“Holy Clothes”

I nearly forgot that I preached this past Sunday! I remembered this morning and found the link the audio of the message at First Presbyterian Church of Owensboro, KY.

The texts were Lectionary and included

1 Samuel 2:18-26

Psalm 148

Colossians 3:12-17

Luke 2:41-52

Here is the audio!

Here is the text (I do believe you’ll find a typo or two, as I spotted one or two while I was actually preaching from my final document on Sunday morning. I skimmed quickly just now, but did not see them. Thanks for understanding!):

Holy Clothes

If you are a parent of a child older than 2, or if you have ever cared for or have been in charge of a child, you might know what it feels like to temporarily lose sight of your child. Children are tricky like that. They wander, they turn left when you turn right. They stop to look at something shiny and you don’t realize they stopped.

You probably know that heart-racing, panicky feeling of losing your child, even for just a moment. Once when Jonas, our thirteen year-old, was 3 or 4, I lost him at the park. We went to play on the playground and as he ran around and around, he found that he could climb into one of the tunnels and not come out the other side, just sitting and watching the other kids play on either end. I had been chatting with another parent, looking around and finding him every few seconds. When he was in the tunnel, I had no idea where he was.

“When an adult calls your name, you answer that adult no matter what.” That’s something I teach children at our church and it’s something I used to tell Jonas when he was small. Kids think it’s funny to hide, but when adults think they’ve lost children, it’s not funny at all and often drastic measures may be taken to find the child before the joke is realized.

I called Jonas’ name, but he says he didn’t hear me. I’m not sure how that could be true, but either way, I panicked for what was actually about 30 seconds—although it felt like ten minutes. All sorts of scenarios played out in my head. Just when I decided he had been kidnapped, he crawled out of the tunnel and tagged another child he had been playing with.

You’ve maybe lost your children at Walmart or at an amusement park or at the mall. I’m hopeful in all cases, it was just temporary and you had a happy reunion (or maybe the kind where you hug them tightly and scold them at the same time).

Mary and Joseph? They lost the Son of God. For three days. And they got partway home before they even realized he was missing!

Before I was a parent, I always read this story a little differently. First of all, I think I thought Mary and Joseph were kind of dull to have forgotten to check to make sure they had their child—you know, the child that the angels sang about and the Magi brought gifts and warnings to. Seems like you’d keep pretty good tabs on that child. I kind of sided with Jesus. I mean—his reasoning made perfect sense to me. He was in the temple learning about God! And, given the choice, who doesn’t side with Jesus?

Now that I am a parent, I read the story from a completely different perspective. Mary and Joseph must have been frantic! I think that Jesus probably should have checked in with his parents before he decided to just drop out of the caravan and hang out in the Temple. I would be so angry with Jonas if we were on a pilgrimage and he decided to leave the group without even asking one of us if it was okay.

This story, although it does give us a glimpse into what was probably a terrifying moment in the life of his parents, also gives us a greater understanding of what it must have been like to grow up as the soon to be savior of the world. A story that used to seem to be an aside, odd memory inserted into Luke’s Gospel gives clarity to the life of Christ.

Jesus was raised as Jewish child. His family practiced regular Jewish customs. This particular Passover, they had traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate, just as Jesus would do for the very last Passover he would celebrate on earth. He had surely been to Hebrew School, excelling, no doubt in his studies so that he would eventually be a rabbi and teacher of Torah. He would have learned all of the laws, the customs, the moral code and the teachings of the ancient religion. He would have memorized Torah. He would have taken part in all of the holy day rituals and celebrations.

I think about Samuel in our Old Testament reading today. The passage of Scripture focuses on his clothing very specifically. The boy, Samuel, taken to the temple as a gift from his mother Hannah, wore a linen ephod and a robe. These were priestly garments and holy clothes that he wore as he served. He wore holy clothes for holy work.

Jesus grew up learning what it meant to be a Jew. Jesus grew up learning what it meant to be a child of God. He studied, he prayed, he practiced. We see that in his adult ministry, and we know it must have been true in his childhood and pre-ministry years.

How much more do we also need to study, pray and practice what it means to be a follower of Jesus? Just as Jesus regularly practiced and wore these holy habits, we should as well.

I heard Tony Campolo speak once when he talked about the importance of tradition. “Why does the Jewish religion have so many traditions and practices that must be followed?” he asked us. The answer is that because traditions and practices keep us rooted.

Think about the traditions of your own homes or families. It’s true, right? We’re coming out of a time of great tradition for a lot of people. You probably have specific rituals and practices you try to observe every December and those things are part of what makes Christmas meaningful for your family. There’s comfort in tradition and when those practices are interrupted, it’s noticeable and we want them back.

The same is true for our Christian faith practices, including the prayers and creeds we learn, the sacraments we practice, the elements of worship that stay constant, the office of daily prayer. When we wander in the desert or find ourselves in an unfamiliar place, our traditions keep us connected. It’s a place we can turn when nothing else is certain and it’s a way we practice putting on holy clothes.

We’re coming out of a season when we are regularly reminded to “keep the Christ in Christmas.” There’s a church I pass every day on my way to downtown Henderson and right now their sign says, “Let’s put Christ back in Christmas!” There are arguments about whether “Happy Holidays” is a sacreligious greeting at this time of year and my facebook newsfeed blows up with graphics reminding us to “Keep Christ in Christmas.”

What I don’t hear a lot about the rest of the year is reminders to “Keep the Christ in Christian,” but I feel that God’s people should be just as concerned. Sometimes, I worry that we’ve forgotten about who this Christ we speak about actually was and how he lived his life and how we, as his followers, should act and treat others.

The author of the letter to the Colossians gives us a view of Christ’s character and what it could look like if, as followers of Jesus, we actually put on the holy clothing of Jesus. In this passage, we’re given a glimpse into a family meeting in the Colossian Church. These words of Paul have stood the test of time.

As Christians today, we are still called to put on Christ. Buckminster Fuller says that God seems to be more VERB than NOUN. Perhaps if we are “to God,” or if we are “Godding,” if you will, it means we are putting on the character of Christ.

The author reminds the family of God who they are—they belong to God, they are chosen, they are dearly loved.

I think that’s important. Given the chance to describe the church in any way he wants, Paul reminds them that they belong to a God who chose them and loves them. I think this is what we put on first: the knowledge that we AND OTHERS are chosen and loved.

The church is then instructed to wear certain habits. The list of their holy clothing includes kindness, compassion, humility, meekness and patience. All of these “clothes” have to do with how we treat other people. We are to be kind, patient, compassionate and humble in our approaches to others. These are characteristics that we are to put on day after day as we seek to love our neighbors.

Verse 13 tells us we are to bear with one another and forgive each other. And if we think that the complaint we have against another is too big to forgive, we should each remember that we have also been forgiven a great debt and complaint by Jesus, and how can we accept that forgiveness if we aren’t willing to forgive the smaller debts of others?

Practicing forgiveness takes work. There are some people that it may take a long time to forgive. Yet, we’re told that we are to practice mercy and grace toward others because we’ve been given those very things freely by God. Still, it is something we’ll struggle to do over and over and over again as we live in community with God’s children.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment of God, his answer was two-fold: Love God and love neighbor. So the author of Colossians affirms this. Verse 14 instructs that above all, we should put on love, which binds all of the above together in perfect harmony.

Why do we put on these clothes and treat each other with compassion and forgiveness? It’s because we’re called to be a people who love God and love neighbors.

Why did Jesus go to the temple day to sit and listen and learn from the teachers? Because he loved God. Why did Hannah give Samuel, her firstborn son, to service at the temple? Because she loved God. Love for God calls us to practice our faith!

The Colossians passage continues:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.

Be thankful.

Let the Word of Christ dwell in your richly. Study it, read it, listen to it, meditate on it, memorize it, learn about it, teach it to one another, teach it to your children, use it to sing songs and hymns and spiritual songs to God.

And the apostle ends by admonishing us to do everything that we do in the name of the Lord Jesus. I can’t imagine how different my life would look if I always remembered this last part. Sure, when I stand up here in your beautiful pulpit and read God’s word and try to preach faithfully, I’m consciously trying to do so in the name of the Lord Jesus.

But what if I helped Jonas get ready for school in the name of the Lord Jesus? What if I ran my boring errands in the name of the Lord Jesus? What if I helped my husband with our household budget and bills and receipts in the name of our Lord Jesus? That’s truly a garment of holy clothing that has to be put on day by day, activity by activity!

These are all virtues, disciplines and routines to practice regularly.  Just as Samuel and Jesus both practiced and observed traditions and routines and became disciplined in their calling from God, so do we. Just as Samuel and Jesus both learned to do all things in the name of God, so should we. Just as Samuel and Jesus put love before all other things, so should we.

May we become people who regularly and willingly put on holy habits that the chosen and beloved family of God in all times and places is called to wear. Amen.