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May 21, 2017

“God, Our Clothing”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Colossians 3.12-21

Genesis 3.6-24

May 21, 2017

                What message does your clothing send? Is the message you intend the same message that is received? How much thought is put into your clothing? Today we hear two scripture passages relating to God and clothing, and thus we continue our sermon series about metaphors for God. Last week we explored the idea of God as a Nursing Mother. We are piecing together different metaphors to help us understand different facets of God. I was inspired by Lauren Winner’s book, Wearing God, and have had some help from the Sunday school class, who discusses the topic and passages the week before, and offers insight and posits challenging questions about the passages.

            The Genesis passage is one at the end of the first creation story. God has created the earth, and it is good. Once everything has been created, God instructed the man not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent talks to the woman about this, asking her why God has given these instructions. The serpent convinces her that they will not die if they eat of the fruit, but will be like God. So, the woman eats the fruit, the man follows suit, and then they realize they are naked, create fig leaves as loin cloths, and run to hide.

            There is clearly some shame in this passage. The woman and man are ashamed of something, and so they hide from God. They recognized that they were naked – but did their shame come from their nakedness? They were naked before, and God created them naked, and called it good. Now they have knowledge that they were naked – or knowledge and realization that they have disobeyed God. They carry that shame within their bodies, as they hastily stitch some fig leaves together to cover up more than their genitals, but also their shame.

            When God realizes they have disobeyed, God punishes them. God is clearly disappointed. God speaks to the snake: "Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel." God then punishes the woman: "I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." Then God punishes the man: "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Essentially, God tells them that whenever they try to be like God, through creating human life or creating through a garden and farming, they will experience struggles and pain.

            However, after all this, in verse twenty-one, God removes the cheaply made loin cloths and offers them clothes, woven by God with love. These clothes perhaps represent God’s continued presence in our lives, even though we mess up.[1] We will make mistakes, and God will be angry with us, but that does not mean God will forsake us.

            As we discussed this part of the passage in the Sunday school class, some struggled with this, because they didn’t see it as consistent with the punishment. Some wondered if rather than making them clothes, God gave them skin. Perhaps Adam and Eve were just spiritual beings that became physical beings when they ate the fruit and obtained knowledge. Whatever the case may be, we might explore the idea of the shame felt by the man and the woman. As a society, we still shame one another, and feel that shame deep within ourselves. Lauren Winner discusses how she uses clothing often to cover up the shame of her body, shame that should not exist because God created her as good.[2] Yet, too often, media tries to convince us that we don’t have the right body or that we don’t have the right clothes or that we don’t have the right hair. The shame is intensified by magazines and movies and deepens that shame, telling us that we’re not ok, when that is a lie that they are selling us. Too often we buy into it, trying to convince ourselves that we need to look a certain way, buy certain clothes, wear our hair a certain way – and if we don’t, we feel shame for not buying into the consumerism. Often media tries to tell us that if we buy a certain brand, we will suddenly be popular, or feel more confident, or be more competent in our jobs, or we will exercise more if we have the right shoes.

            Does the inside reflect the outside? Do our clothes reflect how we feel, or do our clothes reflect how we want to feel? Can the outside influence the inside, as scripture suggests? This latter question arose multiple times in the Sunday school class’ discussion of the Colossians passage. We wondered if we put on certain emotions or actions like clothes, if it would transform us. One way to look at this metaphor is to consider a child. If you dress a child in a suit on Sunday, they may change their behavior for that day. The child knows not to play in the mud in dress clothes. The next day the child is in shorts and a shirt. Did the dress clothes change the child, or will the child play in the mud?

            It is helpful to know before jumping into this passage that the part preceding it informs the readers how not to act. It says: “But now you must get rid of all such things-- anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.” So, here is a list of things not to do: wrath, hate-filled language, malice. Then we hear how we should act: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Can we be nice to each other as easily as putting on a warm, fuzzy sweater, or change our offensive behaviors as easy as taking off a pair of uncomfortable shoes? Should we cover up our bad feelings and negativity like a hat on a bad hair day?

            Our current political climate begs this question: Is it better to keep your hatred under wraps and be polite to those you can’t stand, or to be honest and disrespectful? In one way, the person doesn’t know your true feelings, but isn’t harmed. The other way, they are hurt, but at least know how you truly feel. If someone is racist, is it better to be polite to someone of another race, and then make racist comments at home, or to be painfully honest in speech?

            In reading this passage we can see a focus on community. The author is emphasizing how to act in public – how to speak to others, how to treat one another, and how to build up community rather than tear it apart. Let’s say there’s a man that you really can’t stand. Whatever the reasons, you decide to keep your feelings of anger and wrath and malice within you and put on the clothing of respect. The more you talk with him, the more you know him and begin to understand him. Then, perhaps the outside does change the inside. You are transformed by your once fake compassion. What once was just for show, becomes meaningful and genuine. For some, clothing does change them. When people go into a new job, they might feel confidence and authoritative when they put on a suit, whereas if they went into work with sweatpants they would feel sluggish and lazy.

            Does it matter the inside matches the outside? How much of our dress is for others? Corsets are an example of clothing worn to fit others’ perspectives of how one should dress. Women didn’t want to wear corsets. Or pantyhose. Or really most clothing designed to make us taller, thinner, or sleeker. But many people do it because they want to fit into what others expect. Often, people treat you differently depending on how you dress. I am always treated differently when I wear a collar than when I wear jeans.

            So, what does all this say about God? What does our dress have to do with God? Perhaps how we act and how we treat one another reflects what we’re wearing. Our actions and words show whether we wear God or not. To be compassionate and kind sometimes takes intentionality – it takes us waking up in the morning and thinking, “Will I wear this soft, thin sweater of God, which makes me slightly vulnerable to the world around me, but comforts me and encourages me? Or will I wear this stiff, wool turtleneck that shields me from the world, forgetting all that stuff God said about loving my neighbor?”

            A different question to ask yourself as you put on the clothes of Christ, is whether or not you are dressed for the task at hand. Too many times I have shown up wearing heels to a cemetery after it rained. I was not dressed for the task at hand. Think about the disciples, though. It was suggested in the Sunday school class that the disciples were dressed in a way that made them easily approachable because part of their calling was to talk with people. Are we dressed in a way that makes us approachable? Are our actions and words compassionate and kind and loving, in a way that makes people want to talk to us and listen to us?

            Be clothed by God, prepared to be transformed, and be ready to transform the community. Amen.


[1] Lauren F. Winner, Wearing God (New York: HarperOne, 2015), 58.

[2] Winner, 58-59.