Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, September 7, 2014
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ
Ezekiel 33:7-11; Romans 13:8-14
What are you wearing today? I have a friend who remembers that what was most important to her mother when they got ready for church every Sunday morning -- was the shiny patent leather shoes! Many of us have been raised to “wear our Sunday best!” We dress up for worship as a way of honoring God.
However, today many churches de-emphasize clothing, encouraging worshipers to dress casually and comfortably, because the most important thing is to SHOW UP. Come as you are, you’re welcome! There’s something to be said for both approaches. My dad grew up wearing a coat and tie, nice pants and Sunday shoes, but he’s now grateful when he doesn’t have to wear a tie. Last Sunday he kept telling my father-in-law to take off his tie & get comfortable!
Clothing is a BIG part of our lives. It’s expensive: the purchase of it, keeping it clean and pressed, up-to-date, mended. Some people wear job-specific uniforms every day which signals to people their vocation and responsibility. I wear this robe for preaching… to set apart my “role” as pastor in leading worship and administering the Sacraments of the church. I was given this robe as a gift by the first church I pastored: Trinity Presbyterian Church in Venice, Florida.
We are often judged and evaluated based on our “outer garments” – however, what Paul is speaking about in Romans 13 is something much more important. Paul concludes Romans 13 with this command: “Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ means choosing to live in the Spirit and choosing not to gratify the desires of the flesh. We need to consider what Paul means by the word “flesh.” The Greek word for “flesh” is “sarx.” Paul uses this word more than any other New Testament writer, especially in the book of Romans, and the word means different things in different contexts.
Sometimes, Paul uses “sarx” as a neutral word, which simply means “the physical body.” Jesus was born in “sarx” – which means he was born with a body and skin like other human beings. Jesus is: “God with skin.” That’s the literal meaning of “Incarnation” – God in the flesh. Sometimes Paul uses the word to mean the body as a whole, as when he talks about a husband and wife becoming one “flesh.” There is nothing negative about the word “sarx” in those contexts.
In more instances, Paul uses the word “sarx” – not to just mean the human body narrowly, but to mean the human being in general and the human condition overall. No matter how phenomenal a human being might be the human condition means that every person is susceptible to illness, death, catastrophe, limited vision, and incomplete perceptions. When God was incarnated in Jesus, God voluntarily became limited by the human condition. However, this use of the word, “sarx” does not denote sinfulness, just human limitation.
There is one final way Paul uses the word “sarx” or “flesh,” and that is the human condition in its fallen sinfulness. All human beings are born into sin. Not by choice, but by birth, we inherit the nature of sin and none of us are immune to that condition, except for Jesus Christ, who did what the first Adam could not do. He lived in perfect harmony and communion with God the Father.
So Paul’s commandment for us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” is a call to live in the Spirit, not according to the sin-compromised flesh, which means all manner of sins, not just the visible, physical ones. We are to make no provision for the self-serving actions described in Galatians 5:19, where Paul says: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
For some reason, the physical/sexual sins get all the limelight. We hear less about the sins of idolatry -- which means putting anyone or anything above God in our priorities. We also forget these sins: enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions and envy. These more subtle attitudes OFTEN enter the church and seep into our relationships with one another in an insidious way.
According to Paul, if you have ANY priority higher than God, you are living according to the flesh. This includes many “good things” in life: family, jobs, hobbies, etc. which are not “evil” in themselves, but when they become more important than your love for God, they are idols, usurping and trumping your love for God.
Paul is calling us to “wake up from sleep, and lay aside the works of darkness, by putting on the armor of light.” Paul urges us to live honorably in our relationships with one another, as the true test of what it means to live in the Spirit.
What it means to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” is spelled out clearly in vv. 8-10. To “wear Christ” means this: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The command-ments: “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
I Peter 4:8 says: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
Sisters and brothers, we need to “wear love” – not just when we come to worship on Sunday mornings, but when we wake up on Mondays and go back to work. “Love” is the Christian uniform which helps people identify that we are children of the living God. When we get home from work to greet our families, we need to keep “wearing love” even when we change our clothes into something more comfortable.
Love is the “mark” of a true Christian, not “moral rightness.” And love – unlike external clothing – cannot be donned as an apron or uniform. Love springs from within our hearts; it radiates from our souls; it governs our tongues; it guides our decisions; it embodies Christ in all that we say and do. Love is planted in us when we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit & when we publically confess that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.
When we partake of the Lord’s Supper: the simple bread and juice become the “flesh” and “blood” of Jesus Christ, transfusing our “flesh” and “blood” with God’s Spirit, so that we can lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. That’s why John Calvin urged Christians to partake of the Lord’s Supper as often as possible.
It is our spiritual “food” and “drink” which allows us to live according to the Spirit rather than the flesh. Unless the Spirit is alive within us, we are not able to say Jesus Christ is Lord, for the flesh is not able to make that statement. But once the Spirit activates our faith, we are no longer comfortable living in darkness, catering to our flesh, putting the needs of ourselves and our own families above God’s will. We must choose whom we will serve—God or self. We cannot have it both ways.
The prophet Ezekiel spoke to the people of Israel exiled in Babylon after Jerusalem had fallen. He made it clear they had a choice to make.
The spokesperson in Ezekiel 33:7-11is God, who tells Ezekiel: “So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked ones, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their sins, but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you DO warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their sins, but you will have saved your life.”
The prophet’s job was to call people to repent of their sins & selfishness. If the prophet failed to do that job, the peoples’ blood was on the prophet’s hands. However, if the prophet did call them to repentance and they refused to repent, the blood was no longer on the prophet’s hands, but on the people themselves who ignore God.
God goes on to explain: If the house of Israel acknowledges their transgressions and admits their sins weigh heavy upon them, and if Israel asks how to find relief and how to return to the path of life, tell them this, Ezekiel:
“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
We have clear choices to make, just as the house of Israel did. The wind of God’s Spirit is blowing, but we cannot board the boat, carrying in our pockets the works of darkness we are reluctant to release. There is no ambiguity in this text. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Let us pray.
Lord, the choice between life and death is clear. We SAY we want life, but we cling to hidden works of darkness -- those attitudes and practices which diminish or blame others. If we truly want life, we must put on Christ, wear love, and let go of EVERYTHING else. This is our decision. We cannot have it both ways. As our eyes are closed, consider in your heart whether or not you are “all in” with Jesus Christ. Are you holding something back in your pocket? If you would like to let go of the works of darkness, whatever they are, by making a decision today, please put your hand up. Lord, I know there are people in this sanctuary who want a fresh start, who want to push the re-set button. They already know you and love you, but not as their first love. If that is you, just put your hand up. Thank you. You can put your hands down. God knows the desire of your heart and will honor it, as you honor Christ in your life. Thank you, Lord, for these decisions. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.