I thought about doing that here to mark Labor Day. I wonder how we would have looked this morning if we all came dressed for work. Some of us would have had easily recognizable ‘uniforms’ perhaps. Maybe there would be a sea of red competing with a sea of green as farmers showed their implement preference.
Sometimes you can tell a lot about someone by the clothes they wear. And people dress to make a statement. Sometimes people choose their clothing as a way of saying who they are. And sometimes our clothing says why we’ve come, what we’re doing. I know that when I get up in the morning, I think about what it is I have to do that day. Am I working around the house or in the yard? Is it a work day and will I need to wear the ‘uniform’ of my office – the clerical collars?
You know, what we wear matters – like it or not, people get their first impression of us from how we are dressed.
This morning Paul talks about dressing a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. First he says to “put on the armor of light”. Then he goes on to say “put on Jesus”
That phrase caught my attention:
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ
What does that mean - to put on Jesus???
I have been intrigued with this idea since my Greek class. You see, I had to translate this passage as a class assignment. The thing I learned in Greek class is that sometimes things really do get lost in translation. And, for me, this passage was one of those moments.
I discovered the verb that we translate “put on” was used for putting on clothing. We would probably translate it today “Get dressed in Jesus.” It could also refer to getting ready for battle – to put on your battle gear, especially the protective armor. We might translate it “Suit up” or “Get your gear on” or “Gear up”. Hmmm. “Gear up with Jesus?” “Get your Jesus gear on?”
In Greek, one would say an actor “put on” his character – it’s the same verb. It indicated the focus which an actor needed to assume his role. In those times, an actor would wear a robe and mask as his costume. The actor’s identity was hidden, and he took on the identity of the role.
So what does it mean to put on Jesus? And how does one do so?
It’s interesting that the reading from Romans starts out talking about love: about owing only the debt of love, about love fulfilling all the commandments. If we look at Jesus and his ministry on earth, one thing that stands out is his radical, all-inclusive, extravagant love for everyone. So we can start by putting on love – dressing ourselves in Jesus’ love. That love becomes our armor.
But we aren’t talking about a sloppy, sentimental, feel-good love here. No - we are talking about love that brings life, that makes whole, that completes, that fulfills. This love is sometimes tender, as when Jesus blessed the children; sometimes healing, like when Jesus looked with compassion on two blind men sitting by the road side and healed them. Sometimes the love is tough - just think of last week’s gospel reading when Jesus corrected Peter, challenging him to look beyond his own perceptions to see what God was doing right there, right then. And sometimes, that love was even harsh - as when Jesus dealt with the Pharisees. In love, Jesus chastised them, calling them to face their own self-righteousness, to move beyond it to God’s true righteousness.
In the gospel reading today, there is a detailed plan on how to deal with a member who sins against another member. Sometimes it’s tempting to gloss over that passage – but if you really look at it, you can see love. I mean - do you just go to the whole church and denounce the other person? Do you go around telling everyone how the other persons offended you?
No! Instead, you go to that person privately and try to resolve the issue. And in doing so, you are seeking reconciliation in a spirit of love. Each of the steps outlined has love and kindness at the base of it – consideration for both parties and a spirit of reconciliation.
The epistle starts out talking about love: that if one truly loves, one does no harm to the neighbor. And we never finish paying our debt of love. Our call to love goes on forever.
Love is the first step in putting on Jesus.
The love talked about here has everything to do with our gathering today, our weekly celebration of this community of believers. God clothes us with this love from the moment of our baptism. When we are baptized, we are “clothed with God’s mercy and forgiveness.” God wraps us in Jesus.
And swaddled in Jesus, we are embraced by this family of God.
We spend our lives learning how to live out our baptism. It’s an on-going process. Martin Luther said that the baptismal life is daily dying to sin and rising anew in God’s mercy and forgiveness and love. It is daily waking from the darkness and putting on the armor of light, just as Paul tells us to do in Romans. Living our baptism is daily putting on Jesus, putting on his divine love.
Sometimes we ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” Maybe you even have WWJD on a bracelet or key chain or a bumper sticker on your car. It’s become a catchphrase among Christians. But when we really ask “WWJD?”, we find the first answer is love.
Jesus would do love.
And when we put on Jesus, the very first thing we put on is his love.
So what does it mean to put on Jesus?
How do we live as children dressed in the baptismal life our Father has given us?
What does it look like to be a community where Jesus is present every time two or more of us are gathered?
Let’s suit up in our Jesus gear and find out! From now until All Saints Sunday, we are going to be exploring the epistle readings. Paul did a lot of preaching about the gospel in his letters, but he also spent a lot of time teaching the new communities of believers about how to live as citizens, not of this world, but of the kingdom of God. Over the next several weeks, we are going to learn how to dress for living in the kingdom of heaven – how to put on Jesus.
This week we start by putting on love.