Here’s a universal cry you’re likely to hear from women throughout the ages: I haven’t got a thing to wear! This lament too often follows from a review of an overly stuffed closet, wherein nothing appropriate for a given occasion lurks. Been there. Done that. Said that more than once!
What’s behind my lingering insecurities about what I’m wearing? Do I fear people will judge me, that I would not pass muster, that I’ll look foolish or out of place? Does how we dress signal whether or not we feel we belong? Or how comfortable we are with ourselves? I’ll confess I’ve never owned a pair of Nikes or Air Jorden’s or designer jeans or a Coach bag—and I may not be any the worse for wear because of it. But I have tried to use clothing to measure my worth. Three examples come easily to mind.
When I was in grade school, I had the distinction, along with my two sisters, of wearing Buster Brown shoes with steel toes. We only wanted saddle shoes or penny loafers, but my father sold safety shoes for Allis-Chalmers, and he wasn’t having any of his daughters get their toes crushed by some careless driver jumping the curb. So we suffered the humiliation of plain brown, ridiculously heavy shoes.
And then in 7th and 8th grade, we had to wear school uniforms—dark green jumpers with white blouses—and certainly never patented leather shoes! But we survived and were at least spared some of the God-awful peer pressure of those trying years.
Perhaps my greatest attempt to hide behind what I was wearing occurred the night I attended my very first AA meeting. The picture is priceless. I had borrowed my cousin’s mink coat—so I wouldn’t look like a drunk—and I showed up wearing the mink coat, blue jeans, and moon boots! Fortunately, my camouflage didn’t work and the incredibly patient people there knew I belonged.
I guess the point here is that clothes, rightly or wrongly, do help define us. I’m crazy about the short story by Guy de Maupassant entitled, “Clothes Make the Man.” It’s a delightful tale about three cronies who plot to rob a bank. In their elaborate scheme, one of them is disguised as a policeman and is stationed outside of the bank to deter any other law enforcement officers. But what happens is, when the two accomplices exit the bank after the robbery, their third companion arrests them both. Why? (pause) . . . Because clothes make the man!
I’ve seen this transformative phenomenon actually work. When I was a probation and parole agent, I had one woman on my caseload who was asked by a friend to help distribute health literature at the Capitol Court shopping mall one Saturday. The woman agreed to help and spent the day at the mall, dressed in a white medical smock. I kid you not: that experience was so remarkable for her that she decided to get her GED and go on to school to work somehow in the health services profession! One day; one smock; one changed life!
Interesting as this is, however, it’s way off topic from today’s Scripture reading, which focuses not on how we’re dressed on the outside, but rather on what we clothe ourselves with on the inside.
Before we look at that, let me share with you the passage immediately before today’s reading. There St. Paul first lays out to the Colossians what can be called the “General Rules of Christian Behavior”:
. . . This is why you must kill everything in you that belongs only to earthly life; fornication, impurity, guilty passion, evil desires and especially greed, which is the same thing as worshipping a false god; all this is the sort of behavior that makes God angry. And it is the way in which you used to live when you were surrounded by people doing the same thing, but now you, of all people, must give all these things up: getting angry, being bad-tempered, spitefulness, abusive language and dirty talk; and never tell each other lies. You have stripped off your old behavior with your old self, and you have put on a new self which will progress toward true knowledge the more it is renewed in the image of its creator.
I guess if I were acting as Paul described above, I’d want—or rather need—to hide my true self from others. Several phrases come to mind that apply to our true character. When evaluating myself, I need to remember these: 1) Don’t compare my insides to your outsides; 2) You’re looking good on the outside; how are you doing on the inside?; and 3) God don’t make no junk!
Remembering these clichés helps me focus on what I’m wearing on the inside—how I’m clothing my spirit on a daily basis. Paul says we are God’s chosen, holy and beloved, and stresses that we should clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Above all, Paul says, we should clothe ourselves with love, “which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Paul talks about our forgiving each other, teaching one another, and doing everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God through Christ.”
In response, let me quote from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, wherein it says, “What an order! I can’t go through with it. Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines.”
That is the point: spiritual progress, not perfection. A dear friend taught me years ago that I can’t beat myself and grow at the same time. At least with Paul’s letter to the Colossians we have a set of principles toward which to strive. We have that, too, in the definition of love that Pastor Nansi had us all share several weeks ago, and that we probably all know nearly by heart.
It’s in 1st Corinthians 13, verses 4-8. There was a bit of discomfort as we said to each other, “Charlotte is kind and patient. Bill is never jealous or boastful . . . or proud, or rude. Kathy is not selfish or quick-tempered. Jim doesn’t keep a record of the wrongs other people do. Donna rejoices in the truth. Gary never rejoices in evil. Ann is always supportive and loyal . . . hopeful, and trusting. Jeannie never fails in her love. My niece and I could hardly say these lines without laughing—our nervous laughter betrayed the many times and ways we fall short.
But that’s where the spiritual clothing comes in. When we actually and intentionally clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love, we will live out the precepts outlined in the 1st Corinthians passage.
Like the butterfly referenced on today’s bulletin cover, spiritual transformation takes time and is often discouraged by the world’s caterpillars who have not yet undergone this life-changing growth. Figuratively we grow wings—wings that preclude our going back to our old selves. As we grow, our tolerance level for old, destructive attitudes and behaviors decreases.
Our growth, however, is not an automatic given, like our growing older one day at a time. Spiritual growth is not for sissies. It’s work, serious work, but when we clothe ourselves in Christ’s love and the values that love includes, we will find that we are more content, more useful to those we serve, and more filled with God’s spirit. And a side benefit might just be that what we wear on the outside pales by comparison with how we shine from the inside.
So I hope that the next time you ask yourself, “What should I wear?” you consider putting on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love. Trust me, you’ll look like a million bucks!
In the name of the one who loves both butterflies and caterpillars, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Scripture for Aug. 19, 2018 COLOSSIANS 3:12-17
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 must also forgive others. 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 through Christ.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.