31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
August 26, 2018
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Wouldn’t life be better if it was like a game of tag and every time you needed comfort, you could just run to base and shout “safe!”?
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could put on Wonder Woman or Batman’s utility belt and everyone would have to tell the truth?
In our Bible passages today, we hear about God’s dwelling place, a place where all, even the sparrow can find a home base, a safe space. About God’s house and how those who live there are forever happy and full of song.
In Ephesians, the writer, Paul, speaks of putting on the whole armor of God. Fastening the belt of truth; putting on the breastplate of righteousness; shoes to speak peace; taking up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.
Not sure what store sells those things. Were they eligible for tax free shopping week?
Both writers speak of God’s peace and God’s truth, of happiness and faith, as if they were physical objects that we could put on or dwell in. Sometimes, we act that way, too– speaking as if this building is the only place where God lives, imaging that objects can keep us safe or make us happy.
Of course, Paul and the writer of the Psalm are using metaphors because God’s peace, God’s truth, God’s love, the happiness we gain by being in faithful relationship with God are not physical things. We cannot gain them by going to the right place or wearing the right thing – although, can you imagine how useful that “super hero of faithfulness” utility belt would be?
These gifts from God are not physical though. They are mental and emotional. “Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart.”
You can go to Pinterest or Google images and find these words written across all sorts of serene images. “Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart.”
It’s a nice thought, but how do we do it? How do we dwell in God’s presence? How do we prepare our hearts to stand fast against the trials and even evil of life? How do we know God’s peace and happiness?
First, we pray, which just means that we talk to God. In Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s storybook Bible, Children of God, he tells the story of Jesus’ disciples, Jesus’ followers, learning to pray. They said to Jesus, “ ‘Jesus, we want to open our hearts to God like you. Please teach us how to pray.’ ‘Praying is easy,’ Jesus said. ‘God wants to know you and bring you close. Just speak to God like a friend and [God] will listen. God hears your softest whisper, and even when you can’t find the words, God hears what’s in your heart.’” (Tutu, Children of God, 84)
In a modern translation of our passage from Ephesians, Paul writes, “prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters…And don’t forget to pray for me.” (The Message, Ephesians 6:18-19)
How do we stand strong in kindness and love when we are faced with someone else’s anger or hurt? How do we speak the truth when “truth isn’t truth”? How do we proclaim the good news of peace in a world so divided and hurting?
We pray. We pray hard and long. We pray for our children, our parents, our friends, our co-workers, even those who drive us crazy and make our lives feel like hardship. And never forget to pray for yourself and ask others to pray for you.
William Gurnall, an author and minister, wrote, “It is not only our duty to pray for others, but also to desire the prayers of others for ourselves.”
When we pray, we come into relationship with God; We come to know God; We come to be made new in God; and we come to feel God’s peace in our hearts.
Prayer is easy, and yet, too often, we forget to pray. We need community to remind us to turn to God with our troubles, joys, and cares. We need community to remind us that God always listens, that God hears our softest whispers, that God hears us even when we cannot find the words.
When Paul wrote to the community in Ephesus, he was not writing to the individual “you” to stand strong; he was writing to the plural “you” to stand strong. He was writing to the entire community because we need community if we are going to dwell in the house of the Lord and be happy. We need community to help us pray and gain peace of heart. We need community to remind us that we are God’s beloved children and we have nothing to fear. We need community to root us firmly in the ways of truth, kindness, and love.
That community might be a Christian community like this church. That community might be a small group of friends who gather regularly to support one another and speak the truth in love. That community might be a service group, transforming our world with Christ’s love. That community might be a biological family that joins hands before a meal, giving thanks God for God’s blessings and God’s presence.
Life is challenging. Every day, we face struggles: how to get it all done and not lose our minds, how to work with the person who criticizes everything we do, how to have calm in our hearts when the world around us feels chaotic.
Every day, we face struggles. God is with us though, bringing us peace, calm, and unconditional love, helping us to be our very best selves, bringing hope and joy to our families, our communities, and our world.
And when we are in danger of forgetting that, we have brothers and sisters to remind us that we are loved; we are blessed; we are able, with God’s help, to do that which we thought we could not do.
We have a community to remind us that we can take a breath of God’s Holy Spirit anytime, anywhere, and simply say, “Help me, God.” “Love me, God.” “Let peace begin with me, God.” And in that instant, we will find we are home and happy with God, clothed in God’s spirit, God’s peace, and God’s love.