Putting on the Cloth of Love
Colossians 3:15-17 Reflections    Michale Barrett

In this morning’s reading, written just after St. Paul tells us that we are “neither Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free,” he encourages us now to live radically new lives because in Christ we are ‘God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.’

Last Tuesday, we honored the coming of Jesus, the incarnate one, into our lives with our Christmas celebrations. The Christmas season seems over too soon again. How many of us have felt, ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could sustain the goodwill of the season, all year long?’  How many of us who rejoiced over the birth of Christ have wondered, ‘how may I live more alive in that Christmas spirit in the times and days ahead?’ How many of us jump right from Christmas into composing a program of New Year’s resolutions?

In this today’s Scripture, from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he addresses those concerns. He essentially provides a checklist of resolutions and indicates expectations for following them. He uses the metaphor of new clothing. The dress he recommends is not for the faint of heart. He calls us to do far more than wear Jesus on our sleeve.

Clothing Ourselves Anew

Clothing makes the man – Mark Twain

Never judge a stranger by his clothes – Zachery Taylor

Throw off your worries when you throw off your clothes at night – Napoleon Bonaparte

It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes – Henry Thoreau

And why do you worry about clothes? –Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:28)

Fashion is a 3.4 trillion dollar industry worldwide. Just between apparel manufacturing and textiles and clothing, 64.1 million are employed. The industry has grown by 5.5% in each of the past 10 years. The fashion industry survives largely because its wares are made to become unfashionable.

This morning, Paul asks us to consider robing ourselves in more permanent garments that will never go out of style. He draws on the 1st Century custom of newly baptized Christians, who usually follow the tradition of discarding the clothing worn to the ceremony and then redressing in new clothing following their baptism. This symbolizes for them a new life and the taking on of Christ.

In Matthew 6:28-30, Jesus tells us that God wants to clothe us. Again, ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you not even Solomon in all his glory was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?’ Now, expending, Paul tells us what God expects us to wear and how to wear it.

The clothes that Paul lists, to extend the metaphor, are, in a sense, like this coat. It is my decision to put it on, for warmth. But, the coat itself doesn’t really generate warmth – the warmth arises from within. As is the case with Paul’s garments, they are designed to bring forth the presence of Christ from within ourselves.

Five Items For A New Years Outfit

  1. (or tenderhearted mercy). As merciless as the world of Jesus was – proudly abandoning the maimed, the sick, the aged, widows and orphans, prisoners and slaves; what we are called to wear embraces and retains what the world distains and disclaims. Jesus cared about people without reference to their merit. To be his chosen, our reaction to people in need needs to mirror that of Christ.
  2. The kindness we are asked to do goes beyond simply being affectionate or courteous or quietly tolerant. Our kindness involves actions for the welfare even of those who are taxing our patience – especially the ungrateful and ungenerous. This kindness even means tempering our reaction when we ourselves are treated with unkindness. [How many times, have I said to God that I could really be kind if only I didn’t have to deal with x or y or z quite so often?] The Greek term for ‘kindness’ was originally applied to aged wine that had lost its harshness. Galatians 5 tells us that kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Romans 2 tells us that kindness is an attribute of the Father himself.
  3. The ancient Greeks loathed the term humility and associated it with selfishness, meanness, weakness, and contempt. Even today, for some, the term has negative connotations and is acquainted with groveling, servility, and low self-esteem. To Paul, the kindness in which we clad ourselves is simply absent of self-exaltation. It is a humility by which we recognize and reverence God and His role while appreciating our proper place and role in His reign. It is an unselfish response to the needs of others. It is valuing ourselves and loving ourselves in relation to how we value and love others.
  4. The gentleness we dress in is not weakness. It is strength under control and as best we can manage, under God’s direction. It means for us to act with honor and integrity, seeking to moderate without harshness, sternness, or violence.
  5. The patience we put on is not about endlessly surrendering to all difficulties or ever passive resignation to dire circumstances. Our patience is about our having the power, the authority, the control to respond dramatically and hurtfully, but to exercise restraint instead.

These then are Paul’s clothing for saints. They are gifts of grace and can only be used in relationship. They are easier to talk about than doing. But they can be worn. No one wore them better than our divine and human brother Jesus Christ.

How Do We Wear Such Attire?

Paul is very clear this morning about accessorizing our New Year’s outfits.

We are to cover our garments with the mantle of forgiveness.

‘Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Paul is not asking us to forgive and forget. He is not asking us to overlook, absorb, or continue to endure hurt. As we are able, Paul is encouraging us 1) to release another from an offense, 2) to decline to demand enactment of the penalty due, 3) to refuse to sustain consideration of the offense, and 4) to refuse to allow the offense to affect the relationship.

Paul knows that there are those times when the hurt is so deep and the damage so great, that we aren’t ready to forgive, if ever. Even our Lord – Luke 23:34 ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’  In a sense, we robe ourselves in forgiveness also as a matter of self-preservation. An unforgiving spirit is a barrier for us to be ready, to be able, and to be willing to receive forgiveness ourselves. Forgiveness helps us heal our own emotion angst.

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together is perfect unity.

The second way we accent our attire is to bind all of it together with the broad belt of love. Agape love – that strong feeling of personal affection, care, and desire for the well being of others. For Paul, love is the extreme expression of Christian faith and action. Love is the crowning grace. Love is the chief virtue. Love is the active response of justifying grace (Galatians 5:6). Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Love is the supreme Christian grace even over hope and faith (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love is the summation of all commandments (Romans 13:9-10).

When we strive to put on the vestments of compassion and kindness and humility and gentleness and patience; when we wear them with forgiveness and love; then we are living Christmas, for we are wearing the robe of Christ. And that has implications for not only others but ourselves, as well. Paul identifies three such implications today.

Implications

  • In this conflict-ridden world, clothing ourselves in Paul’s stated virtues serves to protect and enhance the rule of Christ’s peace in our hearts. It allows Jesus, rather than ourselves, to arbitrate the conflicts we face. Christ’s peace does not mean that we will never have to deal with conflict – but what His presence means is that we will be better prepared to deal with it when it occurs, and that we will recognize the role fear plays in exploding situations of conflict, and rather than resorting to the traditional responses to conflict of either fight or flight, we may follow a third path to use conflict to enhance our understanding, deepen our relationship, and effect true reconciliation.
  • Improved Honoring, Growing In, and Serving Relationships with Christ. When we dress our souls up better, we are in for more powerful, profound, and purposeful experiences in our lives within this faith community. This simply means opening up ourselves to experience at an enhanced level, the message of Christ among us, the worship that is offered, the fellowship offered, the study was undertaken, and the ministries and services extended. That’s the reason for Paul’s reference to psalms, hymns, and songs.
  • Twice in today’s message St. Paul references gratitude. Focusing on the virtues he mentions will help us concentrate less on all the ungrateful, ungracious, and ungainly aspects of our world. Perhaps, we may then begin to recognize more often the blessings in our lives – the blessing in ourselves of the divine talents and opportunities with which we are graced, the blessing of others that share life’s journey with us, and the blessing of a God, creative and compassionate, generous and protective, patient and forgiving, and ever unconditional in His hope, faith, and love for each of us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that common sense is genius dressed up in work clothes. Maybe, my sisters and brothers, faith, hope, and love, are good Christians dressed up in Jesus’s working uniforms. Happy New Year. Amen.