One of the ways that my kids have expanded my experiences is by introducing me to television programs that there is no way in the world I would have ever watched on my own. There were a couple of years that Maddie and I faithfully watched American Idol, for example, rooting for our choices and switching allegiances as America voted off the ones we wanted to win. Then there’s Rhys and his devotion to Community through all its cancellations and resurrections. It seemed like an Easter parable there for a while. But when I could, I watched with him, and enjoyed it.
There were some, however, that I wasn’t interested in at all. Which didn’t bother them in the least. As long as I kept it down during their shows. Or didn’t want to watch something else, which would force them to watch on the little tv in the basement, which by the way was still bigger and clearer and had many more channels than what I grew up watching. Yet, whenever I tried to tell them about this they rolled their eyes and asked if I had any other stories about living in the stone age.
One genre of television that Maddie loved to watch that I avoided like the plague, despite her invitation, were the fashion reality shows. America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, I don’t even know them all. Nor am I sure which ones she liked to watch. She might have to correct my recollections here, and I might be blending what she actually watched with the myriad of commercials that you can’t avoid, no matter how much you try. And come to think of it, what happened to channels like TLC (the Learning Channel) and History and Discovery, which used to be about teaching us something about the world and now seem determined to show us the weird and wonderful of American backwoods culture. But I digress. Fashion shows, fashion reality ... “reality!” shows. That was what I was talking about. I don’t watch them. I’m not interested in who is going to be the next top model, or the next star designer, I don’t care what the new hot colors are, what everyone is going to be wearing. I’m not interested in what fabrics are all the rage or what patterns will fill the retail stores. I’m not in the least interested in all of that stuff. Until I read Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians for this week. And darn it if he doesn’t sound like those designers I kept overhearing when Maddie would watch her fashion shows. Flitting around with pins in his mouth, he brings us swatches and fabrics, checks our skin tone and body type, tells us to do a twirl to see how it drapes, how we carry this latest of his creations. Oh, he tells us with a sparkle in his creative eye, say yes to this dress. It’s you. It is so you.
Colossians 3:12-14 As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Is it? Is it you? Is it me? Does designer Paul have the outfit to die for? Or maybe to live for? Clothe yourself, he writes to this little church. Clothe yourself. Colossae is a small town that got bypassed by a Roman road and was hitting hard times. Once a busy center for the manufacture of a bright red wool, Colossae now struggles to keep up with the bright lights of Laodicea, a new city founded to compete with the industry Colossae made famous. And on top of that, there was an earthquake that nearly destroyed everything. One while Jesus was at work in Israel and the surrounding area and then another some years later. Paul’s letter may be in between the quakes. The city was rebuilt both times, but it never really got going again. It was almost as though they were afraid it could happen again, so they lived their lives afraid of things out of their control.
We don’t know how the church got started there. Paul says he planned to go, but never made it. That’s what he tells his friend Philemon, who was from Colossae. So, it was probably planted by one of Paul’s converts, or co-workers. Which is why Paul wants to keep in contact. He feels responsible for them, even though he has never met them face to face. He heard, somehow, that they were struggling. He heard that what was once a strong faith, what was an active church was now floundering. How serious was the decline? We don’t know. They seemed distracted, when you read between the lines of Paul’s letter. In the second chapter he warns them not to be thrown off track by a variety of arguments, to not let others challenge their faith and their practice. To stay true, to stay faithful, to stay trusting.
It was like they lost their grip on the why and the what. What did they believe and why do they do what they do? So, Paul addresses that. He blesses them and then sets out to teach them the theology they thought they knew but lost somewhere along the line. He talks about who Jesus was and is, about the fullness of God and the source of strength and hope and joy. He talks to them like he is their father and they are his children. He tells them what is on his heart, how he longs for them, for their well-being and their growth in the faith. Oh, did I mention he is writing this from prison? Yeah, this note of encouragement, of uplift, of instruction comes while Paul is under arrest and awaiting his execution. Even there, even then his first thought is not of his own circumstance, but of a church struggling to find its way in a complex world.
To help him minister to this troubled church, here in the third chapter he turns to matter of fashion. First, before our passage, he talks about cleaning out the closets. He talks about what you need to take off and throw away. He talks about the wide ties and the leisure suits that you are still trying to get by with and he says, for heaven’s sake, just chuck it all away. It doesn’t fit anymore, since you’ve become a new person. Since you’ve had your makeover, your whole wardrobe is for someone you aren’t anymore. So, get rid of it! It makes you shudder when you look at it anyway, what were you thinking when you bought some of that stuff anyway?
Now that you’re back from Goodwill, let’s go shopping, says Paul the couturier. Better yet, let’s look at my spring collection. Try it on! Put on then compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Oh, yes, that’s what will turn heads. That is so you. Or at least the you you long to be, the you you are becoming.
But wait, there’s more. You’ve got to accessorize. Sure compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience is a good look. But to move through the crowds, to interact with the in crowd and the out crowd, you need a finishing touch - forgiveness. The ability to put back together what has come apart. The ability to heal what has been broken. The skill to stitch a tear in the fabric of relationship and community. A useful skill, to say the least.
Did I say finishing? No, wait, there’s more. Every good ensemble needs a belt, needs something to hold it all together, to bind it up and harmonize the different elements of the outfit. Above all else, put on love, which binds everything in perfect harmony.
Now that’s a good look, says Paul as he stands back to gaze at the transformation taking place in front of him. You are a wonder, a vision, you are the body of Christ. So, what do you think? Is it you? Are you ready to live into the possibility of wearing this ensemble?
Are you ready, to say yes to this dress?