Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, August 20, 2018
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Dressed For Easter

Colossians 3:1-15

 Those of you who know me will not be surprised when I say this:  I don’t really care about clothes.  I don’t like shopping for clothes.  I don’t really care how they look.  I care how they function.  I want them to keep me warm and dry.  I want my rain jacket to repel rain.  But I just don’t care about being fashionable.  I have a closet full of old clothes.  I still wear that I had in high school.  Some of them are getting a little bit holey, but they’re still in one piece.  As long as I can figure out which holes my arms go in, we’re good!

 I’m pretty sure I embarrass my wife just a little bit with my wardrobe.  She says things to me like, “We need to get the kids some new clothes for Easter.”  And I look at her like she grew a second head and say, “Why?  They already have clothes.”  

 So I was probably being a little bit tongue in cheek when I chose the title for this morning’s sermon, “Getting Dressed for Easter.”  

 The basic premise of this text comes from chapter two, verse 20:  “You have died with Christ.”  And it continues with verse one:  “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ.”  

 The imagery of baptism is being used here.  In first century Jewish culture, baptism was a rite of conversion.  Baptism was done when a non-Jew converted and became a Jew.  It was always done by immersion, submerging the person beneath the water and then lifting them out of it.  This was symbolic of the death of the old person and the rebirth of a completely new person.  Being submerged beneath the water represented death, burial; being raised up represented new life.  

 The language of changing clothes fits with this image.  When a convert was baptized they would generally take off their clothes, and after they were baptized, they would put on new clothes that had never been worn.  

 The early Christians followed in this same pattern of baptism.  It was a rite of conversion, done by immersion, and it represented the death of the old life and the start of the new.

 As new people, “Set your sights on the realities of heaven.  Think about those things.”  Now this is not meant to be escapism.  It’s not, “Oh, don’t bother me with the troubles of this world.  I’m just biding time till I go to heaven.”  It’s not meant to be an excuse for ignoring the evils of this world.  Rather this is a call for us to redefine our lives and our values in the light of

the things that will last.  Jesus Christ and the eternal values of the Kingdom of God should define our lives now.  

 The resurrection has initiated an entirely new order of humanity, a people defined by their relationship with Jesus.  As Paul says, “He is our life.  We are hidden in him.”  The word hidden here means “secure.”  Our lives and our eternity are secured in Jesus Christ.  

 The former things have passed away.  We are no longer defined by the realities of this world.  In the new life, it doesn’t matter if we are Jew or Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free.  It doesn’t matter if we are a barbarian or a Scythian, that’s the word Paul uses in verse 11.  The Greeks looked down on all other nations.  They thought they were the wisest of all people.  They called anyone who didn’t speak Greek a barbarian.  And the worst of all the barbarians were the Scythians, a people so uncivilized the Greeks considered them to be somewhere between animals and human beings.  But Paul reminds us that in Christ, all these categories are thrown out.  We are defined by our relationship to Christ.  We could keep adding to the list.  It doesn’t matter if we are male or female; rich or poor; Democrat or Republican; black, white, Hispanic, Asian, and so on.  None of that matters because Christ is all and is in all.  What a refreshing change from the endless divisiveness of our world!  

 So if we have died to the old life and risen to new life in Christ, then we should put the things of the old life to death.  Paul lists three things that belong to the old life.  The first is sexual immorality; lust and impurity.  The second is greed for the things of the world.  The third is anger and all the products of anger:  rage, slander, insults, and lies.  These things were culturally appropriate to Paul’s world.  Sexual immorality, greed, and anger were chief among the sins of the Roman Empire.  I would add they are also quite appropriate to our society!  

 Paul calls greed a form of idolatry.  Actually, all three of these were “false gods.”  Sexual immorality is the worship of Eros, the Greek goddess of lust.  Greed is the worship of Mammon, an Aramaic word used by the Hebrew people to describe the worship of money and things.  And anger is the worship of Mars, the Roman god of war and rage.  People who worship Christ have no business worshipping false gods! 

 Instead, we should “put on the new nature that is continually being renewed.”  Renewal is the work of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives.  And it’s not something that’s done once and that’s the end.  The Spirit is continually renewing us according to the image of Jesus Christ, the role model for the new order of humanity. 

 We should put on the garments of a people who are chosen, holy, and beloved.  

The first garment is tender-hearted mercy.  To be merciful means that we do not treat people as they deserve.  It’s what God does for us.  

The second is kindness.  Kindness is “love in action.”  Kindness is doing good for others, even if they don’t deserve it.

 The third garment is humility.  Humility is thinking more of others than self.  It has been called a distinctly Christian virtue, because before Jesus, no society in the ancient world valued lifting others above self.  

 The fourth and fifth are gentleness and patience, the opposites of anger.  These describe self-restraint and the unwillingness to seek vengeance when we are wronged.  

 Forgiveness goes hand in hand with gentleness and patience.  We forgive because we have been forgiven.  God has forgiven far more of our sins than we will ever be asked to forgive of others.

 Most importantly, we put on love, AGAPE.  AGAPE describes the love of God.  It is a love that denies self to serve others.  It’s a love that thinks more of others than self.  I think it’s important to remember that God’s word is not talking here about romantic love, the kind our society is so fascinated with.  As a matter of fact, the New Testament never even uses the word for romantic love.  Not because it isn’t good, but because it is not nearly as important as AGAPE.  

 Love binds us in harmony.  “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”  The word here is an image from athletics.  A better translation might be “Let the peace of Christ be the referee in your hearts.”  As Christians we don’t agree about everything.  But in Christ, we are called to love each other and work together.

 The last garment we put on is gratitude, something lacking in our society.  

 Putting to death the old and clothing ourselves with the new is, unfortunately, not as easy as changing clothes.  We have to desire that change in our lives.  God won’t bring change if we don’t want the change and if we aren’t willing to struggle for it.  We need to work with the Holy Spirit in our lives.  God doesn’t change us against our will.  

 I may not care about buying new clothes or being fashionable, but that’s not what getting dressed for Easter is all about.  In the end, it is our character, who we are and who we are becoming in Christ that really matters.  Clothes are just coverings.  

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