Words of Life

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scriptures: Ephesians 6:10-20 & John 6:56-69

“As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”

If you were here last week, you may have noticed our child’s shiny rubber boots. These newly purchased boots are yellow with rainbow stripes. They replaced boots that were too tight. Within a week or so he had also gotten new sandals (strap snaped off the last pair). These both have very specific functions or at least strengths. He was clomping around church in boots last week because we went to the Aquatic gardens before church.

The paths between the lotus ponds are quite swampy and the boots were a good call. Though in many places the puddles theoretically could have been avoided they were nice for jumping in. The sandals have soles with heavy tread and are good for summer as well as trail running and hiking. Closed toe good for rocks and also good for creek crossing. While rubber boots certainly can be worn to church their specialty is puddles.

In Ephesians, the list of gear includes footwear—put one whatever helps you to proclaim the gospel of peace. If puddles then__ If rocky terrain then__.

The call to proclaim the gospel of peace is definite and contrasts with the first part of that sentence. “As shoes for your fee put on whatever.” The ambiguity of this caught my eye. I appreciate the implied flexibility. The end goal firm but the means open to innovation. The New International Version reads, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

The armor imagery and war language may at first seem reinforce the use of conventional force. However, the words “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, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” place the struggle elsewhere.

And the invocation to put your feet that which makes you ready to “proclaim the gospel of peace” reorients and subverts war-like impulse. Though it also challenges any tendency to avoid conflict, struggle, or passiveness. The analogies—that language picture of the armor is just that, descriptive language that evokes, suggests, and draws on known objects to describe realities that may be hard to grasp—faith, righteousness, Spirit, Word of God, Gospel of peace, and salvation. These are words that point to life and are life.

In John we see the continuation of the narrative that we’ve addressed the past few weeks. Jesus feeding with bread and then asserting that he is the bread. The play between material need and spiritual sustenance. Imagery of him as bread and then the bread that symbolizes him bringing spiritual benefit even though it is “just” bread. We start today with Jesus’ proclaiming, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

This consuming leads to abiding together in the way that Jesus abides with the heavenly Father. A blurring the lines of identity. Clearly distinct but thoroughly one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of his listeners are offended by this strong language and visceral imagery.

Jesus continues,

“It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

“The flesh is useless” Is surprising. Is this comparative? Hyperbole?  Did Jesus care for people’s bodies  only to convince them of something spiritual? This seems at odds with much of Jesus’ ministry.

This language and these claims are so strong that some “turned back.”

Jesus asks his closest friends and followers, “Do you want to leave?”

And Peter responds, “Where would we go? You have the words of life. You are the holy one of God”

Last week Jessie spoke of binaries. As noted, these exist in some strong ways within the scriptures but are also challenged or undermined in other ways. The dramatic statement of flesh as useless and spirit as life is one such contrast. There are tensions in the text. Some interpreters will try to get rid of these tensions. To minimize or smooth out the wrinkles. Some interpreters will try to exploit these tensions and show that they are in fact fissures which disprove. They will argue that the Bible, the text, is incoherent and that there are contradictions which show fatal flaws.

I believe that both of these approaches miss the mark in some ways. The words are, as Peter asserts, “Words that give life.”

Khay Tham Nehemiah Lim, a theologian from Singapore (in his theological engagement with philosophy of language), argues that words can describe but not exhaust or fully define or enclose God (Lim, Not Beyond Language: Wittgenstein and Lindbeck on the Problem of Speaking about God, 77). We can say something about God but we cannot say everything. We work to describe God and our experience of God using figures of speech like armor—or perhaps more fittingly for us “the bicycle helmet of salvation” or the “running pack of truth,” “the paint brush of the Spirit,” “the spreadsheet of righteousness.” With these we understand and proclaim the words of life.

Sarah Righter Major was born on August 29th, 1808. Soon after experiencing conversion, she experienced a call to preach. Challenging those who quoted the Apostle Paul in order to stop her preaching she wrote, “I conceive it would be very inconsistent in an apostle who laid his hands on men and women and prayed over them that they might receive the Holy Ghost to quench the gift of the Spirit of God because it was given to a woman…”(The Brethren Encyclopedia, 783).

This is a similar approach to African American biblical scholar, Mitzi Smith, who writes, “While we acknowledge that Ephesians is a book often quoted from because of the hope it offers, we must read it critically, just as our ancestors did. African Americans can salvage what is liberating and lay aside that which threatens our freedom.” (Mitzi J. Smith, “Ephesians,” True to Our Native Land: An African American Commentary, 349)

These approaches to interpretation do not mean that we arbitrarily chose what we want. It does mean that the process of reading—reading and discerning as a community—is a dynamic and life-giving calling. Reading for life

Words of life does not mean that they merely reinforce any or every impulse—they may be corrective and challenging. To be challenged and confronted may bring about life. For example, there are numerous instances of “freedom” in the Bible. Such as, God leading the enslaved Israelites from Egypt. However, this does not mean that “freedom” in American national discourse functions in the same way and should not be challenged. That “freedom” is used differently does not necessarily make it wrong it just means that though the words sound they same they may not be meaning the same thing.

Words of life—Gospel of peace

“Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.””

“As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”

My dear siblings in Christ—we are called with a calling to speak and hear words of life, to proclaim the gospel of peace. Therefore, in your places of work, in your neighborhood, at the grocery store, alone at home. In your commute or on zoom—prepare yourself to speak and hear this good word.

Prepare yourself to proclaim this good word “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” Amen.

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