When my daughter was a little girl she loved dresses. She never went anywhere without a dress. She is still something of a clothes-horse and has a closet stuffed with things to wear. About this time of the summer, we would always go school shopping. For my son, there was the reward of some treat afterwards and for my daughter the day was filled with excitement.
It began with a sorting of the old clothes to make room for the new stuff. We bagged up those clothes & took them to the Thrift Shop. My son would get his wardrobe of shirts, sweatshirts, and jeans and my daughter would get dresses, and more dresses. If she could have gone to school in something with a thousand sequins, she would have been in heaven! But the best part of the deal was when we got home from our day out and they would put on a fashion show. He would simply put everything out on the floor for us to look at. She would try on each outfit and come into the family room to show off. She would twirl and dance as if these new clothes made her the greatest, most beautiful person in the world.
That’s the image I get when I hear the passage from Colossians. The old is cast off and the new that replaces it is wonderful. It was the innocence of beauty in its purest form. The newness of what she wore, made the inner beauty glow. I think the Apostle Paul would agree. There is something about casting off the old and putting on something new that makes us feel different, better – not holier than thou better, but more like the real you that God sees & knows in you. It’s about shedding the dead parts of us for the new parts of God’s blessing. There is also something about being five or six years old, that allows us to twirl around in new clothes without feeling so self-conscious that we would just as soon stay in our worn out duds, and I think that is where Paul is going with these words.
I find it a challenge and I think our world finds it a challenge to give up, not just our old clothes (because, honestly, they are often quite comfy), but our inner clothes – those things that we wrap ourselves up in like our thoughts and prejudices and preconceived notions about how things should be. How often do we say or think things like, “Well, we’ve always done it this way”, or “I’m not good enough to have that sequined dress.”or, “Don’t get too involved, they’re not like us.” I’ve been thinking how in the last few weeks we have been caught up in the rhetoric and craziness of a political campaign that is based in fear and anger. It’s not going to change in the next three -plus months. We have been overwhelmed by the news of the day – actually the news of the moment because it is instantaneous and that has put our nerves on edge, our hearts in anguish, and our minds in a state of perpetual fear. We are absorbed in fear and it is killing us…literally and figuratively.
I’ve said numerous times in the last few months that I’m tired of preaching or reflecting on all that’s going wrong; the tragedy of the week that I have to stand up and talk about and we have to share in. It’s not that we shouldn’t stop and pray for those whose lives are cut short by violence or rise up to challenge racism, sexism, poverty, gun-violence, sex-trafficking, police brutality, or hunger. The list is so long…
We must pray and we must challenge, but the dark underside of continually dwelling here is that we are consumed with anger and hatred and fear… and it is a vicious cycle that we are continually sucked into. The very things that we are trying to get rid of, that we pray to get rid of, are the very things we keep holding onto. That’s not the way of Christ and it shouldn’t be the way of those who follow him.
If we aren’t in a state of frenzy, we are trying to find peace in the wrong places by zoning out, drinking & eating too much, and all other sorts of things. This isn’t helpful either. We seem to be living lives similar to the people in Colossae. Paul is hoping to have them see things, and thus live differently. The specifics may be different, but the solution is the same. Eugene Peterson interprets Paul’s words this way. Listen to them again in a slightly different way.
“Sisters and brothers, if you are serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with things right in front of you. Look up and be alert to what is going on around Christ– that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life– even though invisible to spectators– is with Christ in God. Christ is your real life. When Christ shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up too–the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.”
That means killing off everything connected with the way of death, sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It’s because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better, but you know better now. So make sure it’s all gone for good, bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity and dirty talk. Don’t lie to one another. You are done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom made by the Creator. It has a designer label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, inside and outsider, civilized and uncouth, slave and free mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ. Everyone is included in Christ. So, dressed by God for this new life of love, put on the wardrobe God picked out for you.” *
I love these words…they build up rather than tear down. They choose life, not death. Love, not hatred. Truth, not lies. Courage, not fear and they re-orient us to God’s love and image of us. How God sees us, the best of us, the hope in us. Hold on to that when fear and anger and disgust and despair seem to cover you like dirty rag… Throw them off and burn them in a fire. Catch yourself when you’re angry, catch when you have that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach that is fear, throw it all away. Remind yourself, remember yourself, re-member yourself to Christ. Those are your new clothes, those are the things we need to remember when the onslaught of everything that’s going on around us seems to overwhelm. Be of Christ, be a follower of Christ who throws the old ugliness away to be adorned with God’s new and glorious clothes for us.
Then swirl and twirl and dance and give thanks to God.
*Peterson, Eugene, The Message, 2006. Colossians 3:1-11
(C) The Reverend Patty Baker