A sermon by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
18 October 2015
The passage from Ephesians that we are about to hear uses the image of a Roman soldier dressed in armor as a warrior for God. Listen closely to what the various pieces of armor represent and how they are to be used. Before that, this passage begins with the admonition: “Be strong in God’s power.” What does being strong mean to you?
10 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. 11 Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. 12 We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. 13 Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. 14 So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15 and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. 16 Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. (Common English Bible)
These … are my first pair of professionally made clown shoes. They are not my first clown shoes. Soon after I started clowning I took an old pair of hush puppies, glued foam rubber to the toe and a piece of inner tube to the sole, and then stitched some denim over the top. I was 13 at the time.
I was finally able to afford these clown shoes about a dozen years later. By that time I had already led two clown troupes, spent a summer travelling with the circus, run away from seminary to join a second circus, worked a full season at a renaissance faire where I was recognized as the best new performer of the year, and been the featured clown at a clown ministry conference. In fact, I used what I was paid at that conference to purchase these shoes.
It’s not the shoes that make a clown.
The day I received these shoes is still fresh in my memory. I happen to have been at home doing house cleaning when the mail carrier arrived. I knew immediately what the package was. The vacuum cleaner was forgotten as I opened the box to delight in my new shoes. I took them out of the box so I could put them on.
At the bottom of the box was a photocopied note from the clown shoemaker saying oversized shoes should never be worn while driving and extreme caution should be taken when walking on stairs while wearing these shoes. So once they were laced up, I began to walk all through the house – making sure to go up and down both flights of stairs in my house. Because the clown shoemaker took 20 measurements of my foot to customize these shoes, they were – and are – the best fitting shoes I‘ve ever put on my feet.
Those first steps walking around the house led me back to the vacuum cleaner, and I realized I had to get my chores done. But then a thought came to me: since walking in these shoes is so much fun, would wearing them while vacuuming make housework fun? I ended up dancing around the house with the vacuum cleaner as my partner wearing these size 20 shoes. I have never had so much fun vacuuming in my whole life!
I think there are two main reasons why clowns wear oversized shoes. First, they signal to people just that the clown is: a clown. It is part of the uniform, just like a stethoscope is for doctors, a big white hat is for a chef, and a stole is for ministers. Sure, a doctor can doctor without a stethoscope, a chef can cook without the starched hat, and a minister can preach without a stole – but having those things helps others accept the person in their role. Big shoes help others accept the clown in their role as a clown. So one reason clowns wear big shoes is to signal to others they are indeed a clown.
The other is that it helps the clown be a clown. These shoes help me stay in clown character: if I forget that I am dressed in clown clothes and wearing greasepaint on my face, the oversized shoes help me remember how I am walking in the world. After all, if I forget how to walk as a clown, these oversized shoes will remind me very quickly of the way they require me to walk! While they are very comfortable and actually easy to walk in, these shoes to require some adjustment to walking: one cannot walk normally while wearing clown shoes.
So two basic reasons of why clowns wear big shoes: one is to help others know the role of the clown, the other is to help the clown remember their role.
Here in Ephesians we have this image of a Roman centurion’s armor as spiritual protection for the Christian: belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the spirit. I cannot help myself in hearing Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in “What’s Opera Doc?”
The armor of God is not a spear and magic helmet, and I hope someday to explore with you what God’s armor might mean for being faithful today. But for years one part of this armor has held my attention: “put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace.” If our shoes help others know our role in the world AND help remind us how we are to be in the world, then we are to be in the world in such a way that others who see us on the path realize our purpose is to spread the good news of peace.
I don’t think this is a discussion about what footwear will provide the best support as we march into the world on God’s mission: it is not a discussion about the appropriateness of wearing sandals or hiking boots or running shoes. It is also not a discussion about what is or what is not appropriate fashion for Christian men and women. Would you believe I found websites explaining why Christian women should never wear high heels? In defense, I also found a site that discussed why wearing high heels to church is a proper lady-like expression of showing God praise.
But those both trivialize what I think is important here: it is not a discussion of footwear but purpose. All the other parts of this armor of God are very specific. But the recommendation of shoes is general. What is comfortable footwear to me – say, these size 20 clown shoes – might make you uncomfortable – or worse, trip and fall and hurt yourself.
How you walk in the world to share the good news of peace is very personal, and so there is no prescribed footwear that is right for everyone. How you walk in the world sharing the good news of peace is a very individualized practice. As for shoes, you have to walk on the paths along which you share the good news of peace so that you know what kind of arch support you need, what kind of ankle support you need, what kind of socks you’ll wear while you walk. It is as much about the walker as it is about the path, and the paths of peace are not all alike.
Today many of us will share a common path as we undertake the CROP Walk. We are not the first to walk this path, nor shall we be the last. The first CROP Walk was in 1969 – 46 years, for those wanting to do the math. On that first walk 1,000 walkers raised $25,000 to address hunger. Today’s CROP Walk is one of more than 1600 walks nation-wide.
While there is no way to estimate how many individuals will participate in CROP Walk this year, Church World Service reports that in the past 20 years over 2 million people have walked – two-thirds of whom are women; in a strange irony, it is estimated nearly 60% of the world’s hungry are women.
Walking three miles is not a significant task for most people, nor is asking for financial sponsors from whom money is collected for Church World Service – yet the combination of those accumulated miles and seeing how many others whom we call neighbors joining together in these CROP Walks repeatedly impacts communities near and far.
Today we are asked to walk on pathways of peace whether you step out along the path of the CROP Walk or if your journey takes you elsewhere. As you step out of this sanctuary, and later out of this building, consider how your stride presents the good news of peace. Amen.