”DISCOVERING JESUS: AS CLOTHING”
Galatians 3: 23-29
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
February 21, 2016
Have you ever watched an infant baptism where the baby wore a dress? You know what I mean, right? Whether a boy or a girl it was no matter. In either case they wore an all-white gown that looked like it needed to be hemmed, it was so long on the tiny child. Have you seen such a thing? Perhaps you yourself wore such a garment on your baptism day? Whether or not a person is baptized as a child or as an adult, one thing we have to respect about a baby baptism like that: they got the outfit right. The gown is far too long for them on purpose, because our baptism—no matter when it happens–is something we have to grow into.
While we may know the truth of that intrinsically, we learned it first from the Apostle Paul. He wrote a great deal about baptism and he knew for certain it was something we grew into over time. In our Galatians passage, Paul writes that it is time for that congregation to grow up a little more into their baptisms, time to fit those gowns a little better. It is time to be, what he calls, “grown up children of God”.
These are the growing pains he is talking about: when we were not baptized we needed the Law, the Torah, to guard us and discipline us. The word there is the same as is used for what we might call a nanny or a babysitter, a custodial care giver. Paul believes that is all fine while we are children in our faith. A sitter makes all the sense in the world if we are young to this life of being a Christian. But now it is time to grow up. “Faith has come,” he writes. You have been baptized. The Law as your baby sitter makes a lot less sense if you have matured.
At the core of Paul’s concern is how Jewish new Christians need to be. We have our own morality issues in the church today: sexuality and consumerism and politics to name a few. But none of these, not one, held a candle to how important a moral question the Jew/Gentile issue was for Paul and for the Church. It seems like nothing to us today but it was everything then and it threatened to tear the Church apart. To that tricky and terribly difficult and divisive issue Paul tells them: grow up. Grow into your baptism a little here please! For, in Christ, there is no longer Jew and Gentile.
This growing up, as Paul sees it, has everything to do with our clothes. We are not supposed to pretend there are no more divisions and differences BUT we are not to judge those differences because we all wear Christ now. He is our clothing and if we have put him on, then we are united with everyone else who wears him too. Scholars have looked everywhere, in all the ancient manuscripts, and they tell us that it is completely unique—this concept of wearing a person. We have examples of people putting on attributes, like being clothed in righteousness or clothed in salvation. But we are the only faith that believes we are clothed in a person; and not just any person but we wear Jesus, God’s only Son.
It is not, however, the first time God has put clothes on us though. In a passage that is oozing judgment, Adam and Eve are being kicked out of the Garden of Eden. It is perhaps the worst moment in all of scripture. It symbolizes the worst moment in all of creation. But, in the middle of all of this judgment, what does God do? God takes the time to stop and sew each of them a set of clothes. In sending his Son, God goes beyond even that and gives each of us part of himself—Jesus—to wear.
How do we respond to something like that? What does it mean for your life if you are clothed in Christ? What changes for you if that is what you wear? Paul says it means that divisions, even deep moral ones, have to be set aside. He says that the Law—which, by that, he means scripture—will get us quite a ways but that we will only know true Christian freedom if we trust Jesus, the Living Word, over the Law. Set it aside, Paul says. You needed it when you were a child in the faith but you don’t need it anymore now that you’ve grown. What?! Wow. Putting on an over-sized gown makes a lot of sense right now; for Paul is giving us a baptismal outfit we will spend our whole lives trying to grow into.
When we have fully grown into our outfit, we will see others and we will not judge them except on whether or not we see Christ wrapped around them. To us there will be no Jew or Gentile. There will be no slave nor free. To us there will be no male and female. We will see only Christ.
The enormity of that reminds me of the great G.K. Chesterton quote when he said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” It is a wild proclamation Paul gives us. It is difficult and he probably manages to offend all of us in one way or another, but he gives it anyway, hoping we will not leave it untried. Grow up, he says. No more judging. Grow into your baptisms!
This past week a woman came to the church door for assistance. I went out to greet her. I told her my name and I asked her what hers was. I reached out to shake her hand. A few minutes later our conversation was over and she was walking away. She turned back and said, “Thank you for shaking my hand.” I said I was happy to do so and why wouldn’t I. She said, “Well, my clothes are so dirty I didn’t think anyone would want to touch me. So thank you.”
I share this story because as much as we have to grow up in the way we judge others, some of us have some growing up to do regarding judgment’s companion which is shame. As much as we may judge others, we may also judge and shame ourselves. Even if our clothes are not dirty at all, we live as if they are; as if no one should want to touch us or know us or treat us with respect or show us love.
But you are clothed in Christ. The clothes of shame have got to go away. Along with judgment, there is no place for it in this outfit you wear. You may not feel worthy to wear Christ. You may not feel capable of wearing Christ. Whether you are worthy or capable, in your baptism he has clothed you. It is time to start growing into it.
For it is the simple truth of the gospel, these words from the great preacher Charles Spurgeon, the simple truth of your life that “You are always in God’s sight comely, always in God’s sight lovely, always in God’s sight as though you were perfect. For you are complete in Christ Jesus…Always do you stand completely washed and fully clothed in Christ.” Let’s wear that one for a while. Amen