New Year! New You?

[special_heading title=”New Year! New You?” subtitle=”by Anne Bond” separator=”yes”]Reading;

Third chapter of the letter to the Colossians beginning at the 9th verse.

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.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if        anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other;   just as the

Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

This is God’s word to you…. Thanks be to God

SOOO, Happy New Year! It is 2020!  This is the season to look back at the year (in this case some are looking back across the decade…) and reflect on accomplishments, losses, relationships and changes.   And a season to open that blank new calendar and anticipate what the coming year may bring….

How many have made some new year’s resolutions?  How many of these resolutions are the same ones from prior years? What are resolutions anyhow? Perhaps aspirations for becoming a “better person”…  many ways to define that in our world.

Making resolutions not a new thing….

Hear a resolution by George and Amacetta Summers of Virginia from January 1, 1831

            We will endeavor to live more in reference to our eternal interests than we ever yet have done. We will read the Bible more, and endeavor to learn anew the will of God and conform ourselves to it. To acquire more of the graces and virtues of Christians and to live as becomes new, yet immortal creatures, sojourning on this earth for a season only, and whose destiny is in another endless state.          

George and Amacetta saw “newness” in God’s interests as their calling for 1831 and beyond.  But don’t we all hope for “newness” in some part of our lives?

I invite you to spend a moment reflecting on what is or might be new in your life with God.

In many places in Scripture, God makes someone new….  Gives him/her a new identity as the past is broken away and the future is different.

I see several ways in which God does this…. In particular with names and clothing….

The 8th day of Christmas, which falls on January 1, is often called the Feast of the Holy Name, and growing up in the Catholic church, it was a holy day of obligation to celebrate the formal naming of Jesus. So thinking of God’s use of names ….  And the important meaning the bestowing of those names and the names themselves had….

Sometimes names were changed…

Think of Abram and Sarai….  God tells them fairly definitively that their names are now Abraham and Sarah… And with these new names and identities, God established a new covenant with Abraham and his descendants.  By agreeing to this new name, Abraham accepted the covenant and the special relationship with God which it brought. The new name brought transformation and a radically different perspective on the future.

Likewise, Abraham’s descendent Jacob experienced a change of name… to Israel. His new name established a people and an identity which continues today.

God also foretold names, often as he announced the coming of a child….  And these children were frequently not born in expected or acceptable circumstances..

Abraham’s two sons were announced to him with names attached: Ishmael and Isaac…  born, one outside of marriage to a slave and the other to a wife long past childbearing years…. These were children of the God’s covenant.

Fast forward to Elizabeth and Mary and the news from God that each – again one married but barren and one young but unmarried – would bear a son and would be named by God as  John and Jesus….

Names have meanings and reflect identity…. And change of identity.

Women at marriage,  naming children for ancestors to affirm family relationships..

How do we understand our names as our identities? Think on this…

Another means to establish identity as followers of Christ is through the use of metaphors about clothing –

At what age did your parents allow you to start selecting your own clothes to wear? How did that work, especially if you were going outside the home to be seen in public? That was probably a pretty new experience, and gave you a different self-image, yes?  I wonder what your, and my, choices revealed about taste, personality and/or willful disruption of parental composure…. How about with your own children?

As a historian and long-time museum director managing extensive collections of clothing and accessories, I have done a lot of thinking and communicating about what clothing represents beyond bodily cover in a range of climate conditions.

The old phrase “clothes make the man” is very true…..

Clothing has always carried meanings at numerous levels. Clothes are signifiers of many diverse elements of our identities – gender, profession, economic level, ethnicity/nationality, rank or status, age bracket, place where we live –  and many other aspects of who we each are. This is true now and has been over many millennia. Clothing served as a reflection of wealth and social status, both high and low. It was often mandated by law. Required and forbidden clothing was frequently used to identify and usually repress the community of the wearer – Jews in medieval Europe with yellow stars sewn on coats or American Indian children in boarding school uniforms as historical examples.

We have clothing for times in our lives: graduation cape and mortarboard, wedding gowns, prom tuxedos, my little white dress and veil for First Communion.

We have clothing for the work we do which others recognize-  doctor’s white coat, military fatigues, UPS brown uniforms, restaurant server aprons, pastors’ stoles and robes. As a teacher at a university in Taiwan after college, my brother was given a special robe and hat to set him within the teacher community.

We have specific items of clothing which make statements about things we support or believe in – political campaign tee-shirts, vests with Trout Unlimited logos, school sweatshirts or ball caps for sports teams.

The lists and types of clothing can go on….. and as we adopt these different items of clothing, we make outward statements of newness and/or change, and of identity and affiliation.

How do you feel when you put on new clothes? Do you feel new or different?

So what about new clothing on the “inside”???  Reflect a moment.[callout_box title=”Stripping off and clothing yourself are external actions….visible to the world at large. But these are complemented by an internal event: renewal, becoming new… in a way which sets followers of Jesus apart from those of the “former way of life”.” subtitle=””]Today’s selection from Colossians is very similar to one in Ephesians 4:22-24

You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to          clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Here, clothing is directly linked to newness of self….  In some translations, the English words are “to strip off” , “to become new” , and “to put on”

The clothing metaphor is even more explicit.

Looking at these verbs in their original texts, the Greek tenses shows even deeper meaning.

“to put away or strip off” is in a tense which denotes a once and for all definitive action. The action is done once. We strip off our old, corrupt selves only once…

“to be renewed or become new” is in the present tense and implies that the action is ongoing, perpetual. Even after putting off the old self, renewal is a lifelong process.

“clothe yourselves or put on” is, like the first phrase, affirming a single completed task, resolute and final.  Deliberately deciding to put on the new clothes of God is a one-time action. That said, I suspect you are like me and you will twist and fuss and fidget with the fit for years….

Several interesting aspects of this metaphor from both texts

Stripping off and clothing yourself are external actions….visible to the world at large. But these are complemented by an internal event: renewal, becoming new… in a way which sets followers of Jesus apart from those of the “former way of life”

I think Scripture tells us that this internal event with metaphorical clothing has an external dimension of actions – morals and behaviors in relationships with others… the internal change of renewal is reflected on the outside and will be as visible as a change of clothing. Therefore, outer redressing in God’s new clothes is meaningless without an inner renewal…

Well, what are the garments of God? Not those to be found at Target or Nordstrom, but in the reading from Colossians: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.”   Ephesians says “righteousness and holiness.”

So, how do we clothe ourselves with our new selves, as the writer of Colossians bids us do? What do God’s garments look like and how do we find them in our closets? Are they on the back shelves or on the front hangers? And as Ephesians implies, do we ever take them off or is this clothing of God permanently affixed? I do not know that I have any great personal insights to answer these questions, but perhaps we can share enough small pieces of these clothes to together build the wardrobe of the church.

At the beginning of this sermon, I invited you to think on what is new in your life with and in God. George and Amacetta wanted “to live as becomes new, yet immortal creatures.”

Now, please take a moment and think about how you can claim your identity as God’s chosen in that newness…  and make this visible to the world…

Wonderfully poetic Christian musician Brian Wren wrote a hymn text on new beginnings … and I share two verses

This is a day of new beginnings, time to remember and move on,

            Time to believe what love is bringing, laying to rest the pain that’s gone.

            Christ is alive and goes before us to show and share what love can do.

            This is a day of new beginnings – our God is making all things new.

Happy NEW Year…. Amen