This sermon was proclaimed on August 22, 2021 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
Joshua 24: 1-2a, 14-18
Ephesians 6: 10-20
John 6: 56-69
Young Friends message: I remember that each year, no matter how old I was, I spent a great amount of time picking out my first day of school outfit. Do you all still do that? Yes, no? Well, sometimes we think about what we want to wear don’t we? What we wear sends a message to people about what we like, maybe band or unicorn t-shirts, or our school colors, or as we get older, some jobs have uniforms, like medical workers, construction workers. And what we wear tells people what we are doing, such as if we’re wearing workout clothes, or fancy clothes. I probably wouldn’t wear a fancy outfit to go for a run! Or my running clothes to a nice restaurant, although I’ve been tempted! And we definitely wouldn’t wear a swimsuit to play in the snow! The right clothes can matter. In our Ephesians bible story today, we hear about putting on the armor of God. What does that sound like to you? Kinda strange maybe? It does to me! But I got to thinking about it and I realized that maybe we need to remember that just as it’s important to wear the right clothes to be warm, or cool, or even safe, so too, our actions and our words are like our clothes that let people know about what we are doing and who we are. Telling the truth, being righteous which is a fancy word for being kind and a good friend, being peaceful, having faith that God is with us all, and that God will always be with us, which is salvation, and God’s Word of love, as we have in Jesus. We don’t think of that as “wearing anything” but just as we take time to decide what to wear for our day, we should take the time to decide to show God to other people. Let’s talk some more about that!
Somedays it is a challenge to decide what to wear based on weather, what I’m doing that day, meetings, off or on zoom, etc. I want to be ready for whatever the day brings. I will admit that the days I need to wear my clerics are days I spend less time staring in my closet. While that seems like a good thing, to have that easy choice, wearing this shirt comes with other side effects. I’ll notice that people star at me, treat me differently, call me “sister,” are very confused by my holding Mike’s hand or avoid me altogether. As a pastor, who happens to be female, in a world that a) is not accustomed to seeing people wearing clerics all that often, and b) a woman wearing a cleric, it can lead to situations that range from weird, to sublime, to disturbing, to downright hilarious. People expect me to behave a certain way when they see me in a clergy shirt that they don’t when I’m in the Target in my jeans and a t-shirt. And sometimes I forget that I’m in a cleric, and sometimes I’m all too aware. For instance, if I drive past a person asking for money on a corner, it’s tempting to remove my collar so that I can’t be identified as a pastor, when I don’t stop and offer money. I have a colleague from seminary, a woman as well, who said that sometimes this shirt can feel 500 pounds because of the expectations. I honestly have a love/hate relationship with wearing clerics. Sure, it’s an easy wardrobe choice, but this shirt sets me apart. It’s a lot of pressure and forces me to live carefully about the choices I make. Sometimes, only sometimes, I long to be a “normal” person.
While yes, maybe this clergy shirt does come with expectations, but when I consider whether to wear the shirt or not, I realize that those expectations are always present. As those expectations, don’t have anything to do with the clerics, but my baptism, who I am and whose I am. My identity is far beyond this shirt or any other piece of clothing I might wear. My identity of following Jesus is known by my words and actions and those should be consistent regardless of if I am in my clerics or not. Wearing this shirt, people expect me to behave ethically, morally, truthfully, lovingly. But shouldn’t that be true if I never put this shirt on again? And yet, I know that wearing this shirt forces me to remember; it holds me accountable. When those of us who do wear this shirt behave in ways that are incongruent with following Jesus, it harms the body of Christ. Sadly, every pastor or priest has let their people down, and I’m no different, for we’re human. And yes, there are horrible circumstances when priests and pastors have abused their positions and power, lied, stolen from people or the church, or made other choices that betrayed and denied their vows to God’s people and Church. And all too often the Church hasn’t done enough to protect people, or ensure that those perpetrating harm receive consequences. As Church leadership we must repent of the harm and abuse that hierarchy and clericalism has inflicted on the Body of Christ.
We know all too well that the clothing itself doesn’t completely control identity, words and actions, just as wearing a stethoscope doesn’t make you a medical expert, neither does wearing clericals make you closer to God or a better disciple. Each day we choose our baptismal vocation. That can indeed be a difficult thing to accept as Jesus points out in John’s gospel, as it does sound offensive that there is a choice to be made and it makes us uncomfortable like an itchy wool sweater. There is not any give or stretch, in any of today’s three texts and that might seem harsh or unloving, or ungraceful, but I would ask you to reconsider.
Joshua asks the people, who will you serve? The people proclaim God, but in the verses that we don’t read, Joshua correctly tells the people three times, that they won’t because on their own, they can’t. In Ephesians, we’re told to dress for a spiritual battle, not for violence or mayhem but for the real possibility that life will be hard, and we’d better be ready. Jesus asks the disciples and the twelve, why is the good news that I am the bread of life hard to accept? Do you want to leave? The choice is yours.
We like choice, but the choice we want is “can’t we say we love Jesus and then do whatever we want and just ask for forgiveness?” and the choice we get is “you either get it or you don’t.” This isn’t the Jesus we like or want to profess. But it is good news. Jesus says to the twelve, I called you, all of you, even the one who will betray me, but you can leave if you want. Joshua reminds the Israelites that God chose them as God’s people, rescued them, provided for them, and made a path for them, but won’t coerce them into relationship. The good news is that God chooses us, chooses you, chooses me, each and every day. That will never change. God desires for us to choose to love and serve God every day as carefully as we might choose our outfit. God desires for us to carefully put on what will reveal the kingdom of God in our lives and the lives of others: truth, righteousness in relationships with each other, peace, wholeness, faith, salvation-safety in the promises of God, and the word of God. The word of God made flesh in Jesus, that abides in us and we in him, no matter what. We are chosen, all people are chosen by God’s love. Being chosen doesn’t make us special but makes us accountable. We are chosen and the world is watching, Jesus says. What and who will we choose? Will we choose to wear the mask of compassion, the vaccine of community, the shoes of protest for compassion and dignity for our neighbor? Or will this be too difficult to accept, and we will walk away complaining that it’s too hard? This isn’t a guilt trip or a shame fest, my friends, it’s a fact of life. It’s a fact of life that all too many people are unwilling to face, that we are called to be bold in our witness and when others walk out of hard situations, as followers of Jesus, we choose to walk in. We walk in armed with the presence of God in the Holy Spirit, armed with the word of God, the love of God made flesh in Jesus, knowing that harm and suffering is not only possible but expected. But we walk in, because what else can we do? Our neighbor needs us: our sick neighbor, our Afghani neighbor, our Haitian neighbor, our scared neighbor, our angry neighbor. Where else can we choose to go? Jesus calls us by name, calls us to wear love, makes us holy and whole, with each other, all creation and God, and separation will be no more. Jesus IS the word of sustaining life for all, that covers us and sends us out ready to love and serve our neighbor. This is the promise. Amen.