“Playing Dress-up…For Real”
Isaiah 2:2-5 & Ephesians 6: 10-17 ~ Northwood UC ~ November 6, 2022
Last week, many of us played ‘dress-up’. Our Wednesday coffee group dressed up and came to church. On Sunday, our younger members dressed up for their Hallowe’en party. And, on Hallowe’en, (of course) we dressed up and gave out candy to eager trick-or-treaters. And playing dress-up is fun! We can become a superhero – a champion of good; a prince or princess – a person of royalty; a witch or warlock – pretending to be a bit of a troublemaker. It is fun to play dress-up, isn’t it?
But, consider this, every day we play this game of dress-up. You wake up in the morning, and you brush your teeth, and shower, and have your morning breakfast and prepare for the day. And one of the things you do is you ‘dress-up’. Eventually, you go into your closet and choose your attire for the day. The difference, of course, is that now you are playing dress-up for real. You choose the clothing you will put on; you put on the identity of who you will enter into the world as ; you choose your character. You put on the identity of family member, a community member, or someone representing your chosen profession. And when you play dress-up for real, we are required to make significant choices. Will I put on peace with my presence or will I put on something else? Will I put on joy or will I cause conflict? Will I put on hope or will I add to darkness? Every day we choose: ‘what will I put on and how will I be in the world as another new day begins?’ And so our ‘dress-up for real life’ begins every day.
The Ephesians text that Jenny read is about dressing up as well. And as we look at this reading, it may be a helpful reminder to recall that it has roots back to baptismal practice. In making a decision to follow the Way of Jesus, in their baptism, the early Christians would understand that they were literally ‘putting on Christ’. They were putting aside the ways of the world and putting on Christ. That is why many continue to this day to dress the one being baptized in special attire…sometimes a baptismal gown that has been handed through ages. Or, perhaps an item of clothing purchased for this special moment. Because in baptism, we are literally acknowledging the taking on of a new identity: that identity is of being a Child of God in whom God is pleased. The waters wash over…with the possibility of washing away the harsh ways of the world. And we arise with a new beginning, a new identity: God’s child of peace; God’s light in the world; God’s beautiful, beloved creation...you! Paul reminds us in the Ephesians text of how we are called to play dress up…for real.
I wonder what we might put on as we prepare ourselves for a new day if we were to think in this direction? In the Ephesians text, we are given the image of putting on battle armour. This armour would have been worn by the powerful Roman soldiers: breastplates and belts, swords and shields. These powerful Roman soldiers would put on aggressive battle armour and their presence exemplified the power and control of Rome. I recall seeing a police security detachment when I attended last year’s Remembrance Day ceremony. And as I saw the officer outfitted with machine gun, helmet and bullet proof vest, I recall feeling threatened and fearful myself. Was I in danger, I wondered? Why were weapons of war at this gathering of remembrance and lament of war? We, of course, will always give thanks for the peacemakers of history who put on battle armour at significant points in our world’s history. Sometimes, as the poet in Ecclesiastes reminds us “there is a time for war and a time for peace.” But we always hold fast to the prayer that this will be the last resort that is ever utilized. And so, we honour our veterans, and the sacrifices they have made, the putting on the clothing of war that we might achieve peace in the chapters ahead.
Yet there is a more excellent way that Paul dreams about. Paul dreams of the casting aside of the armour of war. Paul dreams of a peace that could be maintained not with battle armour, but rather with spiritual armour. The text gives us a vision where the armour we put on would be the armour of love…the armour of God. Instead of the belt around one’s waist to hold weapons, he imagines a belt that holds truth around the core of our being. Imagine if you were supported, guided and upheld by truth…guiding your decisions…informing your conscience…holding you in the place of peace! He imagines the breastplate to be not for protecting our vital organs from attack, but rather what we project to be righteousness…what shines from us…what emanates would be God’s light, God’s peace, God’s love. He imagines, instead of a shield and sword that we might hold the gospel of peace…the word of God…hope for the nations to live in peaceful harmony.
Paul, of course, is echoing this wonderful transformation that Isaiah had dreamed of in his prophecy almost half a millennium earlier. This was a time when the war with Babylon was brewing. Isaiah dreamed of a time when the swords and the spears of war would be made into ploughshares and pruning hooks for farming. Instead of war and fighting there would be feasting and plenty; instead of violence and pain there would be a communal table for sharing; instead of bloodshed and hatred there would be broken bread and poured wine. The transformation of swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks is the call to transform our ways into ways of peace.
Generally, our progressive Christian church does not dwell too far into the realm of evil and the seven deadly sins, but I think this text calls us to ponder these challenges that we deal with in our very humanity. It is a call to consider ‘what we put on’ when we play dress-up for real. Do we dress for peace and love and light? Or do we dress in sin, or greed, or the many other ways of darkness? Paul will talk, at length, of the true enemies to our being such as sin, and evil, and death. These are the forces that constantly wage war with our inner spirit. These forces are the true threat to achieving peace whenever we ‘put them on’. Living the spiritual life, following the way of Christ, being a child of light is NOT EASY. It must be a conscious choice…it must be a choice of what we put on as play dress-up for real and further Christ’s call to the Kingdom of peace!
So, how do you put on these beautiful elements that Paul talks about. How do we dress up with peace, with love, with hope? In his book Peace Begins with Me, a local psychotherapist named Ted Kuntz shares his pain of dealing with the terminal diagnosis of his five-month-old son. His struggle was in finding strength to offer peace to his family; peace to his son and peace to his soul. In the book, Kuntz argues that our world does a very poor job of equipping us to find peace. We are not taught to seek peace; we are not taught to hold peace; we are not taught to dress-up in peace…especially in the troubling moments of life. Yet, he puts forth that “peace begins with me.” In the book, he uses a childhood metaphor of feeding the hungry wolf who lives inside. He suggests that we must always be asking the question: “do my thoughts and actions feed the negative wolf or the positive wolf”. He argues that we are quite attuned at waging war inside and feeding the negative parts of our selves. He calls us to feed the positive parts of our being, in our seeking of peace. What does that look like? It is found in the stories we tell ourselves, the negativity we adopt, the anger we harbour or release, the sadness we hold onto for too long, and the shame we bear. We are very good at waging war inside ourselves. We need to get better at the challenging work of creating peace inside ourselves; at setting an intention of seeking peace. Ours is the power to choose. And so, he argues, and entitles his book: ‘peace begins with me.’
Sometimes we just need to have our course corrected and ensure that we are on the path of peace. That was the nature of the song we sang with our children: “I am walking a path of peace”. I find that to be present in the stirring and powerful music that comes from the bagpipes. I am so glad that our piper, Daniel Uren, has agreed to return and play for us again because I think his playing is one of those things which startles us, and reminds us of the past, and calls us to be mindful of how we live into the future.
What we put on; what we dress ourselves with each day…may we put on peace.
Lest we ever forget.