Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Sword Turned Upside Down

This is part of the sermon I wrote on Ephesians 6 (The Armor of God). I am indebted to Bob Fox's work on the text "The Armor of God" in Center for Ethics at Baylor University that can be accessed here:

Why should we put on the armor of God?

 Have you ever realized that we worship a God who was in a fight?  Jesus Christ spent most of his time taking blows. And then he was crucified on the cross. But you know, Jesus put on the armor of God.  For Jesus didn’t go straight to the Roman government and fill it with Pharisees. He didn’t build an army and attack the powers that were holding the world captive. Jesus' approach was subtle.  He formed a group of rag-tag disciples and began to teach them a more excellent way that required a belt of truth, a breastplate of righteousness, shoes of peace, a shield of faith, and a helmet of salvation.

 Remember the time when Peter drew his big metal sword to cut off the soldier’s ear in order to save Jesus’ life? And Jesus said, put down your sword and then he healed the man. There’s irony in the story, I think. Do you know what you get when you turn a sword upside down? Think about it. You get a cross. "Jesus Christ took Peter’s sword, turned it upside down, and hung there in suffering obedience" (Fox 63).

 Jesus nails the powers and principalities to the cross and dies. He rises from the grave and there is a whole new world where the powers and principalities no longer reign. Jesus exposes the sword for what it really is and subverts it with a cross. Principalities and powers are not defeated with a sword; they’re defeated with a cross. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The armor of God is the sword that is turned upside down to become a cross. And we put on the armor because Jesus Christ put on the armor.

It’s a tough world out there.  We might even need some armor if we want to stand our ground.  I hope that you’ll put on the armor.  I hope that you’ll grab your sword, even if must be turned upside down and made into a cross.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Beyond the Curtain

Rest is a virtue that must be learned; for many of us, it is not in our first nature to rest.  I found rest on my third day of vacation in Jamaica. The first day was spent worrying about airplane crashes and Jamaican taxis that disregard speed limits and have high appreciation for honking horns. The second day I thought about work until my worries slowly drifted away.  As the Jamaicans say, "No worries, mon."

All-inclusive resorts have no other function except to be a haven of rest.  There is every kind of bed imaginable—beds on the beach, beds on the cliffs, beds for one person or beds for two people, beds with attached umbrellas, beds in pools, and of course, beds in rooms.  The sole purpose of an all-inclusive resort is to provide a space that enables you to clear your mind of e-mails and phone calls and to help you forget about the strains of daily life. The waves crash, the sun shines, and everyone smiles. We were served meat covered in Jamaican Jerk sauce, fried plantains on a daily basis, and every kind of fruit imaginable.  The bar is always open to create and shake up your favorite drink. For better or worse, the resort encourages you to romanticize the country that you are actually in. 

The resort didn’t look like any place that I have ever been in America and it didn’t look like any other place we visited in Jamaica (an ours was a long shot from the nicest resorts in Jamaica). It was intentionally created to look different and to become a curtain that separates tourists from reality. Whenever you feel brave or want a glimpse of excitement, then you can step outside of the curtain and get a taste of Jamaica.  After you are sick of being asked to buy weed, you can return behind the curtain and forget about the country.  There's no need to think about the poverty anymore because it's time to rest.  At a resort, the people, land, and culture can easily become a commodity to be used and consumed for the enhancement of the tourist at the expense of the cheapening of the people and culture.

Some of our favorite moments were spent on the other side of the curtain. I am grateful for an adventurous wife who enjoys mingling with locals. Once a day, we walked down the narrow road with cars whizzing past us, honking their horns. We met Amelia, who was enjoying her last few days of summer working at an old woman’s craft tent.  The janitor at our resort knew more about politics than most Americans. He advised us to reelect President Obama for one reason—everyone deserves a second chance in life.   We went out to eat with our hotel lobbyist who hooked us up with free food at our restaurant.  We talked music with our cab driver, who told us that there were only three real artists—Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, and Elvis Presley and everyone else is just an imitation.

Outside the curtain, we tasted the food that the Jamaicans actually eat at “Aunt Jenny’s” diner—a red shack that I normally have never entered, but our hotel lobbyist recommended it. We had barracuda, goatfish, plantains, and dumplins—every morning we watched Jamaicans catch these fish with spears.  Our waitress sat down beside us, told us how she cooked it, and then showed us how to eat. How’s that for hospitality?  That’s what it means to break bread.

We found a people who were proud of their country and genuinely joyful to be a Jamaican when we decided to take a taste of their lives at our own convenience. Don’t get me wrong—I often thought to myself, “I’m glad I’m at a resort.” We often hid behind the curtain to hide, but we were welcomed with smiles and laughter when we ventured out beyond the curtain.

And I am struck with the conviction that we should live our entire lives outside of the curtain.