Chains and Chainmail

* a sermon preached at Luther Memorial Church of Chicago on July 26, 2015 *

Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.

Text: Ephesians 6:10-20

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Please pray with me:

Holy God,
There are many things that bind and tether us.
Free us today, and every day,
So that we may be bound to each other, and to you.
Amen.

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Last week, 10 of our high school youth and 4 adult leaders joined with 30,000 other youth and chaperones in Detroit for the ELCA Youth Gathering. It was a powerful week, full of worship, stories, service, and a whole lot of laughs. I’d encourage you to seek out one of our youth and ask them about their experience.

(Photo from DeadlineDetroit)

(Photo from DeadlineDetroit)

One of the things about the gathering is that each of us received one of these wristbands that we had to wear for the weekend that we were there. These wristbands helped us identify each other and helped the gathering volunteers know who was part of the gathering and who was not. Also, during our day of service, the gathering provided all participants with a bright construction-orange colored shirt to wear. Additionally, many churches had their own obnoxiously loud, 80’s neon hued attire made to further identify their group. One Detroit resident commented to a local news outlet that it looked like a Skittles factory had exploded in downtown.

And all of this is to say that while we went to Detroit to serve Detroit, and all 30,000 of us definitely served Detroit, it was very clear to me and to many others who were passing through as part of the gathering and who were not. See, demarcations are sometimes helpful. Sometimes, demarcations keep us safe and provide structure. But I long for the day when demarcations are no longer needed. When all are invited to worship and praise God in Ford Field. When outrageously bright t-shirts aren’t a prerequisite for serving our neighbor, because I’ll be honest, I think I know who was serving whom and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me in my orange shirt.

These wristbands, these shirts, they bound us to the gathering like chains. Very clear designations of who was part of the gathering. Paul, in our reading today, calls himself an “ambassador in chains.” A figurative and literal reference, both to his tetheredness to proclaiming the Gospel, and to his own imprisonment. Our own chains may not be as physical as Paul’s, but make no mistake, they’re just as binding. The 60-hour work week, the perpetual rat race, alcohol, drugs, depression, sexism, classism, racism, homophobia, the ceaseless push to keep up with the Joneses, the relentless message of a “do this, eat this, buy this” culture that commodifies solutions to made-up problems that it spends billions of dollars convincing you that you have.

We are all bound; that’s the reality of sin. That’s what sin is, being bound to something that keeps you from living into the fullness of your relationship with God, that drains life rather than gives it.

But not all chains are life-draining, dear friends. Sometimes the ways in which we are bound do give life. The majority of our reading today consists of Paul admonishing the Ephesians to put on the whole armor of God. Now, I don’t know much about armor, but I’ve watched enough Game of Thrones to know that armor comes in pieces that fit together sort of like a puzzle, but that underneath this Tetris-like protection, one often wears an undergarment of woven metal. Chainmail works by interlinking chains together, and thus protecting the wearer. See, by binding chain links together, you actually get something stronger than its individual parts.

Chains are life-giving when they bind us together to each other. When we recognize the ways in which we are linked, like I said a couple of weeks ago, the ways in which, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all,” we learn that my well-being is necessarily tied to yours, and your ability to freely live as God intends you to live is directly related that same ability of the person sitting right next to you.

(Photo by Daniel Flucke)

Sometimes this linking, like Paul’s chains of imprisonment, is literal. Before we left for Detroit, Pastor Tim and I walked over to the Dollar Store to get some last minute supplies. Work gloves, paper towels, Lemonheads and Sour Patch Kids…You know, the essentials. And we also got these glow stick bracelets, if for no other reason, than they were a dollar. And on the first night of the gathering, as we were walking to Ford Field, we passed out these neon bracelets. And some of youth thought it would be funny to link themselves to each other. It was funny to watch them try and tether to each other with one hand, even funnier to watch them try and do hand motions to the songs with their hands tied together. Sometimes we are literally linked together.

Sometimes this linking is not quite as physical. Like today, when we’ll be taking up a special offering to donate to help rebuild the 6 historically-black churches that were burned in acts of arson in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre. A tangible show of support from our faith community to theirs, and a clear message that our love for these beautiful children of God is stronger than the hate and evil that infects our world.

My favorite part from our reading today is in the 15th verse. Paul says, “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” This idea that no matter what direction our feet are walking, we are called to walk in the path of peace. That the heart of this Gospel message is that of peace; of shalom, God’s perfect peace. Always moving and walking toward God’s restoration and reconciliation of all things.

It’s this common way of being together that binds us together. And by being bound together, we are being bound to God. By linking ourselves to one another, we become bound to the God who, in Jesus, was enchained for proclaiming a release from the things that bind us. Jesus, who was tethered to a cross for daring to free others from those things that had them in chains. Jesus, who by dying took our chains upon himself, and who by rising destroyed the chains of death.

As a faith community, one of the ways that we bind ourselves to each other is through a common Mission and Vision. We’ll meet in between services to affirm the diligent, tireless, and innovative work that the Mission and Vision team has been doing for the past few months. Our support of that work will necessarily bind us together as a community of faith, and commit us to doing this forward-thinking work together. We’ll vote to move confidently into the future that God is calling us into.

(Photo by Chris Ocken)

I long for the day in which wristbands and neon shirts are no longer used to differentiate. When demarcations are no longer needed for safety or structure. But until that day, let us bind ourselves to each other and to God, linking my freedom and wholeness to your freedom and wholeness, confident that God is breaking our chains of division and hate by binding up all of creation and reconciling all things.

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