A Guest Post by Phil Reinders
This is the seventeenth in a series of posts engaging with the sermons in Leaps of Faith: Sermons from the Edge. This post is a reflection upon a sermon entitled “The Clothes Make the Man” (pp. 57-65). The Scriptural text for the sermon was Colossians 3:12-17.
Why don’t Christians wear prescribed religious clothing? For sure, the cross dangles around many Christian necks and various Christian clergy adopt a symbolic and ceremonial wardrobe. Yet there is no religiously prescribed ensemble for Christians.
The matter of religious clothing, however, is everywhere in our spiritually plural world. In the coffee shop I write this from, a Muslim woman is wearing a hijab; walking outside of the cafe I’ll likely encounter a Sikh man wearing his turban and carrying a dagger, perhaps I’ll see an observant Jew donning a kippah or see the tzitzit dangle from the more orthodox, and likely the Mormons knocking on my door are sporting their holy underwear.
These items of religious apparel have profound connections to identity. Clothes are a form of a public self and the various religious faithful can hardly imagine navigating the world without such expressions of personal and corporate identity. At the same time, a secular world is strained to imagine how to handle these very public religious signifiers. Clothes have now become cultural flash-points (think of the French bans on hijabs and niqabs) in a world unable to tailor a place for faith in the fabric of this secular age.
So while without a religiously prescribed wardrobe, Rob Dean’s sermon “The Clothes Make the Man” reminds us that Christians are still called to suit up, but now with the clothes of Christ. The essential spiritual fashion of a disciple is not a Jewish carpenter’s robe but, says Dean, “nothing less than the character of God.” The church’s fashion “public self” is less collars and cassocks and more so the virtues and character of Christ embodied in its communal life. In a hundred different ways the church is called to put on Christ — in daily acts of faithfulness, repeated gestures of gratitude, an abiding orientation to mercy, belted by “the love of God to tie everything together” — modeling the tailored cut of grace in Jesus, no matter the fashion season.
In particular, Rob’s sermon spotlights the grace-garment of forgiveness and showcases the stunning model of the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the face of a violent, hate-fueled shooting. This was no preening, strutting diva, but the tear-stained, humble bride of Christ that learned the Jesus way of overcoming evil with good. Trading rags of hatred, revenge and bitterness, the congregation did what they had practiced and lived through years of worship and shared life, reaching into the wardrobe of costly redemption for mercy and forgiveness, dressing themselves in the dazzling, confounding glory of Christ.
This is the essential spiritual fashion of the Christian. Not a tunic or tassel, a head-scarf or stole, but the ravishing beauty of Jesus, lived and witnessed in God’s people. As Rob beautifully concludes the sermon, “God has set his people on the runway to model before the watching world a whole new wardrobe. The world would not be able to imagine this Spirit-led, Christ-shaped way of life apart from the presence of God’s well-dressed people.”
A revealing wardrobe, indeed.
Phil Reinders is Senior Minister of Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto, Ontario. He is the author of Seeking God’s Face: Praying the Bible through the Year and blogs at squinch.net.