“Time for Tacky Sweaters”

“Time for Tacky Sweaters”
Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
November 27, 2022

Many of us recently gathered with family and friends.

And if you’ve been around people the past few days or really most anytime recently, it can feel like just a cough here, a sniffle there… and next thing you know you’ve got it. They’ve got it. The whole room has caught it and soon enough, once more, everyone is quarantined away from one another.

What’s the latest thing catching these days?

“Research shows that rudeness is like the common cold: It’s contagious, it spreads quickly, anyone can be a carrier—at work, at home, online, or in our communities—and getting infected doesn’t take much.”

This from Georgetown University’s Management Professor, Christine Porath in her feature article, “Frontline Work When Everyone Is Angry” featured in November’s Harvard Business Review.

Dr. Porath has studied incivility for over two decades and her most recent study reveals a notable uptick in incivility around the world, actually.

She defines incivility as “rudeness, disrespect, or insensitive behavior.” And it has been felt most acutely, she writes, with frontline workers…

And we have all read the stories

  • of unruly airline passengers…
  • maybe we’ve witnessed a barista or nurse or customer service representative take a verbal barrage that seems incredibly un-called for…
  • maybe we’ve attended a little league sporting event and seen parents become unhinged in their remarks to a referee…
  • or a PTA with remarks unhinged…
  • or perhaps we have been on the receiving end of really rude or disrespectful comments…
  • or maybe we’ve simply followed along on social media and the news and readily seen the no-holds-barred approach of communication and politics that is so prevalent.

The thing is, when you are in a room where no matter which direction you look, someone is coughing or sneezing – it’s pretty tough not to catch the cold yourself, eventually.

“One of the biggest takeaways from my decades of research is that incivility usually arises from ignorance — not malice.” Yes, Dr. Porath explains, some know exactly what they are doing…but the majority of people, actually, have no idea just how their words and tone and way of being are communicating the virus into the world.

Which raises for us the question: For all the many ways we can point to the cold unfolding out there…

Is it possible the church has

caught the cough of rudeness…
the runny nose of constant gossip…
the hoarse voice of strident disrespect…
The fever of unrestrained anger…

…and honestly, is it possible the thing has lingered so long and everybody else has it…is it possible we just stopped noticing?

Paul’s words in Romans are an urgent call for the church to wake up and notice. He makes clear: The light of Jesus Christ’s life is dawning in this world, making all things new, driving out the darkness…

“The night of sin and death is over, the dawn of full light is about to break visibly across the horizon.”

“We can’t afford to waste a minute” is how the Message translates the sentiment here as we think about how the church must tell of this new, participate in this news….

…but, Paul also observes the church is asleep – or at least in a slumber.

Too many in the church are unaware just how heavily the ailments of the darkness are weighing on them.

He lists six of the ailments:

reveling and drunkenness,

debauchery and licentiousness,

quarreling and jealousy

Those same words are also translated into such things as intemperance, insolence, bickering, divisiveness…and among the things Paul is most concerned about, there is an accent on a lack of moderation, an unrestrained kind behavior, rudeness, disrespect. A way of being that creates and further inflames fighting and division and jealousy.

Paul is writing to a church dealing with some division – no surprise – and it’s clear that at some level, the church has caught the common cold.

And when I think about this virus of vitriol in our time…and the way that plays out in our politics and little leagues, our coffee shops and our social media, our airplanes and our hospitals and yes our churches…I’m struck by the fact that some would argue it’s not a virus.

What with these times… it’s what is needed to be heard. To get things done. By which we usually mean – It’s how you win.

Many are the reasons, I think, for the rise of rudeness in our society, but among them is that as we grow more anxious about

the future or

the other side or

the economy for us and for our children or

the world we are handing onto them…

…we find the need to win becoming more and more important. We need to win our side. Our vote. Our child’s future. Our right.

And many of the particular concerns behind these sentiments are, truly, crucial concerns.

I just wonder if “winning” as it is typically understood… if that is the goal for people who follow Jesus?

If it is, then we know how to dress for success.

  • Every time we lay in with a fresh barrage of disdain or blame-casting or gossip…
  • Every time we ourselves would never do that but we will cheer for our favorite leader or politician or preacher or school board member or work colleague who has no problem doing what we call the ‘dirty work’ of taking down the opponent with whatever ugly means necessary…

…well then anymore that’s what you call dressing for success.

Don’t mind the cough, the runny nose, the hoarse voice, the fever that keep getting worse the longer we do this…because we’re winning.

Paul’s word is direct: Wake up church of Jesus Christ.

The most fundamental message given to you is this:

  1. Jesus Christ already won in life and death.
  2. The dawn of new life today and life eternal is breaking across the horizon.
  3. And you stand within the glow of that light. That light shines through you.

There is no need to pull on the power suit dressed for ‘success.’ It’s killing you anyway, by the way.

What then, Paul?

If we are waking up to the fact that too often we do wear that suit, we do admire that suit, we do like others who wear that suit for us…what’s it look like not to worry about that? To put something else on?

Twice in our short passage today: “put on the armor of light…put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” When walking this world, there is an outfit. It’s not the power suit. It’s Jesus.

In other words, “dress in a way that communicates you’re not out trying to win at all cost, but that the Light is Come, the Light has already Won, and the Light is Good.”

I was in the drive-thru line for Starbucks the other day running through my mental to-do list and the next meeting I had coming up. I picked up one of those Protein boxes they have for a quick lunch, and I pull up to the window where the woman – she smiles and says, “The person in front of you wanted to cover this. You’re all set.”

I looked up having not even noticed who was in front of me. And I see the car that had been in front of me in line pulling out into traffic – and I genuinely have no idea who it is.

But immediately, it pulled me out of all of my concerns about getting this done and doing this right and…and it just felt freeing.

  • Why did that person do this at all?
  • Everyone is worried about money and trying to make sure they have enough…why spend it on me?
  • Maybe I could do the same kind of thing?

It was such a small moment in the scheme of things, but it reoriented the rest of my day.

And it made me appreciate a basic truth: Kindness, generosity, love…the way of Jesus, it is its own contagion, you know? But it makes no sense.

In a world of fear, to wear generosity…
In a world of division, to wear reconciliation…
In a world of getting ahead no matter what, to wear justice…
In a world of getting in close with the right people, to wear hospitality unto the marginalized, the other side…
In a world of anxiety, to wear peace…

In a world where so many are trying to find an even better power suit, to wear Jesus is a bit like showing up with a tacky Christmas sweater.

Not because Jesus is tacky, but because…if his way is really shining through us, we are going to stand out. Bright, bold, and different. Does that look really work?

There simply is no way we can show up to the party that is this world and not be noticed if we’re leading with kindness, generosity and love.

But what with the cold that has been catching these many days…surely its time for the sweater.

This little light of mine – I’m gonna let it shine…right?

May the light of Jesus shine to us and through us this Advent season.

May it communicate the dawn at hand.

May it surprise us and reorient us.

May wearing this unlikely sweater awaken all of us to just how sick the power suit way of being is making us all.

I want to end this sermon by giving us a chance to pray on the reality of Jesus and his way this morning.

Because I do imagine in these busy days it is infrequent that we have a chance to consciously receive onto our very souls the attire of Jesus.

And we are going to do this by simply hearing a few, brief words of Jesus from the Bible, and letting the Holy Spirit impress them upon us however the Holy Spirit would do so. And my hope is that by the end of this, if something is still catching among us…it is kindness. It is generosity. It is Jesus.

Hear now these words that are the wool of our sweater:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Love your enemies. And pray for those who persecute you.

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Do to others what you would have them do to you.

He has anointed me to set the oppressed free.

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. 

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Blessed are the merciful. They shall be shown mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

About Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert