In my closet at home, I have basically four categories of clothing. I’ve got my work clothes— the suit jackets and black dress slacks bought from places like Ann Taylor and Talbots— clothes I wear when I want to be taken seriously as a professional, clothes I wear when I want to be seen as a grown up, or when I want to avoid someone saying to me something like, “how can you be a pastor, you look like just a kid!” Then I’ve got my more casual, but still work appropriate attire— the more every-day kind of clothing that I wear when it’s a light day at work or I don’t have any meetings or appointments, and I can afford to be a little more comfortable, and perhaps a little more myself. Next are the clothes that I buy thinking foolishly that I’m more hip than I actually am— for example that pair of skinny jeans with the intentional holes ripped in the knees. I wear these clothes when I want to play at being a more hip version of myself, though I usually end up feeling more self-conscious than anything else. Then there is the fourth, most fraudulent category of clothing in my closet— the work out clothes. True confession— these clothes tend to get more use just lounging around the house than actual work out time.
So hanging in my closet, and folded in my dresser drawers, are all these different personas— I try them on with each change of clothes. I become more professional, or more bohemian, or more hip, or more athletic, depending on what I’m wearing. I feel different depending on what I’m wearing. Perhaps this sounds superficial, but I really do believe that what we wear can influence how we feel about ourselves, which in turn can influence how we act and how we present ourselves to the world. Clothing helps shape our identity and it communicates something about our identity to the people we meet.
At this point, you may all be wondering why on earth I’m talking about clothing on Pentecost Sunday. How do the contents of my closet, you may be wondering, have anything to do with the Holy Spirit, or confirmation, or the birthday of the church? I promise I’ll get to that shortly. But first, I want to share with you a couple of quotes. The first is from the apostle Paul from his letter to the early church in Colossia— “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility and patience. Bear with one another, and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” A similar quote comes from 19th century minister Alexander MacLaren, who wrote, “It takes a lifetime to fathom Jesus; “it takes lifetime to appropriate Jesus, it takes a lifetime to be clothed with Jesus. And the question therefore comes to each of us— are we daily, as sure as we put on our clothes in the morning, putting on Christ the Lord?”
You see, as it turns out, clothing is a rather important metaphor for how we embody and live out our faith. Just as we can clothe ourselves with Anne Taylor or Banana Republic, we also clothe ourselves with either kindness or ambivalence, compassion or apathy, forgiveness or resentment, hope or cynicism. Just as we can dress ourselves up or down according to how we want to present ourselves to the world, we also dress ourselves with certain attributes and virtues, depending on the kind of person we want to be, and depending on the kind of faith we want to nurture within ourselves.
Maybe you are still wondering what any of this has to do with Pentecost. Well, on that first Pentecost gathering, the disciples and those who were with them experienced God in a radically new way. Up until that moment, God had been physically by their side as their brother and teacher—God made flesh, incarnate among them. Now, God was not just by their side, but deep within them— clothing them with wisdom and power. On that first Pentecost experience the disciples were clothed, inside and out, with the Holy Spirit— wrapped in God’s holy breath, enveloped by the fire of God’s love. From that day forward, the Holy Spirit would be accessible to all flesh— all children of God— whether they be male or female, slave or free, Gentile or Jew, black, white, or brown, gay, straight, bisexual or transgender, documented or undocumented, rich or poor. From that day forward, God’s spirit was to be as a holy garment fashioned for all people.
Friends, this same radically inclusive Spirit is accessible to us still today. It surrounds us like a cloak, it wraps around us like the warmest of coats, it covers us like a robe from head to toe. We are clothed in the Holy Spirit even as we sit here in this moment— we are wrapped in garments of mercy and forgiveness, enveloped by grace and the tenderest of loves.
Now I should probably mention, before I go any further with this metaphor, that there is a point where this whole clothing metaphor breaks down. Because there’s the thing. Every morning we choose what we will wear, we take clothes on and off, and with them, we try on different identities, different ideas of who we want to be. But the clothing of the Holy Spirit is a little bit different. It’s not just something we put on for a day then take off before we go to bed at night. It’s always there, and in fact, the more we peel back all the other layers and labels, the more we feel it and the more present it becomes. All the other labels we clothe ourselves with— professional, hip, smart, athletic, beautiful, socially conscious, fashion forward— these are all temporary identities that we can take on and off at will. They will change over time— some will come, some will go, some may stay. The Spirit, however, is a permanent fixture of our being. We can’t do away with it any more than we can do away with our skin, or our heart, or our lungs. It is a garment that never wears thin, never fades, never shreds or tears around the edges. We cannot outgrow the Spirit.
All that being said, we do still have a choice as to how we will dress ourselves spiritually each day. Just like the choices we make when we open our closet every morning, we can choose how to clothe ourselves spiritually. We can choose to clothe ourselves, as the apostle Paul recommends, with compassion, kindness, humility and patience. We can choose other options too— like resentment, anger, arrogance, or fear. It’s really up to us to decide what we will wear. This is part of the daily work of living our faith. And as MacLaren observed, it’s not a choice we make just once. It’s not a one and done, set it and forget it kind of choice. “It takes a lifetime,” he said, “to fathom Jesus.” So if we don’t get there right away, it’s okay, because it takes a lifetime. It takes a lifetime of choosing, each and every day, each and every hour, to clothe ourselves with Christ’s love.
Children of God—it is the work of a lifetime, but it is so, so worth it, because it is the work of love. It is the holy work of God’s still-speaking Spirit. Let us choose, therefore, every day, to let the garment of God’s Holy Spirit shine through us and in us. Let us choose to dress ourselves with the finest of spiritual threads— the threads of compassion and kindness, patience and hope— the very fruits of the spirit that were poured out on the church that first Pentecost day. In doing so, let us be the best dressed church in town.