November 16, 2014

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Judges 4:1-7

The holidays are coming, which means we might need to figure out how to put on an armor of faith and a breastplate of love. Because truth be told, we are not all children of light during the holidays as Paul in 1 Thessalonians would have.

First uncle Bob has too much holiday cheer, if you know what I mean, Aunt Loo makes a passive aggressive remark to your sister, which upsets her, and you are caught in the middle, or trying to stay out of everyone’s way. Or maybe you are Uncle Bob or Aunt Loo, inadvertently hurting people’s feelings. If this doesn’t sound something like your family, then you are a bit of an anomaly and possibly avoiding conflict.

Or maybe you aren’t able to be with people you love for the holidays- and that makes it just as hard to be a child of light this time of the year, with the disappointments and sadness- when everyone else seems happy, you are bummed out, and feeling depressed.

Or maybe sometimes you are the one who brings the light into your family- the one who can work people through conflicts, the one who can remove themselves enough to see the big picture, and not get caught in the emotional webs. If you are, well, you are invited to my family’s Thanksgiving.

What does it mean to be a child of light, anyway? Paul writes to a community in Thessalonica, the capital of the northern Roman province of Macedonia in Greece. “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, there will be times of peace and security, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But, he says, “you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day.” “And since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”

Children of light is a phrase also used in Qumran literature, books of the Bible and other texts, found hidden in the 1940s and 50s in the West Bank. We still speculate about whom these texts belonged to, and why they were preserved or hidden in such a way. Was this a mystery cult? Did they have special knowledge or wisdom never integrated into mainstream Christianity or Judaism? Some say the Jewish sect of the Essenes were responsible for hiding these scrolls in caves. Regardless, the concept of being children of light often points to our own divinity, the seat of God within each of us. And this is in some ways threatening to religious narratives, and in some ways exactly getting it right.

It is as if we have a radiating orb of light, or God around us, when we have faith, and we become a little divine. Paul calls it a breastplate of faith and love, and a helmet of hope of salvation. Breastplate and helmet are items of armor, used in battle. Disciples need protection, but not violent weapons, weapons of light and love and hope of salvation.

What would it feel like for you to consciously visualize God’s love and light as armor around you? Negative feelings, or darkness, or fear, bouncing off of you. There is a sense of protection with faith that radiates. I’d like for each of us this type of armor for the holidays. Our thought for preparation says that those who have faith in the Lord are protected.

But, protected from what? What are we afraid of? In one of our elder passage gatherings this week, we asked the question; what is the modern day saber toothed tiger? In our evolution as human beings, fear, adrenaline, cortisol, helped us escape danger, made us strong. But now we feel this for things such as, the fear of being late for an appointment, or the fear of finances, being out of control with our health. We are plagued by anxiety sometimes even paralyzed, and cortisol pumps through our body, gripping us at unusual times, lowering our immune system. Rather than running from that tiger and escaping it once, we become worried sick.

There are some real ways we need to proctect ourselves and each other. We have a group gathering and working hard on a safe church policy. No adult can be alone with a child. Adults who work with children are required to have background checks. We don’t tolerate behavior here that would make anyone feel safe. We live in a world that tries to protect us from everything, and we try to protect our children just the same.

But that has a limit- we can’t protect everyone from everything, and there is something to faith that means being unsafe, and fearless. Although we create a foundation of safety, faith is actually about risk and basic trust in God.

Even Jesus, who was THE child of light, could not be protected by the love of God. In Jesus final hours on the cross, he cried out, asking why God had forsaken him. Jesus had faith that made him fearless, and ultimately unsafe. We too, are called to be children of light, not with real armor, but with a breastplate of faith and love, and a helmet of hope for salvation.

We can look to the scripture for guidance or conversation about how to behave, act, live, for models of being human to aspire to, or stories to inspire. The figure of Deborah, in Judges 4, has always been one of those figures I have looked to- this really bad chick- in charge of armies, powerful, and wise. She sits under a palm tree and waits for people to come to her. She is away from the action, calling the shots, and from that place, she gets the most insight.

The Book of Judges relays a time when Israelites cross into Canaan, a time of conquest, when both women and men had to be aggressors. Deborah was a rare combination of a Judge and prophetess. A prophet is someone who speaks with divine authority, and Judges were Israel’s charismatic leaders before the monarchy, and usually had political authority, and saved Israel through battle.

The translation of Deborah’s full name is a little gem too. The text calls her Deborah, wife of Lappidot,” In the Hebrew, Lappidot means ‘torches,’ and comes where we would usually find a man’s name, although the Hebrew is missing “son of” which makes it an unusual name. Hebrew Bible Scholar, Tikva Frymer Kensy, in her book, ‘Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories,” argues that instead of ‘Debora wife of Lappidot,’ we can translate her title as, Deborah woman of torches, or fiery woman, or Torch-Lady, or Lady lightening.

With the nudge to be ‘children of light,’ in 1 Thesselonians, to be children of light and children of day, we can relate to our Judging Prophet Deborah and her fiery ways. ‘But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.’

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Fearlessness is the first requisite of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral.” Deborah removes herself enough to Judge wisely. She stays engaged, but not enmeshed. The armor Paul talks about doesn’t say to retreat- he is talking about staying engaged, and protecting yourself within the engagement.

We are vulnerable all the time, especially to the ones we love the most. With this type of psychic spiritual armor, imagining a shield of white light around us, perhaps we can deal with challenges when they arise, rather than fearing and ignoring them. We can differentiate ourselves enough from those around us, so we know where we end, and other’s begin, so we take responsibility for our own energy and actions and light, and not absorb that of others. And we are still engaged.

As disconnected, we are completely protected from all situations, because we have no stake, no empathy or love. Being self-differentiated is a balance between these two, staying connected despite disagreement, and defining from within, rather than adapting to please others. In order to burn brightly with this spiritual armor, we must have clarity around who we are, and define our reality from within. Scripture models this self-differentiation for us, of us each bearing our own light, and the prophetess Deborah takes it to another level of becoming Lady Lightening. I got curious and researched techniques for spiritual protetion, and if you are curious come talk to me.

We can pray for protection, and perhaps we ought to- but it won’t look exactly how we might like. It won’t be God swooping down to save us when we are suffering- God didn’t even do that for Jesus. Protection could be us internalizing the love and light of God, so much that it creates a shield of fearlessness around us. It is okay to be afraid, but to still act with love in fear, makes us children of the light. Amen.