Sermon for Proper 23
The Rev. Daniel Wade McClain
Back in March, when the pandemic hit, I found that i needed to come into the office most days of the week. Of course, it was just me for the first couple weeks, and then slowly other folks starting coming in. But even by May, usually only 2–3 of us would be in the entire building at one time.
And during that time, especially as it got warmer, my attention to my priestly dress code slipped quite a bit. I stopped wearing my collar, I wore jeans, and then as the temperature climbed, I wore shorts. I drifted from office shoes to sneakers and then to sandals.
For most of America, office culture became very casual as many of us worked from home.
We held zoom meetings during working hours in the same slippers we wore as we made our morning coffee. Students attended their classes in pajamas. For many, this new casual dress code was a relief.
For others, however, the loss of their uniform was less welcome because it symbolized the loss of routine, the loss of that daily rhythm that helped to structure their work, their vocation, their community.
Is what we wear important? Are the clothes we adorn ourselves with anything more than the window dressing that covers up the real substance that’s under the skin?
So, you can understand that when I read today’s gospel about getting kicked out of the party for lack of the proper attire, I winced a little.
Why is hippie Jesus fussing about dress codes, and why the harsh punishment? Has Jesus become a bouncer at the Father’s elite country club? “Excuse me sir, we require gentlemen to wear a jacket in order to eat in the Son of Man dining room.”
Passages like these, wherein we find ourselves scratching our heads in utter disorientation at Jesus’ conclusion, are prime occasions for remembering that great rule of interpretation: clearer passages help us to interpret less clear and obscure passages.
Where have we heard, especially in the New Testament, clear teaching about putting on special clothing?
Jesus does not say much about what you wear, but Paul has a lot to say metaphorically about what we wear. You might remember what he says about putting on the armor of faith. Here’s what he says to the Church in Rome.
Roman 13:12–14: “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
He expands this teaching in his letter to the Galatians.
Galatians 3:27-28: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Putting on Christ obviously doesn’t mean putting on a physical jacket, or a special wedding garment. Instead, it’s adopting a new identity, one that makes us Christ’s. Putting on Christ means we belong to Christ, we belong at the party. If we are Christ’s, we are not our own anymore. In fact, we have become one with each other in this new garment, this identity in Christ. Putting on Christ means we have come to identify ourselves with transformation and repentance, mercy and grace, and above all, the Father’s all embracing welcome.
Last week, we talked about Francis of Assisi, and his story of stripping off all the clothes that were really his father’s property so he could give himself to Christ unencumbered. Of course, Francis did not go about naked after that. He adopted a simple outfit, a “habit,” that reflected his commitment to finding Christ in the poor, the sick, and the destitute.
This is an example of putting on Christ, but it’s not the only one.
Transformation and repentance, mercy and grace, the Father’s all embracing welcome. We see these in Francis and countless other saints, both those known and those unknown.
In the midst of this time, this pandemic, we all have had a lot stripped away. And if we’re paying attention, we might be seeing our lives more clearly now.
So let me ask: Are you wearing clothes that belong to someone else? What has been stripped away from you? What habits have you been wearing that you’d be fine without?
And maybe you’ve been invited to put on Christ, perhaps for the first time, or perhaps just in a new way. If you haven’t, the Spirit invites you to do that now. Put on Christ. Become part of the fabric of the Church, become one with us all in Christ.