11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection July 12,2020
"Clothing Ourselves With Love" by - Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
In Colossians 3:12,14 we read: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience …. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
All love, as we know, comes from God and the closer we come to God the more God’s love radiates through us into our love-starved world. The Letter to the Colossians was sent to the people of Colossae, a city in Asia Minor or present day Turkey. The church there had been founded by one of Paul’s Gentile converts, Epaphras.
Colossians seems to have been written to correct a heresy which arose in the Colossian community. A heresy is a fatally-flawed teaching that might lead believers astray. Having been tried (and acquitted) for heresy in the later 1980’s, I believe heresy is seen in too many places where it doesn’t exist. Of course, maybe it’s a good thing to have a pastor who’s been declared a “non-heretic.”
The heresy at Colossae is unknown but may have been some variation of gnosticism, which claimed that all matter, including the body, was evil. Gnosticism was a very serious challenge for the early church. If all matter were evil, then the Son of God becoming human, taking on a human body, would be seen not as a blessing, not as the ultimate revelation of God’s love, but as something terrible and non-redemptive.
The followers of Gnosticism believed themselves to have special knowledge hidden from most everyone else. The author of the Letter to the Colossians makes it very clear how all knowledge is to be found in Christ Jesus.
While we cannot be sure what heresy had arisen in Colossae, we can be sure that the author of Colossians (perhaps Paul, perhaps Timothy) wished to uproot any teaching that was not fully Christian, not reflective of God’s love.
What does love look like when we put it on? Is it soft like a cashmere sweater? What color is it? How can I tell if you’re clothed with love? How can I tell if I’m clothed with love? How are we to take to heart the admonition to clothe ourselves with love?
At the first Christmas, God joined with all humanity, indeed, all creation. This joining can be seen as a marriage. At the first Christmas, God became wedded to all creation because of God’s incredible love for creation. This marriage is unbreakable. It is eternal.
This “joining” with all creation was preceded by what might be described as billions of years of courtship. God has been courting us, humans, for a very long time. It’s part of a great mystery why God loves us so much. Why has God been committed to what scientists suggest is a almost 14 billion year old love affair?
Let me add something from the Irish writer, Pat Collins, and his book, Intimacy and the Hungers of the Heart: “I have a growing conviction that it is only through our loving interpersonal relationships, especially those of an intimate kind, that we receive the … key which unlocks something of the meaning of the universe and of its Mysterious Creator. If ultimate reality is love, then all of creation must bear the imprint of that love.”
What this means, as I’ve preached again and again, is that everything created is created out of love by the Creator. God loves everything God has created and everything God will create. God is in a profoundly significant relationship with every creature living.
I add verses from Psalm 104: “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.” (verses 14–15)
After describing many of the creatures God has made, the Psalmist writes: “These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your breath they are created.” (verses 27–30).
Every creature living is sustained in life by God. If God stopped loving any creature, that creature would fall out of existence. We’re continually sustained in our lives because of the love God has for us. The breath of God sustains all life, including human life. If God takes that breath away, we die. We owe every moment of our lives to the loving sustenance of God.
This sustenance is held together in Jesus Christ. As Colossians 1:15–17 proclaims: “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created. Things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers, all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
What Colossians teaches us is that all creation occurred through the power of Christ Jesus and all creation “holds together” – continues in existence – through the power of Christ Jesus. No creature is excluded from the power exuded throughout creation by Christ Jesus. No corner of our vast cosmos is removed from the power of Christ Jesus. Everything created, everything living, lives in and through Christ.
The power of Christ Jesus is the power of love transforming and reshaping everything that exists. Christ’s love was poured out into the universe in his life, death, and resurrection. Christ’s love is continually working to reconcile all things in love.
As one of my Scripture professors, Robert Karris, writes about Colossians in A Symphony of New Testament Hymns: “Christ, who lived, taught, and was crucified in an obscure part of the Roman Empire, was with God at the beginning of all things. He holds all things together … Christ has primacy in everything and in every way. Through Christ and for Christ, God has fulfilled the longings of the human heart for peace and a cessation of cosmic and human warfare.”
We wait as this cosmic fulfillment unfolds. I know we may be impatient for its fulfillment, for ultimate peace to make its promised appearance. I know I’m impatient. But I also know that the reconciliation of all creation has already occurred in Christ. This is our faith.
And when we’re commissioned to clothe ourselves with love … and to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, we must take this commission seriously. I realize I’m treading in deep waters with my writing about cosmic love and reconciliation. So let me try to make this very plain: Love is the sustaining, the affirmation, the approval, of something or someone’s existence.
Every moment I exist, every moment any of us exists, is God’s continued approval of our existence. God, in Christ, states emphatically “I want you to continue!”
Now we know there will come the time when we enter the dark mystery of death yet even in that mystery we know that we’re loved by the One who Made Us. What this may mean or what it might look like is beyond my paltry words to express. We trust in whatever future God has planned for each of us, for all of us.
So how are we to clothe ourselves with love? The primary way we clothe ourselves with love is through affirming and supporting each other, saying to each other: “I’m glad you exist!” If our love is to echo the love God has for us in Christ Jesus, then this is how we’re called to clothe ourselves with love.
As Collins notes: “When people sense the approval and possible reverence of a loving person, they will feel affirmed at a deep level of their existence. This is the first and perhaps the most important consequence of the dynamic of love. The word affirmation comes from the Latin ‘to make strong.’”
This is what we’re to do when we clothe ourselves with love: we are to make each other strong. This means we help each other recognize and realize our absolute value as human persons created in love by God. All of us, every one of us, regardless of race, age, sex!
Many of us question our value, our worth, as persons because of family trauma or destructive experiences. When we clothe ourselves with love, we help heal the devaluing which so many of us have experienced. It also means we help each other see and utilize the gifts God has given each of us.
When we clothe ourselves with love, we help each other become better people, the kind of people God created us to become. Love makes everything better, including each of us.
I say without hesitation that I believe myself to be a better person now after 12 years as a member of our beloved church than I was previously. While our time together is drawing to a close, I expect to keep growing in love because of the memories I carry with me.
I hope at the end of my earthly days to be an even better person, not perfect by a long shot, but better because of the affirming love of my family and my beloved Vinal. And maybe, with God’s grace, we can all stay connected through time and space. Love will hold us together until Love Incarnate comes to bind us together eternally!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor