“As shoes for your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” (Ephesians 6:15)
The sound of warriors’ boots tramp over Rome’s cobblestoned roads. The sight of warriors in their boots, their glistening armor, their swords, their huge shields reminds everyone in a Roman city that the emperor rules. If there is to be order and culture, if business and commerce are to thrive, then individuals do not matter. Only the community matters. Whatever one does—for good or for ill—makes a difference to the corporate whole. This includes religion as well as politics. The emperor is in charge of both. In fact, if you are a Roman citizen, you are expected to pay obeisance to the emperor as an imperial deity. Failure to do so is interpreted as harm to the corporate whole.
In the last part of the first century, the apostle Paul—or a devout disciple of his—sends an encyclical letter to Christian communities all over Asia Minor. One of these letters arrives in the ancient city of Ephesus, a major coastal city of commerce that is “second in importance and size only to Rome.” Christians are in the religious minority, because Christianity is illegal until 313. It is highly probable that Christians living in Ephesus are “taken to worship the emperor at the newly constructed temple of [the emperor] Domitian to test their allegiance.” What a difficult time it is to be a Christian!
Daily, you are confronted with signs of a totalitarian, oppressive political regime in which the emperor considers himself to be a god. Daily, soldiers march in the streets, guard the borders, stand on bridges—all decked out in full uniform. A belt “holds up the toga so the soldier can move unencumbered by cloth. . . The breastplate covers the core of the body [for protection]. The Roman shield is a defense against flaming arrows. It is leather, wetted against incoming fire, large enough to cover the one who [carries] it and one-third of the person beside him.
How do you talk the talk and walk the walk of Jesus the Christ in such a world? Yet one might well argue that twenty-first century Christians do not fare much better than our brothers and sisters in the first.
Christianity is not illegal in the United States, but in some countries, it is. Daily, political regimes punish and persecute Christians for their belief in Jesus. According to an organization Open Doors, extreme Christian persecution means that people are killed, property destroyed, or threats made against them—in countries like North Korea, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, just to name a few. In this country, we Christians are free to practice our faith. Yet the Christian examples highlighted in the press do not send non-Christians streaming through our doors. Practicing, faithful Christians are in a cultural minority. We contend against bad press, poor theological understandings and education, those who have been battered or injured by the Church, those who see us as hypocrites, those who think us laughable, and mostly, by people who simply don’t care.
None of this sounds like good news, does it? So where is the good news in today’s epistle reading? Where is good news in the world in which you and I live?
The good news is that putting on shoes to follow Jesus Christ gives meaning to a person’s life. In the early Church, people who say no to evil forces and yes to following Jesus see things in a new way. They feel joy and richness. They know that appearances are not everything. Power is not what it seems to be, and on a mega-level, evil has not won the battle. The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus has tipped that balance. Jesus has brought the kind of life that no earthly power can subdue. The kind of life that no cosmic power can subdue.
The kind of love Jesus has brought to the world is love that heals, strengthens, sets free. It turns the powers of the world upside down so that no one has too much, yet all have enough. No one goes to bed hungry. Everyone has a place to live. All enjoy dignity and human rights—regardless of color, nationality, economic status, gender or sexuality. This kind of world is one in which community matters, yet it matters in a different sense than a totalitarian regime.
For two thousand years, community in Christ is one in which we have gathered in unity and diversity. We come to pray together. We come to hear holy words of scripture that nourish, support, encourage, and challenge us to walk the way Jesus walked. Most of all, our community is shaped by Eucharist—thanksgiving. Together, we take into ourselves the bread of God. Yet we do not eat blessed bread for our own solace and comfort. We have remembered our Lord and celebrated Eucharist so that we get strength–strength to put the kind of shoes on our feet that help us proclaim the gospel of peace. We go out into the world to tell people in that world that God loves them.
To paraphrase Mother Theresa, God has no face but yours and mine. God has no hands but yours and mine. God has no feet but yours and mine. We have the choice of wearing the tramping boots of warriors or putting on our feet the shoes of peace in this world.
In his book Wishful Thinking, author Frederick Buechner writes this: “If you want to know who you really are as distinct from who you like to think you are, keep an eye on where your feet take you.” Keep an eye on where your feet take you.
In the past couple of weeks, the feet of twelve pilgrims from the Diocese of Washington have gone south to follow the path of the Civil Rights Movement for racial justice in Alabama. In 1965, a young white Episcopal seminarian Jonathan Myrick Daniels saved the life of a young African American teenager. Ruby Sales lived that day. Jonathan Myrick Daniels died. He is now remembered for the truth that his feet walked the way of peace and justice fifty years ago. Our Canon Paula Clark went on this pilgrimage two weeks ago. She tells of an encounter the group had, just outside of Haynesville, Alabama. Over forty people, of different races, walked into a Stuckey’s Restaurant.
Paula writes this: “I was met at the entrance of Stuckey’s by a t-shirt emblazoned with the Confederate Battle Flag. The shirt was prominently displayed at the door, so it could not be missed, and read, ‘If This Shirt Offends You, You Need A History Lesson.’ As an African American, I could not help reading the t-shirt out loud. To my dismay, the Stuckey’s cashier, flanked with actual Confederate battle flags on the counter, glared and nodded at me. In that moment, I knew that I and all the pilgrims of African descent were not welcome. So, the whole group, all 40+ pilgrims, about-faced and kept our money in our pockets.”
Today, I tell you that these Christian pilgrims walked the way of justice, mercy and humility. They put on the kind of shoes that made them ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. They walked. They prayed. They showed Jesus’ love as they remembered the names of people who have loved Jesus enough, who have loved their brothers and sisters enough to die. They did not fight in a physical realm. They fought in a spiritual realm—and in an economic one, just as others have in the fight for civil rights. Sometimes, when you put on your Jesus shoes, your heart and mind see and hear Truth. Your feet turn to leave a place of injustice. Your hands keep your money in your pockets.
You know that while the forces of evil are great, you also know that the forces of God, of good, of justice, mercy and truth are far greater. The good has already won, even when it does not look like that yet.
It really does not matter what kind of shoes we wear: combat boots, work boots, Doc Martens, baseball cleats, Birkenstocks, Skechers, dress shoes or slippers. We can follow Jesus in any of those. We can follow Jesus into any place in this world to take the gospel of peace. So tomorrow morning, when you put your shoes on, remember this: “As shoes for your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” Then with your Jesus shoes on, do the work God has given you to do. Talk the talk of Jesus. Walk the walk of Jesus. God always goes with you.
I would like to close with a quote from the Talmud: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly NOW. Love mercy NOW. Walk humbly NOW. You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.” Amen.
© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton
 See Footnote #1 in Sarah Henrich’s Commentary on Ephesians 6:10-20 at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2600.
 David L.Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors, Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 4, (Knoxville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 374 & 376.
 Melinda Quivik, Commentary on Ephesians 6:10-20 at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1380.
 Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, New York: Harper & Row, 1973, 27.
 Quote from the Talmud.