A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr A ~ Pentecost 14 ~ Romans 13:8-14
Do you know what a fashionista is? It means someone who’s all consumed with having the latest clothes and styles. Do you know what a fashion faux pas is? It means someone who has made an unfortunate clothing choice. Do you know what a fashion victim is? It means a partner who actually answered their partner’s question “How does this look on me?” (j/k)
As the back to school ads fill the airwaves and newspapers at this time of year I always get a feeling that I should freshen up my wardrobe. This year being what it is I’m doing that shopping online. It’s hard to try on clothes online. I keep scrolling through possibilities, imagining what they’ll look like on me, mentally trying them on for size. It makes it really hard to decide. I’m certainly no fashionista.
And I don’t know if the apostle Paul was a fashionista either, but I love his “clothes-line” from Romans 13:11-14 today. He says,
“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it’s now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you think he means like I put on 20 outfits online? I don’t think so. Putting on Christ is nothing like slipping on a jacket, even in-person in a store. You can’t put on Christ nearly that quickly. You can’t slip Christ on and spin around in front of the mirror to see how you look all decked out in Christ, then decide that style of Christ doesn’t fit you all that well and so you just slip it off and try on another one. That’s not what we’re talking about.
Maybe Paul means it more like long underwear in the middle of winter! You know, “Put on the Lord like long johns right next to your skin – something that’ll move with you wherever you turn and will keep you warm and cozy in the big bad world.” Nope, I don’t think that’s it either.
Maybe it’s closer to the stories I heard about the Olympic swimmers who take a half hour to squeeze themselves into their high-tech bathing suits. Maybe putting on Christ is like that – times 1000! But even that’s not right yet.
Putting on the armour of light – putting on Christ – putting on Faith – isn’t an outside job – it’s an inside job. (Ever spill some liquid on your pants and go around assuring everyone that it was an outside job?) You don’t pull faith on over top of your life. Faith can never be an add-on. To continue our fashion metaphor, Faith is not an accessory!
I don’t know where this idea started that faith is some external thing you ‘turn to in times of trouble’ – or that faith is something you do at church on Sunday. But whoever started that thinking did us all a grave disservice. So yes, we should put on the Lord Jesus Christ – but we need to put him on the inside where he belongs!
I once heard the idea of dating described as the process of trying on different people until you find one that fits. I like that. But what does that really mean? It certainly doesn’t literally mean you try to wear your prospective partner like a jacket! It means you hang out with them, get to know them as best you can, discuss life with them to see if your values line up ok, introduce them to the things you love and try the things they love. No one’s perfect, but some people ‘fit’ better than others. (And just like my fraught online shopping experience you really need to try people on in person. Things in real life often look ‘different’ from their online picture!)
I think that’s what Paul means ‘putting on Jesus’ is like – not the ‘don’t trust pictures’ part, the first part. Paul wants to remind us to ‘wear’ Jesus (on the inside), because Jesus fits! But now we’re left with the question of how does one wear Jesus? How do we know he fits? Well, in some ways it’s just like trying on dates. The big thing is you hang out with him and get to know him the best you can. You try to align your values with his, and you learn to love the things Jesus loves.
Ok, do I need to stop here and remind us that this is all a metaphor again? We’re not really putting on Jesus the 2000 year old Jewish carpenter’s son. We’re putting on ‘God’ – God’s ways, God’s holiness, God’s shalom – but our brains can’t begin to grasp God so we focus on Jesus because we can relate more to him. To “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” means to lay claim to the love of God that’s deep inside your soul and live that out in your life.
Here’s another thing to consider – it doesn’t say “try on the Lord” it says “put on the Lord”. Paul is talking to followers of the Way of Jesus, not potential converts. This message is for insiders – for us – the one’s who’ve already tried God on, accepted the wonderful, awesome revelation that God fits better than we could ever have hoped or imagined, and have lived in God’s light for some time. That’s us!
It’s an encouragement to keep on keeping on, dig in, have at it, be persistent.
It’s a perfect text for September, with all its back to school and back to church energy after a summer off. September always feels like it’s a time to recommit and get back to work.
If Paul was addressing us today he might say,
“Besides, you know what’s going on – and that now’s the time to wake up and smell the coffee. Now’s the time! And it’s a great time to be here! You’re deeper than you were when you started – the old ways are history, you live in the light now. So set aside all that dark stuff and put on the armour of light. Live honourably and ethically like in the light of day, not like you might be tempted to do in the dark when you think no one’s looking. Nah, you’re not about darkness – you’re about light. So put on the Lord Jesus Christ, on the inside, and live faithfully.” [Romans 13:11-14]
So today’s sermon is about getting back to it. Our text from Romans shows Paul giving a pep talk to the Roman church urging them to do just that. Obviously, this is in response to Paul hearing that they’d fallen away from it somewhat and needed a pep talk to set things straight. Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone’s gone astray here – but I also don’t want this September start-up to be just another ‘let’s get back to work’ time.
If we hear and accept Paul’s challenge, then our question of the day is ‘how to put on Christ?’ – Or in other words, ‘how to grow in discipleship?’ Whatever I say here you need to know that it’s not one size fits all. There’s no magic program or workshop that’ll flip your switch and float your boat and guarantee to turn you into a super-disciple. That’s hard for us to hear because we’re inundated with seductive advertising and quick-fix promises all the time.
Do you know what ‘click bait’ is? It means to have a catchy or provocative title that prompts someone to click your internet link. Preachers have been doing this forever! Clever, punny titles are a clergy mainstay! My message today is called “You’re Putting Me On!” Get it?!
Unfortunately, a life of faith doesn’t lend itself to click bait solutions. You can’t do ‘7 steps to be like Jesus’, or ‘5 perfect prayers for busy people’, or ‘You’ve heard the first 10 commandments, you’ll be amazed at the 11th’! Nothing of substance actually works that way.
Faith isn’t…clickable – it’s an immersion.
It’s a lifelong process of growing and refining. And it takes a monumental commitment to go there. Faith can never be just an accessory or an add-on.
Faith is a way of life – a Way of life!
And it’s a Way that requires intentionality. Intentionality. That really is the key. Nobody ever grows a deep and vibrant faith by accident. And nobody ever gets to click a magic link on the interwebs and skip over all the hard work.
Yes, I’m saying a life of faith is very hard work. Intentional, committed, purposeful, work.
“Ah c’mon Larry. You’re putting me on. Church is supposed to be easy and breezy. Pray a prayer and make life better. Tune-in to online worship and get my check mark for the week. Right?”
I sincerely hope no one watching/reading actually thinks like that. I’m pretty sure that’s just a caricature, and that the people of Faith are really people of faith!
Putting on Christ is something that needs to be constantly cultivated, renewed, and refreshed. It’s a huge, lifelong undertaking – far too huge to tackle on your own. Thank God you don’t have to. I think intentionality is absolutely the most important requirement for growing in faith, and I’d say the next most important requirement is to have faithful companions to journey alongside. Friends, that’s a church! Fellow journeyers who not only accompany us and support us, but encourage us, and hold us accountable, as we do for them. We don’t just put on Christ on our own – we put on Christ together.
Paul encourages us to put on Christ, and keep putting on Christ – to intentionally fling ourselves into the rushing flow of the Holy Spirit and to let ourselves get carried away – over and over again. One of our main tasks as a community of faith, then, is to provide encouragement, space, and opportunities for us to fling ourselves into. Thankfully, Faith United is exactly that kind of place. It’s going to take us a bit of time to figure out how to do some of that in our current reality, but there are already many ways available through this church for growing ever deeper. Worship is certainly one of them – maybe the main one. More will be coming into focus in the coming weeks as our annual ‘Program Calendar’ takes shape.
Jesus never promised a quick-fix, click-bait faith.
Neither did Paul.
They said, each in their own way, that this is an inside job that never ends. That’s something we emphasize every week.
Ever deeper into the Way of Jesus. That’s how we end every worship service here. That’s my benediction every week. Know that you’re blessed as you journey ever deeper into the Way of Jesus.
Ever deeper means we’re never done going deep!
Ever deeper means we’re never deep enough.
Ever deeper means we’re always on the journey – that there’s always more to learn, and experience, and understand, and revel in. That our faith will grow ever deeper – that our compassion will grow ever deeper – that our integrity and sense of justice will grow ever deeper – that our love will grow ever deeper.
I know you know that. And I also know that from time to time we all get distracted, and overwhelmed, and can lose sight of the path that we’ve walked on together for so long. So we turn to encouragers like Paul to call us back – or urge us on.
Listen to that paraphrase of Romans 13:11-14 again:
“Besides, you know what’s going on – and that now’s the time to wake up and smell the coffee. Now’s the time! And it’s a great time to be here! You’re deeper than you were when you started – the old ways are history, you live in the light now. So set aside all that dark stuff and put on the armour of light. Live honourably and ethically like in the light of day, not like you might be tempted to do in the dark when you think no one’s looking. Nah, you’re not about darkness – you’re about light. So put on the Lord Jesus Christ, on the inside, and live faithfully.”
And we do. We absolutely do. And we will continue to do so in new and creative ways as we navigate the season we find ourselves in.
We’ll do it with great intentionality – and we’ll do it together – day by day, journeying ever deeper into the Way of Jesus.
And in my imagination I see Jesus smiling and saying “I love the way you’re putting me on!”