(A sermon based on Colossians 3:12-17 for Pentecost Sunday 2014)
We’re encouraging ourselves to dress casually for worship during these hot summer months, which is fine and reasonable. After all, it’s possible to dress casually and still dress nicely and appropriately.
I still remember what it was like to get dressed for church at our house when I was a boy. My parents both worked in textile mills and so there was a definite difference between their work clothes and their church clothes. It was 1968 or 1969 and I was ten or eleven when we got our first air conditioner, a big window unit the acquisition of which required the rewiring of our house, and I can still see my father standing in front of it on those hot summer Sundays, putting his dress shirt on over his undershirt just before going back to the bedroom to ask Mama to powder his nose. Hey, he was a Sunday School teacher, after all; he couldn’t have the light reflecting off his nose obscure the Light of the World!
Last Sunday we looked at how Paul described what we might call the negative side of seeking the things that above and of loving out the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus. He framed his description in terms of putting to death the attitudes, motives, and actions that did not befit one growing in the image of God as seen in Christ Jesus. He also framed it in terms of taking off the old clothes that characterized our former way of life; we have the privilege and responsibility of taking off what does not fit us anymore because we are both less than and more than we used to be—we have lost some attributes and we are gaining others. We are giving up what takes away from our humanity and are putting on what adds to our humanity. In the process we are getting much bigger and much healthier.
We baptized four new followers of Christ today; in the early church those being baptized would remove their old clothes before their baptism and would be given a new garment following their baptism. So it is most appropriate that we take a look at what we are, as God’s chosen, holy, and beloved people—as people who are saved by the grace of God and who are brought together by that grace into the one body of the Church—are to put on.
Simply put, we are put on those qualities of life that we see in Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord; they are qualities that at first glance might seem very hard for us to embrace and practice—indeed, they sound very idealistic indeed—but that does not lessen our obligation to put them on a little bit more every day. We need to realize too that it is not we who make it happen; it happens by the grace of God because the life of Christ is in us, because in Christ we have died to our old life and are living a new life, and because the presence of the Holy Spirit is God in and among us empowering us to develop these qualities.
We can group them this way: (1) the ways I think about and behave toward me, (2) the ways I think about and behave toward you, (3) the ways we think about and behave toward us, (4) the ways we think about and behave toward God, and (5) the ways we behave toward life.
So, Paul says, when it comes to the ways I think about and behave toward me, I am to put on “humility,” which means not that I think less of myself than I should but that I think more of others than I do myself. Humility is not weakness; indeed, in Christ I can have strength of identity, character, and purpose like he did and still put the needs of others before my own needs like he did. Christians are humble from a position of strength, not from a position of weakness; we are humble because we are compelled by the love of Christ to be humble, not because we are forced by stronger people to be so. Humility means that I am fully aware of my rights and privileges but choose to sacrifice them for the sake of the needs of others.
Paul says that when it comes to the ways I think about and behave toward you, I am to put on “compassion,” “kindness,” “meekness,” and “patience.” In other words, I am to have genuinely understanding sympathy toward you, to approach you with gentleness that wants to do good to you and by you, and with patience that is more like acceptance than tolerance.
Paul says that when it comes to the ways that we think about and behave toward us, we are to put on “love,” “forgiveness,” and “peace.” “Love” is agape, God’s kind of love that is seen most fully in Jesus Christ; it is fully committed love that will go to any lengths and to any sacrifice to rescue another. Our love for each other shows itself in our forgiveness of each other, forgiveness inspired and empowered by God’s forgiveness of us. And when we love each other and forgive each other, refusing to look for reasons to be angry at one another, refusing to hold grudges against one another, and insisting on always being with and for one another, the result is peace in the family—a peace that comes from our open, honest, and committed relationship with each other.
Paul says that when it comes to the ways that we think about and behave toward God, we are to put on gratitude that shows itself in wisdom and in worship. When we consider what God has done for us in Christ, how can we not want the word of Christ to dwell in us richly, to do all we can to help one another grow in the wisdom of God, and to worship God with full hearts and in full voice?
Finally, Paul says that when it comes to the ways that we think about and behave toward life, we are to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” We are to live every moment of our lives, doing everything we do, in ways that reflect the reality of Christ in us and that show his love, grace, and mercy.
So every day, when we get dressed, let’s put on the right clothes—the ones that God in God’s grace and by God’s Spirit has given us …