowshares.

It is the activity of Jesus who comes as light into the world.

It is the call of Jesus to “let your light so shine before others” – daring you to believe that God at work through you might bring about the change in the world you dream and for which you hope.

This is the creative imagination of God that dares to say that though the days are indeed evil, evil does not and will not have the last say.

This is the creative imagination of the Prophets who confidently reminded God’s people that though this day they are living in is Evil, evil does not hold the field for long, because the power of God is coming as light and life.

The prophets did not sing their verses to take their people’s minds off of how bad the world was, they sang the song of the creator into the darkness to change it.

Followers of Jesus do not sing to take their minds off how bad the world is.

Followers of Jesus sing into the darkness, and by doing so, they rob darkness and fear of their power.  They begin with their songs to dispel it.

What the author of Ephesians calls the community to do is to take their example from Jesus.

Jesus lifted his voice as he hung on the cross and sang out a psalm, Psalm 22 to be exact.

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me….”

That’s the part of the phrase that the Gospel writers record, and it is the part that we remember, but to the person hearing that psalm at the foot of the Cross, that phrase would have worked like any song lyric that you might know.

What would they known, what comes next?

Well let me play a little game with you to help you understand.

“Ring around the Rosie…..what comes next?”

See, you can’t begin a song without it playing out in your head, the whole song, the whole thing.

“Amazing Grace…..what comes next?”

So, if you were at the foot of the Cross and you heard Jesus cry out, really sing out!   “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?….and you were in Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover, and you were a good Jew acquainted with the psalms, you would have done much the same thing that we did with those songs and hymns, you would have known what comes next and finished it out in your head! 

Which is:

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. 

This is Jesus singing into the darkness!

The days are indeed evil, but Jesus sings his confidence and hope in God to those around him, that they might fill in the blank and know what comes next!

Indeed, in three days time… the psalm from the Cross will be vindicated, its truth known by all!

This is what the author of Ephesians encourages his people to do, follow the example of Jesus, sing psalms to fill the void!   Confidently bring God’s Word into the midst of the darkness knowing that God can fill the darkness and bring the light!

God did that in creation by moving over the face of the waters, bringing forth light, setting the moon and the stars and the Sun, turning back the powers of chaos.

This is what God does when God is invoked, sung into the world.

This is what you do when the days are evil, you sing into them the power of God.

“Be careful how you live…” the author of Ephesians warns.    It is so easy to get caught up in how everyone else is dealing with the evil days.

Some will deny them.

Some will try to avoid them, or try to make believe in them.

Some will succumb to them.

And some will try to anesthetize themselves to keep from being confronted by them.

This is not what the People of God are called to do!   We are called to sing!

Sing psalms, reminding ourselves of how God has acted in the past and promised to act into the future.

Sing hymns which connect us to the tradition of faith, to the community who has trusted in God and not been disappointed, but has found encouragement, strength and comfort.

Sing songs and spiritual songs that connect us to one another, and that speak to our hearts and our common experience, and our shared hopes, dreams, laments, and joys.

Make melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God, and in that act feel the darkness dispel, and the evil lose its grip, and a vision of a better world begin to take shape as others begin to join the song, pushing back the dread and the evil as the Kingdom of God takes shape in your midst.

Because the day is evil, be careful how you live!

Live as one who knows that God in Christ Jesus has overcome death and darkness.

Live as one who knows that God provides all things abundantly.

Live as one who gives thanks, and the power of a thankful heart will push back the scarcity and the fear that threatens.

Sing into the Evil day, and the evil day will give way, replaced by God’s promise.

“Disparate World Views” Ephesians 4:25-5:2

We have no greater challenge as followers of Jesus than this, holding together two very disparate world views into a new one of the Kingdom of God.   That is the truth.

When we get to this section of Ephesians it is good to be reminded that what the author is doing is bringing together two very different communities, Jewish followers of Jesus, and now the Gentiles, who are the Greek speaking Romanized inhabitants of this area.

A little history lesson might be in order.

In 587 B.C. Judea was conquered by the Babylonians, and their normal procedure for subduing a population was forced resettlement, and so it is in this timeframe that the people of Israel lose their land and their Temple.  They make a transition from being a people of place to a people of a book, a story, a narrative and sharedbmoral codes by which to live.  Torah becomes the unifier in the midst of what comes to be know as the “diaspora” – the scattering.

Jews continued to live in diaspora communities like the one in Ephesus all around the Mediterranean long after the end of the Exile and the rebuilding of Nehemiah and Herod the Great.  They continued worshiping at Synagogues locally, gathering around the scriptures, the Torah, and adhering to the customs, teachings and practices that set them aside as a unique community.

One may have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover, at least once in their lifetime, but the matter of how we behave and live together as a community continued to be as a people who kept the Torah, circumcised on the 8th day, kept the laws, the commandments and the ordinances.  To be a Jew was to observe the Sabbath and keep the Festivals.

In short, how we choose to live tells the world who we are as God’s people.

This is how a Jew in Ephesus would be marked as unique, by living in covenant with God.

When those Jews living in Ephesus became followers of Jesus, (who himself observed all these things as well) they had no difficulty incorporating the teachings of Jesus into the rhythm of their daily lives.   Sabbath was still observed, the festivals were kept, the while the commandments took on new dimensions, they were still taught and observed.

“I came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.”  Jesus had said.

Gentiles however, behaved quite differently.   We get clues about that from Jesus in the Gospels when he says, “you know that the Gentiles love to Lord over each other, arguing for positions of authority.  It shall not be so amongst you.”

In the code of conduct for the Empire the world works in a hierarchical “quid pro quo” fashion.  To get something one has to give something in return.  “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours and if I can get a ‘deal’ at your expense, well that’s just your bad luck.”

The code of conduct for the Jewish community was one of understanding that all good gifts flowed from God.

The code of conduct for Gentiles was the understanding that what you received flowed down as a blessing from the Emperor who was the one who granted property, position, title, authority, and who expected something in return for what was granted.

The Emperor expected fealty, loyalty, productivity, etc.  That “chain of reciprocal gratitude” extended down throughout society, so if you were a Gentile official with a title, you could grant positions to those beneath you, but the expectation was that you would receive something in return.  If you were a soldier, you were granted a position of authority, but you were expected to perform certain services in return.

You get from someone, and then you are obligated in some way to give something in return back to the granter of the favor, the person of power, or the one who holds the position.

These are two conflicting world views when you think about it, and they extend to the present day.

One is tuned to a gracious God.

One is tuned to a “get what you can and pay it back” earthly master.

What Jesus was talking about to his disciples at that time was nothing short of a cultural and behavioral change.

“The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

“Whoever would be great among you must become slave, and servant of all.”

These are ideas that fit pretty well in the Jewish understanding of all things coming from God, but not so well in the Gentile world of reciprocal gratitude.

We tend to hear those pronouncements of Jesus as simply metaphorical.  “Oh, you want me to be like a slave, like a servant.”

But the force of Jesus’ words, and those of the author of Ephesians are much more than just polite suggestions.  The matter of how we treat one another becomes the core of who we are to be as followers of Christ.

Listen to this again with the ears of upsetting Empire.

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.   Nice sentiment, but how does that fit with the way Empire works? How do you do that in a system where falsehoods and guarding information is a way of life? How do you hear that when the understanding is not that you are not members of one another but rather an implicit hierarchy, where some are “naturally”  above others?

 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.

With Jewish ears we hear the commandments echoing here, do not kill, do not bear false witness, do not provoke to anger, be slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

But Empire hears this as weakness.   Grudges must be kept, tallies held on to, anger is a useful tool for control and manipulation.   Anger is a useful tool for exacting payment, imposing will, and demanding returns.

Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.

You might think the end of thievery would be in the Empire’s interest of Law and Order, but in truth, many of the transactions of Empire required theft of resources.  In the scarcity model of Empire, there is not enough to go around and so one must take from the less deserving to meet the demands of those more “worthy.”

God’s ordinances and decrees made special points to talk about fairness and accuracy in weights and measures.

To Jewish ears “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” rang as the assurance that there would be enough for everyone.

But Empire runs off of supply and demand, and if one can manipulate one or the other one can increase one’s profit margin.

It’s not blatant stealing that is disparaged here, it is the business as usual of taking advantage of the neighbor to in order to advance one’s own wealth.

If there are “needy” it’s because they haven’t figured out how to game things toward their own advantage, Empire has no obligation toward the neighbor unless it is useful for pacifying or getting something in return.

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 

You can figure this one out yourself.   In the world of politics, and influence peddling, and negative campaign ads, the game is not about building up but rather tearing down.  Tearing down one’s opponent to get the upper hand.

That’s why this section of Ephesians seems so pertinent and accessible to us, we still live in the tension of these two world views!

We live in the tension of what our calling to be followers of Christ would have us do, and the plain fact that all of these “Gentile” activities tend to “work” in the “real world.”

Falsehood and half truths are useful if you’re trying to sell something, or influence a vote, or neutralize opposition.

Anger is a power unifying force.   Getting people to “hate” makes them susceptible to manipulation.

The transfer of wealth from a less powerful or organized group is the easiest way to rise in one’s own power, influence and wealth.

Evil talk is useful for holding on to constituents, or power, or dismissing arguments against your actions.

So the author of Ephesians begins to address these points where the Jewish and Gentile communities differ in their understanding and world view, and the author does it with full knowledge that the reason it is hard for the new combined community to give up some of these things is precisely because they work!

He is asking those Gentiles who are skilled and schooled at the ways of Empire to give up that way of living.

He is asking the Jewish Christians who may be skilled at God’s expectations to give up something as well.   They are to give up their judgmentalism about the Gentile’s actions.

This is hard work, forging a new culture out of two disparate ones.

It will take all the grace of God found in Christ’s living example to get both communities to move off of their predisposed ways of acting and thinking in order to make of them a new community.

It’s a move that pulls no punches.  “Put away then….”

It’s a move that recognizes the struggle.  “Be kind, tenderhearted, forgive one another as Christ forgave you…”

It’s a move that lifts up Christ as example, as the one to imitate in the midst of a world of disparate viewpoints.  Imitate Christ as one who knows sacrifice is a part of journey.

This is the work we continue to engage in, just as the Ephesians did, every time our decision making process bumps up against the collision of these two world views and ways of thinking.

It’s why we have the polarization that we have in our society today.

I wish I could say that everything was finally resolved at Ephesus, that they two communities worked everything out and eventually became the “one” that Jesus prayed for them to be.

There is no story about that happening recorded in the scripture.

Instead scripture is witness to the fact that these tensions are part and parcel of our journey, part of the work for all of us to do.

And that work begins by examining the world view from which you are operating, or demanded to operate by virtue of your job, your upbringing, and your experience.

Today, it is enough to realize that this is the struggle of faith.

We will feel the tension of communities who look at the world in very different ways, and Jesus bids us find ways to overcome those divisions.

Today it is enough to see how each of those worlds work, and to look to Christ as the one to imitate and to show us how to live as we straddle them

“A Life Worthy of the Calling.” Ephesian 4:1-16

This discipleship stuff is tricky business, no doubt about it.

You get a sense of that from today’s Gospel lesson, where Jesus once again encounters large crowds coming out to greet him.   You would think he would be delighted, his message gaining traction, from outward appearances nothing but success and forward momentum.  Each day the crowd gets a little larger, and they press a little harder upon him to perform and out do what he’s done before.

You or I might have been hooked right into that, continued to just do more and more and more convinced in our minds that this is what is required of us, and so this is what we must do, put out more… more bread, more compassion, more healing, more favors, more of what is attractive!

But Jesus calls the crowds out on their expectations.

“You just came out here for the bread, didn’t you?”

He flips the narrative on them, making them think about what their part in the work of God and the coming kingdom is to be.

What am I here for?   Is it just for the bread that fills my belly, or is there more to this following Jesus than getting my needs met?

What is it that will really satisfy my hunger, fill me up?   Is it the stuff that fills my belly, or is this “bread” that Jesus offers something that does more, that fills my soul?

In a similar way the author of the letter to the Ephesians shifts gears with those who receive his writing as well.

The author of Ephesians has been building up the community, reminding them how much God loves them.

He has been commending them on their actions, encouraging them to consider and take in the height and depth and breadth and length of God’s love for them.

It’s been very much a “filling station” kind of experience up to this point in the letter, and that’s a good thing.   Lord knows we could certainly all use some good news and a little “filling up” in our lives!

But now the letter shifts to the matter of what one does once one realizes that one’s heart and mind is full and their faith renewed and strengthened.

“I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”  He says.

The author begins to remind them of how they have been gifted for service.

This is the tricky move, and we know it.

It’s the move from studying something for the sake understanding it to moving to application.

It’s the move from practice to actually entering the game.

It’s the move from anticipation of what it might be like to do a task to feeling the expectation upon you to actually perform that task or duty.

We know this shift and all the trickiness found in it because we have likely all lived it at one time or another, and sometimes over and over.

I went to Seminary, studied the scriptures and theology, practiced worship leadership, delivered sermons to my professors and fellow classmates, and all of that gives you a pretty good idea of what it might be like to be a Pastor.

But there comes that day when you graduate and the call is extended by a community and the keys to the building and the trust of the community are placed into your hands, and it is suddenly different.

The day comes when you ascend the pulpit to look out over the congregation, your congregation, and you suddenly realize that all the preparation, the study and the practice has led up to this… the eyes that look to you.

You begin to feel the weight of leading a life worthy of the call.

That’s my story, but I’ll bet yours is much the same and you can parse it out.

You studied and prepared or apprenticed or were brought along, and maybe it seemed pretty seamless at the time, but there was probably a moment when you felt the weight of it all.

The moment when as the nurse you entered the room without a supervisor at your heels and you noticed something that needed attention.   There is no one else but you, and the eyes of the patient look to you with trust and hope or pleading, and so you step up to live a life worthy of the calling.

The moment when as a clerk, accountant, banker, financial planner you were pouring over the books, doing the routine calculations you’ve done a thousand times, but this time the mistake or the opportunity became apparent, the accounting piece that no one else has caught.  You sense the consequence this will have for life of your client, or for the company.  You feel the weight of stepping up to live a life worthy of the calling.

It does not have to be such a life or death kind of thing.   Maybe you bus tables and bust your butt in hospitality.   You get a certain sense of satisfaction that you are making this moment for your customers.   Your smile and demeanor in the midst of a mishap — of a knocked over wine glass or a child in the midst of a tantrum communicates that will be all right and we will get through this.. stepping up to live a life worthy of the calling.

These are moments when you understand that you are full.

You are full of the knowledge and assurance that others have given you.   Teachers and co-workers, Mentors and supervisor, parents and friends.   From the abundance that you have received and from the way you have been filled, you are now able to spill over yourself into the lives others.

You live a life worthy of the calling.

You may have started out in this job just looking to fill your belly with the bread.  You might have thought this was just about getting a paycheck, paying the bills, having money to do others things, the things you really love.  I’ll just do this for a while until something better turns up.

But, somewhere along the line, something changed on you.  You began to understand that there was more to life than collecting a paycheck and more to what you are empowered and equipped to do in this moment than rote repetition of a task.

This thing you do became your vocation.

The thing that you have the unique gifts and talents to do well gave you a sense of being filled up.  It gave you meaning and started to become an extension of your life in the world.

You begin to live to see the congregation respond to God’s call, or find challenge in how to make that more clear.

You begin to live to see the patient recover and move on to recovery and full life, or help them to end life well, as life does that as well… ends.  You become the steward of the transition.

You live to find that magic in the books, to solve that puzzle in the numbers, make clear what others only see as fog, or point out how the trend line can be changed.

You live to make your customer’s day, to see them fed and smiling and to walking out the door knowing that this has been a little respite of hospitality in an often too inhospitable world.

Insert your own experience here as you are able, the moment or moments when you began to sense that what you do is not just about what you do, but about fulfilling a vocation, a purpose in life that changes the world in some small, or large way.

In that moment the words of Ephesians spring to life.   “I beg you to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”

In that moment, you begin to understand he words of Jesus as they find their deeper meaning.  “For the Bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”       

The Bread of God gives meaning to what you do.

The Bread of God provides purpose to the task, no matter what it is.

The Bread of God provides satisfaction in the action and ability, in making the difference, and discovering that you are doing what you were created to do!

The Bread of God is about leading the life that changes the way the world works into the way God desires this world to work.   Making of it a place of interdependent relationships where all gifts are honored, all talents are lifted up as good.  The world becomes a place where (like the body) all things begin to work together to accomplish that which it sets out to do, and it finds delight in the working.

This is the Bread of God.

This is living a life worthy of the calling.

You know, in another story in the Gospels when the Disciple were arguing over which one of them was the greatest, Jesus’ response was to remind them that while the Gentiles love to make distinctions and to lord their positions of authority and power over one another, “…it shall not be so with you.  Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.   For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.”

This is what the life of Jesus reveals.  This is the “Bread” Jesus has to offer – not just the bread that fills the belly, but what it is to live with a filled soul.  For, that which fills the soul is finding purpose, meaning and value in what you do.  That which fills the soul is understanding the gifts you have been given, and attending to lifting up those gifts and abilities, not just in yourself but also in others and giving thanks for those gifts.

“I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” This is the calling of Jesus.   Not to Lord over or look down, but to lift up and to build up one another.

What is it that I could do today to make someone else’s day?

If I shared this bread of God with them, — appreciating who they are and what they do and giving thanks, would I not also receive from them the same?