You have heard some of the positives of pulling together more than 200 middleschoolers to sing and act crazy, to learn and to play, to listen, to pray and to be silent before God. New friendships are made, new ideas are sparked, old truths are given new meaning, a new tradition is born for Hunting Ridge! I am grateful to Rodney, Maia and Mekhi for being willing to be the pioneers, the first ones to attend this conference from our church family, and now they can be the guides for others who will join us in the future. I am grateful for your commitment to Christian education and spiritual nurture, enabling HRPC to fund 50% of the cost for all 4 of us! Not every church does that. It would be so great if we could keep that commitment up in the years ahead!
We have a tendency to keep matters of our personal belief to ourselves, and perhaps do not even talk about them with others at home. Like politics, we steer clear of discussions about religion or faith with the people we do not agree with, just to keep relative peace and harmony in our relationships. So to have a place and time to openly reflect on matters of faith, to share thoughts and hopes and fears, is a real gift. Even more than all the fun stuff, I believe faith talk is what shapes the unique experience at Massanetta Springs. Massanetta Springs is a safe place for deep faith talk, for being inspired by God– maybe it is the music, maybe it is the speaker, maybe it is the communion service, maybe it is the comment made by someone else in your small group. And it is a place to be inspired by God’s people– caring adults and faithful high school leaders–who are so committed to supporting and encouraging middle schoolers as they walk along their personal journey of faith. As you have already heard, our focus this year was on wearing love.
Together we dug deep into the short passage we heard a few minutes ago, and actually first looked at the verses of Paul’s letter just prior to this section. In verses 5-11 of chapter 3, he makes it very clear– new clothes fit much better if you take the old clothes off first! It seems so obvious, but apparently human beings, then and now, can use some reminding, some encouraging, even some pushing. Paul is thinking about the old way of life prior to following Christ, the past lifestyle of the Colossians and maybe the temptation to wear the old clothes even now. Paul describes the old things we wear– for example, greed, lust, moral corruption, rage, malice, slander, lies, and doing whatever you want whenever you feel like it. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, translates this old way of life as living a life shaped by things or feelings and not a life shaped by God. Just like getting new clothes and shoes that fit at the start of a new school year, Paul suggests it is time for a whole new wardrobe, outfitted by God. Just like getting dressed in the morning and deciding to put on a particular shirt or pair of shorts, he invites us to start out each day by consciously putting on a shoes of compassion, a kindness t-shirt, a hat of humility, the makeup of meekness and pants of patience. And just before you go out the door, wrapping up in a large coat of love that will protect you from the cold or the rain which inevitably hits you on a daily basis. These are the kinds of articles of clothing with the God label in them, custom made by the Creator! Putting these on means consciously leaving things like irritability, meanness, profanity or lies in the closet. Just like making a decision any day about what you will wear, wearing love is a conscious decision to put it on or not.
We are not talking the gushy kind of love or the physical intimacy that gets called love. We are not talking about our exuberance regarding a certain kind of food we love to eat or activity we love to do. We are talking about the kind of unconditional love which God first showed us in Jesus Christ. God demonstrates it. God lives it. The Greek word is agape. It is important because there are two other Greek words for love and neither is used here. Paul selects agape very deliberately. He means the kind of love God shows us, love that is tinged with grace, colored with forgiveness and then swirled around like a tie dyed shirt to create a relationship between us and God that does not depend on us at all. It is a relationship framed by love that never ends.
When we say, “You are what you wear”, we are claiming that we communicate a lot about ourselves by what we wear. We are very quick to make judgements based on clothing, to make all kinds of assumptions about a person walking down the street based on what he or she is wearing. A certain kind of clothing might indicate gang membership, another kind of clothing identifies a medical professional, another kind of clothing might indicate a homeless person, and another kind will make you think she is a highly paid professional of some sort. For example, you can tell by the way I dress that I am not a person who likes to iron. Usually, if there are some wrinkles in my clothes after washing them and drying them on the line outside, it is not worth it to me to take the precious time to iron them. So I guess you could guess that I am impatient, in a hurry or busy (or all three), but you also might guess that I am not too worried about what other people think of my clothing (which is also true).
What are you wearing? what are you communicating to others simply by what you wear? I don’t mean your shirts and shoes, but your life. Can people see compassion in you? How? At Massanetta, we saw a video clip with multiple painful looking physical blows to various people, one after another. The entire audience audibly said, “Oww!” multiple times, identifying with the pain, expressing compassion for those in the video. We struggle with being compassionate to someone asking for money at the stoplight. Do we turn our head? Do we make eye contact but not help financially? Do we give him a dollar? What is the most compassionate thing to do?
Do people identify you as kind? One thing that really struck me at the conference was when the speaker pointed out that being nice and being kind are not the same thing. Lots of people are nice. It is much easier to be nice. As long as you are not being overtly rude, you could be described as being nice. Being kind requires that you go out of your way to assist someone, do something special for her, give him a break. It requires that you make some level of sacrifice— maybe tangible sacrifice, like sharing your last piece of birthday cake, but maybe not so tangible, like giving up some of your time. In today’s busy lifestyle, very often time and attention are more valuable than things, more precious than money.
You can go down Paul’s list of clothing items. What about humility, not thinking too much of yourself? Not having to be out in front, but willing to work behind the scenes and let others shine? And meekness, a word that can also be translated as gentleness, or quiet strength. Not being timid, but being solid, standing strong without being aggressive, loud or obnoxious in any way.
Would you describe yourself as patient? Understanding? Willing to wait instead of expecting everything to always be done to your preferred time schedule? When you are impatient, you can get whiny, or grumpy or frustrated. Then you have left patience on the hanger in your closet and maybe need to take a deep breath and change clothes.
Are you holding onto a grudge, refusing to forgive that person who did you wrong? This came up earlier this summer in our series on the Lord’s Prayer. Hmmm. Maybe we need a reminder more frequently– God forgives first. We in turn forgive others who wrong us. It seems simple, but it can be very hard.
According to Paul, all of these clothing items go on underneath the overcoat of love, which blankets them all. It is the overcoat you can wear every day, winter, spring, summer or fall. Or you might want to think of love as one more item we need in our backpack as we travel through life. Carry the word of God with you. Definitely. And also carry love for God and love for others with you. As you do, people will see what you are “wearing”, just like they see the clothing you wear. We make decisions every morning about what to put on. will it be compassion or kindness? Gentleness or patience? will it be a forgiving spirit? Will you wear love today? Wear love every day. Wear love every place. In the name of God, who perfected wearing love in putting on the flesh and blood of Jesus. Thanks be to God for wearing love for us in Christ! Amen.