Continuing to Wear Our Easter Best
I John 3:1-10
The Third Sunday of Easter, April 19, 2015
Believe it or not, it was the Roman Emperor Constantine, not Saks Fifth Avenue, Brooks Brothers or Belk’s, who is credited with first helping to introduce Easter fashion to the world. In 300AD, Constantine who was a Christian declared that his court should wear their absolute finest for Easter that year. Over time, the decree of Constantine was picked up by the masses and wearing new clothes for Easter became symbolic of what was happening spiritually. As the forty days of Lent, in which believers dressed drably and often wore the same clothes day after day, gave way to Easter, the people marked the hope of resurrection and new life with a new set of fancy duds. And, you thought, Ralph Lauren had to be involved in the plot – didn’t you!?!
Further, by the 15th century, there was a superstition that suggested that if you didn’t wear new clothes on Easter then you would have bad luck or that you would be plagued by moths who would eat your old clothes that had not been replaced.
Not to be outdone by the Romans or the Europeans, America really got into the swing of things in the post Civil War world which interestingly enough is when we also began to embrace Christmas as a country too. By the 1870s, the New York Easter Parade had developed. Originally, it was nothing more than the result of churchgoers walking down Fifth Avenue to one of the various churches that stood on that particular street for Easter services. Over time, that simple practice developed into a parade of fashion and ultimately people lined the street, rich and poor, to watch the Easter Sunday church goers and also the elite of New York parade by to not only celebrate the Resurrection but to also show off the latest in fashion trends for that particular year. (fashionclub.com in their article from March 23, 2010, New Clothes for Easter: A History of the Tradition)
We still do it today. Pastel dresses, Easter hats, seer sucker suits, white buck lace up shoes or a pink tie and pocket square – we still wear our Easter finery to both be in step with fashion and also as a way to mark the day as special. Easter is indeed a day to dress up, to wear bright, joyful clothes and to allow our attire to be a sign of the joy and new life found in Christ.
Ultimately though, in the wake of Easter, the call of the New Testament is that we not only cloth ourselves in new Easter threads but that we cloth ourselves in Easter practices. In other words, we shouldn’t just show the change that Christ’s resurrection has made by how we dress, we should show it by how we live. In this way, we not only wear our Easter best on the high holy day of the year, but, we cloth ourselves this way each and every day and as we do so, we say again to the world that life is different now because Christ is alive.
This morning, very practically, I want to zero in on one verse. It is the last verse of our text and Eugene Peterson in his version of the bible known as The Message offers the passage this way, “Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: the one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love a brother and sister. A simple test.”
There it is in black and white, the garments of the resurrection are a tenacious quest to live righteously and a dogged determination to love each other every day. Let me say that again – the garments of the resurrection, being clothed in our Easter best, includes two things: a tenacious quest to live righteously and a dogged determination to love each other every day.
On the one hand, we are to be clothed with a tenacious quest to live righteously. I John, as a section of scripture, is a tough one for lots of believers. The reason is that I John, in our passage for today says that Christians no longer sin. Now, obviously, all of us in this room know that this isn’t true nor is it possible. Just because we are believers, that doesn’t mean that we have our act together or that we are above making the wrong decision or exhibiting sinful behavior. This never stops. In turn, we often simply ignore the high ideas of John’s letter as being impossible to achieve.
In turn, what we miss is the spirit of what John is saying. John isn’t saying that we will necessarily ever achieve a life without sin, but rather, that this should continue nonetheless to be our aim, our goal, our tenacious quest. You see, in the period when this gospel was written, there was a false teaching that existed. It was called Gnosticism and one of the things Gnoticism suggested was there the body and the soul are separate from each other and thus have nothing to do with each other. So, what you did with your body had no bearing on your soul. And, there were gnostic Christians. Their take was that it didn’t matter what you did. You could march on living however you liked. Since your body had not affect on your soul then your behavior had no affect on your faith.
What John says is baloney! That simply isn’t true – children of God are known for their quest for righteousness. We may never get there but every day we are doing our best to live more and more as Christ wants us to live. We are never satisfied with how our lives are, our aim is always higher and our quest for righteousness is always a key chacteristic of our faith – it is what distinguishes us.
Things are not very different today. How often, do we separate what happens at church from what we do with our lives? How often do we compartmentalize our spiritual lives from the rest of our lives as if one has nothing to do with the other. How often do we say, I have no hope of changing or doing better – so why even bother? Here is the thing – the opposite of loving God is not hating God. The opposite of loving God is being indifferent to God. Or said another way, the opposite of loving God is simply not caring or not even trying. And, yet, here is John saying that one of our distinguishing characteristics, a garment we must always wear, is a tenacious quest for righteousness. Again, it is not the belief that we can live without sin but rather is the unyielding daily desire to be as much like God as possible that we are after.
Several years ago, I read a book that talked about a Policeman in California named Bob Crupi. The book was about fishermen all over the world who were trying to catch the world record Large Mouth Bass, a record at the time that had been in place and unchallenged since being set in the 1930s. In the book, Bob Crupi was one of the people featured who was in pursuit of the record. What caught my attention was the fact that Crupi hardly thought about anything else but this record. If he wasn’t on duty as a policeman, he was almost certainly fishing. Truthfully, it was a tragic story for Crupi’s obsession was costing him his marriage and his children. Yet in the midst of the tragedy, was this figure who got up every day with one thing on his mind – how could he catch the biggest large mouth ever? It was a question that so absorbed him that he was willing to do whatever he could in his attempt to figure out the answer. He was tenacious in his pursuit.
Let’s face it, we are all tenaciously in pursuit of something – a hobby, advancing in our job, our children’s sports team, buying our dream home or vacation home. Whatever it is, many of us have something that we get up ever day thinking, dreaming and scheming about. What would it look like though if that which we were in tenacious pursuit of was the kingdom of God? What if ever day, our morning thought was about how to be more like God, how to improve as a person and how we could in this day seek the never ending goal of utter and full Christlikeness?
What would happen if we were daily clothed with a dogged pursuit of this life characteristic of Christlikeness? Let me be very practical for a moment. One of the things I have surmised about most of the great spiritual giants over the years is that many of them kept an ongoing journal or notebook. Very intentionally, each day they were writing down what they were praying about, where they were struggling and what they were working on in that season in their lives of faith. In essence, it allowed them to live with real intentionality and focus. I fear that we are far less focused and dare I say even haphazard when it comes to our own faith lives yet how different would it be if we took a page from their lives and life practice and added it to our own?
At the same time, the call is for us to also clothe ourselves not only with a tenacious pursuit of righteousness but also with a dogged determination to love for others.
If you will remember, back when we talked about the disciples, we spoke about the fact that the disciple John referred to himself as the one whom Jesus loved. What we realized is that John, in all likelihood had been one of the most immature among the disciples, perhaps a little to proud and arrogant and thus maybe hard to get along with in his early years. Thus Jesus continued love for and patience with him in spite of himself made a huge difference helped him to become who he was. And, it wasn’t that Jesus said he loved him but rather he showed him this love daily – he kept him around, engaged him in conversation, likely gave him responsibility among the twelve, continued to invest himself in John despite the little he got in return at the time.
It is one thing to say as Christians we are to wear the Easter garnet of love, it is another thing to show that attribute in a concrete way. Today, can we individually name one way that we are doing this? Can we name one person that we are loving while receiving nothing in return? And, can we name one concrete way that we are sharing this love.
The other day, I was introduced to something that I didn’t know existed. One of our fine members was telling me about a project down a Berry College in Georgia that they have become interested in. Evidently Berry has some Eagles that have a nest there either on or near the campus. As a result, Berry has set up Eagle cam through their university website. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week you can check in and see what the Eagles are up to and what they are doing. They don’t know it, but they are always being watched.
Do we realize that the same is true of us? God and others are always watched whether we know it or not or whether they like it or not. They are watching each of us on Easter parade – not in terms of our dresses and suits but in terms of the effects of the Easter story on our lives…Amen.