When I started in full-time ministry over 30 years ago most of us wore jackets and ties to preach on Sunday morning. Recently, I looked at some old pictures of me back in the early 1980’s and according to the fashion standards of the day we looked just fine. Today, those pictures can be embarrassing.
A change took place somewhere in the late 80’s when the brave among us decided to ditch the coat and tie and replace it with an open collar, sweater and slacks. This went on for a few years until someone decided to wear jeans. We all wanted to wear jeans, but needed someone to grant us “permission” to do it.
I remember the first time I wore jeans. It was for a Wednesday evening service. I felt both naked and free. I got some comments. I was surprised that most of the people thought it was cool. We began to discover that jeans actually worked and in a few more years they began to show up behind many Sunday morning pulpits. Today, I can only remember a few Sundays in the last ten years when I have not worn a pair of jeans.
The nice thing about jeans is that you can dress up or dress down around them. Most Sundays I wear a nice shirt with my jeans. On those occasions where I want to dress it up a bit a dark sport coat over an un-tucked shirt with my jeans looks good.
I still have what I call a “marrying and burying” suit hanging in my closet. This nice black suit comes out a few times each year to help a young couple begin their journey of life together or when someone passes into the presence of the Lord. I wore my black suit just last week to conduct a marriage ceremony. It actually felt good and brought back some memories.
I mention all of this about attire to process a simple point. The packaging of ministry has changed over the years and will continue to do so for many years to come. It’s OK to change things – in fact I think it’s a sign of health. The Church is one group that can actually get stuck in time and call it righteous.
If Jesus were to show up today, and manifest in a physical body, He would not be wearing a robe or sandals. He would be dressed like the rest of us. Sometimes we make Jesus too mysterious. The Incarnation – Jesus taking on a physical body like ours – was His idea. He wanted to first fit in so He could then stand out. Jesus was good at removing barriers to communication.
When Jesus went to His hometown of Nazareth He dressed like the audience to whom He spoke. When He finished speaking they decided that He was just too familiar to them to be the real Messiah so they tried to murder Him by attempting to throw Him over a cliff. Looking contemporary has a downside.
While I think Jesus’ attire would change over time, I know His message would never change. The unchangeable message of Jesus has migrated along the developing timeline of the Church for the last 2,000 years. While culture will change, the message remains the same.
When Jesus stood in the synagogue in Nazareth and was handed the scroll, He read from Isaiah 61. As He read these words He was dressed in the garb of His day.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.”
Over all the years that I have done the stuff of ministry, I have tried to keep the message of the Gospel intact while cultural change was taking place all around me. The way we dress and what we drive will adjust as new products are marketed our way and we agree with those changes by exercising our choice as consumers. What will hopefully not change is the message of Jesus found in Isaiah 61. You can speak these words dressed in anything and deliver them at anytime and they will always bring life.