A number of years back, Tom, a pastor friend of mine, looked into becoming an active army chaplain.
Before you reach the age of assured dad-bods, pastors are enticed often by mail or by phone to join the ranks of the military. You get huge, glossy postcards from the navy showing a ship full of people saying, “It’s only you, and this floating city of souls who need a word of salvation.”
You get phone calls from army recruiters asking you to put your life on the line for the gospel the way the first Christians did, asking you to consider “preaching in green rather than white.”
It is all actually quite enticing for a pastor since you know that military service changes the lives of young people so drastically, and you, as a pastor, could help to shape that drastic change in a profound way.
Tom bit on the opportunity thrown out to him and was taken to the next level in the recruitment process. He talked with the recruiter about how chaplains do not start out at the bottom, but rather, start out as an officer. He talked about the requirements to enlisting in the army and heard about the basic training of an army chaplain. This was where the recruitment ended though, because Tom learned that as an army chaplain, you never get to touch a gun. Tom loved guns, so this was heartbreaking to him and he quickly lost interest. But, everything that the recruiter told him fascinated to me to no end.
The army realizes that chaplains have a different sort of weapon and a different sort of armor given by God. Chaplains never touch a gun while in training or in combat. They simply stand at attention during gun drills in basic training and are issued a body guard while on the front lines.
The army gives them no gun because God has already given them the word of God in the form of the sword of the spirit, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the boots of peace, the helmet of salvation, and the shield of faith. The army acknowledges that soldiers are about fighting effective wars for national and political purposes, but chaplains are about the higher callings of love, salvation, and peace.
While Tom bemoaned not being able to play with guns, I was fascinated by how the chaplain clearly stands apart from the ways of war and stands apart from the ways of the world. I was fascinated at how the army’s vision of respect for the chaplain reflects respect for the image of the Christian soldier in Ephesians.
With no gun in hand, the chaplain stands, not for winning against the enemy, but stands for peace. He wears those boots of peace, and brings Christ’s peace with him as he trudges through the mud. She clutches a weapon of the spirit, the word of God held firmly in her hands. He protects himself with a shield of faith against the gunfire of hatred and worldly gain. She wears the bullet-proof vest of goodness and righteousness, a reflection of the ways of Christ even when the ways of the world try to overtake the soul. And, he wears salvation on his head; it is the main goal of life and as such God’s grace directs all that he does and says.
This armor of Christ is not reserved for army chaplains though. You are outfitted by Christ in the same way. The demons and powers of the world constantly attempt to persuade us away from ways of grace and peace.
“Grace and peace to you” the apostles call out to us, but power, riches, might, political ideology and the need to be right also call out to us, enticing us away from those ways of God.
Let us just stop for a second and consider what grace and peace really is. After-all, if grace and peace are important enough to warrant armor by God, then maybe we should have a clear understanding of what is so vital and different about grace and peace.
The gospel of peace does not find strength in winning wars with the might of armies, but the world-reconciling power of God embodied in the cross of Christ. The battle is won through Jesus’ willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake of the world on the cross.
Self-sacrifice, a desire to love and save both the neighbor and the enemy, is what transforms the world; not winning through slaughter on the battlefield or destroying lives through the war of words on Twitter or Facebook.
Grace and peace does not tear down, but rather, builds one another up. Grace and peace does not abandon others in a sea of sin and hopelessness, but attempts to rescue them in heroic ways, even going all the way to the cross for them.
Christians do put their necks on the line, not with guns in hand and intentions to destroy other’s integrity, but with words of truth, love, and forgiveness.
The world was given life as a gift, and Christians fight with grace and peace in their hearts so that all might have that life and have it abundantly.
We have a general…a commander…, Jesus Christ, who saved us with words of welcome, with words of forgiveness, and with words of truth, and so we seek with all our hearts…faulty as they may be…to do the same.
Just as chaplains on the battlefield look different with bibles instead of guns in hand, so we too look different to the world. On the streets of racial tension a year ago, one young woman’s world was changed dramatically by a person of faith.
The young woman had been raised to believe that those whose skin color was not white were inferior. So ingrained was the belief that she knew it to be true to her very core. She stood on one side of the street next to her father (who raised her with love, but also with prejudice) in protest of those people of color who threatened her power and her privilege…those who threatened her prejudice.
But, during those sometimes violent protests, she saw something that peeked her attention. She saw a woman who was with a church group. They often gave hugs and food to those who were protesting on the other side of the street. But, one woman in the group started crossing the street and offering food and water also to them. She would give a hug and say, “It is hot out here, have some water to quench your body and soul.”
The church woman would even take a little time toi ask about the young woman's life and the young woman's struggles.
The church woman was an enigma to the young lady. She did not wear the uniform of either side arguing in the streets, but she clearly loved both.
It was this woman, this enigma in a war of word flung across the street that caused her to question many, many things. If this woman could love both sets of people on those city streets, maybe she could also? Maybe, this is not about "them" and "us"? Maybe this is about loving all…and by all, she meant all…no matter the color of their skin?
It was not long before the young woman took that church woman by the hand and walked with her, away from her father, over to the other side of the street. She still loved her father, but she no longer loved the hate and prejudice. She was changed, not through the winning of a war, but through the love and peace of one who wore the unlikely armor of God. She was changed by the grace and peace of Christ.
That is who we are. We are a people who do walk in the ways of the world. We wear the unlikely armor of God. We clutch to things such as truth and love. We are guided by words of forgiveness and hope. We are let by Jesus Christ who chose to sacrifice himself rather than slaughter the enemy.
We are an enigma to the world that seeks to be right in the ways of the world and to align with the right people in power.
We are a people who wear the boots of peace; a peace given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.