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June 26, 2019, 12:00 AM

Clothed with Christ - Sermon, 6/23/19



On my mom’s side of the family, I am the oldest of twelve grandchildren. I would have been the oldest of seventeen great-grandchildren, but my cousin Christophe beat me to it by less than a year. So close!

 

All of the twelve grandchildren are very different people. Some of us are married. Some of us are single. Some of us live near our family. Some of us live very far away. Some of us are still in school. Some of us are engaged in our professions. Part of the reason we are so different is because there is a thirty year age span between us. I’m 42 and Jacob, the youngest, just turned 12.

 

Despite that thirty-year age span and despite our very different life circumstances, there is an important item that joins us together: a gown. A beautiful, white baptismal gown, to be specific. Every person born into my mother’s family has worn this gown for about one hundred years – if not longer.

 

I don’t know the history of how the gown came into the family. My guess, however, is that it came from my family’s now-defunct silk business. The gown is actually quite lovely, complete with silk and lace. There is also a bonnet, but I don’t think the one my generation used is the original one.

 

There are pictures of all twelve grandchildren, one after another, wearing this beautiful white baptismal gown. I imagine there are also pictures of my mom and her two sisters, wearing this beautiful white baptismal gown. My grandfather – the one who recently died – was also baptized in this beautiful white baptismal gown, but I’ve never seen any pictures of the event.

 

My guess is that many – if not most – of us wore white when we were baptized. Even if we are baptized as adults, there is usually some sort of white garment involved. Often, when adults are baptized, it is hard to find the same sort of baptismal gowns or suits that are available for babies. In those cases, some sort of white garment or cloth is presented to the newly baptized.

 

Of course, I was having a conversation about baptism this week, rejoicing in the commonality of wearing white at baptism, when someone interrupted me and said, quite proudly, “Not me. I was baptized in my army uniform as I prepared to serve in Korea.” Oh sure. I thought for sure that his story ruined my imagery!

 

But whether we are baptized wearing a 100-year old baptismal gown or wearing our army uniform or wearing something totally different, there is still something significant about what we wear for our baptisms. Not for the sake of fashion or even for the sake of looking cute in pictures, there is still something significant about what we wear for our baptisms.

 

In the portion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians that we read today, he provides a powerful explanation of what happens in baptism and as a result of baptism. Paul says we go from being subject to a disciplinarian, which he considers the law, to freedom of faith in Christ. Our lives change in baptism because we become “clothed with Christ.”

 

In fact, it is the fact that we become “clothed with Christ” that is so much more important than the actual clothes we wear for our baptisms. As much as I love telling the story of my family’s 100-year old baptismal gown, the gown matters so much less than the fact that we are “clothed with Christ” in our baptisms.

 

Having been “clothed with Christ,” our very lives change. Having been “clothed with Christ,” our very societies change. Having been “clothed with Christ,” the very world changes. Paul assures us that, in baptism, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, (and) there is no longer male and female.” All of the categories – religion, social status, gender – all of the categories that have divided us for so long are washed away in the waters of baptism.

 

Once we are “clothed with Christ,” we cannot go back to the old way of living. We cannot live in blind obedience to a disciplinarian. Instead, we must live into the freedom brought by our relationship with Jesus – a freedom that is symbolized by putting on new garments in our baptism.

 

There is another story about garments – and the lack of garments – in today’s lesson from Luke’s Gospel. In this reading, Luke tells the story of the person who has come to be known as the “Gerasene demoniac.” At the beginning of the story, we are introduced to the Gerasene demoniac who is possessed. Because of being possessed by demons, the man “had worn no clothes” “for a long time.” He did not even have a place to live. Instead of living in a house, the Gerasene demoniac lived “in the tombs.”

 

Through the intervention of Jesus, the man we have come to know as the Gerasene demoniac is healed. The demons flee the man and Jesus casts them into a “large herd of swine.” The swine then cast themselves off a steep bank and drown themselves in a lake.

 

People come out of their homes to see what all of the commotion is about. Perhaps the townspeople had become used to the loud noises made by the man who had been possessed by demons. The sound of a herd of swine drowning in a lake must have been a new noise, so the people are drawn out of their homes to search out the source of this new noise.

 

Imagine how surprised they must have been to encounter not only Jesus, but also the man who had been possessed. Although we never learn the man’s name, he can no longer be known as the Gerasene demoniac. The townspeople probably expect to encounter the man, yelling as usual. They find something different, though, because the man has been healed by Jesus.

 

One of the ways the people know the man has been healed is because he is sitting, “clothed and in his right mind,” at Jesus’ feet. The man is no longer naked. Instead, he is sitting in new clothes, healed and “in his right mind.”

 

In gratitude to Jesus, the previously-naked, now-healed-and-dressed man wants to join Jesus on his journey. Now “clothed and in his right mind,” the man feels compelled to stay at Christ’s side.

 

But having the newly-clothed man follow him is not part of Jesus’ plan. Luke says that Jesus commands the newly-clothed man to “return to (his) home, and declare how much God has done for (him).” The newly-clothed man is compelled by Jesus to stay behind, not just to rejoice in being healed, but to transform the world around him.

 

The newly-clothed man is “clothed with Christ,” just as all baptized people are “clothed with Christ,” and the newly-clothed man is compelled by Christ to transform the world around him, just as all baptized people are compelled to do.

 

Whether we were baptized as infants or baptized as adults, our lives have been transformed by Christ. Whether we were baptized in a 100-year old baptismal gown or an army uniform or anything in between, we are “clothed with Christ” and compelled to transform the world around us until we live in a world where “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, (and) there is no longer male and female.”

 

Let us be strengthened by our baptisms and work together until we are all “one in Christ Jesus.” Amen.


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