Paul invites us to put on Christ’s cloak of compassion and to wear out his sandals of servanthood; in doing so we come to know God better.
Read: Colossians 3:12-17
Peggy Noonan is one of my dad’s favorite journalists. She works for the Wall Street Journal and her columns are often insightful and noteworthy. I believe the two met while my father worked in the Reagan administration, where Noonan was a speechwriter for the president.
In her book “Character Above All,” Noonan relates a story about Francis Green, an eighty-three year old San Franciscan who lived alone in a small apartment. Though she lived on a Social Security, Francis had sent one dollar to the R.N.C. for the last eight years.
One day Francis received a fund-raising letter from the group. Written with elegant lettering on beautiful, cream-colored paper was an invitation for her to come to the White House and meet the President. She never noticed the little RSVP card suggested her positive reply needed to be accompanied by a generous donation.
Scraping up every cent she had, Francis took a four-day train ride across America; sleeping upright in her coach seat. When she arrived at the White House gate, she wore her best Sunday dress, and on top of her snow white hair sat her favorite white church hat. When she spoke to the guard at the gate, she was told her name was not on his official list. She could not go in. Francis was heartbroken.
Now here’s how God works in life. Behind her in line was a Ford Motor executive who had watched and listened to the scenario. Stepping out of line, he introduced himself to Francis. And after learning of her story, he told her to come back at nine o’clock the following morning for a personal tour and to meet the president. She agreed to the offer. And believe it or not, so did the President.
Noonan wrote, “the next day was anything but a calm and easy one at the White House.” Ed Meese, the attorney general just resigned, and there was a military uprising abroad. Reagan was in and out of high-level secret meetings.
But Francis Green showed up on time. And just as he had promised, the executive gave her a personal tour of the White House. In spite of all that was going on, he led Francis quietly past the Oval Office on the off chance that she might get a quick glimpse of the president before she left.
In the midst of all of all the hubbub, President Reagan glanced up and saw Francis Green. With a smile he gestured her into his office. And as she walked in, he said, “Francis! Those darn computers fouled up again! Had I known you were coming I would have come out there to get you myself.”
Noonan reports, the two sat and talked leisurely about California, her life and her family. With gentleness and patience, the president gave her time that he could not spare. Reagan knew this woman had nothing to give him, but I suspect he realized he had something she needed: kindness and compassion.
While I am not implying Reagan was a saint, Noonan’s story is a wonderful example of our call to be and act like Christ.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians reminds us that we are “God’s children, holy and beloved.” When we understand this, then we must act accordingly – both inside our heart and outside in the world. What’s that old saying? “If you want to get know someone, try walking in their shoes.” As we can see in today’s text, Paul invites us to put on Christ’s cloak of compassion and to wear out his sandals of servanthood; in doing so we come to know God better.
At the beginning of chapter three, Paul writes: ‘Set your hearts on things above, not on earthly things.’ He says, ‘Strip off’ our old clothes and ‘rid ourselves’ of ‘anger, rage, malice, slander, profanity and lies.’ As followers of Christ it’s time to put on the new clothes: ‘compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.’
I can only imagine how busy both Reagan and that Ford executive must have been. Yet, it did not stop them from taking the time to show compassion and kindness to a stranger who could not offer them anything in return.
Just scan the gospels, and you’ll see countless examples of Jesus doing the same. Whatever Jesus was doing, he stopped to heal the sick or to provide comfort to the needy. He always took the time to show compassion and to help someone.
Jesus always wore his faith out in the open so his disciples might learn to do the same. And he showed great patience when they failed to do so. In the end, this is how people would come to see Christ, and find their purpose in God’s love.
As the last verse of John’s Gospel states: “there are so many other things Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, the world could not contain all the books that would be written.” Thankfully, we are not called to be Christ, but called to be Christ like.
“We know God by participating in God, not trying to please him from afar.” - Julian of Norwich
Therefore if you are going to call yourself a Christian, then you must honestly ask yourself, “Who would Jesus be too busy to help?” if he were wearing my shoes?
Who might he walk past or overlook, dressed in my best suit? If he had on my favorite t-shirt, who might Jesus deem unworthy of his time, compassion, or kindness? In claiming his name, we all must be prepared to answer the same questions when he turns and hands us his coat, and his love.
By our faith in Christ, God calls us to participate in his love and wear our ‘Sunday best’ like a daily uniform. As the story of Francis Green reminds us, you never know who you’ll run into. We must always be prepared, inside and out, to share the love of God with others.
A wise mystic once said, “We know God by participating in God, not trying to please him from afar.” Paul sums up this participation in one word: ‘love’. He writes, ‘And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.’
As followers of Christ, you are not simply to dress in his clothes, and walk in his shoes. But we are also invited to rest in his peace. To be ‘in Christ’ means you are one with him and thus one in God’s faithful and eternal love. As it was demonstrated on the cross, love is not just an emotion; it is an action that weaves us together in harmony. Love is the new clothes we ‘put on’ and go to work in.
What this means is we all need to go to our closets and take compassion and kindness off their hangers and wear them out to work and school. Put on the undergarments of humility, sweaters of comfort, and pants of patience. And wear them, live in them, work in them, get them dirty and stained; make sure they’re frayed at the hems, and worn out in the knees.
Christ calls us all to dress ourselves in the love of God – which as you might have guessed is an all-season, all-weather look that never falls out of fashion.
So come, be ‘in Christ’ and style yourself in his peace and glory. Walk in his shoes, sandals, or even his bare feet, and you can make a real difference in our world.
‘Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience;’ this is how we live like Christ, and how we will be judged…by others…and by God.
Peggy Noonan’s story was adapted by Charles Swindoll, and found in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1998. pp. 113-14.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”