“With All Your Soul”
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
September 17, 2017
Phil and I recently met with a woman who hates herself. Anyone who met her would say she was delightful and successful and blessed. But what goes on inside her is very different. When we were together Phil asked her if the voice in her head was ever nice to her. She said, “No. All I hear is that I will never be good enough, never be worthy, never be loved. And it will be my fault.” Then Phil asked her, “How long have you told yourself these things?” She looked at both of us and she said, “My whole life.” She could not remember a time when her internal monologue was kind to her. Instead, she has—for years, decades—been wrapped up in shame and regret and self-hatred.
None of you in this room know this woman. She is not even a member of the church. You have never met her. Except you have probably met someone like her. Or even felt the same way as her. For her condition is not rare. Too many of us have, as the old hymn puts it, “sin-sick souls.” Our outsides make us seem just fine but on our insides is a liar, a deceiver who is having a field day dressing us down.
This is an unacceptable way to live, of course. Unacceptable because your life is too precious for this but also unacceptable because we are called to love God with our whole soul. And that is impossible to do if we let the liar bind up our souls in his straight-jacket. So how do we do it? Not all of us, thanks be to God, have this kind of soul sickness but we all have some battle that we face within ourselves. So how, then, can we love God with our whole soul?
Answering that question is the core of why we come together. It is the center of who we are as a community. The first part of the answer is that we come here to be reminded again that we don’t have to wear the liar’s straight-jacket. Here we get told there is another outfit. Paul puts it this way: “When you were baptized in Christ, you were also clothed with him.” Here is the place we come back to because here we remember that we get to wear Jesus. Paul is probably remembering the way people were baptized in his time. The person would strip away their old clothes and step into the baptismal font naked. Once they were baptized in Jesus’ name, they were given a white robe to wear.
That’s what happens to us. All those old outfits you are wearing: clothes of shame or grief or hate, they get stripped away. Because you are God’s child, you get a new outfit. Instead of the old clothes, you get to wear Jesus. When it all comes down to it, this is who we are as a community. We are simply people who are grateful for a new outfit.
The second part of the answer of how we love God with our souls is this: we don’t do it on our own. We let our clothes help. This Jesus outfit we wear keeps our souls safe. It is why clothes exist in the first place, right? They were created so that our bodies would be protected from the elements. Our Jesus outfit does the same thing. Remember when God clothes Adam and Eve before they leave the Garden of Eden? No matter what he won’t send them out without some protection. Jesus does that. He covers us with himself, protecting our souls from the lies that would bind us up. He lays in between our fragile soul and all the lies and hurt that seek to harm us. All we need do is be grateful.
We are also grateful because this outfit changes us, Jesus literally refashions us, making us more and more into his shape. We know that clothes have the power to change us. We wear a suit and we feel one way. We wear a stovepipe hat and fake beard and we certainly feel another. What we wear affects how we act and how we see ourselves.
For me the piece of clothing with the most power over me is this robe. This sewn piece of fabric almost kept me from becoming a pastor! I hated the robe. I never wanted to wear it. Mostly because it scared me. I didn’t know how to become what it demanded I become. I didn’t like that it would restrict me—wouldn’t be such a great thing to yell at somebody with stole flying! So I didn’t want to wear it.
But then I did. And it has been one of the biggest surprises I’ve had as a pastor. Because, far from being awful, it has been a great gift. Putting on the robe calls me back to who I want to be. It reminds me of what matters and what doesn’t. Perhaps, strangely, it makes me feel safe. Even its restrictions feel comforting because it keeps me from what I know I don’t want anyway. And it gives me my purpose and a job to do. This black fabric with its zipper and two pockets does that for me. And pastors would not be the only ones who could tell this tale. Ask any doctor in her lab coat or teacher in his school’s official shirt and they would probably say the same. Our clothes can have that kind of power over us and for us.
So it is incredible to realize that this is what Jesus does. He covers you with himself and, in doing that, he calls you back to who you long to be. He reminds you of what matters and what doesn’t. He gives you purpose and he gives you a job to do. And he also keeps wrapped around you, reshaping you until his outfit becomes a better and better fit and you start to look a lot like Jesus has fashioned you.
When your time in this family of faith has given that to you, when it has reminded you that you are covered and your soul can be safe in him, when you have been changed so that the liar doesn’t get a say because you are shaped by Jesus, that is when you have loved God with your whole soul. And when you have met someone here and they knew by your outfit that Jesus could clothe them too, then we, together, have fulfilled this greatest of his commands.
“When you were baptized in Christ, you were also clothed with him.” That is what Paul writes. And thank God we are because how else could we love him with our whole soul? You cannot defeat the deceiver alone and he will dress you down all day long. But you have another outfit, one that dresses you up. Wear him: for the safety of your own soul. Wear him: for the souls that need to see your outfit. Wear him: because wearing him will fashion you into what you were always meant to be. Amen.