Monday, February 12, 2007

The latest sermon

So my first sermon at St. B's yesterday - my first sermon in a church instead of a classroom - went really well. I felt good about it and the people seemed to dig it. The best compliment I got was one woman telling me I am clearly wearing Christ (you'll understand when you read the rest). That was awesome to hear.

So enjoy.

For when I look to myself as a single individual, then I am nothing. But all my hope comes from being united in one love with all my fellow Christians. For on this unity the life of all that shall be saved depends. – Julian of Norwich

Who are you Wearing?

I want to thank you for the opportunity to lead us in a few thoughts on God’s word today. For those of you who don’t know, I am interning here at St. Barnabas for the next six months or so. I really look forward to getting to know everyone here during our time together.

Since most of you don’t know me well, it may be news to you that I worked for five years in Hollywood right after moving to LA. I did everything from scout locations for commercials to help with shooting a movie. I even worked on the television show “Touched by an Angel” for a season.

I still have many friends from my Hollywood days, and right now is one of our favorite times of year: it’s called “Award Show Season”. It’s a special time when people in Hollywood get together multiple times to wear extremely expensive clothes and congratulate one another on being generally beautiful and fabulous. In a couple weeks we have the granddaddy of all our celebrations: The Academy Awards. It’s like the Super Bowl for Hollywood people – we all get together and have snacks and we make predictions and cheer on our favorite films and actors and sound technicians.

But of course the real fun of the Oscars is the pre-show, isn’t it? When we get to watch the stars walk down the red carpet, and Joan Rivers grabs them and asks them embarrassing questions, and (sometimes) compliments their outfit. And then what question does she always ask them? Do you know?

Who are you wearing?

Now of course she doesn’t mean to imply that the person is wearing another person, she’s simply asking who designed their dress or tuxedo.

But today’s epistle also asks us this question, quite literally: Who are you wearing?

It’s an important thing to know. Our clothes say a lot about us. The robes on the people up front here indicate that we have specific roles to play in this service. Many of us still like to dress up for church in our “Sunday Best.” When I was a child (who hated to wear tights!), I always whined, “WHY do I have to dress up??” and my parents would tell me it was because we want to look our best for Jesus.

Now, I know Jesus doesn’t really care what we wear, nor whether we can afford nice things. But the point is that it taught me respect for God’s house, and helped me realize that when we went to church it was just as special as going to a friend’s birthday party or dressing up for picture day at school.

We like to dress up for special occasions. We may wear a uniform for work. We dress for the weather, or we dress to impress. We say, “Clothes make the man.”

Someone may not know us at all, but they can make a few assumptions just based on seeing our clothes. Clothes are on the outside and (hopefully) covering most of our body. They may stick out or blend in, but they are always more apparent to other people than, say, our thoughts or our emotions are. Clothes are the first thing many people notice about us. They can’t help but be seen when others look at us.

In our epistle today, Paul reminds us that when people look at us, they should see Jesus. Jesus should be as obvious as if we were wearing him like a jacket. The text says that in our baptism, we are “clothed” or “dressed” in Christ. Paul reminds us that our baptism was a special moment when we put on Jesus so that when others look at us, they see Christ.

The bible uses this metaphor of clothing a lot, especially in the Old Testament. The Psalms and prophets talk about people being clothed with salvation, with shame, with strength and dignity, with righteousness. But Paul takes it a step further – he says, “Don’t just be clothed with these attributes. Be clothed in Christ – and take on all of who he is.”

In these verses, Paul doesn’t say believe in Jesus. He doesn’t even say act like Jesus. What he says here is that you have been clothed in Jesus.

Incidentally, that’s why we give adults a white robe after they are baptized, which is a very ancient practice. It’s a visual, outward sign of their joining the saints, who in the book of Revelation are robed in white.

Paul says let Christ be visible like your clothes. Let him be the first thing others see when they look at you. Let Christ be close to you and surround you like a favorite sweater. Let Christ cover you. Let Christ protect you, as your coat does from the cold or the rain.

When all of us put on Christ together – when we are all united with Christ – we all become united in Christ. Do you know what that means? We’re all wearing the same outfit this morning.

In our gospel reading, Jesus proclaims a blessing on those that the world casts off as hopeless, and he says “woe” to those who we might think are doing pretty well. In these radical statements, Jesus is opening the Kingdom of God to everyone, no matter how bad they have it, no matter how much the world has ignored them. There is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free person, male and female. It doesn’t matter if you are poor or hungry or sad or hated – you are in Christ, so you are in the Kingdom.

To be God’s people, we must drop these externals, the things we may first notice, the accidents of our birth. Look around you, and see not a free person or a woman or someone who’s depressed or poor, but see Jesus. That’s who we are all wearing. I must recognize that all these other people around me in this room are wearing Christ, just like I am. That makes us one.

When we come together to worship, we are like trees planted by streams of living water. We come to the altar and we drink deeply of the life-giving body and blood of Jesus. We sing and we pray together, we hear God’s word, we speak peace to one another. We do all these things because we know we are one in Christ Jesus. When we see everybody wearing the same person, we know this place is safe. These people, working together, will give us life.

My friends, I love this little church because when I come here I see Jesus. I see a body of believers who have put on Christ proudly. I see people of all ages, races, genders, shapes and sizes united in worshiping the Triune God.

Before he went to his death, Jesus prayed for all believers, including us. He prayed that we would be one, that we would be so unified, we’d be like he was with his Father. Jesus wants us to be one. From sweet baby Ryan on up to whoever is oldest (and I’m not going there), we are really just one person.

When we celebrate Ryan and his parents after church today, or when we visit those who can’t be with us this morning, or when we pray for our fellow Christians around the world, we remember that all of us are members of one body, all of us are wearing the same person.

So when you come up here today for communion, think about it: who are you wearing?
And when you sit at coffee hour, who are you wearing?
When you’re at work or school this week, who are you wearing?
When someone cuts in front of you in line, or cuts you off on the road, who are you wearing?
When you someone needs your help, or your prayers, or your laugh, or your support, who are you wearing?

We are all of us dressed in Christ Jesus. And that’s better than anything you’ll see on the red carpet.


Anonymous said...

Lovely application,

Dr. Laura Marie Grimes said...

Wonderful sermon!

I love the clothing image and used it as the focus of a Mother's Day sermon right after my youngest was born. If you're interested in taking a look it's "God the Mother" under "Homilies" at my blog, Junia's Daughter (or on the sermon page at my website,