“Colossians Signs”

October 9, 2016
Jonathan Rumburg
Colossians 3:12-17

Introduction

They say, “You are what you wear.”  Of course, I don’t know who “they” are, I don’t know where this data comes from, and I always thought it was “you are what you eat”.  But I suppose no matter who “they” are, one can take even just a moment and quickly deduce, that in our society today, the quip that “You are what you wear” does have some truth to it.

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          A gentleman in Germany, by the name of Ollie, conducted a social experiment where he put on a tuxedo and then climbed aboard a city bus without a ticket—you can find the video on YouTube.

Ollie would explain to the bus driver that he had forgotten his wallet at home, and ask if he could still ride.  Every time, the driver of the bus greeted his request warmly and permitted him to ride for free.  He did this several times, on several buses and bus lines—every time he was treated kindly and permitted to ride for free.

Ollie then changed into worn clothes, with a look of an impoverished person, and the results were as you might imagine—very, very different.  He was not greeted warmly, as he was when dressed to the nines, instead the bus drivers were terse and curt with him—one even laughed at him.  Each time, his request to ride despite not having a ticket was rebuffed coldly with disdain, and sometimes rather rudely.

Now admittedly, there is little that is scientific in Ollie’s experiment, and much that is rather subjective.  It’s probably rather infrequent that a bus driver encounters someone wearing a tuxedo on a bus—so certain assumptions could easily be made.  Conversely, if word got out that bus drivers were letting people ride for free just for asking, then there are numerous repercussions we can imagine would follow.

But none of that is the illustration I want for us to take from this experiment.

No matter the setting, no matter how someone is dressed, there is never reason, never justification, never cause to be rude… to be harsh… to be unkind…to someone who is simply in need and asking for a little help.

No, we cannot give everything to everyone who asks for something—believe me I understand this.  As a church in the location we are in, I am often encountering people who come here looking for assistance.  Usually we can help them—and we do.  But sometimes we cannot, and I have to tell them we can’t.  But no matter whether we can help them or not, folks asking for help are always greeted as the children of God they are.  Because it doesn’t matter what you are wearing, everyone deserves to be treated with all that the Apostle Paul calls us to clothe ourselves with—compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, peace, and love.

Which makes me think— maybe it was Paul who said, “You are what you wear.”

Move 1

If it’s true that you are what you wear, Paul is concerned that those who represent Christ “put on” clothes that never go out of style and are always worn with others in mind.

Paul begins by reminding the Colossian church that it’s never been about marking ourselves as different and claiming our individual rights regardless of how they affect others.  Rather, if you are in Christ, then you are a new person with a new wardrobe. This is made clear when in verse eleven Paul talks about how, “There is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, slave and free, but Christ is all and in all”

Paul goes on to outline the dress code for those who claim to follow Jesus.  The five pieces of clothing listed in verse twelve are all designed to communicate Christ to others and pay attention to their interests and needs.  Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience are virtues that we should have on us at all times, whether in church, in the grocery store, at work, or wherever.  Wearing this kind of character clothing demonstrates to the world that we’re not pushing our own personal agendas, but that our agenda is always about reflecting Christ.

Move 2

So let’s look at, and unpack these clothes…

Compassion is empathy for the situations of others.  That person who is giving you a hard time at work, or who is rude to you in a store, is likely dealing with things far beyond those terse encounters.

When someone is acting out, the issue is usually not the issue.  Most of the time rude and harsh behavior is the result of something going on in a person’s life that has them stuck or scared.  Compassion looks for the opportunity to care for people where they are, to love them in spite of their behavior or situation.

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          Kindness is the active consideration for others and their needs.  Think of it as compassion taking action.

Rather than categorize people by their dress and demeanor, followers look for ways to care for them where they are.  We represent Jesus, whose kindness drew people to him rather than pushing them away.  A kind gesture, even in the midst of being stuck and scared, can change everything.

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          Humility helps us to see others as more important than ourselves.  This is an important theme for the apostle Paul that are found all throughout his epistles.

Saint Augustine echoed the theme when he said, “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes humans as angels.  Yet, sometimes it would appear that not many of us are interested in being “as angels,” for the garment of humility is so infrequently worn.”  *******

Meekness, or gentleness, involves courtesy and consideration for others, waiving our rights to personal gain in order to lift up another.  This piece of Christian clothing is sometimes mysterious to us.  We’re not sure just what it’s about.  It’s like looking at some clothing— a pashmina, for example— and thinking, “How in the world do I wear this thing?”  (By the way, a “pashmina” is a scarf.  Some of you are impressed I know that.  Some of you are appalled!)

Pastor Rick Warren writes, “We’ve lost the true meaning of meekness.  Meek doesn’t mean weak.  Jesus and Moses were described as meek, and they certainly were anything but weak.  Meekness means strength under control.”

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          Patience is the ability to not become frustrated and angry when others intrude on us, but, instead, offer grace and welcome, even offering forgiveness when someone wrongs us.  After all, Paul says, we ourselves have tested the patience of God with our own sin.  So, “just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.”

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          And then there’s Love.  All of these virtuous pieces of character clothing are vitally important for the Christian traveler, but the one piece of clothing that goes over them all like a warm overcoat is love, “which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Paul writes about Love in 1 Corinthians 13: It is patient, kind, not self-seeking, keeps no record of wrongs and always rejoices with the truth.  In short, love is the goal of the disciple’s dress code, and love is thus one of the key tasks of the church.

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          Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness/gentleness, patience, and love—they are the outward, visual, signs, and representations that followers of God are mandated to wear.

No, none of them are easy, especially in terse moments with rude people, but they are good and right and faithful—and they are the only things that will make life “on earth as it is in heaven” a reality.

Move 3

For this year, our church Youth Group has as its theme this text from Colossians.  We spent part of our Youth Group Kick-Off a few weeks ago studying this text and unpacking what Paul was trying to teach.

We then spent some time brainstorming how these instructions, these nouns, these actions could be made manifest in our everyday lives.  It was during this conversation that we talked about how infrequent Colossians encounters are, and when they do happen, they are met with questioning skepticism.  Regardless, we sought to answer the question: “What would you like someone to say to you that would make your day better and brighter?”

The Youth Group then proceeded to come up with words and sayings that could be shared with others to make them feel good about themselves or something they did, while also making an effort to move the needle in our society today that is so often filled with terse, curt, and rude encounters.

At the next Youth Group meeting we then made the signs you see around the sanctuary today.  We call them “Colossian Signs.”

You are Forgiven. You are Loved.  You are Amazing.

          You are Beautiful. God is Love. God Loves you.

          Bee Kind.  Kindness Matters.  Follow God

          Thank you God.  Peace Be With You.  God Bless You.

          Peace, Joy, Love.  Go Now in Peace.

These signs are going to be placed throughout our Pumpkin Patch so that every guest who comes to support our Pumpkin ministry will be greeted in the manner that Paul calls us to embody.

Now, these are simple signs, with simple messages.  We hope they will be received well, and will add an element of kindness to the Pumpkin Patch.  But far better than posting a sign for others to see, is to live the sign.  Because think about it—how have you felt when someone met you with terseness, met you rudely, and with disdain?

How have you felt when someone met you with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love?

When we love, even and especially the unlovable, we create a Colossians encounter that can change lives.

Conclusion

They say: “You are what you wear.”

Again, I don’t know who they are, but I know that the Apostle Paul believed, and taught, that all who love Christ are “God’s chosen ones” who are “holy and beloved.”  Therefore, our dress, our demeanor, our posture and our attitudes are to reflect the one who chose us in Christ, which means we have to “put to death” the “earthly” and self-serving desires that are so common in this world because it’s not about calling attention to ourselves, but rather seeing our whole lives as pointing to the one in whose image we are made.

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          So may these Colossians signs remind us to not just clothe ourselves as the Colossians, but to live as those who embody what these signs say.  After all, these signs represent what we want to encounter in others—compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, peace, and love.

May we make sure that others always encounter them in us.  Amen.

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