“Clothed in Love”
by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
December 27, 2015
I had just turned twelve years old and I was Christmas shopping with my mom in the big department store in downtown Fairfield, Connecticut, the next town over from ours. I was just starting to discover and claim my own sense of style as differentiated from my parents’, and there, in the Men’s and Boy’s Department, handsomely draped on a mannequin, was a maroon polyester leisure suit. Oh, yeah!
I told my mom that the only thing I wanted for Christmas was that suit. I really didn’t care about clothes, but there was a particular girl at school that I wanted to impress, and she was the sole motivation for this wish.
On Christmas morning, I opened the soft package and there it was. OK, I kind of regretted asking for a leisure suit because there were four kids in my family and that meant I wasn’t going to get anything other than the leisure suit – no toys, not tools, no records – but that was OK because I was going to wear this suit and impress the ladies. One lady in particular.
It didn’t work. Even after the spring dance, when I wore that suit with all my might, and we danced a slow dance (I think it was Stairway to Heaven), she said that she wanted to be friends, and we all know what that means!
Styles change from year to year, decade to decade, generation to generation. Ties get skinnier and wider and skinnier again. Hemlines get longer and shorter and longer again. Some styles are timeless and some take a long time to fade. Leisure suits went out fairly quickly.
When you and I get up in the morning, we open our drawers and our closets and we choose something to wear. What goes into that decision?
Our social class. The amount of money we have to spend on clothes to begin with. Our parents’ and siblings’ and friends’ influence. What we are going to be doing that day. Our job. The season of the year. The weather. Comfort. The clothes we see others wearing on the street and on the internet and in the movies. Our level of ambition. Our sexuality. Our mood – sometimes flashy and sometimes subdued, sometimes dull and dark and sometimes creative and bright, sometimes cool and distant and sometimes warm and fuzzy. Shall it be a classic day or a day for experimentation? Shall I dress to impress or throw on some sweats?
There has been a lot of talk about the hijab, the headscarf that many Muslim women wear as a sign of modesty and of their dedication to their faith. Some women wear a total body covering called a chador, leaving just the face and hands exposed.
Many Christian women throughout the centuries – Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and others — have worn similar head and body coverings when they dedicated themselves to particular religious orders.
Back in my home church in Connecticut, in the late 60’s and 70’s, there was an ongoing debate about the appropriate garb to wear to worship on Sunday mornings. Some men pushed the boundaries and wore turtlenecks under their sport coats. Others held firm and wore suits and ties. Some women wore slacks and some went braless. My dad had some choice comments, I can tell you.
When the 80’s came around, things got a little more conservative again, but with the 90’s came a relaxation of clothing standards and I can remember kids starting to come to church in t-shirts.
When the chair of deacons of my precious church asked me what I thought about this, I said two things: 1) I personally like to dress up for church because it’s a way for me to honor God and honor the importance of what we are doing together in worship. And 2) I am so happy that there are families and kids in church, they can come in their pajamas for all I care!
The truth is, what we wear matters. It tells those around us who we are, where we come from, and what we are seeking in this world.
Depending on what you wear, you can express your seriousness, your masculinity or femininity, your joy, your sadness, your individuality, or your desire to fit in. I wear this robe because it identifies me as an ordained minister who is playing a particular role among you this morning. It connects me with my religious colleagues and with those in other traditional professions like education and law.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that Mary, most likely a teenager from the backwater village of Nazareth, wrapped Jesus in bands of cloth when he was born. That was probably all she had, and at least it was enough to keep her newborn warm.
And it’s true, sometimes, people just wear what they have and there is no choice at all. Think about the guy in the homeless shelter. He looks through the rack of shirts and slacks and coats and has to choose what fits, no matter what it looks like, and swallows his pride.
The letter to the Colossians was written either by Paul or by a follower of Paul sometime in the later first century CE. Whoever wrote it intended to encourage the Christians in Colossae and to warn them against false teachers. Colossae was in modern day Turkey and was home to one of the earliest Christian churches.
The author, as if he were standing in your bedroom and acting as some kind of fashion coach, suggests what we should wear today:
Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
Just like clothing, these attitudes will show everyone we encounter, all day long, exactly who we are.
Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. OK, maybe not that flashy, but they never go out of style and they always give the room a little depth and substance, like a Harris Tweed coat or a set of pearl earrings. Or maybe more like a t-shirt just out of the package and a pair of well-worn Converse All Stars.
Above all, the author says, clothe yourselves in love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Oh, yes. Love – unselfish love, love without strings attached, authentic love – real love does that, doesn’t it? It brings people together like nothing else can. It creates real homes and families. It creates community. It changes the world by breaking down barriers and building up hope and creating spaces that feel safe, that feel like home.
So, let’s put on love in the morning, along with our bras and panties and skirts and pumps and scarves and jewelry and jockeys and slacks and shirts and loafers and ties and blazers. Let’s put on love, and see what kind of an impact we can have on this world that needs love, now, more than ever.