“Who Are You Wearing?” Romans 13:8-14
Delivered to Church for the Highlands John Henson
Sunday, September 10, 2017
How did we ever make it in life without phone apps? Some of you never have had to, but many of us remember what it was like when you had to read the newspaper to find out if our sports team won or not, to look in the yellow pages of a phone book to find a plumber and to listen to the radio or watch the local news to find out the forecast. We now go to our apps for things like all that. I recently saw a weather app promising to tell you everything you need to know about the weather; but also what to wear to school or work. For someone like me who never knows what to wear until the last minute and who could benefit from Garanimals for adults, I appreciate being told what I need to wear.
As we’ve just heard in our text this morning, Paul told the church in Rome what to wear. He tells them to “put on Jesus.” This imagery of clothing was in contrast to the dirty clothes he had just mentioned: not reveling in drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarreling, or jealousy. Instead, they were to put on Jesus, clothing that consisted of love, light, and discipline. The most visible and important article of the clothing was love. Paul tells them to “owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” He explains how all of the commandments can be summed up in the phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Paul knew this instruction would help them survive in the relationships within the church but that it would also be the key to their witness in the world.
We are to put on Jesus by putting on love for our neighbor. We tend to make our faith more complicated than that, don’t we? It’s easier to focus on religious rules and keep track of our—and other people’s– worth based on how many—and which ones—they are breaking. We may also value a belief or adherence to a creed more than loving our neighbors. But Jesus said that having a love for one’s neighbor is the only real benchmark for measuring spiritual progress. What God is most interested in is how we relate with love to the members of our family, to the people we work with during the week, to the homeless in our city, to the people who don’t love us back, to the elderly who can no longer take care of themselves, to the immigrants who move in among us, to the homophobic person on Facebook, to the person who just lost everything in a hurricane, and to the people who don’t agree with you. Putting on Jesus means putting all of them in the locale of our loving actions.
Another key article of clothing the church at Rome was to have on was light. To put on Jesus was to put on light. Paul reminded the church in Rome that they knew what time it was—time to be awake and vigilant for the arrival of Jesus. They were no longer to revel in their deeds done in darkness before they met Jesus. They were now living in light and their job was to light up the world around them with Jesus.
As a church today, we are to have light on as well. That should be a given; that the church is a light in the world, a beacon in a world caught up in the deeds of darkness and heading for certain shipwreck? But is it really a given? Sometimes the church is just as much in the dark as in the light. Sometimes the church revels in deeds of darkness not necessarily by partaking in them but by covering up its light out of neglect or unwillingness to engage the darkness. Like the church Paul wrote to, we are to be a church who knows the difference between light and darkness. We are to be a church who is awake and sober about the work we have to do here in our community. We are to follow Jesus with an urgency based on the need of our hour to do what light does—illuminates what needs to be seen, creates and sustains life, provides hope, and shows the way. As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”
Paul knew that living as light as a church was a task that could be disabled by certain obstacles, ones that could keep the church from being what it was intended to be there in Rome. He knew that churches could be guilty of losing their focus, forgetting their mission, getting comfortable with their status, and becoming self-centered in their activity. So he called them to exercise discipline and he gets specific with an “instead.” “Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” In other words, they were to exercise discipline as a body; to be so intentional about living like Jesus that there would be no time, room, or resources left for anything else.
Love and light are vital for our wardrobe as Christians, but so is discipline. Like the dieter who must toss out the candy bars, ice cream, and sodas in order to get in shape, so we as the church must dispose of self-centeredness, spiritual lethargy, and any inclination for comfortability. This next Sunday is our church’s seventh anniversary and will be a great time for us to renew our commitment to living as a healthy body of Christ. We will have the opportunity to re up on our membership, commitment to Bible Study, giving, prayer, and missional ministry. As followers of Jesus, we are to keep ourselves in shape, not allowing ourselves to hit the snooze button of our Christian witness and be drawn back into slumber. No, we are to push ourselves to get up, get out, and get busy in our world.
Oh, and don’t forget to get dressed before you go out. You don’t need an app to tell you what to wear. Just put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Audio of this sermon is here