Last Sunday we had, in the Church of England, the option of keeping either the Last Sunday after Trinity (Proper 25 in the Revised Common Lectionary) or Bible Sunday. I opted for the latter as it never hurts for people to be reminded of the centrality of Scripture. I decided to preach on the New Testament reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
I’ve always liked clothes that make a statement.
By that, I mean clothes that really do make a statement – t-shirts, sweatshirts and the like that have a message written on them. I have a growing collection of t-shirts at home that come out for holidays in the sun, or days off when the weather permits.
One I particulary like says right across the from for anyone I meet to read, “I don’t know everything, but I can see how from your point of view it might look that way.” But one of my favourites has drawings of cats down the front with a quotation, “Time spent with cats is never wasted,” with the name of the author of the quotation. Anyone know who said that? Sigmund Freud, the famous founder of psychoanalysis. Who’d have thought that Freud was into cats?
But of course it’s not just t-shirts that make a statement. All the clothes we wear make a statement about the kind of person we are, or the kind of person we think we are, or the kind of person that we want other people to think we are. And other people will – like it or not – make a judgement based upon our appearance and in particular based upon what we wear. For what you are wearing at any particular time says a lot about you. Your clothes give a great deal of information about you to other people – and probably also say a great deal about how you want to appear to other people. Or perhaps you don’t even think about what to wear when you get dressed and just throw on what is to hand – which in itself also gives an impression. Your clothes may tell other people something about your employment, your income, your spending habits, your emotions. Or they may tell other people a great deal about how you would really like to be seen. They may be designer clothes – or fake designer. What we wear says a great deal about how we view ourselves and about how we want others to view us. And how others view us may actually be quite different from what we think.
And we’re very good at being critical of what other people wear. Many of you, I’m sure, have been to a party, looked at someone there, and thought that perhaps they don’t have much fashion sense and should have worn something else. And, of course, it’s traditional for parents to disapprove of their teenage children’s clothes – and vice versa.
And now that you’ve all started looking around to see what everyone else is wearing this morning – let’s move on to think about what we, ourselves, are wearing. Because one of our readings this morning is about what you wear and how other people see you. But it’s not about our physical clothes. For this morning we are being asked, by Saint Paul, to think about our spiritual clothing and to make sure that we have the right clothes on.
If you take a look at our second reading this morning you will see that it starts with Paul talking about clothing. It’s from a letter that Paul wrote to a church community in Colossae, a small town in Asia Minor – what is roughly modern day Turkey – and it was about a hundred miles from Ephesus. And one of the reasons that Paul sent the letter was that he was wanting to address the problem of false teachers who had been spreading error within the congregation. In the first part of the letter he addresses matters of doctrine. He explains how Christ is the firstborn of all creation. Everything has been created through him and for him, God has chosen for his complete being to dwell in Christ, and Christ is the head of the Church. And what is important for us this morning is that he explains that the Father has rescued us from the power of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son (1.13).
And that has consequences. It had consequences for the Christians at Colossae for it meant that there were standards of behavior that as followers of Jesus they were now expected to uphold. And so in the second part of the letter he talks at length about the standards of Christian behavior. At the beginning of the chapter from which our second reading comes he begins by addressing the sins that were a part of their former lives – anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language (3.8) – these must now be got rid of, he says, because you have clothed yourselves with the new self. And then he goes on to tell the Colossian Christians what that means, what they must be clothed with: 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. (3.12ff).
What clothes are you actually wearing – what spiritual clothes? The Christians at Colossae were no different to Christians in any other time or place in that each of them would have been – in their own minds – quite suitably dressed. But Paul is saying that they need to choose their clothes carefully, for only certain clothes will do. And those clothes must be – compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and above all, love. And the challenge that Paul gives us is to take a step back and think about how we appear to others. When they look at us a Christians what do they see? Do they see people clothed in the way that he says Christians should be clothed? Essentially – when they look at you do they see Jesus?
Once in a while it’s a good thing to have a think about how we appear. To recognise that how we think we appear isn’t perhaps how other people think we look. For we can be very good at looking at other people and thinking to ourselves, or even saying, “Well, they don’t seem to be clothed with much compassion or kindness or patience,” and so on! Instead of criticising what everyone else is wearing – in the spiritual sense that Paul is talking about – we regularly need to have a good look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “How do my clothes look? Am I clothed with love?” Once in a while we need a good look in the mirror! We are God’s chosen ones. May we wear the clothes that befit our calling as those who have chosen to follow Jesus, and those whom Jesus has chosen to be in his kingdom. Have a good look in the mirror and ask Jesus, “Do I look good in this? Or do I need some help choosing clothes that are more appropriate?”