Word of the Week

A sermon preached at The Federated Church, Weatherford, OK: Genesis 3:11-21

Do you remember the last time someone put clothes on you that you didn’t buy yourself?

clothing_transWhen we are little, it’s our parents who do all the shopping for us, don’t they? Our closets are full or not because someone provided the clothes to us. And usually for as long as our children will allow it, most parents want to dress their kids in the morning or at least supervise with tight control as to what goes on a child before they walk out the door on the way to school. Then the teen years come when the fights on about what our kids wear begin.

Then, we become adults. Part of what it means to be a grown up is to be able to provide the own shirt on our backs and wear whatever we want (within reason) whenever we want to, isn’t it? And our parents no longer give us clothes. We work hard in order to have the choice to wear the kind of clothes we like.

It a rarity as adults that anyone picks out clothes for us to wear.

But, several Christmases ago when Kevin and I had only been married a little while, we made plans to celebrate Christmas together on Christmas Eve morning before it was time to trek off to services at the church and then catching a late night flight home.

When I opened the big box with a big red bow with my name on it while sitting on the floor of our living room around the Christmas tree, I was shocked as to what I found inside. It was a complete outfit (jewelry included) to wear to church that night. My Kevin said, “It’s your Christmas dress. Don’t you like it?”

I did like it. The dress was beautiful. It was the kind of dress I’d never pick out on my own, but was something that fit me just right. And as I got ready for church that night and put the dress on was just in shock because 1) I didn’t know that Kevin actually knew what my size was or how to find his way around the women’s section of the department store 2) I couldn’t remember the last time that someone bought me a complete outfit to wear. It was a special moment in our marriage.

And maybe it’s just me, but to be given clothes or to be given someone else’s clothes is a really endearing moment.

Anyone have items in your closet from a deceased family member that you loved? I know I do. And even though the clothes I have in my closet that once belonged to my beloved grandmother don’t fit me like they used to, I love the idea that my skin could be touching same pieces of fabric that touched the skin of her and that she made sure upon her death that I got them.

And though while some may call clothes to be frivolous (and maybe only a female pastor would preach a sermon about clothes) the earliest chapters of the book of Genesis, have a lot to say about the first family’s relationship to the clothes they put on their bodies. So it’s important for all of us to pay attention too. For, God even is portrayed as the first great tailor!

Our take away from last Sunday was that when Adam and Eve knew that they had eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil--- something they were asked by God not to do—they hid. They find a brush in the wilderness. They find a tree and they try to escape the presence of God coming to meet them in the cool of the day.

But, God found them. And would not let them be out of relationship. They needed to face the consequences of their poor choices. These consequences included the snake being an animal forced to crawl in its belly for the rest of its days, grief in childbearing for the woman and soil for that man that would be harder to plow.

And then after the verdict on all these things was spoken God does something very particular in verse 21—Look with me in your Bibles at this verse.

“And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and his wife, and clothed them.”

We aren’t told how. We aren’t told with what. This gives us many questions—was an animal killed? If so how? What did the skins look like? But regardless we are told that God makes coverings for Adam and Eve. God became their tailor.

The clothing was important to them because we remember from earlier in chapter 3 that after Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree, both their eyes opened and they realized that they were naked.

I love the point that J. Ellsworth Kalas makes about the realization of nakedness at this juncture in the story from his book, Grace in a Tree Stump, “Adam and Eve’s new sense of nakedness was not so much an embarrassment at being seen by the other [as so many of think] as it was the uneasiness at seeing themselves. Adam wants to hide from Adam. [And Eve wants to hide from Eve.]” (9).

By not trusting God to be the Creator and the Sustainer of all of life, Adam and Eve now faced the harsh reality of what it meant to be in charge of their own lives. And they were ashamed. They couldn’t stand the sight of who they were. I can imagine that their self-esteem was deeply low. And Genesis 3:7 tells us that in response, Adam and Eve “sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths from themselves.”

They made their own clothes.

They were resourceful in find a material readily available to them leaves.

They were clever to figure out a way to sew fig leaves together.

For, fig leaves were good enough to hide the parts of themselves that they wanted to cover up. The fig leaves were good enough to make them feel safe. The fig leaves were another way of hiding from the reality of themselves that they didn’t really want to confront.

All of this was well and good. But the problem was that these clothes would not last.

It would only take a good rainfall, or long day out working the field or the change in temperature for these fig leaf outfits to crumble to worthlessness.

They could get by in the short term, sure. But long term, Adam and Eve’s configuration of clothing would not stand the test.

And isn’t this the human condition?

We know when we’ve made a mistake. And we know we need to fix it somehow. When faced with a crossroad of what to do, we go for the short-term solutions. We try to fix our lives by what we can create on our own and execute on our own.

Then, nobody needs to really know we’ve screwed up, right?

But we have screwed up and God wants to show us another way—the way of grace.

Let’s read verse 21 again, “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and his wife, and clothed them.”

The LORD GOD made garments of skin and clothed them. Do you get, church, how huge this act was?

Adam and Eve tried to fix their shame, fix their embarrassment all on their own, but God intervenes and says, “No. This is a problem too big for you to fix yourselves. Let me make you some clothes. And then here they are. Put them on.”

Do you see how lovingly tender this act of compassion was? Better than any new Christmas dress bought by a husband for his wife—God goes and picks out the best…. Better than Adam and Eve could have ever imagined or created on their own …. And clothes them with these skins.

These new clothes say to Adam and to Eve that God loves them with a deep and abiding love.

Rev. Kalas writes, “Once we get around our own defensiveness we are surprised to learn that God’s estimate of us is eternally better than our self-estimate.” (11).

It’s so true! And in community with God, we learn there is no problem or mistake we make too big for us to solve together with the Lord.

And just as we have been loved by God—we are to love one another. We become the church of God as we lavishly love and cloth one another.

Woods Chapel United Methodist Church in Lee’s Summitt, Kansas recently held it’s Prom boutique for the 10th straight year.

The church, you see, felt called to live out this good news by clothing under privileged teens in its community, so that no high school girl would go to the prom without a dress who wanted one.

Though many called this ministry frivolous or unnecessary—church leaders supported the idea because they knew how a new outfit could help a girl feel accepted.

"It's not like we're feeding the homeless or anything like that," said coordinator Fern Stuart. "We're not collecting food, but if you were ever a teenage girl, you know how important prom is. And it's just heartbreaking if you can't afford that dress."

One participant named Hannah said after receiving her new dress said, “It was amazing and made me so happy.” Church leaders talked about the light in her eyes as she left the church that day with her dress.

Another church, First Baptist Church of Oakland, Florida held last year the Saturday before Easter what it called, “Operation Dress-up.” Knowing that the Easter season is the time according to cultural tradition that many parents wish to buy their children new clothes but simply can’t afford it (and often stay away from church because of it), they wanted to do something to help.

The church took a collection and the ladies of the congregation went shopping. They filled the church’s social hall with rows and rows of NEW children’s outfits (not just the stuff you can get from Good Will) all new ranging in sizes from 4T to high school aged. They want to restore the dignity back to a population in their community who had lost it.

Rev. Parker, the organizing pastor said this about this clothing ministry, “To have something new just brings a self confidence, a self awareness to children and to people as a whole, and it's just a way we can reach out, help the children," he said.

And what beautiful colors of Sunday best filled the overflowing pews that next Easter Sunday morning at this Florida congregation.

Yet, it’s easy to say that what we wear doesn’t matter. It’s easy to say that faith in God is about what is in our heads, not on our backs. But, if anything the witnesses of these churches teach us that it does.

We all need the tactile experience of God’s grace.

Adam and Eve needed it.

We need it.

And there are hundreds in our community right now who are longing for it too.

They need to feel with their very hands and on their very shoulder and feet that the mistakes they’d made in their lives are not too great to keep them from God’s love.

This is the truth: we all have been given new spiritual clothes. We don’t have to wallow in our own. God has been a great tailor for us all. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

So, church, I ask you this morning, are you wearing the clothes God has given you? Or are you still hiding out in the mess of homemade fig leaf coverings? Are you still trying to piece together a life that you can create on your own with no help from your Creator? Or have you given God control to provide for you?

All of the most horrible things that you believe about yourself, all of those negative tapes in your head—that you aren’t worthy of any more than fig leaves coverings--- put that all to the side. Don’t wear these clothes a day longer!

You, my friends, are the sons and daughters of the most high. Only the finest of finest of gifts has God clothed you with! So put on forgiveness, in joy, in hope, in faithfulness and love! God’s great coverings for YOU!

And don’t hoard the blessing for yourself.

Be a bearer of good news, knowing that sometimes sharing this good news with others might come in the form of giving a girl a new prom dress or a boy a new pair of shoes for Easter or a million other ways that the Spirit might lead you toward. Clothe others just as God has clothed you.

Most of all know this church: you are clothed by the Most Holy One!

Thanks be to God for this great gift of grace! And the ability to wear new clothes.