Meditation of Rev. Gerhard Ulrich
Evangelical Bishop, President of VELKD
That is why you must take up all God's armour, or you will not be able to put up any resistance on the evil day, or stand your ground even though you exert yourselves to the full.
So stand your ground, with truth a belt round your waist, and uprightness a breastplate,
wearing for shoes on your feet the eagerness to spread the gospel of peace
and always carrying the shield of faith so that you can use it to quench the burning arrows of the Evil One.
And then you must take salvation as your helmet and the sword of the Spirit, that is, the word of God.
In all your prayer and entreaty keep praying in the Spirit on every possible occasion. Never get tired of staying awake to pray for all God's holy people,
and pray for me to be given an opportunity to open my mouth and fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel
of which I am an ambassador in chains; pray that in proclaiming it I may speak as fearlessly as I ought to.
Eph 6, 13-20
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
these are frightening words! This is not the language of love, this is not the message of peace towards the enemies that we read in the Sermon on the Mount. This is not what we are experiencing here in Rome in these days: meeting freely, without fear, using just our words and discovering in each man and woman the image of God! Here we hear a call to arms: "breastplate of righteousness feet fitted with the readiness", " take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one", "take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit". Christians should be like this: " able to withstand, and having done everything, to stand firm". These appeals seem to be addressed to tired warriors, so that they toughen their spirit. Zachariah the prophet says: "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, the Lord says“.
My first reaction was: I reject this language. It does not build peace, but hatred. It does not reconcile, rather it divides.
We know: religions, and even the Christian faith, have a potential for violence. History shows it: wars in the name of god, "holy" wars, "just" wars are declared and waged. However, those who, while doing so, appeal to God, commit a sacrilege towards God and abuse the name of the One who orders: "Thou will not kill". There is no holy war. Only peace is holy.
Not only do religions have a potential for violence, but they also have the strength to overcome it, to mould peace. We can see it here, in an exemplary way. Those who live it, those who really open to dialogue and look at each other in the eye, and therefore in the heart, and understand the other, they will depart from here transformed.
Paul does not want that his friends be defenceless facing their trials, their doubts and the powers of this world. “Stand firm” he says. Stand firm in faith. A very different breastplate.
To believe means: to contend with God in this world, to appeal to Him with one’s own life. To live with God means to sharpen our own senses and to be ready to accept the good that God bestows on me through the word He addresses to me.
Everything begins by listening, dear sisters and brother. The ear is the first sense that starts forming in the mother’s womb. The child, then, becomes accustomed to the voices of his mother and father. As somebody speaks – he thinks – I will be able to grow and trust him. It’s important what the child ears when he is still in his mother’s womb, whether words of affection or words of anger. The first words we ear will be fundamental for our life!
As God speaks to us, we also learn to speak, having “the belt of truth around our waist, having put on the breastplate of righteousness; having shoes for our feet ready to proclaim the Gospel“.
This is our task, our mission: to communicate what we have received; to open our mouth and speak for the poor and the weak; to contradict the violent and the powerful; to reject destruction and division; not to leave the final word to hatred. We are not weak. We are well equipped and we can speak with meekness.
Thanks to God’s word, who becomes flesh in Christ, we are given the power to stand up against hatred and violence and to confound evil. This Word is given to us and it is shared by all of us, notwithstanding our differences and divisions: this Word is the sword of the Spirit. We are shaped by his Word, by His love which shows up in Jesus, who was crucified and who wins victory over death. So that life is granted to us.
This is gives us the possibility to live, to discuss, to meet, to give our witness to the world. “Sine vi humana sed verbo” – we pursue our controversies not by our human strength, but by our words – that’s what our confession says. Not by strength, but by the power of love, peace, brotherhood. “We cannot govern the world by God’s word“, a powerful governor once said. However, God’s word may reign over the hearts. And those hearts may reign over the world in a different way: "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit“, the Lord says through His prophet.
The Word is given to us so that we build peace. To build and preserve peace, even among us. To respect the different cultural and historical heritages, to protect the victims of persecution and those who are anguished, the foreigners.
Those who listen to God’s word, those who really care for that revolutionary and liberating word, by which Jesus raised the stooped ones and the humbles and gave courage to the guilty ones – those who really listen to it, will be moved by it. They will, then, look for those who are desperate and needy; they will open the doors to those who seek refuge. Without considering who they are, where they come from, how they believe. They will give strength to the shoulders and hands that cooperate to build peace and justice.
The Spirit God gives us is full-hearted, it’s not a spirit of fear nor of narrowness. “The same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him“. “Take up the shield of faith”: this is the attitude of those who confess Jesus as the Lord, who join their hands in prayer and open them to accomplish the work Jesus began. This is the attitude of those who direct their live beyond this world towards God, who direct themselves towards Him who promised: “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! “
Thus, we are given everything to thread on the path of peace, the peace of the Lord who created the earth and heaven! Amen.