Saturday, July 28, 2018

Be Careful Then How You Live

Though we didn’t resolve any particular issue, we have successfully navigated the troubled waters of sexuality in our denominational debate, and then we raised and aired the issues related to gun violence in our society. Whew.  Maybe we raised more questions than we answered, to be honest.  But at least we discussed the issues from a variety of perspectives and managed to remain a caring community of faith with room for all.  That in and of itself was a grand achievement.  At least I’m counting it as one.  And then next week we turn, with no little relief, to more informative issues about the ordering of our church life and practice. 

Next week.  Which means that this week we’re still on the edge.  But with a subject that shouldn’t raise such feelings of division and debate, right?  We’re dealing with the role of women in the church and in the family, from a biblical point of view.  Oh.  That.  Well, um.  Of all the subjects in which I am not an expert women is right up there at the top of the list.  Trust me on this.  So, I don’t speak with authority on the issue of women in general, neither do I claim to understand all the issues that women face in our society, or throughout history, the struggles faced and overcome, the mountains they had and still have to climb.  I can’t speak of the psychology of women, how their minds work, or what gives them joy or makes them feel valued.  Partly because I’m not very good about figuring that out, and partly because in my experience women, like men, are individuals who have their own minds and hearts. 

What I do know is the Bible, and how to read it.  And I know that the Bible has been used to oppress women in some significant ways in ages past and today.  So, what I can do is help us take another look and see whether it is inherent in the text that women are subordinate to men.  And if the text does imply such a thing, that whether that is the result of a patriarchal culture surrounding the writers or whether it is indeed the word of God for us and for all time.  I don’t mean to suggest that such a determination is a simple one, but it is certain worth the struggle to get it right.

Ephesians 5:15-33  Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind-- yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32 This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33 Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

I chose a passage both longer and shorter than the usual take on this subject.  It is shorter because this is part of what is called the “household code”, and it goes from 5:22 through 6:9  It is called the household code because Paul took a common legal statement and reinterpreted it.  There are many household codes from the time, all of them designed to determine the relative status of various members of the household - the women, the children, the servants and slaves.  It is about order, about organizing society in a way that keeps everyone in their place.  At least that is the intention of the code for everyone but Paul.  Paul is interested in how the order can be Christ-like.  We might differ with his results, but that he intends a Christian take to the way things are is clear.  

Especially when you go back and grab the context for this part of the whole conversation to the Ephesians.  That’s why I went back to verse fifteen.  These verses are not considered a part of the code, and yet they help us put the code in a larger context.  “Be careful then,” writes Paul, “how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.”  Paul intends us to be aware that our faith is not separate from our life.  This idea that faith is an intellectual exercise, about thoughts we have, beliefs we hold, and not about how we live is an anathema to Paul.  He says that is absurd, that how we live isn’t shaped by how we believe, by our faith. (See Romans 6 for example) So, be careful how you live, he says.  Let your life bear witness to your faith.  

There’s no time to waste, he argues, the days are evil because we are on the brink of the new age.  He isn’t interested in fixing what is wrong in this world, but preparing us for living in the next one.  Consequently he doesn’t challenge the social order, but asks how can we make it as much like the kingdom of heaven as possible.  And his answer is mutual love.  Mutual.  Love.  

“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  Whatever comes next can only be understood in the context of this verse.  Be subject to one another.  There is a mutuality, and an equality in the faith that Paul expresses.  Which means that we have to listen deeply to the rest of what is written to hear beyond the surface.  

“Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.”  Two things of note in interpreting this verse.  First, in the culture in which he was writing, women did not have legal rights, except through a husband or father.  Paul was simply describing the world as it was.  The husband was head of the wife.  That was a legal truth, the rightness or wrongness of this was not under discussion.  It just was.  However, Paul wanted to redefine that headship.  It was not, or rather no longer was for the benefit of the head.  Instead there is now a responsibility laid upon the one in this position.  And that responsibility was to be as Christ-like as possible.  It was now about sacrifice and about surrender.  It was about service to the other, to the ones in care.  

Paul goes on to define this new level of care when he says “husbands love your wives.”  But not just love them, love them like Christ loved the church.  Love them like Christ loved you.  There is an inherent indebtedness.  This is not about power, not about authority, except as Jesus defined authority, as one who serves.  That the church has been complicit in misinterpreting this concept is a painful truth.  Sending women back to abusers as a way of honoring God’s command to be subject is a gross misapplication of this idea.  Of this truth.  

In the end we are not to subject ourselves to any person but Christ.  It is the Christ in the husband that the wife is commanded to be subject to.  Not the man himself, with his sinfulness and self-centeredness.  And the husband is subject to, in the command to love, the Christ in his wife.  This is what Christians marriage is about, individually and mutually seeking to live as Christ to one another and the world.  Challenging one another when we fall short, and acknowledging when we come close.

Even Paul begins to stumble when the implications of this become more clear. “This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.”  In other words, I barely know what I’m talking about!  This escapes me.  But it is real, it is true.  We are the church, in our relationships with one another and with the world.  We are the church in that we seek after and claim the Christ who dwells within.  

Be careful then how you live.  May it be in a way that brings glory to the cause of Christ, always. 


Saturday, July 21, 2018

Just Keep Passing the Open Windows

He asked me if I attended the concert, and I said, yes I did.  Wasn’t it great, he said, I said it was marvelous.  Yeah, he said.  I just wished they played my favorite song.  They played my favorite, said his companion, as we walked through the parking lot.  And then she began to sing a little bit of it.  That’s when I realized we weren’t talking about the same concert.  They were coming from Reardon Auditorium on the campus of Anderson University where they and a few thousand other folks were coming out of a Casting Crowns concert and feeling the love.  I know they were feeling the love, because they came up behind me while I was giving a good friend a farewell hug.  And he wanted one too.  This Casting Crowns concert stranger, so I obliged.  Hugged him there in the parking lot of the Park Place Church of God, where I had attended the 64th Annual Sacred Music Concert put on by Epworth Forest Choir School.  It was a glorious concert, over a hundred voices singing together songs of praise and celebration to God and gratitude for life in all its fulness.  I was pleased some members of Southport UMC made the journey up to hear the concert too.

For over twenty years I was chaplain to that community, the choir school community.  They sang and I preached and we grew together in those years.  I was a part of them, sort of, not really, because I was never confident enough in my singing to join the choir, but they kept me anyway.  Let me stay a part of them, until it seemed time to leave because of clouds in my life that seemed overwhelming.  I wasn’t sure I could help them anymore, so thought they needed someone else in that role.  So with tears I left that group of friends to do other things. Yet, when I come back to listen to them sing, they welcome me as if I still belong.  As if they have kept me.

Psalm 121:1-8  I lift up my eyes to the hills-- from where will my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

The Lord is your keeper.  It must be an important thought, because the psalmist uses it six times in eight verses.  The Lord will keep you, and doesn’t doze off in the midst of the job.  The Lord will keep you and give you shade on blistering days.  The Lord will keep you from evil, from all evil.  The Lord will keep you, as you go out and come in.  And go out and come in.  And go out.  And come in.  The Lord will keep you.

It’s nice to be kept.  Nice to belong.  To be connected.  To be loved.  To be protected.  But how does that work, exactly?  What does it mean that God will keep us?  Keep us safe?  Keep us alive?  Keep us from harm?  We’re not sure that we trust in the Lord like we trust in our own resources.  

That’s the genesis of this sermon, by the way.  It was a question about security.  About safety and specifically about  guns we use for protection.  Where do we stand on guns?  That’s a pretty broad question, I realize, which is why I chose to address the larger issue of safety.  The Lord is your keeper.  What does that mean for us who live in a dangerous world?  How do we trust in the Lord?  

In some ways it would be easier to address the gun issue.  The book of Resolutions, which is where the United Methodist Church presents our positions on social issues in detail, declares that every United Methodist Church is a weapon free zone.  In addition the Book of Discipline has a statement about gun violence which includes words about responsible gun ownership and the recommendations on the sale and purchase of guns.  It is not a ban, but an emphasis on safety.  And it reads to me as a sensible statement about an out of control social problem.  But, I suspect others might read it differently.  (See Social Principles ¶162)

But I believe the issue is larger than that.  As significant as that is, and in our gun crazy society, a statement on gun violence and responsible ownership of guns and limiting access to some types of weapons is very significant, but it isn’t the whole issue.  

From where does our help come?  That’s the question.  What do we rely on for our security, our safety and sense of self?  Do we believe that security is in our own hands?  Whether it is guns or walls or laws or locks and prisons; are we trusting in our own power to provide our sense of peace of mind and heart?  Or is there something to this idea that the Lord is our keeper?  It seems naive at best to believe that God will put a bubble around us and keep us from harm when we walk the mean streets of our home towns.  It seems wrong somehow to put God to the test by walking through dark alleys and battle zones protected by nothing but our confident faith in the Almighty.  

So what does the psalmist mean then, when it says that the Lord is our keeper?  What does God keep?  Or how are we kept by God?  We could say that God has a longer view than we do.  That when we are kept by God we are kept into eternity.  And this life and this world is but a moment in that eternity.  So, even if something goes wrong, even if there is pain and suffering and death in this life, we are kept by God into eternity.  And however we transition from this world to the next, we can trust that God will keep us there. And I get that, I do.  But in the meantime?  We’re on our own?  God only keeps us ready for the next world?  What about this one?  What about keeping me alive, my family alive, my community, my nation, my world?  If we want that are we on our own?   

Do you know what it's like to be alone in this world / When you're down and out on your luck and you're a failure / Wake up screaming in the middle of the night / You think it's all been a waste of time / It's been a bad year / You start believing everything's gonna be alright / Next minute you're down and you're flat on your back / A brand new day is beginning / Get that sunny feeling and you're on your way (way) / Just believe - just keep passing the open windows / Just believe - just keep passing the open windows

Any Queen fans out there?  In the 80's, Queen released an album called The Works and there was a song on it called “Just Keep Passing the Open Windows.”  It’s a song about faith, essentially.  No, Queen wasn’t a Christian band, but they sometimes had some profound things to say.  (Like – Scaramouch, scaramouch, will you do the fandango / Thunderbolt and lightning, / very, very frightening me ... jk) Like keep passing open windows.  Which might be something like what the psalmist is telling us.  It might be something like how God keeps us.  

No, God isn’t going to throw a protective shell around us so that nothing will hurt us in this life.  But God might just help us keep finding the open windows, the opportunities, the options, the ways to live life more fully, more alive, despite the risks.  The Lord will keep you from all evil, not by a magic force-field, but by the wisdom to recognize evil when it looks enticing to us.  The Lord will keep a shade over us in the hot sun, not by an invulnerable shield or invisibility cape, but by helping us hold on to truth in an age of lying as a matter of course.

The Lord will keep our going out and our coming in, not by forcing us to stay when we think we should go or to go when we think we should stay, but the ability to experience the presence of the Spirit as we walk through this life, and knowing that we can’t go so far that God has lost touch with us.  And that no matter how far we may have gone there is always someplace to call home, someplace that will welcome us back, no matter what.

I never told my Casting Crowns stranger that I was at a different concert.  And I took the risk of calling his bluff and giving him a hug because maybe we had more in common that either of us knew.  We listened to the praise of the Lord who is our keeper and left knowing that we could trust in that.  Stranger danger?  Sure, take care out there.  But maybe if we trusted in God’s goodness, rather than feared the other and hiding behind walls packing guns, we might find that the world is alive with the Spirit in surprising places.       


Saturday, July 14, 2018

No Longer Worthy

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”  Famous last words?  The cry of the earnest, but woefully unprepared?  Or just me, biting off more than an elephant can chew?  Yeah, well, definitely the latter, maybe that middle one, and I am praying fervently it isn’t the first.  But here we are.  The jury is still out.

We stand on the threshold of part two of the summer series now called Ask the Pastor.  We began with Meet the Bible and tackled a variety of issues and questions and confusions about this book that we hold so dearly.  But now we turn to larger issues, not unconnected to the Bible, of course, but church and faith issues.  Issues of practice and understanding, issues of history and standing.  Standing?  Yeah, as in “where do we stand on ...”  Oh, that.  Well, OK.  Talk about your proverbial can of worms.  

In the surveys returned there was one issue that far outstripped all the others.  Where does the church stand on... Actually, some of them were even a little more personal, a little more intrusive: Where do you, Pastor, stand on the issue of same sex relationships?   Where do we stand as a congregation?  Where do we stand as a denomination?  Well, actually, that last one is easy.  And enormously difficult.  Easy because there are statements that are clear in our Book of Discipline.  But difficult because these arguably don’t represent the position of many in the United Methodist Church.  And they have brought us to a point in our history where we stand on the brink of dissolution over this very issue and the implications of a variety of stances.  Not a simple thing.  Not a simple stance.  Not just a preference for fish over chicken, corn over peas.  Wrapped up in this position, in this debate and battle, are questions of identity, of humanity, of worthiness.

Who is worthy?  To stand before the Lord?  To take a place in the family of God, in the body of Christ?  Who is worthy to lead God’s people, to speak God’s Word?  These are the questions we ask here.  The opinions we hold here.  It’s not just where we stand on “those people.”  But how we respond to our brothers and sisters.  How we include, how we welcome, how we share the life changing power of Christ.  And the ability to admit that what might need changing is us.

When I decided that I had to be faithful to the process and respond to the many requests for conversation around this issue in the church, I first thought I would deal with it head on.  Grab one of the passages that seem so clear to so many and deal with that from the pulpit – thus saith the Lord.  But then I thought that wasn’t fair, not fair to the Word, not fair to the community.  So, I’m inviting the Southport UM community and any interested parties to join us for a conversation around the issue on Tuesday, July 17, at 2:30pm or 7pm.  We will address some of the specific passages as well as update ourselves on the activities of the denomination as we continue to wrestle with our stance.

That leaves us with worship.  What can we do in response to the question as we gather for worship?  I decided to take a slightly different approach.  Maybe it is avoidance.  But I prefer to think it is about unity instead of agreement.  It is about behavior and about the practice of being the church instead about opinions.  It’s about listening to Jesus.  Which means what we need in this moment is a story.

Luke 15:11-32 Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."'

20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe-- the best one-- and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.

25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' 31 Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

It was an outrageous request.  An offensive request.  He said to his father, why aren’t you dead yet?  Your value to me is in the stuff that will be mine one day, not in you.  If there was ever a son who needed slapped down, it is this one.  But he wasn’t slapped down.  He received what he asked for.  The father did what no father would do.  He broke the bank, broke tradition, broke open his wallet and took it out.  Took it all out.  The younger son, the prodigal, ran away as fast as his feet would take him. Did everything, tried everything, went everywhere, lived high on the hog.  Until he didn’t anymore.  Until it all came crashing down.  Until knee deep in pig slop, he came to himself.  “I’m no longer worthy.”

What does that mean, we wonder?  What did it mean for him, what does it mean for us?  Was it a true change of heart, change of mind, change of life?  Or another scheme?  Another plot, another way to play his old man and come out better than he was now?  Was the speech he rehearsed all the way home from the heart, or from an empty pocket?  We would need to be sure.  Before we’d welcome him in again.  Before we’d put ourselves at risk of being hurt again.  Before we could call him worthy.  

But a strange thing happened.  His father ran to meet him, didn’t really listen to his speech, didn’t ask for an accounting or a sense of shame or a willingness to change.  No, he just gathered him up and treated him as though he was worthy.  As though he was a son.  As though he belonged.  And he was swept up into the party, welcomed home, where he had all he ever wanted.   End of story.

Well, no, not quite the end.  There is the older brother.  And we may have been at one time in our lives a prodigal, maybe.  But now we’re all older brothers.  If you’re reading this blog, more than likely, you’re an older brother.  And now it falls on you.  Jesus didn’t finish the story.  Didn’t finish our story.  He just stands there with his arms around the one we want to keep out, the one different from us, the one who makes us uncomfortable, and says “but we had to celebrate.”  

 Because he is worthy.  It isn’t what we do that makes us worthy, it’s what He does.  


Saturday, July 7, 2018

You're Wearing That?

We conclude part one of our Summer Series this weekend with an emphasis on grace and forgiveness.  Part one is the “Meet the Bible” section where I asked the congregation to submit to me questions about the Bible that we then explored in both worship and Bible study during the week.  We covered a wide range of questions and concerns and are concluding with two thematic studies.  What does the Bible say about heaven, that was last week.  And what the Bible says about grace and forgiveness this week.

I confess, when I first saw this theme on the survey sheets, I was upset.  We’d just covered grace during Lent this year.  We talked about forgiveness in the midst of that and in other places.  Surely we’ve got it now.  Surely we know what grace and forgiveness is, or are, or whatever!  One of the survey forms even read like this: “I know we just covered this, but I need to know more!”  More?  C’mon people!  

But then, I thought, Jesus seemed to come back to this theme again and again.  The Bible as a whole covers grace and forgiveness from beginning to end.  The precedent is set.  The need to explain again and again and again is clear.  This is something we wrestle with.  Something that seems out of reach, inconceivable in some ways.  You mean, we ask, we don’t want what we deserve?  We want mercy?  And that’s what God prefers anyway?  Wow.  So, here we are again, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. 

To help us out, we’re going to get practical.  If you can join us for worship at Southport UMC this weekend, we have a story to tell that will give you a new appreciation for the working of grace and forgiveness in real human lives.  To understand something is one thing, to live it or see it lived out is another.  So come and see, or come and hear and maybe understand a little bit more about the power of grace and forgiveness in the world in which we live.  

But there are some who can’t make it, I understand.  So, instead, I’ll give you a real world example.  Look in the mirror.  Seriously.  Look.  Particularly at your outfit.  What are you wearing?  As you go out and about in the world, how do you dress for the part?  I know, it sounds weird.  But I didn’t come up with it.  It’s not my question.  It’s Paul’s.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look.

Colossians 3:12-17  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. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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 the 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 going out wearing that?