God as clothing – Sermon on Colossians 3

The following sermon was preached by Deb Whalen at Wine Before Breakfast on January 17.

It all began in the garden. A loving and shrewd God squinting at Adam and Eve.

“Who told you you were naked?”

It’s ironic that Adam and Eve’s first lie was an attempt at covering up their wrongdoing, and they chose to make it about their need to cover up their bodies. And we’ve been dealing with the fallout ever since. Because of Adam and Eve, every one of us, each and every day stands in front of our closet, asking:

“What am I going wear?”

By this point in our lives, as evidenced by all the fully clothed people in the room today, we’ve all learned to dress ourselves, no longer relying on someone else to choose our outfits on for us. Even those of us for whom getting dressed is merely a basic necessity, we’ve figured out at least what doesn’t work. What colours we hate and won’t wear. What fabrics we simply cannot bear because they are a punishment to our skin. And we know generally what size we like to wear, even if it is too big, like some of our most forthright friends and family will insist on telling us. Perhaps some of us have adopted a bit of a uniform, with a number of items in our closet that are in multiples. 3 plain black or white t-shirts, a few button up shirts, maybe one white and another a darker colour. A sweater or a cardigan. A pair or two of jeans. 1 pair of “nice” pants, or a skirt that goes with anything, and a bare minimum amount of shoes. Perhaps you have assembled a wardrobe of pieces that are interchangeable with one another so that when you get up in the morning, the decision making comes down to whatever is cleanest. And then at the end of the week, one load of laundry resets the whole situation and you can begin again on Monday.

But for others, getting dressed is FUN. There’s a creativity involved that allows us to match colours and patterns and fabrics. Even in the winter, a fashion-excited (and weather-savvy) person can check the temperature and think “Minus 15. Right. That means either the black or green cardigan. Am I feeling sleek and mysterious today, or do I need a pop of colour? You know what? It’s going to be grey all day, so green it is. Which means the white button up, and… I can wear my teal plaid pants with the brown boots. Great. I love these boots!” For some, calculating an outfit can be as exciting as redesigning a room in one’s house, or choosing a subject and colour palate for a new painting, and we can spend as much time as we are afforded on exploring all the possibilities. Not to mention the bonus of the endorphin rush that comes with shopping for more and more possibilities.

Each of us in the room will fall at various places along this spectrum of how we feel about dressing ourselves every day. And we might even harbour some judgements about people who approach it differently to us. And I hope you don’t expect me to tell you who is right. I don’t believe in a Biblical dress code, so far as what is appropriate to wear. Because I don’t think it matters. Frankly I am far more interested in WHY we dress the way we do. Because whether the wardrobe you have is styled after Johnny Cash or Moira Rose, it is a sad fact that many people wear their clothes as a means of covering up more than just their bare, cold skin.

Some of us are covering up bodies we hate -or at least bodies we think could be better. Men, women, and non-binary people alike, for so many different reasons, often desire different bodies than the ones we have, and while things like exercise, diet and plastic surgeries can (for better or worse) help us change those bodies, in the interim, clothing allows us to deal with the ways we feel our bodies are falling short.

Brenda mentioned in this week’s email that I spent a long time working in retail -and it’s true. For over 10 years I worked as a bra-fitter, working with people of all shapes and sizes, and I saw, in a very intimate way, how impacted we are by the expectations of how we think we should look. But I actually want to tell a personal story, from long before my bra-fitting years. All the way back to my adolescence.

I went to high school in the 90s, and I was a grunge-era, artsy kid. I was a girl who didn’t feel beautiful. I was bigger than the pretty girls. I didn’t fit into any of the trendy clothes at the mall. So I wore baggy jeans and tshirts. That was my uniform. Even at summer camp, because I didn’t want anyone to see my arms or legs. I LOVED being in the water, but I dreaded those few seconds it took me to remove my outer layers and get my bathing-suited self into the obscurity of the water. I was so ashamed of my body.

When I was 17, I got a solo in one of our school variety shows and the number required me to wear a look that was more formal than I was used to. The director told me to bring in 2 or 3 dress options and she and my dance teacher would decide which was best. I had nothing at home, I was sure, that would be appropriate, so my mom took me shopping and we found a few long dresses that would cover up my legs, and were very in style, and even though they made me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable and awkward, I took them to school and shuffled out onto the stage in one dress after the other, while the program director and the dance teacher hemmed and hawed over them, from the safety of the seats in the back.

I can’t remember what I ended up wearing in that show, but I remember as clear as if it were yesterday, what happened next. My dance teacher, Ms. Frid, a gorgeous and toned woman with full, luscious dark hair rolling down her back, waved me to the back of the auditorium so she could speak to me privately. It was just the two of us, and she was careful and kind, but very direct: “I can see that these outfits you’ve been showing us are very different to what you wear from day to day, and that it’s making you a little uncomfortable, so I just wanted to encourage you a bit. You wear a lot of oversized, baggier clothes, and if that’s for the sake of comfort or intentional style, then more power to you. But if you are trying to hide a body that you think is ugly, please hear me when I tell you it is not. What I just saw up there on that stage is a body that is strong and feminine and beautiful and if you want to, you are allowed to show it off.”

Well. It was one of the most vulnerable and important moments in all my life. The idea of being beautiful was so bone alien to me. So I muttered, “Ok thank you.” And then ran to the bathroom where I locked myself into a stall and bawled my eyes out. Part of me was scared, part of me was confused, and most miraculously, part of me wondered if Ms. Frid could be right. Maybe I wasn’t hideous. Thank God I was already in counselling, and had someone to talk to about it. And I am thankful, every day, for that turning point where the voice of the Holy Spirit, through a perceptive dance teacher, was able to break through the walls I’d built up around myself. I was hiding more than just a body behind all those baggy clothes. I was also hiding a lot of anxiety and self-loathing. But still, all of a sudden, that voice reached into the heart of me and asked:

“Who told you you were ugly?”

I had fallen victem to all the voices that surround us every day, telling us we aren’t acceptable the way we are. We need to be smarter. Faster. Prettier. Stronger. Have more followers. Be married. Have children. Play the game. Wow the judges -no matter who you need to step over or throw under the bus. It’s been a long time since I was a teen-ager, and I’m sorry to say that none of these lying, incessant voices have gone away. But I have learned to distinguish God’s voice from the din, because God doesn’t talk like them. God doesn’t need me to do, say, achieve, wear or look like anything in order to be a beloved child in the Kingdom. But the transformation that can happen when we accept that we already belong… it is life-changing. And, in fact, it comes with a functional and gorgeous new wardrobe.

“The Great Spirit has chosen you to be his holy and deeply loved children, so put on the new regalia he has provided for you. Put on the deep feeling for the pain of others, kindness, humbleness of heart, gentleness of spirit, and be patient with one another. Learn to forgive. Be thankful.”

God doesn’t just hold out unconditional, affectionate loving kindness; God wraps us in it. We wear it like a warm coat. And as we come across those who are shivering, naked, and hiding in the bushes, we need to do our best to coax them to come out so we. In turn, can wrap that loving kindness around them. When we’re not worrying over ourselves and whether or not we measure up, we are free to move through the world with an ease that will make any outfit sing, and more importantly it frees us up to care for one another. To beckon and welcome more people to the Kingdom and to put on all this stunning regalia.

This is how the Kingdom gets built. With the very fabric of compassion and empathy. With humility and gentleness of spirit and gratitude. These are things that mark Christ-followers and set us apart from a world that wants us to compete with one another, to cover up our faults, to hide our true selves. God doesn’t want us to hide. He wants us to be transformed. We’re already made in God’s image, what we’re shedding is the façade that we create when we give into the pressures of earthly Kingdoms. We’re becoming more and more like God as we are renewed. More like the selves we were always meant to be. Creation is not something of the past. It is still happening, because God is still at work in us.

Even so, I’m afraid to say, clothing is still not optional. One of my favourite writers, journalist Caitlin Moran, wrote an article about women and clothing once and pointed out something that I don’t think you have to be a woman to relate to. She says that when we stand in front of our closets thinking “I have nothing to wear!” what we are actually saying is “I have nothing that looks like who I am supposed to be today!” While we do need to figure out what will be appropriate for the lives we lead from day to day -here on campus, in offices, in churches, travelling around town- I hope that urgency to demonstrate ourselves can be curbed, as Christ-followers, by knowing that the main thing we wear is our strengthening Christ-like character, that regalia God has given to us. It may seem like just a white t-shirt and jeans. Or a vintage dress. Or a jacket and tie. But how you move in those things, the confidence and kindness you show in those outfits, the forgiveness or encouragement you can give to people who don’t expect it, these are what will make people look at you twice and wonder what makes you different. It’s the royal attire we wear from the inside out, giving us our holy beauty. That is what will stop people in their tracks.

April 4 – Colossians 3:15-17

From Story to Character
Remember last week?
The whole business of not losing the plot,
of finding ourselves immersed in a new story,
the story of Jesus?
Well, this week Paul moves from story to life.
From finding the plot anew, to living it.
Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre once wrote,
I can only answer the question “What am I to do?”
if I can answer the prior question 
“Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?”
Our deepest stories provide us with a narrative
out of which we live our lives,
together with the character traits that
will move this narrative forward.
If the story is one in which progress is identified
with unceasing economic growth
resulting in the good life of consumer choice
and the accumulation of economic goods,
then it wouldn’t be surprising that such a story
produces people who are self-centred,
acquisitive, greedy, autonomous, and insatiable.
That insatiability would be permeate all of life;
from stock portfolios to real estate to sexual conquest.
But what if the story was,
Christ has died
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.
If that is the story of our life,
then how does that shape our daily living,
and more deeply,
how does that form our character?
What kind of people are we called to be
if this is the story that grounds and directs our life?
Well, says Paul, such a story
would rule out certain kinds of things
(most of which look surprising like
the consumptive lifestyle I just mentioned),
and engender another sort of character,
a character that manifests things like:
These virtues would permeate our lives so that
“whatever you do, in word or deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3.17)
I know, it all sounds great.
But there is nothing easy about any of this.
While some of us are blessed with some of these virtues,
as something that comes somehow ‘naturally’,
none of us is blessed with them all,
and none of us can grow into such virtues without work.
And if these are virtues shaped by the story of Jesus,
then dwelling deeply in his story,
allowing “the Word of Christ to dwell in you richly,” (Col. 3.16)
is surely indispensable.
That’s why we gather on Tuesday mornings.
To dwell in the story of Jesus
and be nurtured in the virtues that carry that story forward.
This week we engage in the ministry of gratitude
through our once a semester offering.
Andrew F will be preaching and presiding.
Joyce M will be serving us at the table.
Mark N is crafting our prayers.
Beth CM has curated the service.
Deb and the bandhood go folk-rock with some Blue Rodeo and “Gospel Bob” Dylan.
Wine Before Breakfast (Colossians 3.5-17)
Offering Tuesday
Tuesday, April 4 @ 7.22am
Wycliffe College Chapel.
Looking forward to seeing you this week.
Campus Pastor

March 28 – Colossians 2:16-3:4

On “losing the plot”

“He’s totally lost the plot.”

That would be the way that my British friends would describe someone who has lost touch with reality, gone a tad irrational, or perhaps (more seriously) is suffering a significant mental health breakdown.

And it’s an incredibly apt way to put it.

When you “lose the plot,” you find yourself disoriented, confused, and undoubtedly anxious, because you can’t quite put it all together. The story of your life has lost its sense of meaning, direction and hope.

It is no wonder, then, that much of what we do in personal psychotherapy is deep plot restoration. Something is amiss. The story isn’t making sense. You’ve hit a dead end. Your story has reached an impasse, a plot conflict, and you can’t find a way to resolution.

Or maybe the story has a plot that no longer rings true. Maybe there were past moments of plot tension, betrayal, trauma and perhaps abuse that make it impossible to find a new plot, a new narrative meaning to your life.

Well, that’s when we are on the precipice of “losing the plot.”

When Paul was writing to the young Christian community in Colossae, he was worried that they might lose the plot.

And well might he have worried. They were so young in their Christian faith that they didn’t yet have very deep roots in the story of Jesus. This was a plot under constant threat.

So the apostle writes to encourage their faith and to warn them.

With a sense of parental affection and protection he wants to secure them against stories, worldviews and ideologies that would strip them of their identity in Christ, rob them of their freedom in Christ, and take them captive to visions that look good, but are a sham.

In a phrase, he doesn’t want them “to lose the plot.”

And the best way not “to lose the plot” is by finding your life ever more deeply embedded in the plot-structure of the story of Jesus.

That’s why, in Colossians 2 and the beginning of chapter 3, with the repetition of the phrase “in him,” Paul persistently identifies the story of Jesus as the story of these Colossian Christians.

In him you have died.
In him you have been buried.
In him you have been raised.
So set your minds on the one who sits at the right hand of God in heaven.
For when he is revealed, so also will you be revealed.

There it is.

The basic plot line of the life of Jesus:
coming again.

Or as we so often say together in the Eucharist,
Christ has died,
Christ has risen,
Christ will come again.

And Paul is saying that the story of Jesus, is the story of his followers.
What happened to Jesus, happens to us.

Paul writes a letter to this community so they will understand the plot, and not lose it.

That’s really why we gather on Tuesday mornings as well.

Most of us have felt, at one time or another, like we are losing the plot.
We’ve had these painful experiences of our story coming apart.

And often enough, it has been a story about Jesus, or at least a particular telling of that story, a particular way in which that story has been taken up in destructive ways, that has so deeply bruised us.

So we gather at a table of remembrance. We tell the story anew, listening for a plot that sets us free, rather than holds us captive. We sing that story as a liberation song. We are invited into the story of Jesus as a healing story, a story of deep forgiveness, a story that has a plot that goes beyond death to resurrection.

We come together, dear friends, so that we don’t lose the plot.
We come together, beloved siblings, as if our life depends on this story.

And it does.

This week at Wine Before Breakfast: Colossians 2.16-3.4:

Beth CM will be preaching. She knows something about finding ourselves in the story of Jesus.
Luke will set the table and Andrew A will serve the meal of remembrance.
Kiegan has crafted our prayers.
Amanda has curated our worship.
And Deb and the bandhood are mixing up some Laura Marling, Curtis Mayfield, a little gospel and some classic hymns to help us find the plot anew, in case we were losing it.

And remember, friends, WBB is called to be a community of hospitality. So if you’ve got some friends looking for a plot to make sense out of their lives, invite them to our story-telling gathering on an early Tuesday morning.

In Christ,

Campus Pastor