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March 12, 2006 (Lent II)

Intern Pastor Joshua Graber

Mark 8:3138

Do you like my sandals today?

Recently, I’ve been receiving some gentle reminders that while I’m in Hawaii, I should dress like a Hawaii resident.

At Wednesday’s Soup and Salad Supper, Peggy Anderson invited me to look around the courtyard and count how many other men were wearing shoes.

Someone else—I think it was Mary Jo—told me that as soon as I get comfortable wearing Hawaiian clothes, I’ll be leaving. I said that it was probably true.

With my parents’ coming here for a couple weeks, they naturally wanted to know what they should bring to wear. And I had to admit I wasn’t the best person to ask.

I thought I had one fashion faux pas nailed downed and told them, “Don’t bring any sweaters,” and then last Sunday I looked around at Learning Ministry Hour and realized almost all the women were wearing some type of sweater.

Paying attention to fashion is just something I’ve never been good at.

I’m not anti-fashion. I think I’d like to be good at it, and I’d like to have a budget that could allow me to keep up with fashion trends. It’s just never been a priority for me.

But this last week I was noticing fashion more, and I started getting interested enough that I picked up an Ala Moana shopping magazine—the shopping guide that shows you the way to spend more than I will earn this year, in one shopping trip, for accessories.

So, I found myself reading “The It List” of the Ala Moana fashion guide.

I know you all, being fashionable types, probably are up on the latest trends, but just in case, here are the spring fashion trends of the Ala Moana “It List.”

Western attire is in for spring. Apparently riding the Brokeback Mountain bandwagon, cowboy boots and button-down shirts will be big this season.

Ladies, you might ask, “How should I wear my spring outfits, tight or loose?” Well in answer to that question, I have three words for you: “LET IT FLOW!” Tight is out this season. The hottest looks are chiffon silk and anything that drapes on your body. But remember, “There is a thin line between flowing and frumpy.”

Gentlemen, you should know that “Crisp white pants have been seen walking down the runways of spring’s hippest lines.” But what should you wear on top? “Let’s face it. You wear white pants to stand out from the masses of denim and black—so pair it with a top that deserves attention!”

And if you’re looking for that one last thing to complete an outfit—what the French call a certain I don’t know what—scarves are a trend that never seems to fade, and remember that a “dash of color can add some kick to the season’s palette of khakis and creams, so find key pieces to add zing to your ensemble.”

Is this a foreign language to you? It is usually for me as well, but this week I suddenly saw how fashion can be a very loud gospel message to many people in our culture.

I mean, think about it. It is guide for living. It’s something we devote our time and money to as a discipline. Fashion magazines are essentially glossy paged bibles of pop culture. Their sage advice can save us from social embarrassment among our peers. And that’s the salvation we often care about more than any other.

But who is in charge of this fashion stuff? Who decided that khakis are in one season and out the next? Who decides bellbottoms are the peak of fashion in 1980, and then wouldn’t be caught dead in them for the next 20 years?

I don’t know. It seems like a crazy game. And I’m no good at it. But whoever it is, they are some of the most powerful people in the world.

A world hungry for acceptance and in need of love—even superficial love—will be willing disciples of the fashion gods.

 

One thing I noticed looking through those trends is that, even though we know we’re in the season of Lent, the “It List” says nothing about wearing a cross being “in for spring.”

Apparently the cross is an accessory that does not add enough zing to make it into most closets. But I guess I don’t know when wearing a cross has actually been fashionable. It’s kind of inherently counter-cultural isn’t it?

And I wonder if that is what poor Peter was trying to say to Jesus.

When you think about it, the poor guy has been a fisherman his whole life. Peter has probably been catching and cutting and gutting fish since childhood, and that can’t have been the coolest occupation in the world if you want to be with the “in” crowd.

And suddenly when he meets Jesus, he has his chance. At this point in Peter’s time with Jesus, Jesus has become a cultural hero. He’s healed hundreds, fed thousands, and performed miracles that cannot be denied. Jesus is a trend that may stay in season a long time, and Peter must have been excited to be a part of it.

I don’t know how you imagine Peter, but I imagine Peter as someone who follows Jesus like we all probably followed the kid we thought was the coolest in grade school or high school. Trying to be like them by copying their every move, their dress, and their actions. As he spends time with Jesus, I see him beginning to copy his mannerisms, his dress, his speech, the way he trims his beard and wears his hair. I see Peter being like that. A willing copier of every thing “Jesus.” When Peter gets up in the morning and picks out what he wants to wear, he says “What Would Jesus Do?” I wonder if Jesus was Peter’s idol.

And in Peter’s mind, this is combined with the understanding that Jesus is going to be in charge soon. Jesus is going to bring a new kingdom to Israel. He’ll be in power soon, and Peter is probably looking forward to being second in command of a Jesus-led Israel that will set the trends for the whole world in a New Messianic Age.

And then the word comes, as we hear in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus finally reveals that he is the Messiah and that he will bring a new kingdom to Israel. But something goes terribly wrong for Peter’s vision of what that will be like: Jesus says this says he will be captured, tortured, ridiculed, and killed.

And Jesus says that if you are to be his follower, if you are to follow his trend, it will not be one that will be attractive to others; they will seek to destroy you for it.

So rather than dictating your desires to others, you’ll have to give up your desires for the way things are supposed to be and your desire to be in the “in” crowd when you follow Jesus.

If you truly wear the cross, it will be out of season for the world. It will get attention—the kind that could get you killed. Not what I think Peter wanted to hear, and not what I want to hear either. We tend not to focus on this being the definition of Christian life.

 

Katy, the intern last year, left a backpack for me in the intern’s apartment, and it seemed like a really nice backpack. It seemed like it was made locally and even had a local sounding name written on a patch across the back, and because I was desperate to seem local, I wore it everywhere. Recently, while we were hiking, a friend told me that the pack’s local sounding name was actually a derogatory name for Samoans.

Suddenly I realized Katy and I had been walking around with a sign on our backs. That was not only a fashion faux pas, it was asking for trouble.

Well, what do you think wearing a cross is?

By wearing a cross, by proclaiming the gospel, you’re telling the world that their fashions will not save them. You’re telling the world that no matter how much they accumulate on this earth, or what their social status is, they can’t take it with them, and in the end we’re all beggars in need of grace.

As a Christian, you are telling the people in charge that for all their power and prestige, even if they followed every fashion trend perfectly and had the ultimate wardrobe and all the accessories Ala Moana offers, their lives will be lost and meaningless without the gospel.

“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life.” With these words Jesus leads us to speak an unpopular truth to the world around us.

The world is full of games to try to keep you ahead of the curve. Fashion is one of those games. But it is ultimately empty. It falls short of the needs we have. And ultimately the desire to play the game is probably motivated by a fear of falling behind, of being exposed as incomplete, as vulnerable, and as “out of fashion.” A life can easily be spent chasing the fashion gods, or any number of addictions or games, but what are you chasing and where will it lead you?

 

Some of us may be hip, we may even follow fashion trends, but where it counts as Christians we are counter cultural.

We, as bearers of the cross (wearers of the cross), are a statement to the world that says you cannot possess the joy of life unless God is first in possession of you.

Only by picking up the cross can you put your fears and shame behind you.

The truth of our gospel lesson today is that if we are not holding on to the cross, our hands are idle and they will build idols. But if we wear the cross, if we follow Christ’s fashion, we have his hands to lead, his arms to reach out to our neighbor, his love to fill us.

Peter didn’t not want to wear the cross. We don’t want to wear the cross. Peter did not want Christ to wear the cross. Neither do we.

But Christ did wear the cross, and he calls us to follow him in this world to the next, with all we need to get there on our backs. Not back packs. Not accessories. Not cowboy boots. Not scarves. Not white pants. Not paraments. Not pews. Not altars. Just the cross. Only the cross.

Someone told me that as soon as I get comfortable wearing Hawaiian clothes, I’ll be leaving. I said that is probably true.

It’s true for us as well. We have another destination, so don’t get too comfortable with your wardrobe.

Our wardrobes will not get us to heaven, but Jesus will and Jesus did. And he only gave us one fashion statement, and we wear it here (Webmaster’s note: Here he made the sign of the cross on his forehead).

Amen.


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