The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
July 16, 2017
I am a “guy”. That means that, when it’s time to leave home in the morning, it’s my tendency, albeit much moderated by marriage, to just throw on whatever clothes are at hand and walk out the door.
My wife Adele gets dressed in a very different process. (By the way, everything I am about to tell you here, I first cleared with Adele for permission to tell you!)
Adele puts a lot of thought into the clothes she wears and agonizes over her selection of her outfit.
So she typically throws up to six outfits on the bed, studies them, finally selects one, puts it on and then adds (or subtracts) this or that garment or accessory – all the while fretting about running late. However, even with that concern about keeping on schedule, if she gets to the front door and there decides the outfit “won’t work”, she’ll turn around and come back in again to change.
Maybe Adele and I, in opposite ways, go to extremes, but she is right about this: What we wear profoundly impacts what we do and how we are. Many a teacher has insisted that teenage boys tuck in their shirts, because they know that sloppy dressing encourages sloppy schoolwork. And many an office manager has insisted that those she supervises dress professionally, because they know that business attire encourages both seriousness and respectfulness in the workplace. How we dress draws out different qualities in us, and thus affects our disposition and performance. While it may be too much to say that clothes make the man (or the woman), it is clear that our clothes impact how we conduct ourselves.
In today’s scripture, the Apostle Paul urges the Colossian Christians to grow further in their imitation of Christ. Paul uses a sartorial metaphor to describe the process. He asks the Colossians to strip off “the old self with its practices” and clothe themselves with “the new self” in its continual renewal.
For Paul this is not urging people to play pretend and dress up like children in their parent’s closet. Nor is it, for him, a “putting on” in the sense of presenting a false front that hides a person’s true character. No, Paul thinks that the garments Christians should discard – vices such as anger, malice and slander – no longer fit people who have been changed at their core by a supernatural rebirth in Christ, and that the garments Christians should wear – virtues such as compassion, kindness and patience – suit their true but, as of yet, mostly hidden new identity. Paul believes that even those Christians who haven’t been much changed by Christ in any observable way, are not, by clothing themselves with Christ-like character and conduct, pretending to be something they are not, but practicing to be something they already are.! To disrobe from the attitudes and actions that belong to their past and to adorn themselves with the attitudes and actions that accurately represent what they now are in their central and essential nature is to bring into some realization today what they are destined to become fully some day in the future.
All this is to say that Christians are to act in imitation of Christ until they actually become like Him through and through. Or, as they would put it in A.A. circles, they are to “fake it until they make it”. Even if their heart is not yet entirely in it, and even if they only imperfectly follow Christ’s model, they are to persevere and put their new self into practice – until every part of them catches up with the essential and best part of them.
Our actions work on us, and change us. We eventually become what we continually do. If we sow an action, we reap a direction in life; and if we sow a direction, we reap habits; and if we sow enough habits long enough, we reap a new way of being and doing. Little things done a long time have a big result; and, in the end, our character consists of the commitments we have kept.
Bryce was raised in a southern Arizona border town whose white citizenry resented the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who, as the whites saw things, were stealing their jobs. Almost unconsciously, Bryce developed a bigoted attitude toward Hispanics.
In his early twenties, Bryce became a Christian, and soon enough realized his faith required that he repent of his racism. So Bryce chose to act his way into more Christ-like character. He chose to welcome, get to know and befriend several Hispanic men who had started to attend his church. With one of them, a single father named Pedro, Bryce developed a close friendship.
When Pedro was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Pedro asked Bryce and his wife to take into their family, upon his death, his only child, Angel. Out of their love for Pedro, Bryce and his wife promised to do so.
So, after Pedro’s funeral, they adopted and raised Angel, and Bryce prayed: “Lord, I know you’ve made this happen, not just for Angel’s sake, but for mine. You mean to finish off my prejudice. I therefore mean to love Angel no less than my first son. I also mean to teach Angel his own culture and to feel pride in it.”
Bryce struggled at times with doing it, but day after day he kept choosing to act his way into the new identity Christ had given him and now gave him to fulfill. He kept, no matter the old bigoted thoughts and feelings that would sometimes crop up, stripping off the prejudice of his past, and clothing himself with the character and conduct that represented in truth the new Bryce in Christ.
Angel never knew how Bryce struggled, but everyone who had known Bryce for a long time could see what a different person he was becoming.
As he was putting on the garments of Christ-like attitude and action, he wasn’t putting anyone on; he was just realizing his new potential in Christ, and allowing his practices to change him completely.
There is no spiritual formation without repetition. Let us then each persevere in coming to church, serving the community, and doing whatever we need to do to strip off “the old self with its practices” and to put on “the new self” with its. By that we will become authentically ourselves and accurately represent the miracle-working power of Christ. Let us pray.