Monday, December 28, 2015

Clothes for the New Year

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching at St. Luke’s United Church of Christ in Independence, Mo., less than a 15-minute walk from the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.

 St. Luke’s was founded in 1878 as the German Evangelical St. Lucas Church, and services were conducted in German until the First World War. There was a name change in 1934 and then the current name was chosen when the UCC was formed in 1957.

 St. Luke’s moved into their current church building in early 1960s, and the sanctuary is very attractive. June and I enjoyed worshipping there yesterday, the last Sunday of the year.
Following the lectionary, which I never did during all the years I was a (part-time) pastor, the text for my sermon was Colossians 3:12-17. That passage includes these words (in the NIV):
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
The items of clothing mentioned first are rather straightforward and perhaps need little explanation. It doesn’t take much reflection to understand the meaning of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
Of course putting all those virtues into practice is a different matter.

The most important garment to put on, of course, is love. And in spite of the widespread use of that term, it is the most difficult to understand adequately and to put into practice.

 Jesus reportedly said that the second greatest commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself(Matthew 22:39, citing Leviticus 19:18). Earlier, Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “Love your enemies(5:44).

 But who of us really loves our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, let alone our enemies!

 And, as you have heard emphasized often, as Jesus talked about it love is not primarily a feeling; rather, it is an action. We love others not by what we feel or say but by what we do for them.

 In a very provocative statement, Shane Claiborne is reported to have said, “When we truly discover how to love our neighbor as our self, capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be necessary.”

 He may well be right.

 Accordingly, in these days after Christmas, it is fitting to reflect again on the wonderful words of Howard Thurman. (This was the heart of my blog article for Dec. 26, 2011.)

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

(As you may or may not know, Thurman, 1899-1981, was one of the most prominent African-American ministers in the U.S. in middle half of the 20th century; he was a classmate of Martin Luther King, Sr., and a mentor of MLK, Jr.)
Why this emphasis on what we should put on and wear in the new year? To answer that question as succinctly as possible: because it is good for you, it is good for others, and it pleases  God.

How can you beat that?


  1. Local Thinking Friend David Fulk shares these pertinent comments:

    "Thanks for sharing the Thurman's text. Dan Forrest set this to music a few years ago. It's worth finding on YouTube. I've sung it with the Second Baptist, Liberty choir for a few years. They sang it yesterday, in fact.

    "How fitting to let the work of Christmas begin with Paul's clothing. Wouldn't it be nice if we could have a clothing drive so more of these items could be shared and practiced? Blessings on you, Leroy (and June) in this Christmas season."

  2. Very good words for starting the new year (and for ending this one). I also appreciate St. Paul's reference to clothing oneself in preparation for war - Ephesians 6:10-18.

    Christ communicated four love commandments. Most like to forget the part of "Love Your Enemy". But the Church by and large does not like "Love One Another" either - too many "irreconcilable" differences within Christendom. This is sad since it was a key focus Jesus' prayer that they would live in unity. Of course St. Paul also adds a corollary to Christ's list, "Love Your Wife". LOVE, like Truth, Justice, and other powerful words, is a difficult concept, and has various meanings (a good reason to use other words like compassion or charity as clarification).

    One trouble with heroes of the faith, is that they and their disciples have issues as well and end up hurting others in their "goodwill". I have personally met Shane Claiborne and read two of his books. He is sincere, but when it comes to practice, the disciples are frequently mean-spirited. And not all of Christendom is with him. Shane is not the only one with those issues. They mean for good, but it doesn't necessarily happen.

    May we all continue to try in our own lives, the best we can.

    1. It is a stretch to say that Eph. 6:10ff. is making preparation for war--at least as war is usually understood. That passage begins, "Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

      This is a significant passage that maybe I will write about sometime next year -- with reference to Walter Wink and William Stringfellow, two voices that need to be heard and heeded.

      As for Shane Claiborne, I have never talked with him personally or met any of the people in The Simple Way, the group he is a part of in Philadelphia. But I have not found anything mean-spirited in his books, and when I heard him speak here in Kansas City last summer, I was impressed with his loving, accepting spirit.

    2. Thank you for clarifying Eph 6. You are correct. I look forward to the posting on that.

      I met Shane both in the field and at a lecture about 5 years ago. He means well. Would that all could have a dedicated sojourn, both spiritual and in action - but I am not sure that would lead to unity of spirit, at least not from what I have seen in my years of service in this country, and observation in other places. (Note: I have met a limited few who really do pursue a unity of spirit and harmony without compromising their foundations.)