Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent

Text: Galatians 3:27
"You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself".

New clothes from Jesus

For a moment, imagine you have been invited to a wedding and you need to buy some new clothes for this special occasion. The best that you have in your wardrobe will not do. You really did look to see if you could make anything that you owned do the trick but everything just looked so faded and old fashioned. Even your best clothes are grubby, buttons are missing, hems are hanging down, in fact, there are a couple of holes that look as if moths or some other hungry vermin have had a feast. You try on a few but nothing you own will do.

So you go shopping. In the clothes shop a particular item catches your eye. The colour and the style are just right. The material falls just right. There are no holes or grubby patches. You try it on and it fits perfectly. No adjustments need to be made. Now this has got to be an expensive piece of clothing. You look at the price tag holding your breath as you do so. Just as well because it is marked $0.00 Ė itís free.

No one in their right mind would walk away from a bargain like that. No one would go home and pull out one of their old garments - dirty and full of holes Ė in preference to getting something that is perfect and new Ė all for nothing. As unbelievable as it is Ė itís free.

The New Testament often talks about the Christian life as taking off old dirty garments and replacing them with new, fresh clean clothes. Just a few verses.

"Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come" (2 Cor 5:17).

"Get rid of your old self Ö . Your hearts and minds must be made completely new, and you must put on the new self, which is created in God's likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy" (Ephesians 4:22-24).

"Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 13:14).

Iím sure you get the message. The picture that the New Testament wants to present is that when we are connected with Christ, we are clothed with something that is new and beautiful. Itís like taking off an old shirt or dress and putting on a new garment Ė a new garment that doesnít cost a cent. Itís free. There is nothing to pay.

The Apostle Paul says that this happened at our baptism. "You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself" (Gal 3:27). This morning we have witnessed the baptism of Jocelyn. Her parents dressed her nicely for this special occasion. In fact, she still is nicely dressed. There doesnít seem to be any change in what Jocelyn is wearing.

What happened in the water of baptism was invisible to the naked eye. Even though she is so tiny and seemingly innocent, Jesus gave her new clothes to wear. He gave her new life, a new relationship with God, a new way of living. He gave her the new clothes of forgiveness, the new clothes that are fitting for a child of God, the new clothes that will be freely supplied everyday until eternity. Jesus will keep on giving her new clothes to wear as she sheds her dirty sinful clothes and is refreshed with a renewed connection to her Saviour.

When you and I were baptised, it was as though God took the whole of our life and squeezed it into the few seconds that our baptism took. Through the water and the Word of God, God began a change in us, God was beginning something new in us. We received the forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross. We received the gift of the Holy Spirit and our lives were renewed. At that moment, our whole life is touched with the power of God and something new and different has begun. "Forgiven" was written across the length of our whole life. Our sin has been dealt with.

Then God stretched our life again back to its full length and told us that we were to make our baptism real during every moment of life. Daily we are to get rid of lovelessness, greed, selfishness, impatience, unkindness Ė these are old dirty clothes Ė they are completely "out of fashion" for wear in the presence of Christ. In their place put on the new clothes of our Christ Ė love, kindness, self control, patience, generosity, compassion and a forgiving spirit.

To put it another way. I am to look upon my life as though I am no longer connected to the old "sinful me"; that "me" which wants to make myself the centre of my own little world, that "me" which wants to remove God to the sidelines of life; the "me" that is selfish and inconsiderate. God began a revolution in my life. He cleared away the old and brought in the new. He gave us a new life. As Paul says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5:17).

Perhaps it is at this point we need to ask ourselves questions like Ė
"What kind of clothes am I wearing?"
"Am I happy to wear old and dirty clothes in preference to the new clean clothes that Jesus gives?"

You have been baptised Ė some of you were baptised a long time ago when you were about the same age as Jocelyn, some as teens and some as adults. Something new was made available to you. You were given this new life with Jesus as a gift. You might not remember the occasion of your baptism, but God remembers you and has kept his promise to never be too far away from you.

Are you wearing the new clothes that Jesus promises to give you daily or do you prefer to wear the old clothes? Your answer might be the same as mine. Too often I prefer the old clothes and let old sinful habits and ways rule my life. We love our pet sins too much and can't give them up. We don't do very well in living the new life, putting off the old, turning our lives around to be more like Christ, more like the people whom God has made us in baptism.

When Pastor Graham Harms began his talk the other week introducing the mission and ministry workshop he started by talking about the change that we have experienced in the world and in the church over the past 50 years or so. We all agreed that a good deal has changed and that we no longer live life as we did in the past.

In the past you could run into the grocery store and pick up a pint of milk and a loaf of bread and not give the matter a lot of thought. Not anymore! Now you must decide between whole milk, fat reduced milk, no fat milk, soya milk or flavoured milk and whether you want white or brown bread, thin-sliced, regular sliced or unsliced, with seeds or without seeds, whole-grain or plain!

We get used to this sort of change and we adapt. But when it comes to changing our lives - thatís a completely different matter. We resist change and even if we do change we fall back into our old ways. Sin has a way of creeping in and controlling us. We find ourselves putting back on the dirty rags of sin. In fact, we do this every day.

In the cartoon strip Hagar is addressed by a Monk.
In the first frame, the monk, bible tucked under his arm, says to Hagar, "Remember, it is better to light a candle than to sit in the dark."
In the next frame, we see the monk disappearing over the horizon, and we see Hagar, looking out at us - saying - "But I enjoy the darkness".

It doesnít matter how good living a person claims to be, there are times when he/she prefers the darkness Ė in every person sin has an impact. And people are just fooling themselves if they say it doesnít. Like Hagar, our human nature enjoys the dark side of life.

Renewal is a continuous event.
Daily we need to repent, admit that we are too willing to resurrect our old ways.
Daily we need to be forgiven.
Daily we need to return to our baptism and be renewed and reoriented. Wherever we have been in your life, whatever we have done, God holds out new clothes to us and says: "Get rid of your dirty rags and let me clothe you. Itís the best thing youíll ever wear".

Putting on the new clothes that Jesus gives and changing is not the easiest thing to do. Itís a life long process and daily Jesus will need to exchange our dirty rags for fresh and beautiful garments. Every day is a fresh start.
If you are tired and depressed, Jesus offers the new clothes of peace and confidence.
If you are overwhelmed with pain and grief, Jesus gives you the new clothes of peace and comfort.
If you donít like yourself and the way you have been behaving, Jesus offers you the new clothes of love, self-esteem and the knowledge that he created you and that you are precious to him.
If you feel guilty and helpless in the face of temptation, Jesus gives you the new clothes of forgiveness and the help of the Holy Spirit.
He offers you these things and more as he join himself to you and daily offers you fresh and beautiful clothes to wear.

This morning little Jocelyn has been clothed with the new clothes that Jesus gives and she is promised that Jesus will keep on renewing those clothes as long she lives. Jesus reminds us today, "Get rid of your dirty rags and let me clothe you." To not daily take up Jesusí free gift, this no strings attached offer is a choice thatís hard to explain. What Jesus offers will make a huge difference in your life.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
9th March, 2003

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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