August 4, 2019
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity
(Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21)
Walk into your average middle school in America and you’ll encounter some of the most self-conscious people on the planet — eighth-graders.
These kids are a jangle of nerves and emotions. They’re on the cusp of high school and want desperately to know someone in high school. Eighth-graders are those kids with whom no self-respecting high schooler wants to hang out. They’re often arrogant, hateful and sometimes both. They’re emotionally sensitive. They eye roll a lot.
Eighth-graders are denizens, according to some, of Dante’s fifth circle of hell. There is a quote on the web, which I could not determine the author, that goes like this: “A grotesque wasteland where underqualified teachers and posers alike turn defenseless 12-year-olds into vapid shells of their former selves. After about three years of this methodical torture, these poor souls are shipped to the sixth circle of hell, otherwise known as high school.”
A typical eighth-grader wakes up and goes to the closet to pick out clothes for the day believing that every fashion choice is a critical one. After all, everyone else is watching! A fashion faux pas can be humiliating, so it’s important to make a statement with what you wear. (It hits me too! Every time I prepare for Mass, I worry if my outfit will be just right! LOL)
But then imagine these same eighth-graders walking into an art class and noticing that their teacher has worn the same boring outfit day after day for months! Like, really? Aren’t art teachers supposed to be all colorful and stuff? Is she weird? Or has she been around tempera paint and hot glue a little too long?
Actually, she is one of the coolest teachers in the school, and her fashion statement really rubbed off on these adolescent consumers.
Meet Julia Mooney, an art teacher at William Allen Middle School in Moorestown, New Jersey. At the beginning of the 2018 school year, she put on a simple gray button-down dress and then wore it every school day for 100 days straight.
It wasn’t about being weird. For Mooney, it was about teaching her students about the growing “culture of excess” that has filled American closets to overflowing with cheap clothing that isn’t ethically sourced or manufactured and that, most of the time, eventually winds up in a landfill.
The typical American now buys 60 percent more items of clothing than they did 15 years ago and keeps them half as long. Mooney thinks this is a major problem on a lot of levels. “There’s no rule anywhere that says we have to wear a different thing every day,” says Julia. “Why do we ask this of each other? Why do we require that we each wear something different every day and buy more clothes and feed into this fashion culture?” (Talk about bursting my bubble with my Mass ensemble!)
Instead, Julia advocates for what she calls “sustainable fashion”: wearing clothing that’s made in an eco-friendly way; buying fewer, but better-made pieces of clothing; wearing the same clothes more often; and making sure they’re recycled when they are replaced or no longer needed. (I will have you know, I do not discard my Mass outfits! That’s just rude!)
And Julia’s not alone in her thinking. More and more clothing manufacturers are making clothing out of recycled materials and eschewing unsustainable products such as petroleum-based synthetic rubber for corn-based materials in things like shoes. Buying better-made products and wearing them longer is the new fashion statement!
Rather than rolling their eyes at her, Mooney’s students seem to be on board with the trend she set. Some of them began their own experiment of wearing the same clothes on consecutive days (though not for 100!), while some of their teachers got into the act as well. And, yes, in answer to the obvious question, Julia does wash her dress frequently! It’s not about hygiene — it’s about wearing something of quality for the long haul while making a difference in the world.
For Paul, however, this fashion isn’t so much about what disciples of Jesus put on their bodies but about how they clothe their “minds.” Because Christians have been “raised with Christ,” we should “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” It’s about a mindset that seeks to sustain the life that is “hidden with Christ in God” until Christ is revealed. For Paul, the only label that matters is the one put on us by the risen Christ!
Mooney bucked the trend of most of the world that seeks to wear whatever is trendy and expendable. We live in a culture where people seem to change their minds as much as they change their clothes. If you are what you wear, then Paul says that we are fast, cheap and easy when it comes to our spiritual clothing as well. If you’re going to live sustainably, then you have to be willing to first do a purge of whatever you’ve been hiding in the back of the closet. “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly…” says Paul. Get rid of the junk that you’ve been keeping that doesn’t fit anymore: “the old self with its practices” when you were living life apart from Christ. Dump things like “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” These are the things that the rest of the world puts on and displays regularly as a way of comparing themselves to one another.
A new mindset, a sustainable mindset, begins with stripping off “the old self with its practices” and replacing your spiritual wardrobe with a new one — a “new self” that is “being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator.”
In other words, the wardrobe we’re called to wear is the one we were given from the beginning when God created humans in God’s own image (Genesis 1:26-27). Remember that those first humans started out “naked and unashamed” and it was only after their sin that they began comparing themselves to one another and “knew that they were naked” (Genesis 2:25; 3:7). Paul reminds us that the character with which we were originally outfitted was the very character of God, which bears no shame. Christ, the perfect model of that divine character, enables us to put on our original wardrobe through his defeat of sin and death in his crucifixion and resurrection.
Unlike a few trend setters and designers in the fashion world who set the agenda for what the rest of the world buys, the renewed and sustainable wardrobe of the Christian, says Paul, is universal and designed to be worn by all kinds of people. Whether you’re a gentle soul who prefers to wear tweed or a slave to fashion or a teenage boy, what matters is not what you wear on the outside but what you’re wearing inside. “Christ is all and in all,” says Paul, and when Christ is in you, then your spiritual clothing and mindset will reflect him regardless of whether your outer clothes come from Walmart or Prada.
So, what does that sustainable spiritual wardrobe look like? It is in the verse immediately after the last line of our Epistle. Like most of our closets, it needs to have some basic pieces that are the foundation for everyday wear. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (v.12).
Notice that Paul says that we should clothe ourselves with these things, which means that they are a conscious choice. Just as a person stands in front of his or her closet every morning and wonders what to put on, Paul suggests that we who have been “raised with Christ” make a daily choice to put on his character for display to the rest of the world. We are to “bear with one another” and “forgive each other” as the Lord has forgiven us (v. 13).
But over all these things we are to put on love which is, “the bond of perfection” (v. 14). Love is the characteristic that completes the ensemble and marks us as belonging to the Jesus brand. It’s the article of our spiritual clothing that becomes more broken-in and comfortable with extended, everyday use. It never wears out, and it never goes out of style. We’ve been given the perfect pattern of love in Jesus, and when we let the “peace of Christ” rule in our hearts, we become “one body” that can influence the world to dress like we do and to become part of Jesus’ brand as well. Our teaching, our worship and our every word and deed are commercials that point to Christ.
Mooney understood that what we present to the world from our inner selves is far more important than what we drape over our outer selves. What really matters is that we are living to make a better world. It’s a daily choice to move away from the culture of excess to the culture of enough. (Okay, fine, but I am not giving up my plush Mickeys!)
When we make the daily choice to put on the character of Christ even before we put on our clothes, we make a fashion statement that the world can’t help but notice! “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” (v. 17).
Brand Jesus is the only one that is sustainable forever!
Let us pray.
In all today’s readings, it is made clear to us the uselessness of pursuing material wealth in this life. We pray for the wisdom to recognize that life on this earth is short-lived and that our time is best spent in preparing for eternal happiness, in the presence of our God in the next. We pray to the Lord.
Lord, help us to realize when pride, covetousness and greed enter into our lives. We pray that we be freed from the unholy and unhelpful grip of selfishness and greed and that we recognize our Christian duty to look after those most in need. We pray to the Lord.
That those who devoted themselves to the pursuit of wealth and power know the fulfillment found in Jesus’ path of service and generosity. We pray to the Lord.
That we all listen to the voice of our Good Shepherd calling us to become rich in what matters to God. We pray to the Lord.
For victims who were murdered in the El Paso and Dayton shootings; may they rest in peace eternal. May the families and friends left behind be carried in the palm of God’s hand and be comforted. We pray to the Lord.
That legislators will wake up to the need and pass legislation that will help stop this endless bloodshed this country has been experiencing. We pray to the Lord.
That fervent devotion to the Eucharist will cause the church to grow in numbers and holiness. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, help us to put away the old self and to be renewed in spirit, recreated in righteousness and holiness of truth. God of life, you sent your son to lead us to you, our true treasure and source of all peace. Hear our prayers that we might be freed from the desire to always have more, and instead invest our time and resources in building the kingdom of God. Amen
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA