14TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, 8-26-18

Pentecost 14 B 2018
Proper 16
Texts: 1 Kings 8:1,6, 10-11, 22-30-41-43 | Psalm 84 | Ephesians 6:10-20 | John 6: 56-69

“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”  Ephesians 6:10

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

“Every now and then you hear or read a story that makes you ask: Why?” Those are the opening words of an article in the Quad City Times written by Don Doxsie. The article is entitled “Diana Nyad Swim Seems Costly and Pointless.”

The article was written one week after Diana Nyad’s failed fourth attempt at swimming from Cuba to Florida in 2012. Swimming the 103 miles from one destination to another, without the benefits of a shark cage, with 50 people in 5 boats surrounding her; from meteorologists to medical personnel, from divers keeping the sharks that were swimming under her away from her and making her their dinner to the leading jelly-fish expert in world, from wearing a special designed suit that covered 99% of her exposed flesh to the Beatles songs playing in her ears to help her along the way, all of these things made Don Doxie want to ask just one question: why? But he closes his article with a different question, “What I really want to know is, how much did this cost?”

Had Mr. Doxie read Nyad’s reflections on her aborted swim and what was learned from it, he would have known what the cost was, and it had nothing to do with dollars and cents.

Nyad writes of her time in the water: “It’s a wild, wooley confluence of Mother Nature’s forces, these waters that stretch between Havana and Key West. Enormous tropical squalls flare from seemingly nowhere, bringing in 35 mph winds and fierce lightning bolts. Both Saturday and Sunday nights we were engaged in what the official observer of our swim deemed ‘life-threatening emergency.’ Large sharks parked under me for the entire second night. Our six shark divers spent every hour in the water, looking at pairs of eyes in every direction…

The powerful Gulf-Stream literally pulled our five large vessels completely off their compass points and we struggled for several early morning hours to right our course. But beyond even those crises, it was the jellyfish-again-that brought us to our knees.

Last year, stung so badly by the potentially deadly Box Jellies, the most venomous creature in all the oceans, I swore I just couldn’t give up, give in, without coming back with a solution to somehow making it through them.”

In preparing for this experience, an experience named Xtreme Dream by Nyad and her team, she worked with a company to develop a suit that wouldn’t create too much drag but that would also not allow the tentacles of the Box Jelly fish to penetrate her covering.  Nyad researched and developed “a front of defenses to protect” her.

She had a special cream developed by the leading jellyfish expert in the world that was spread on her nostrils and hands. She had special gloves and booties. The only part of her body left uncovered was her lips. And it was that one most vulnerable place that was repeatedly stung and which ultimately brought an end to her endeavor.  

The stings were created by tentacles no wider than the strand of a human hair, yet in that space was released venom so toxic that serious systemic effects could result…chills, tremors, and the possibility of cardio-pulmonary distress and collapse.  

What Nyad wore didn’t stop her from getting stung; what she wore mitigated the effects of what she knew was going to happen if she was stung. All these things helped her continue her quest. All these things kept her swimming for 51 hours and 5 minutes.

In today’s reading from the Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul has some words about making it through our communal and spiritual challenges, our marathon faith journeys that seem similar to those we just heard from Diana Nyad.

“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness…Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything to stand firm.”

You have heard about dressing for success? Well, St. Paul speaks about dressing for duress. Duress that he knew the Ephesians would face, duress that any Christian or Christian community will face. That is a given.

St. Paul talks about a front of defenses for Christians, a front powerful enough to go into battle; not battle with one another but battle with the spiritual forces, battle against the spiritual venom and toxins that would take us away from one another and God.  

He writes about the belt of truth. This belt of truth holds everything together.  t is the truth of Jesus Christ who is our spiritual foundation. We are admonished earlier in the letter to the Ephesians to speak the truth in love. To speak truth in love is to speak it in humility and confidence. Humility and confidence are not mutually exclusive, as some believe, but are interdependent.  

By speaking confidently of what Christ has done for us, we can with all humility admit and submit not to our power or the powers and principalities that Paul warns us about, but to the power of God. It is that power and truth on which we stand as a community of faith.

“Put on the breastplate of righteousness.” In Roman times the breastplate of the soldiers covered their most vulnerable parts-the heart and the core of the body. These breastplates were strong and flexible, not rigid as one would expect. They allowed for movement and turning. These plates overlapped each other adding additional protection.

The breastplate of righteous is flexible enough to allow us to do the right thing, to not act out of rigidity or anxiety, but to act out of love. To act rightly is so much harder than it looks and is harder than what we expect. If it were easy, there would be no need for spiritual disciplines or armor.

“As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” As a community, we need to make ourselves ready for one thing-proclaiming the gospel. That is the goal. That is our journey. And we ready ourselves for the journey with nothing less than the faith of God given to us in Jesus Christ. 

“With all of these, take the shield of faith.” Roman shields covered the entire body. They were often a little bigger than the soldier himself. They also were interlocking. They could attach to the soldier on either side. By doing so, extra strength was found in the phalanx.  Where by himself one soldier was vulnerable, together they could join together for greater protection. They were able to protect one another.

Our lives of faith are like that. We need each other. We need to be each other’s strength when we are unsure of where we are going, when we are hurt by the stings of life, vulnerable to the spiritual powers that are beyond us and more powerful than we are individually. We need to stand with one another as we go out to proclaim the gospel of peace. We do not leave one another to flounder on our own. We go into the wild, wooley confluence of baptismal water and spiritual doubt and questioning together-showing the way, giving strength and encouragement to one another.

To all of this protection is added the helmet of salvation. Christ is the head of the body. When we recognize that Christ leads us, when we recognize that we are God’s and nothing can separate us from that, we can go where God directs and do what God wills because we know who we are and whose we are.  

We need not be afraid because we have been named and we have been claimed. That knowledge goes a long way in helping us to frame our time and circumstances and actions into the wider gospel story and it colors our worldview. We know that we are a part of something greater than ourselves.  

The only offensive piece we are to take with us on our journey is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The word of God is the gospel of peace. It is the peace we give to one another and it is the peace we offer to the world as disciples of Jesus Christ. It is these things, St. Paul tells us, with which we need to clothe our life together.

We will need to be very mindful of these things as we discern St. Luke’s future together. We will need every one of them. We need to speak and hear the truth together. We need to have the flexibility to do the right thing so that the gospel is proclaimed as only St. Luke’s can proclaim it.

We journey together into the future in faith with Christ as our head, in the knowledge of our salvation and of our particular place in God’s salvation story.  

In writing after her failed attempt in 2012, Diana Nyad stated that she wanted “the thrill of commitment” to “a magnificent goal that would consume all self-doubt.” Her spiritual journey became one of “trying to find some sort of grace in the face of defeat.”  

After finding that grace, thirteen months later on September 3rd, 2013, she became the first woman to swim from Cuba to Florida. As she came onto the shore, clothed in her special suit, surrounded by those who supported, encouraged and worked beside her in this shared goal, she said she “experienced a moment of immortality.”

How much more so will it be for us?

Amen.

Brandon Wilson