12 Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[a] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ[b] rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[c] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.[d] 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17, NRSV)
Today we conclude our sermon series on Becoming. We started with the question, what do we need to become to be a full inclusion community, we talked about becoming joyful, becoming the beloved community, becoming the body of Christ, and today we will conclude with an idea that I believe helps us in our journey of becoming. The idea of becoming lifelong learners. This is probably not a surprise for those of you who are steeped in Presbyterian history. We, Presbyterians, are often most concerned about what we call the life of the mind. We believe the most important part of faith is the interpretation and proclamation of Scripture. When we as a denomination argue it is often over Scriptural interpretation. I also love book learning, I love it so much that I have finished 24 years of formal schooling and have a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degree, and a doctor of ministry degree. I think there is real value in reading, participating in programs, and pursuing degree tracts. I also know that is only one kind of learning and it’s not the only kind of learning I want to focus on today. I want us to not only be lifelong learners of head knowledge but also of bodily knowledge, of community knowledge, of heart knowledge.
Often a critique of Presbyterians’ focus on the life of the mind is that our faith and understanding stays in our head and never leaves there, it does not seep into our hearts, our bones, or our lives. We often do not connect what we know about Scripture, about faith, about polity, to our practice, to our lives. We focus on right belief over right practice. It, theoretically, keeps us from getting too caught up in the moment, it keeps us from being too emotional as we approach the world. Sometimes this leads us to being overly rigid because we don’t allow our emotions or bodies our hearts to influence our understandings and our actions. Now I don’t think this is a uniquely presbyterian problem, but I’m only going to speak about what and who I know. I also want to be very clear that the idea that we are able to make decisions, understand things, view world events devoid of emotion to make objective choices about most things involving people is nearly impossible. We are, in fact, balls of emotions with thumbs. So how we approach issues at the schools, issues in the government, issues in with our neighbors, issues in the Middle East, just about any issue emotions, how we feel, our experiences play a key role. Knowing facts is important, knowing history is important, recognizing your reactions in your body are important, acknowledging your feelings is important they are all a part of lifelong learning. How to do those things, how to be in touch with your feelings, your bodily reactions, your thoughts, your learned information takes practice, takes time, and takes grace for yourself and for those you encounter.
It is a type of schooling that you need to attend but at this school there is a suggested uniform. In our scripture reading from Colossians, Paul gives us a school uniform, a dress code, to follow as we walk this journey of faith. "As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." When we get ready in the morning, when we go out let us clothe ourselves in the sturdy shoes of compassion, the comfortable bottoms of kindness, the sensible shirt of humility, the scarf of meekness, the sunglasses of patience, and the raincoat of love. Sure there will be days where we might not match, that we might end up looking cringe, we might forget our raincoat or our scarves but hopefully we will always be able to bear one another's burdens.
As you wear the uniform of the Christ follower, as we study the Bible, as we read books, as we encounter the world, as we support Richmond Elementary, as we go on Men’s Retreats, as we dive into our history, as we volunteer in the Warming Center or with Family Promise, as we sing together, as we play together, as we go out into the world to love and serve the Lord let us make sure to allow those things we have learned about compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love seep into our bones. May it lead us to being more rooted and grounded in our Belovedness not so we know that we are always right but so we can participate in this classroom of life where we can teach and be admonished, where we can listen and learn, where we can offer forgiveness to one another, where we can hear complaints from one another without being overrun with anger or shame or guilt. Where we can learn from one another’s experiences, from each other’s knowledge, from each other’s lives. With gratitude let us sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
I also want us to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Part of building up muscles, physical, spiritual, or emotional is through stretching. When you lift weights you make tiny tears in your muscles fibers, you stretch them, and they tear ever so slightly. That’s why you are sore the next day, but those small tears grow back stronger, with more mobility, and with more endurance but it is important with any workout routine that you don’t overdo it in the beginning. Muscle tears are painful and take a long time to heal, but done with care, routine, and patience you can build up any of our muscles. You are all in different places on your journey of learning so I cannot prescribe a particular routine or plan, but what I can do is invite you to try and stretch just a bit. I once heard a speaker talking about conversations about race. He was speaking to a room of white people and said, many of you haven’t had conversations about race, for many of you this will be a new thing, you might feel attacked, you might get defensive, but you also need to know that most people of a color other than white have been having these conversations their whole lives. They have built up resilience, they have built up stamina for these conversations. So, no one should get off the couch and run a marathon, without training. But almost anyone can finish a marathon, but the first thing they have to do is get off the couch.
Maybe you are just getting off the couch with conversations about race, gender, poverty, or systematic issues at work in our world that minoritize and marginalize people who don’t fit a certain demographic. You do not have to stay on the couch, you can get up and become who God has called you to be. God’s chosen holy and beloved.
We are here to help you get off the couch, we are here to provide you rest a place to rest your weary bones and have a cup of water, we are here to encourage you to keep going, we are here to go with you. We are a full inclusion community, of marathoners and couch sitters, of teachers and learners, and we wear the uniform of Christ we are clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience and most of all we are clothed in love which allows us to challenge and be challenged, to work and rest, to rest in the truth of our Belovedness as we celebrate your place right here, in this community.
May it be so.