Death, Ill-fitting Clothes & New Life (words for the journey, 7.3.16)

by susan on July 5, 2016

refashioned47This Sunday, we continued moving through Paul’s letter to the Colossians & we continued exploring what it means to be re-fashioned as followers of Jesus. Here are the “words for the journey” we heard & discussed together.

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.

But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

-Colossians 3:1-11, NRSV translation

What do old, ill-fitting clothes have to do with new life?

Eleven years ago, we were shocked to learn that my mom had cancer. Through a random abdominal scan, it was discovered that she had a golf-ball size tumor in her kidney. There had been no symptoms & no signs of the deadly cancer which was growing inside of her. In a matter of days, she was scheduled to have major surgery – she would need to have one of her kidneys removed. There was no guaranteed outcome.

It was a scary time. We had some significant conversations – the kind you have when you’re not sure there will be another – because death was a very real possibility.

Thankfully, the surgery was a total success though. Miraculously, there was no chemo or radiation needed.

As my mom’s body healed and she returned to her normal flutter of activity, I could not help but notice how different she seemed to me. No doubt, she has always been one of the most energetic and positive people I know, but now she was even more full of life.

Even the way she dressed was different.
Her old clothes no longer fit her new life.

As terrifying & unsettling as it can be,
facing death can lead to a fuller, richer,
more authentic life.

…which is good because death seems to be all around us these days.

What are some of the deaths we have heard about or encountered lately?
[we named some of the places, stories, events in our lives & world]

Death, though is not just something out there, to other people, in other places. Death is a central part of our faith. It’s something that happened to Jesus – he could not have experienced resurrection without it.

According to Paul’s letter to Colossians, those who claim to be followers of Jesus are not just admirers of Jesus’ death & resurrection, they are now part of the story.
They, too, are called to die & be raised to new life.

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

First, there must be dying. But, what does that death look like?

Vasnetsov_Bapt_Vladimir_fresco_in_KievLook at this portrait: The Baptism of Saint Prince Vladimir by Viktor Vasnetsov (1890).

Now choosing to become a follower of Jesus, Vladimir is entering the waters of baptism. One attendant is holding Vladimir’s golden royal robe, which he has taken off, and another attendant is holding the simple white baptismal robe, which he will put on.

This was tradition for new converts. His old clothing was not appropriate for this new path. He must exchange old clothes for different ones, old loyalties for new ones.

Baptism was (and still is) a symbol of conversion, which is not only a one time decision, but a daily laying aside of ill-fitting clothing.

As followers of Jesus, you are wearing some things that do not fit anymore, warns Paul. And, in case this community of Christians is having a hard time understanding exactly what Paul could be referring to, he gives them a list.

Paul names some of the ill-fitting, inappropriate clothing that Christ followers must constantly shed. The MSG translation interprets the list this way:

pile of old clothessexual promiscuity,
impurity,
lust,
doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it,
and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy.
bad temper,
irritability,
meanness,
profanity,
dirty talk.

This is not just some random list of sins.
Paul is naming the prevalent patterns,
the dominant ways of getting by in an
empire built around greed, sex & violence.

These habits and the customs & practices associated with them  needed to go so these Christ followers could live fuller, more authentic lives – lives rooted in Christ.

What old habits, customs or trends are inconsistent with new life in Christ? Are there particular ones on this list or others not named here that seem particularly relevant today? [we named a few that seemed especially relevant today]

Followers of Jesus do not just need to become more of this and more of that – Jesus did not launch a self-improvement campaign. Followers of Jesus are required to die – to depart from – to disengage from the dominant way of empire. It no longer fits. And, this is no easy thing.

WhiteVeil2The good news though, is that as we take off the ill-fitting clothing of empire, we are not left standing there naked. We are given something new.

We become clothed in Christ.

As we shed old attitudes & unhealthy habits and choose the way of Christ instead, we experience daily renewal. We also become part of a new community.

According to the MSG translation,

All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. – Col. 3:11

Through Christ-centered community, we are encouraged, nourished, challenged & invited to go deeper. Through these relationships, we hear stories that stir us. Through our highest & lowest moments, we learn to practice the way of Jesus together.

What about you?
Have you decided to start shedding old,
ill-fitting clothing that is no longer appropriate and to start putting on Christ?
What are you taking off so you can live your real life in Christ?
What new habits & new relationships do you need to put on instead?

As you move throughout this week,
don’t live like a fan of Jesus
or as a spectator of his way.
Enter his life of death & resurrection.
Every day, take off old, ill-fitting clothes & put on Christ.

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