Getting Dressed for 2013 - Colossians 3:12-17
Employed by the human-development center of a corporation in the Midwest, a woman trains employees in proper dress codes and etiquette.
One day as she was stepping onto the elevator, a man casually dressed in jeans and a golf shirt got on with her.
Thinking of her responsibilities, she scolded, "Dressed a little casually today, aren't we?"
The man replied, "That's one benefit of owning the company...."
Some people like to dress casual. Other folks like to dress up. On Christmas Day night, as we gathered with the Sasser side of Anita's family, I watched as three little girls ran around as Tinkerbell, Snow White, and a princess. In their minds, they were the best dressed ones there.
There are occasions where many of us would dress up. . Unless it is Halloween or a costume party, though, most of us wouldn't be in Disney attire. I'm thinking off times like church (for some of us), court, or a job interview. They are occasions that call for more formal attire, such as a high schooler's prom, a wedding, or some parties. In fact some of us here may be contemplating what we are going to put on for that big New Year's Eve bash tomorrow night (don't ask me after the service which party, I'm not going to one I just figure some of y'all might).
While I've never been to a formal, or even semi-formal New Year's Eve bash, I know they exist (the closest that Anita and I have been was twenty years ago tomorrow when Anita and I went to the Longbranch in Raleigh for our second date. Many, mostly of the female variety, will be standing in front of their closet doors or the clothing racks in their favorite store trying to figure out what to wear. We guys won't have the same problem, either because we are wearing a standard tux, or the significant female in our life will let us know exactly what we are going to wear.
In addition to the parties, some football games, collards and black eyed peas, New Year's is known for one more thing. It would probably be the number one answer on Family Feud for things associated with the New Year. Can any of you name it?
That's right, resolutions! People all around the world, more than likely including a few of us here, will be making those, often halfhearted and temporary, commitments to improve ourselves. We make commitments about losing weight, exercising, saving money, paying bills, spending more time with our families, spending more time with God, and more. And if we're lucky and determined, we might even stick to them for a week or two into 2013.
Getting dressed for a New Year's celebration and making resolutions for self-improvement is the point at which our Scripture passage and the activities for which this season is known come together. Let's hear Paul's word again:
"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.”[i]
Paul is talking about getting dressed up, but he is not talking about any tuxedo, evening gown, three price suit, or pajama bottoms. In fact, he is not talking about any kind of outerwear, or underwear for that matter. Paul could care less what any of us pull out of our drawers and closets. For Paul, it is about our innerwear and the expression of it.
I think all too often we get too caught up in concern over our outerwear (and for some of us or underwear). We worry about our clothes. We want to have the latest styles, the right labels, and the current trends. One of the places that we become the most concerned about wearing the right outfit or suit, is right here in church. How many of you grew up like I did--being told that you must wear your "best" to church? No matter how much I tried, there was no wearing jeans, t-shirts, shorts, flip-flops, or tennis shoes to church. Women were to wear dresses or skirts and blouses, and men are to wear a coat and tie, if not a full suit. That was ingrained so much into some of us, that still today we feel uncomfortable coming here wearing anything else. I understood, and still understand the rationale behind this. It springs out of the Old Testament scriptures where the descriptions of the sacrificial offerings are described. In these offerings, one was to bring the first and best of their crops and livestock to dedicate and give to God. In this system of sacrificial offerings, to bring less than the best of the first fruits of one's crops or the best of one's livestock was to disrespect and rob from God what rightfully belonged to Him. Over the years, somehow and someway that translated into the dress that folks wear to church--that we must wear the best clothes in order to gather to worship God. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating coming to church dressed like you just crawled out of bed, or in outfits that cover less of our skin than they leave exposed--there is something to be said for hygiene and modesty, not only out of respect for God, but also for those around you.
What I am suggesting is that those folks who have used the excuse that they couldn't come to worship because they didn't have anything to wear, were offering just that, an excuse, not a reason. If they have clothes to wear that let them walk out of the house without being arrested for indecent exposure, then they have something to wear to church.
What I am suggesting is that if we spend time worrying about whether or not we wore the same outfit before or that it was last year's style or that Suzie on the third row is wearing the same thing or that our clothes came from the thrift store rather than Dillard’s, then something is wrong with our thinking.
What I am suggesting is that if we look at what someone else is wearing and question whether or not they should be at church with us, then we've missed the point.
While you can find chapters within the first few books of the Bible describing what the priests and others involved in worship were to wear, by the time to get to the New Testament, those types of emphasis have disappeared. We see that transition begin with the prophets, as the focus moved from what we see on the outside to what springs from us internally.
The Psalmist tells us: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. ”[ii]
Isaiah says, “The Lord said: Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote; so I will again do amazing things with this people, shocking and amazing. The wisdom of their wise shall perish, and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden. ”[iii]
Then Micah shares with us: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”[iv]
This comes to a peak in the words of Jesus when He addresses those who are dressing exactly as they are told within the Old Testament Law, the religious leaders. While at this point Jesus does not address their clothing specifically, He does offer a statement which pretty much includes everything about them: “‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. ‘”[v]
My brothers and sisters, Paul brings all of this together by addressing not just the religious leaders, but all who would call themselves followers of Christ. Prior to our reading today, Paul talks about stripping off all of those things that reflect a life outside of Christ: “fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)…anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language…”[vi] We have to take off those filthy clothes that are reflective of this world and Satan’s influence over it, and instead, as we get dressed, put on the clothing of Christ: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience forgiveness, and, more importantly than anything else (the other items of clothing are mere accessories to this main item), love.
My friends, I truly believe that God could care less whether or not any of us here are wearing a three-piece suit from Jos A Banks, a luxurious dress from Coldwater Creek, jeans picked up from the Hospice clothing store, or a t-shirt from the Salvation Army Thrift store. He is far less concerned about our outward dress than our inward attire. Why? Because the garments of cloth that we wear don’t mean a thing about our nature. I could put on Peyton Manning’s jersey this afternoon, but were the Bronco’s depending on me against Kansas City, they might as well have stayed at home. Anita could put on a nurse’s scrubs, but at the first thought of having to draw blood from someone or give them an IV, she still is likely to pass out. We can put on the finest suit we can find, but if our lives are still filled with greed, wrath, and/or slander, then we are more mob-like than Christ-like. We can don the finest of evening gowns, but if our lives are still filled with fornication, impurity, and/or abusive language, then we are more like a prostitute than Jesus.
This week, as we get ready to enter into 2013…whether we are putting on formal wear for a night on the town or our pajamas to sit on the couch and ring in the New Year, let’s make sure we dress properly. Whether or not we are making any traditional resolutions, let us commit to making sure that we are appropriately attired, not in a neatly tailored, cut-to –fit outfit, but in Christ’s one-size-fits all wear—our Father-Designed-Son-Paid-For-Holy Spirit-Delivered clothes—so that when anyone sees us, they don’t see a designer label or worn-out hand-me-downs, but will see the beauty and glory of God.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
[i] The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 Col:3:12-17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[ii] The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ps 51:17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[iii] The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Is 29:13-14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[iv] The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Mic 6:6-8). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[v] The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Mt 23:25-28). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[vi] The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Col 3:5-8). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers