In August I guided a group of international students to the Iowa State Fair where we walked and walked. As I turned one corner in the midway, I was shot by a three-year-old as she sat on her father’s shoulders. It was a toy gun, but she aimed at me and the red light on the gun’s tip flashed. I was glad none of the students saw this, or I would have said, “Welcome to America.”
The next day the sermon was on Ephesians 6:10-20, the armour of God. This is not a favourite passage of mine. Later I looked up my sermon from 1991 and saw that even then I struggled with the metaphor. I mentioned a parent who purchased the “full armour of God” from a local Christian bookstore. Their child proceeded to terrorize the neighbourhood, striking other children with the sword of the Spirit.
We live in a time of terror, or at least this is what the news media tells us repeatedly. The fear of violence has led the U.S. to incarcerate more people than ever before. Fear seems to lead to an approach of shoot first, ask questions later. Fear prods us to build bigger walls and drop better bombs.
This is not new. History is often the account of wars written by the victors. The Old Testament has troubling accounts of war. At times God commands war and uses it for his purposes. Is this the way it is supposed to be, or is this God working with the mess of broken humanity? God has the right to war against evil, but how does he ultimately do it? Not by fighting back but by unmasking its ugliness on the cross.
If we return to the armour of God metaphor, notice the peace shoes. The shoes are not fully pictured. They are not named the “Roman military boots” or “spiked sandal.” In the midst of this military metaphor out jumps the word “peace.”
Boots are made for walking, and “one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you,” singer Nancy Sinatra tells us. Boots are also made for stomping and kicking. Spikes are made for winning. Sandals are for cool comfort, and high heels might be for fashionable distinction. Shoes are for running or walking. What would feet fitted with “peace shoes” look like?
Many commentators have noted that Paul may be focusing on the feet as a reference to Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” Paul quotes this passage in Romans 10:15, highlighting the importance of the Christian proclamation. This should control the welding of the sword of the Spirit. The word of God is beautiful “peace,” good news, salvation.
Listen to the metaphors behind words we sometimes use in the Christian message, such as “fighting,” “defeating” and “winning.” Christians name our enemies and then attack. I even question the phrase “spiritual warfare,” because “warfare” is the main word people hear and picture. Paul presents this reality, but with peace in the middle. What does “peacefare” look like? Why is this not even a word? Earlier in Ephesians Paul gives us a picture of this peace. (See also Isaiah’s earlier picture in chapter 11.)
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit (Eph. 2:14-18 NIV).
This is peace with God and each other. This is the peace that unites humanity, stops name calling, alienation and dehumanization. This peace tears down walls of division and hostility.
September 21 is International Peace Day. Prepare your feet! “Feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace (6:15).” Feet that do not kick. Feet that have been washed by the humble Christ. Feet that stand on holy ground