Max Lucado tells the story of Bob, who was born into the land of coats! His mother loved the color blue and made Bob's first cost a lovely shade of blue. Every time she noticed her son in his lovely blue coat, she cheered, "Yes, Bob!" He felt good in his blue coat, but Bob had to grow up and go to work. So he put on his best blue coat and slipped out of the house, going to his new job. The people on the street saw him and began to yell, "Yuk, Yuk!" Their coats were yellow and they hated blue.
Into a store ducked Bob and bought a yellow coat, put it over his blue coat and continued on his way to work. The people cheered, "Yea! Bob!" Bob felt good in his yellow coat over his blue coat. He stepped into his bosses office to get his assignment for that first day. He sat waiting for this boss, who came in, looked at him and yelled, "Yuk!" Bob jumped up, took off the yellow coat and stood waiting for approval in his blue coat. The boss yelled, "Double Yuk! Bob. Here at work we wear green coats!" With that, Bob slipped back on the yellow coat, over the blue coat and put the green coat on top. "Yea! Bob!" said the boss. As he left for work, Bob felt good.
After work, Bob slipped off the green coat, put it under the yellow coat and walked proudly home. He opened the door, went inside, as his mother looked at him with a "Yuk" on her lips. Bob quickly changed coats, putting the lovely blue one on top. Mom whispered, "Yea! Bob!"
Bob got so good at changing coats until he became a popular man around town. He changed coats so swiftly until he had folks fooled into believing that whatever coat they had on, he had it on too. Bob loved hearing the crowd say, "Yea! Bob!" He couldn't stand hearing "Yuk" Bob was elected mayor of the Town of Coats and had a faithful constituency. One day he heard a noise outside of his window and then heard a pounding on his door. The Yellow Coats brought in a man wearing no coat. "Kill him!" they cried, "he doesn't fit in!" In his yellow coat, Bob said, "Leave him to me."
"Man, where is your coat?" he asked. The man said, "I wear no coat." Bob replied, "everybody wears a coat. What color do you choose?" The man responded the second time, "I wear no coat." By then the Green Coats had gathered under Bob's window. Running to the window, his green coat on top, Bob yelled down to them, "I have it under control." The Green Coats shouted, "Kill him!" At this time his mother entered into the room, and Bob slipped his blue coat on top. "Bob, where is his blue coat?" Mother asked, The Man replied, "I don't wear a coat." "Kill him," said Mother as she left Bob and the man alone.
"Man, said Bob, you have to wear a coat or they are going to kill you." "Bob," said the man, "you need to decide to stop wearing your different coats. Take them off, take them all off and let the world see who you truly are." "Take them off? Take them all off?" asked an incredulous Bob. The man said again, "Bob, you have to make a choice." As the crowd kept crying, "Kill him!" Bob washed his hands, opened the door and marched the man toward sure death. The man looked at Bob, with one final word, "Choose." Bob was left alone with his three coats and the questions ringing in his mind, "Take them off? Take them all off?"
The Scripture lesson for this Sunday is taken from the Apostle Paul's letter to the Colossians. These dear people of God are wrestling with theological questions and philosophical debates around the centrality of Jesus. Is he a wonderful human teacher, Divine Son of God or some combination of the two? False teachings, trying to combine human intellect, Greek wisdom, and strains of Judaism with Christian truth, have the Christian Church embroiled in argument. So, Paul writes to deal with the divinity, death and resurrection of Jesus, and explains how the world's teachings are empty when compared with God's plan for us in Jesus Christ. Then, he moves into describing how Christians ought to think and behave because of our relationship with God. Listen to the Peterson translation, called The Message, as I read Chapter 3, verses 1-11:
Sisters and brothers, if you are serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with things right in front of you. Look up and be alert to what is going on around Christ--that's where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life--even though invisible to spectators--is with Christ in God. Christ is your real life. When Christ shows up again on this earth, you'll show up too--the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ. That means killing off everything connected with the way of death, sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But, you know better now. So make sure it's all gone for good, bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity and dirty talk. Don't lie to one another. You are done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom made by the Creator. It has a Designer label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, inside and outsider, civilized and uncouth, slave and free mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ. Everyone is included in Christ. So, dressed by God for this new life of love, put on the wardrobe God picked out for you." This is the Word of the Lord!
I hear the people ask, "Take it off? Take it all off?", and Paul responds, "Take off all the old, put on the new." It's about taking off the politically correct, the socially right, and morally expedient coats and standing naked before Christ in order to be fitted with the appropriate Christian garb. It's time to select from all the world's popular options and to stand up for Jesus Christ. This passage says that deceiving ourselves and trying to fool others is not sufficient for eternal life. This passage comes and declares that there are some things we can no longer do and call ourselves Christ-like. We have to take off that quick anger and that filthy temper. We have to take off that meanness which allows us to do three snaps and a flip of the third finger, when someone cuts us off on the highway. We have to take off that dirty language that just slips out. We have to take off telling those nasty jokes which make fun of God's people who don't look like us. We have to take off lying, which we claim "everybody does." All of those things belong to the outdated, outmoded wardrobe of Before Christ!
When Christ comes there is a difference. When Christ comes there is newness. When Christ comes, we change. We can stand naked before the one who knows us intimately and loves us just the same. Tell me, what color coat are you wearing right now? Most of us keep changing coats, which are dependent upon where we happen to be. Many of us went to worship this morning and had on our socially correct coat. All the neighbors in the pews, smiled and said, "Yea!" But if you wear that church coat to dinner, or to the show, or keep it on at home, what would the people around you say? We can't stand to hear the people say, "Yuk!"
Jesus stands with one word for all of us today--choose! Choose by making the decision for him today. No more coat changing for me. I choose to stand naked before Christ and to allow him to dress me with his wardrobe of love. All that I have comes from God. While I was yet lost in my sins, wearing all the nasty coats, trying to cover myself, God loved the world so much, until Jesus came to die for my sin and to rise that I might have eternal life. How can I dare to continue slipping off one coat into another coat, while every coat I have belongs to God!
The call is clear. No more blue politically correct coats. "Yuk!" No more yellow socially acceptable coats. "Yuk!" No more green morally expedient coats. "Double yuk!" When we give our lives to Jesus, we can stand naked, knowing that we are loved and accepted. We recognize that Jesus, our Savior, came and stood naked before all the world. He lived a transparent life and allowed the disciples to see him at his best and even at his worst. He allowed himself to be vulnerable and let the world watch him die a victim's death. He rose, clothed in majesty and victory. He rose with a new wardrobe in his hands. He rose to dress us with right living, compassion and power to live in victory over the dominion of sin.
Some folks rather have houses and land. Some folks choose silver and gold. These things they treasure and forget about their souls, but I have decided to make Jesus my choice. I'm taking it off. I'm taking it all off. I want to be dressed by the One who has a divine design for me. Today, dear ones, I invite you to choose!
"All to Jesus, I surrender. All to him, I freely give. I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live. I surrender all. I surrender all. All to thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all." Glorious God, when they wrote this song in 1896, maybe life was not so complicated. Today I find it difficult to come straight with anybody, even you. Help me to take off all my political, social, moral and even church coats and surrender my total self unto your loving care. I surrender all! In the name of the One who knows me best and loves me just the same, I pray. Amen.