Further Reflections on Dressing for Church

A good sermon engages the listener so s/he continues to think about it long after the final hymn, the benediction and postlude, and the drive home.  Such was the case for me today.

The text was Colossians 3:12-17:

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

The preacher rightly and wisely noted that in our baptism, we are clothed in Christ and Christ’s ways, and these virtues should be our attire at all times and in all places – compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, gratitude, and above all, love.

For me, the belt that holds all this together is love, and the concluding  injunction summarizes it all: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

The name.  Names define us; they shape us, tell us who we are, identify us both as unique and part of a larger community.  We know ourselves by name; we are known to others by that name; we know we belong when we are known and called by name.  We are no longer strangers, but friends; no longer alone but in community.

The name of the Lord Jesus.  When we act in that name, live in that name, are known by that name, we are defined, formed, self-aware, identified with a particular people – the Body of Christ, the followers of the Jesus Way.  And when we speak or act in the name of the Lord Jesus, we are confessing that Christ has first place in our lives; his is the voice we heed above all others; we act and speak on his behalf; and we re-present him and incarnate him afresh in the world where we live for him.  When we act in that name, live in that name, are known by that name, we are defined, formed, self-aware, identified with a particular person who lived a particular way – Jesus – a first century Jew who put God first in his life; loved God above all else; loved his neighbor recklessly, extravagantly, prodigiously, widely, deeply, passionately, boundlessly, and graciously in the Name of God, i.e., the way God loves us, thereby living up to HaShem, the Name above all names.

In that Name, Jesus incarnates for us other ways of God – mercy, compassion, forgiveness, kindness, patience, gentleness, forbearance, humility (the Mighty One, blessed be the Name, gives us freedom to turn toward or away, to be in relationship or not, to choose evil as well as good, even when that breaks the Divine Heart), healing, truth, wisdom, and above all, love.  To be clothed in such virtues is to be truly well-clothed in the classic fashion that never wears out, is always in season, and never goes out of style.

When I was a child, as was the case stated by the other pastor during today Children’s Time, I could always count on getting clothes for Christmas.  Like the pastor, that was rarely my favorite gift as a child.  But “now that I am an adult I have given up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11); I know there is wisdom in receiving such gifts; there is Another who loves me and who knows that what is best for me is not always what I want, but what I need.  I may not always be thrilled to be asked – or expected- to put on forgiveness or patience or kindness or humility (especially in a culture preening itself on pride and self-determination) or all the rest, but in the end, this is the apparel that presents me at my best, and leads me to be at my best.  Indeed, when I am preparing to get dressed in my best attire, I may dread it or moan about it or think it is too much work; but in the end, when the tie is tied and the coat is put on, I feel better, special, uplifted; I find the experience surprisingly but deeply satisfying; and in the company of my wife I feel like I am thoroughly – inside and out – honoring her by showing that I want to be the best I can be so she will be pleased to be in my presence and not embarrassed by it.

I think that applies when we are clothed with these Christlike virtues as well.  They transform us and honor the One to whom our lives are wed as Christ’s Bride (the Church) so He is pleased to be in our presence and is not embarrassed by us or ashamed that we bear His Name.

Typically, as a child the clothes I received as gift each year did not fit; but that was OK in my parents’ opinion.  “You’ll grow into them” was both expectation and promise.  In the same way, discipleship is the expectation and promise that while our lives currently may be too small for the virtues given by the Giver, by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit we will grow into them as we grow up into Christ (Ephesians 4:14 ff.) until we are fit to wear them and they fit us well.

Even today, clothing is an issue for me. There are some things that simply do not go together, and I need my wife to tell me what is appropriate and matches; which combinations do not go together; and the ensembles that never, ever should be worn or seen in public.  There simply are some things that clash with being clothed in Christ: hurtful violence in word or deed; keeping grudges; prejudice; complacency in the face of suffering or poverty; silence before injustice or oppression; seeking revenge; indifference to holiness; mindless spending of time or treasure; selfishness; prideful arrogance; hatred or indifference are never in the wardrobe; they just don’t go.

That’s why I need Church, the community of faith and fellow aficionados of holy attire to hold me accountable; remind me of what season it is and what attire is most appropriate to each setting; tell me the truth when I have a wardrobe malfunction; and inspire me to look my best as Christ’s man. “Clothing makes the man, makes the person,” said today’s preacher and he is right.  Clothing makes the disciple, the follower of Christ, so that we are known as belonging to Him, and being clothed in the virtues presented in the scripture define us, make us who we say we are.

In athletics we know who is on our side, working to achieve the same aims and moving in the same direction.  And we also can clearly see who is not, who is standing in our way or seeking to thwart our efforts to achieve the victory we hope to win.  What distinguishes one from the other is the clothing they wear; the uniform apparel with which they are adorned.

“Who is on the Lord’s side?”  (Exodus 32:26).  Those whose uniform, whose one form, is being formed in Christ’s patience, mercy, kindness, gratitude, forbearance, and all the rest.   That is the winning side, the one to which I want to belong:  the arc of history will bend toward justice; faith, hope and love will prevail; mercy and truth will meet, righteousness and peace will embrace; suffering and sighing will pass away.