(C) Pat Carter, August 23, 2009
Please pray with me:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In the late 1800Ős, a man was to walk a wire across Niagra Falls with another man on his shoulders. After weeks of preliminary practice, as the final moment for the event drew near, the wire walker cautioned his young colleague in words like this: ŇWe are about to risk our lives. I am to walk the wire. The whole responsibility is mine. You have nothing to do but match my movements. If I sway to the left, let yourself sway with me. If I sway to the right, do the same. Under no circumstances try to save yourself, for there must be only one will in this adventure, and that will is mine. You must submerge yours to ensure harmony, for without perfect unison, we are both lost. There is only one thing for you to do – sway with me.Ó
The day of the event arrived, and as they drew near the opposite side, the unexpected happened. The long vibration of the wire broke in the center into two waves, and each of these broke again into two, and so on, in accordance with the law of vibration, until the shortened wavelike movements became so violent that the man could scarcely keep his feet where he placed them. It was a perilous moment, but the feat was accomplished, and the spectacular escapade was a success, holding a place on the first page of the newspapers.
After this, the young man who had played a secondary part settled down to private life, married, became an active leader in Christian endeavor and an elder in a certain church. And he used to say: ŇI learned more religion on the wire that day than in all my life. I learned that the only sane and safe way to live is to sway with God.Ó
Walking the wire. Have you ever felt as though you were walking the wire in your life and, unexpectedly, that long vibration of the wire broke into two waves, and these into two more, and so on, forcing you off balance, not knowing if you were ever to regain your step? This story of the wirewalker beautifully illustrates what has happened to me. Two years ago this month, my wireŐs long vibration broke into two waves when a very dear family friend committed suicide – an experience which is still unresolved in my mind and heart. Then, these two vibrations broke into more when my mother, my best friend, battled rectal cancer and acute leukemia. With her passing, the wire seemed impossible to tame. The waves of vibration fractured yet again when my daughter, Erin, had a grand mal seizure, subsequent cardiac arrest, and is now trying to rehabilitate from anoxic brain injury. I was perilously close to losing my balance on that wire altogether. It wasnŐt until I realized I was not the person whose feet were walking the wire, but I was the one on the shoulders of God through Jesus Christ. What has helped me is the knowledge that if I just sway with God, all will be well. Fine, youŐre probably thinking, and just how do you do that? Well, the book of Ephesians, particularly the scripture you just heard read, has helped me through this difficult time. I invite you all to read through the book of Ephesians. It is fairly short and is chock full of ŇAhaŐsÓ and ŇOh, now I understandŐs.Ó
As he begins his conclusion of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Indeed, we are not in this alone. When I sat at ErinŐs bedside in the ICU, I was powerless. There was nothing left of me, but somehow I remained able to function through the horror of watching my precious daughter hooked up to 18 various bags of fluids and medications, receiving blood transfusions, breathing on a ventilator, and being nourished through a feeding tube. All I can tell you is the Lord was present, assisting me to persevere. God was present in the team of doctors and nurses who prayed for her and skillfully kept her alive. Just as the baseball catcher must wear all of the equipment for full protection, I needed to also. I must admit, I needed to locate and then dust off some of the spiritual armor Paul speaks of.
First, Paul says to put on a belt of truth and buckle it around your waist. As I heard more and more dire prognoses about Erin, I was being bombarded with truths – the truth about ErinŐs condition, the truth about family relationships, the truth about my husbandŐs and my plans for the future, the truth about myself. These truths certainly didnŐt feel like protection, and they werenŐt. The truth that really protected me and lifted me above the situation was the belt of truth of GodŐs steadfast love. This truth kept me secure and held up all the other armor. The terrible grief I felt, the tears I poured must be similar to what Jesus experienced when he saw the injustices dealt to those who were marginalizedÉ similar to what my Father God experiences when I falterÉ when I fail to show the truth of GodŐs love for all others. I had the truth that no matter what happened to Erin, GodŐs love was upon her as so many people around the world prayed for her.
The second piece of equipment Paul tells about is the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness – a word I have had a difficult time with in the past. It seems the word righteousness has had a somewhat negative connotation for me because when I hear it, I think of the concept of self-righteousness, perhaps an arrogant shade of meaning. However, letŐs look at what the breastplate protects. Yes, it protects some extremely vital organs and structures. Our spiritual breastplate protects the heart – the center of our relationship with God. Through JesusŐ words and acts we learn the true meaning of righteousness; that is, being right with God. Doing what is good and right in His spirit will guard our hearts.
The next piece of equipment is the foot covering with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. This piece of armor is to aid our movement and defense. These spiritual shoes are made from the preparation of the gospel of peace – the gospel of the good news of GodŐs unfailing love and grace. How far can anyone walk a hard and stony road without a decent pair of shoes? Not far if the right shoes are not worn. It is said the peace Jesus gives us is not the absence of trouble, but rather, it is the confidence that He is there with you always. Through these tumultuous two years I found this peace through reading scriptures during bedside vigils, prayer, and time spent in the hospital chapel. This time alone with God gave me a calmness of spirit that enabled me to engage in clear conversations about and decision making for what was happening. Believe me, finding peace can be a very difficult thing to do. There were times when, upon hearing what the doctors said about my motherŐs prognosis and, a mere nine months later, about the gravity of ErinŐs situation, I collapsed into a tormented heap. I had to find those shoes of peace in an intentional way.
Next, the shield of faith not only defends our whole body, but also the rest of the armor. It keeps the fiery darts away from the head, chest, waist, arms, and legs. No wonder Paul says we should have it above all. In taking up the shield of faith which extinguished the flaming arrows, IŐd like to touch on two questions. First, what does faith look like? For me, faith looks like ErinŐs frail 78-year old grandmother who came daily to her bedside from December 4 until Erin came to Bakersfield at the end of February. Faith looks like the day we were told by a doctor that whatever made Erin, Erin was no longer there, yet her ICU nurses skillfully and prayerfully continued their work. Visitors of other patients, nurses on other cases, and other hospital workers came into her room day and night to pray for her and for our family. Faith looks like my brothers and sisters here at Wesley and from churches reaching all the way to Liberia with there heads bowed in untiring prayer. The second question is what does faith feel like? For me, it is feeling loved, cared for, and watched over. It is knowing that no matter how scary or painful life gets, whether you believe it comes from powers and principalities of darkness or just randomness in the world, you need only to call out to God, and he will provide a gentle touch on your spirit and the loving whisper of His voice in your heart. Stepping out in faith is much better than huddling in fear and despair.
When I was in my early 20Ős, I had a friend who rode motorcycles. When asked how much one should pay for a helmet, he said, ŇOh, about as much as you feel your head is worth.Ó No, the importance of the head does not need much convincing. In I Thessalonians 5:8 Paul speaks of the hope of salvation as our helmet. This is also what Paul means in todayŐs passage. It covers our minds, intellect, and reasoning. Hope is one of the three essentials: faith, hope, and love. Faith is of the heart, and hope covers the head. It is the hope that salvation provides that can protect our minds against such things as despair and fear. Hope is the confidence and unfailing expectation in the ability and power of God.
The donning of armor connotes a fight, and Paul does include an unmistakable weapon of offense in what we are to put on – the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God. A sword, no doubt, can also be used as a tool for defense. Turning to scripture enabled me to fend off the desperation that threatened, and still threatens, to consume me. My quiet communion with God was much bigger than the hospital room I spent hours in daily. Seeing the value of the Word of God and knowing the promises it contains is best done when you are free of severe oppressions. It is important to keep the sword sharp in preparation for the difficult times.
Jesus Christ is our model for putting on this armor. Meditate on his relationship with the God of all and with his love and care for all people, including the poor, the oppressed, the sick, and the disabled.
Finally, IŐd like to leave you with a story of a quilt. Every day that Erin was in a comma increased the chances that she would not come out. It was a Sunday morning, the morning you were tying knots on a quilt while you prayed for Erin. I was sitting next to ErinŐs bed in ICU and looked at the clock. It was getting towards 10:30 a.m., and I knew the quilt was going to be prayed over soon. Between 10:30 and 11:30, Erin began to make purposeful movements with her left arm – repositioning it for comfort and even scratching her stomach. Purposeful movement was what we were told was the first stage of coming out of a comma. It was while you were specifically praying for her. Truly a miracle! The quilt was mailed to my mother-in-lawŐs house and arrived the following Tuesday. That evening as she and I were placing the quilt on Erin, Erin started opening her eyes. She recognized us right away and tried to communicate. She came back because of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, the hope of salvation, and the Word of God all of you possess and so freely give. Peace and blessings to all of you. May we all continue to sway with God. Amen.