Christ Lutheran Community Church

Christ Lutheran Community Church

June 23, 2019 Worship Sermon - "You Have Put On Christ"

Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser

Isaiah 65:1-9, Psalm 22:19-28,Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.  

I’m not a huge basketball fan, but since the 76ers were in the playoffs this year, I found myself watching a few more games than normal.  In basketball, as in every other sport, the different teams have different jerseys.  In a fast-moving game, that makes it easier to tell which players are on which teams.  But while the 76ers and the Toronto Raptors have different jerseys, there was one symbol that you could find on the jerseys of both teams.  The symbol was placed here, under the right shoulder straps.  In case you still don’t know what I’m talking about, it looked like this.  Now if you were a Martian watching basketball for the first time, you might think that symbol means basketball, because it’s on almost all the jerseys of all the professional basketball teams and a lot of college basketball teams as well.  But then if you turned the channel to a golf tournament, you would see that Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy almost always have that symbol somewhere on their bodies as well.  Then you turn the channel again to a  tennis match, and you’ll see that Rodger Federer and Serena Williams are often wearing that symbol.  So, if you were a Martian, you might be a little confused; but you all aren’t from Mars, so you probably don’t need an explanation.  This symbol is called the Nike swoosh, and it is the symbol of a company that sells athletic clothing. 

Nike pays big money to get that symbol on the clothing of great athletes.  In 2015, they made a deal with Lebron James that was over a billion dollars.  And athletes like Tiger Woods and Rodger Federer make many times more money endorsing products for Nike and other companies than they do playing golf or tennis. 

You don’t need an MBA in marketing to understand what all of this is about.  Lebron James has an aura of power.  He can do amazing things on the basketball court.  So, if you are Nike, and you can arrange to put your little swoosh – which everyone on earth knows means Nike – if you can put your little swoosh on Lebron James’s jersey, people will associate his aura of power with the products sold by Nike.  They’ll pay quite a bit more for a pair of running shoes that have that same swoosh on them, because now those shoes are imbued with that same aura of power.

I imagine none of this is news to some of you, but I mention it because clothing is an image that comes up in two of our readings this morning.  In Galatians, we have that beautiful promise that I started with: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.”    We usually quote this verse in our service of baptism as we cover the newly baptized with a prayer shawl or an alb.  We do this as a sign that Christ has covered the new Child of God with the robes of righteousness and the garments of salvation.   

That’s why worship leaders wear white robes in church.  These are baptismal garments: we wear these so that instead of seeing Steve Keiser or Alice Kaplan, we will see Christ serving us through each other.

In the gospel, we read about a demon possessed man.  His situation is heartbreaking: he runs naked through the tombs, howling and bruising himself with stones; his neighbors bind him in chains, but he just breaks them apart.  In Mark’s version of this story, after Jesus casts out the demons, the people of his village see him sitting clothed and in his right mind.  This story also has baptismal connotations: Jesus sends the demons into a herd of pigs and the pigs rush into the sea and drown.  In baptism, a part of us drowns… the old, self-centered humanity drowns so that a new humanity can be reborn in us.  In the early church, people would be naked as the waded into the baptismal font; and then when they came out they would be clothed with a beautiful white garment – kind of like the demon possessed man.  It was a way of demonstrating the new life that we have in Jesus Christ. 

So how is being clothed with Christ in baptism different from being clothed with Nike?   In a way, they are both about being clothed in an aura of power.  But the power that Nike wants you to associate with their running shoes and athletic clothes is the power of winning.  That’s what nike means, after all.  Nike is the Greek word for victory.   Nike wants you to believe that if you wear their clothing you will excel over your competitors. 

Being clothed with Christ is not about winning; it’s about compassion.  The power of Christ is a power of love that moves him at the sight of people who are suffering.  The neighbors of the demon possessed man bind him with chains to keep him away; but Jesus goes right up to this poor man and talks to him.  In a Spirit of Compassion, Christ healed the demon possessed man.  In that same Spirit, Christ reaches out to heal us, again and again, of our brokenness, our isolation, our anxiety.

The power of winning is all about self-preservation.  We seek to set ourselves apart from everyone else so that we can live securely in the knowledge that we are the best – the best golfer, the smartest mathematician, the prettiest high school student – whatever category we are using to set ourselves apart from everyone else. 

The power of compassion recognizes that there is no way for me to preserve myself without you also being preserved.  It’s not about me winning over you, but all of us together winning the eternal life that Jesus promises.  So rather than trying to set ourselves apart from everyone else, compassion leads us to seek out connections with everyone else.  As we read in Galatians: “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male nor female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” 

That’s why the baptismal garments we wear are plain, without any kind of adornment except maybe a cross.  We don’t brand them with our logo or the logo of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; just a plain white robe or blanket, to show that we are all one in Christ. 

Because Christ reaches out to us with the arms of compassion, we who have been clothed with Christ are called to reach out to the world with arms of compassion.  Our mission as a congregation is to share God’s love for all the world.  So, it’s a wonderful coincidence that June 20th, which is our anniversary as a congregation, is also World Refugee Day.  Our congregation has been nourished and sustained by the refugees that have joined us over the years.  Without refugees, this congregation would be a lot smaller.   And certainly, Upper Darby would be a far less vibrant community. 

According to United Nations report, there are 70 million refugees from violence in the world right now, more than at any time since WWII.  Turkey, Pakistan, and Uganda are the nations that have received the greatest number of refugees.  Among developed countries, only Germany is in the top ten.  So, in spite of what we hear in the news, the United States is way behind other countries in providing asylum to victims of violence.

At our synod assembly last month, our governing body adopted a resolution encouraging all the Lutheran congregations in southeastern Pennsylvania to observe world refugee Sunday on the Sunday closest to June 20th.  For Christians, compassion for refugees should be in our DNA, remembering that Abraham was a refugee, and King David was a refugee, and Jesus was a refugee.  Our scriptures tell us, repeatedly, to provide hospitality to refugees and treat them with kindness.  So today, we take a moment to lift in prayer those who have displaced from their homes by war, hunger, disease, and natural disasters. 

Let us pray:  Heavenly Father, throughout the ages you have been the protector of refugees and guardian of those displaced by war and violence.  We cry out to you on behalf of the seventy million people who have fled their homes because of war.  Bring peace in their homeland and resources to them during their time of dislocation.  Stir up a spirit of compassion in all nations who have the capacity to provide aid and shelter.  We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen