It’s another Casual Friday and I’m in a suit. Now I love putting on my jeans and a comfortable fleece top when the weather is wet like today, but I have consultations with pastors for the next 8 hours. I imagine they will come in dressed well. It would be a put-down if I dressed down for them. It would be saying, “I value me over you.”
How does it make you feel to go to a special function and there is someone there who is inappropriately dressed? Are you tired of the dressed-down casual look that is so pervasive in our society? Ball caps don’t cut it in fine restaurants and hardly anywhere else. Where are our standards of proper decorum? But just as quickly as I want to put up fences to keep the riff-raff out, I am reminded that Jesus wasn’t very exclusive. Unlike Augusta National, He let just about anybody into the Kingdom. It was the Pharisees who had such impossibly high standards that they missed the Messiah and the Kingdom.
Thinking of pharisaical dress codes reminds me of a family that had invited a college student and his date over to their house for Sunday lunch. As everyone started to relax, the host said to the young man, “Why don’t you take your coat off?” The host had already taken off his coat and tie. The young man kind of hem-hawed around, however, as if he didn’t want to do it. Finally, he got the host off in a corner and said, reminding the man of an old trick that he knew well when he was in college, “The only parts of my shirt I ironed were the cuffs and the collar.” He had pressed just the parts that showed. The rest of the shirt looked as if he had ironed it with a weedeater! That was the way of the Pharisees: the part people could see looked great, but their interiors were a different story.
Jesus wants us to look good inside out. His solution to our dress code dilemma is found in the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit’s work in Sanctifying Grace that creates clean hearts and lives in you and me. We cannot measure up on our own, but God can make us new creatures! Eugene Peterson puts it this way, “The gospel life isn’t something we learn ABOUT and then put together with instructions from the manufacturer; it’s something we BECOME as God does his work of creation and salvation in us and as we accustom ourselves to a life of belief and obedience and prayer.”
This is a good old-fashioned Wesleyan emphasis on Sanctification. We’re saved by grace, to be sure, but there IS a dress code! Consider this pastor’s dilemma: There were two evil brothers. They were rich, and used their money to keep their evil ways from the public eye. They even attended the same church, and looked to be perfect Christians. Then their pastor retired, and a new one was appointed. Not only could he see right through the brothers’ deception, but he was also a good preacher so the church started to grow by leaps and bounds. A fund raising campaign was started to build a new sanctuary.
All of a sudden, one of the brothers died. The remaining brother sought out the new pastor the day before the funeral and handed him a check for the amount needed to finish paying for the new building. “I have only one condition,” he said. “At my brother’s funeral, you must say that he was a saint.” The pastor gave his word, and deposited the check. The next day, at the funeral, the pastor did not hold back. “He was an evil man,” the pastor said. “He cheated on his wife and abused his family.” After going on in this vein for awhile, he concluded with, “But compared to his brother, he was a saint.”
This makes me ask, “Compared to what I think a Christian should be or look like, what am I?” The stores already have Halloween candy galore on display and ghoulish masks are on sale everywhere. The masks that really scare me are the ones we wear when we’re trying to hide from God and our neighbors. My daddy would often say one of his favorite proverbs when my shoes weren’t shined or I looked too much like a hippie as a teenager, “Proper display is half-sold.” However, dignity isn’t found in what we wear. As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “It’s found in the content of our character.” Our character is what is revealed when we shed our masks and love our neighbors as ourselves! Dressing appropriately is important. Acting appropriately is even more important!