Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What You Wear

A Sermon based on Romans 13:8-14 and Matthew 18:15-20
September 04, 2011

Does it matter what you wear? Yes and no. On the one hand it does – because some clothing is more practical than others. I’d rather wear ski gear in the snow than t shirt and shorts, and I’d rather wear tennis shoes (or better yet hiking boots) when hiking up a mountain than high heels. The functionality of clothing is important. Clothes can aid or hinder you in certain activities. What you wear can also affect how others see you. There is an abundance of makeover shows and a huge fashion industry that prove that appearance matters a lot to some people. What you wear can affect how people see you, particularly on an interview or on the job. I can preach the exact same sermon wearing my alb and stole, or a t-shirt and jeans, or wearing a clown suit. You would take me more seriously when wearing the alb and stole, but you might stay more awake it I wore a clown suit. On the other hand, what you wear doesn't matter because we all know that you can’t judge a book by its cover. A person’s worth is far more than mere appearance.

I think a helpful way to think of clothing and appearance is that of the image you want to portray to the world. If you go on a job interview you usually wear different clothes than you would to play sports, or hang out with friends at home. Clothes don’t change the person, but they change the way that the world sees them and more importantly can be more practical in certain circumstances than in others.

Paul’s letter to the Romans talks about “putting on Christ.” The Greek verb for “putting on” the Lord Jesus Christ is describing putting on clothes –  in other words clothed with Christ, wearing Christ. Being clothed with Christ is just as public an action as being clothed with anything else – it changes the way other’s see you and even the way you act. Putting on Christ is a way of bearing witness to our Christian hope.  It is a way of representing Christ to the world. And it encourages us to be like Christ in our love for God and our love for neighbor.

When you look at a still picture of someone you can tell the clothing that they are wearing instantly – it is not so obvious with those who wear Christ. Wearing a cross or a Christian t-shirt or even a priest’s collar are not guarantees of Christ-like behavior. It is by someone’s words and deeds that you can tell that they are in fact wearing Christ.  Putting on Christ, being Christ-like – this is not a private thing but influences every part of your life and so becomes public. I think of the saying, by their fruit you will know them. The fruit of a Christ-like person is love.

Paul’s letter  to the Romans talks about this love. Paul writes:
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Paul believes that love is the fulfillment of the law. By law, Paul is not referring to secular law that may or may be moral, but rather the religious commandments that  govern our behavior towards one another – prohibitions against adultery, murder, theft and coveting – these and all other commandments can be summed up in the idea of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.

An important thing about love is that it is demonstrated and lived out in community. Agape love, Christian love, is not so much a feeling as an action. Agape love, Christian love, is not kept to one’s self but it lived out in community with other people. The great thing about community is that it contains different people, the difficult thing about community is that it contains different people. We don’t get along perfectly with everyone all of the time. We have differences of opinions, different emphasis of what is most important and differing interpretations of events. This inevitably leads to conflict.

Jesus lays out some advice in Matthew’s gospel for how to get along with one another in community when such difficulties arise. Jesus recognized that people have responsibility towards one another, that we are not independent islands of our own. This passage has been misused in the past – people have used it to justify enforcing their own limited views on other people, not out of love but out of control. It has been used to throw people out of the church when they do not agree.

Jesus’ teaching here is about love – caring for one another and not abandoning each other when we see that something is wrong. It is about living with differences in our community, and addressing privately and personally things that are of issue long before making it a church-wide issue.

Jesus says, “if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” This has been used to kick people out of the church, which is ironic because we know how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors – not as people to be ostracized but people to be included even though it offends some people. Gentiles and tax collectors can be seen as not knowing all that they should, and living in ways that are not ideal, but Jesus doesn't say that they are outside the church completely.

After talking about conflict in community, Jesus talks briefly about the power of agreement. Agreement is powerful – it binds a community in standards and Jesus affirms the ability of the church to do so.

 But Jesus doesn't stop here, he goes on to say, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." It is important to note that Jesus does NOT say that where two or three who agree are gathered in my name, or where two or three who are not in conflict are gathered in my name. Jesus is present whether or not people get along, whether or not people agree. Jesus  promises that he is and will be present for us – regardless of our brokenness and sin. Thank God for that, because otherwise Jesus wouldn't be here in the church at all.

There is a YouTube video going around Facebook, encouraging folks to try church for Back to Church Sunday on Sept. 18 (I've posted it at the end of this sermon). The video has people give excuses for why they do not want to go to church, and then has real people respond to why that excuse isn't valid. One of the excuses is that church is full of hypocrites. Someone responds, “and there is always room for one more.” Another excuse that a person gives is that if you knew the things that they have done you wouldn't want them at your church, and someone responds “if you knew the things that I've done you wouldn't be worried.” The church is full of people who have needed forgiveness and have found it in Jesus Christ.

Wearing Christ isn't a full-proof thing – we are still human, we will still disagree, we will sin, and we need forgiveness and reconciliation.

Does it matter what you wear? In the case of secular clothing, it depends. The functionality of clothing is definitely important, but appearance not as much. But it does really matter whether or not we are clothed with Christ, whether or not Christ is a part of the person we present to the world.

My prayer for us and for all Christians is that we put on Christ, but not let it be for superficial appearance sake, not clothing that we only wear in church or other special occasions and then take off. Instead, I pray that we wear Christ like clothing that we take with us everywhere that we go, because it is the ultimate in functional clothing, appropriate for all times and in all places. Wearing Christ prepares us to be Christ-like in the world, so that others might be touched by the Christ-like love that we are all in such great need of. Amen.


New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.