12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
A prayer for the New Year: Dear Lord. So far this year I’ve done well. I haven’t gossiped, I haven’t lost my temper, I haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I’m very thankful for that. But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on I’m probably going to need a lot more help. Amen
I hope that everyone had a great Christmas. The tree has been removed from our living room and taken to the curb where the city will pick it up to make next year’s mulch. All of the presents have all been opened and most of the cookies have been eaten. The only thing that is hanging around yet is the extra 5-10 pounds that we all put on this time of year.
That’s not entirely true. There are presents that stick around for a while as well. Our extended families really love to give gifts to our children. Paxton and Hadley are the only grandchildren on either side, so they get a lot of attention from both sets of grandparents as well as from their uncles and aunts. You can tell that one aunt from Ohio doesn’t have any children of her own simply by looking at the presents that she got our children: a harmonica, a xylophone, a set of three flutes, and a drum. The kids love the gifts, but I am not expecting peace and quiet in our home any time soon.
One gift that we can always use more of is clothes. I need new clothes from time to time because, even though I have a fashion sense that never goes out of style, sometimes my clothes just wear out. So I tend to get a few shirts every year. And it’s not just me, the children need new clothes all of the time. They both seem to be going through growth spurts right now, so they need to update their wardrobe even faster than they can wear holes in the knees of their jeans. When they do get new clothes, other clothes get retired, set aside, or given away. We say goodbye to some clothes and thanks to grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, hello to another set of clothes.
This is the metaphor that Paul is working with here in our passage from the book of Colossians. There is an old set of clothes that we used to wear, but now they are to be retired. They no longer fit, they are worn out, or they just aren’t appropriate. Paul gives us not one, but two vice lists in Colossians chapter three alone, the first one coming in verse 5, which says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”
The word that we translate as “put to death” is the Greek word νεκρόω, which is where we get the English word necropsy from. νεκρόω also can be defined as “wearing out,” something has passed its useful date. These things, these vices are like clothes that no longer fit, they are no longer appropriate. They have literally been worn out.
Looking at the second vice list, we find Paul continuing this concept of shedding and retiring these outdated and worn out clothes: “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
The first vice list deals with issues of the flesh and sexual temptations. The second has to do with things that come out of your mouth: angry words, hurtful words, and filthy language. Are these exhaustive lists of the vices that Paul sees? Of course not. What he is doing is naming for us a few things that we should be working on. Take these practices off, like you would take off an old, worn-out garment.
But you can’t just take off the worn-out garment. Remember, lust was one of Paul’s concerns. No, you must clothe yourself with something new. And this something new comes from your knowledge of the image of the Creator. Oh, wait. One problem. Nobody has ever seen God. Well, Moses saw God’s back once, but nobody has seen really seen God. So how can we clothe ourselves based on God’s image?
Paul answers this earlier in this letter, in chapter 1, verse 15, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Jesus at one point says, “I and the Father are one,” and at another time, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” So if you want to know what you are to put on when you take off those old, worn-out clothes, you are called to put on Jesus who is the image of the invisible God. When you remove the vices that Paul names you are to clothe yourself with the virtues of Christ. But just what does that mean?
Let’s keep working with this idea of clothing ourselves in Jesus. Getting dressed can be a challenge some days. I really don’t put a lot of effort into it, but I at least try to avoid some mistakes when I get dressed. The belt and the shoes should be the same color. If you have a brown belt, wear brown shoes. If you wear a black belt, you probably should wear black shoes. This is why Chuck Norris always wears black shoes. (Did you know Chuck Norris is 72 years old? I need to get a Total Gym.) What belt/shoes you wear is determined by the color of the shirt that you wear. If you wear a navy shirt, you don’t wear a black belt/shoes. I didn’t know any of this before I got married, so getting dressed took a lot less time when I was a bachelor.
If we turn to our scripture for today, we find Paul telling what we should be putting on to be more like Jesus. In verses 12-13 he writes, “…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Just as the vice list was not intended to be a list of all of the things we are to take off, this virtue list is not intended to be a complete list of the things we are to put on. But it gets the ball rolling in the right direction. However, this list is long enough. I feel like I need a cheat sheet or something to keep these things in mind as I try to live my day to day life. Maybe I could get an app for my phone or something that would help me to remember all of these virtues: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. They all start with consonants, so I really can’t even make an acronym out of them (ckhgpf?). Clothing yourself with the virtues of Christ can be even more challenging than getting dressed in the morning.
If you can’t remember these virtues, Paul suggests that we just remember one: love. Remember to love one another because love binds all other virtues together. Paul actually says that love is “over” all of these other virtues. The connotation here is not that love is the greater virtue, that love is greatest virtue of all virtues. 1 Corinthians chapter 13 might say that, but here Paul is saying that love is the outside layer of all other virtues. It is the first thing that people come in contact with and it defines the boundaries of these other virtues. So as you clothe yourself in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and foregiveness, make sure to wrap up this new wardrobe with a jacket of love.
You are all smart people, so you know that this is not some lovey-dovey mushy kind of love. This isn’t the kind of love I have for puppies and it isn’t the kind of love I have for Christmas cookies. We are talking about agape, the kind of love that Jesus put on full display for us.
For centuries Christians have been trying to figure out what it means to love with the agapic love of Christ. One of the best known theologians/philosophers of modern times was Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard wrote in the first half of the 19th century and was often critical of organized religion and the ways that the church was failing to live out the teachings of Jesus.
One of Kierkegaard’s greatest collection of writings is called Works of Love. This book, which has been criticized by many, still possesses challenging teachings on what it means to love your neighbor. One thing that Kierkegaard suggests is that we love others with our eyes closed. What he is saying is that we should not show love for others bases on what they can give us in return or how much value someone else has by society’s standards. Love is not about what we can get in return. Love isn’t even about getting that good feeling that we get from doing good. For Kierkegaard, agape is about giving something of yourself to help someone else, even if that will never come back to you, that the person receiving the gift cannot reciprocate the love, charity, or grace that you offer. It is the love that Jesus showed when he ate with the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. It is the love that Jesus showed us when he gave his life on the cross.
In the final week of October, a tropical storm developed over the western part of the Caribbean and became known as Hurricane Sandy. For almost 10 days, this Hurricane devastated the Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, as well as other neighboring countries before heading up the east coast of the United States, gaining strength as it traveled north. By the time the winds had dissipated, the storm had affected 24 states, hitting heavily-populated New York City the hardest. Rivers of floodwater flowed down the streets where taxis and buses usually drove. 253 people lost their lives because of Hurricane Sandy and approximately 65.6 billion dollars’ worth of damage was done, making it the second most costly hurricane in US history, only after Hurricane Katrina. People were left homeless and hopeless.
But the rest of us have not forgotten those affected by the hurricane. There have been benefit concerts and fund raising events held with the intention of helping those who lost homes in this storm. Relief teams have gone in to clear the wreckage and rebuild the cities and towns. I have a friend from Ohio who works for an electric company, putting up lines. He spent almost a month in New York, coming home just before Thanksgiving. And just last Monday, on Christmas Eve, our district came together and brought items for relief buckets to send towels, toiletries, and other essential items to those who lost everything.
What’s in it for these generous people, willing to give of their time and their money in effort to bring some relief to the victims of Hurricane Sandy? No, this is not about what the giver will receive in return. This is the love that we are to clothe ourselves in. This is what it looks like to wrap yourself in agape.
Just over two weeks ago 26 people lost their lives in a mass murder in Newtown, CN that left most of us just shaking our heads and asking why. And the thing that makes this event all the more sickening is the fact that of the 26 people that were killed, 20 of them were children; elementary school-aged children between the ages of 5 and 10. 20-year-old Adam Lanza broke into the school at 9:30 am and fired somewhere around 100 bullets, including the one that took his own life.
As the details of this shooting came out, we heard stories of teachers hurrying their students off to closets, bathrooms, and other secluded areas to avoid contact with the shooter. We also heard stories of teachers acting as human shields, stepping between the gunman and the children, taking a bullet themselves to save the lives of these young children.
What led these teachers to step in harm’s way, to give their lives for the lives of these children? This is what it looks like to clothe yourself in love.
These examples seem a bit extreme and I do not want to scare anyone away from sharing the love that we have been called to. Average people show love as well. Recently a 25-year-old man in Texas was pulled over because he had an expired inspection sticker on his car. When the police officer asked him why he had not got the car re-inspected, the man said that he didn’t have any kind of fancy or creative excuse. He just told the officers that times are tough and that he had to make the decision between feeding his children or getting the car inspected.
The officer wrote him a ticket, handed it to the young man and drove away. When the man unfolded his citation he found a crisp $100 bill inside. The police officer has been identified but has asked to remain anonymous.
What does the officer have to gain from his generosity? He rejected fame, he got no promotion at work. No, he showed us what it means to clothe yourself in love.
But loving others does not have to cost you a dime. Over the last few weeks we have been spending a lot of time with friends and family in Ohio, Nebraska, and now in Virginia. As the primary care giver for our children, I tend to change my fair share of diapers. I spend a lot of time trying to get children to eat food that they consider to be icky. As much of a blessing as these children are, every now and then it is nice to have some help. I’ve changed a lot less diapers and cleaned a lot less pureed sweet potatoes off the children and myself over the last few weeks.
What do our friends and family members have to gain from changing a diaper? No, they aren’t doing it because there is something in it for them. They are doing it because as they put on a diaper, they are also clothing themselves in love.
Farmers put down their pitchforks and pick up a hammer to rebuild New York City. A teacher steps in front of a bullet to save a five-year-old child. A police officer in Texas gives a citation along with the money to pay it to a young father in need. And friends and relatives get their hands dirty to change the diaper of a child that will never say thanks, or even remember the event. Paul tells us to put on these virtues and to cover them all with love. We are to clothe ourselves in the self-sacrificial love of Christ.
As we near the beginning of 2013, I want to encourage you to take off the old, worn-out clothes of selfishness, immorality, and idolatry and to instead clothe yourself in love. And if you want to see what love looks like, look to Jesus.