"Put on Christ"
Romans 13:8-14

Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
February 13, 2011


A colleague was celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism when the infant he was baptizing gave him a surprise.  Baptisms are always special occasions whether we are baptizing an adult, a youth or an infant.  However, there is a heightened sense of expectation when it is an infant because the possibility for something unexpected hangs in the air.  Adults and youth know how to behave in worship, so there are few surprises. But little ones have not yet learned proper sanctuary decorum so anything is possible.

I have noticed that most of you are very sympathetic to parents if the child is unruly.  You know how hard it is and how embarrassing it is when the little one acts up on the special day.  Yet, you seem perfectly delighted if the child comes unglued when placed in the arms of the pastor.  Admit it! If the child begins to squeal or tugs on our ear or yanks off our microphone, you love it!  There seems to be nothing quite as satisfying as a tiny child humbling the pastor in the middle of worship.

My friend was baptizing a two year-old and all was going well.  The little boy did not fuss, cry or tug.  In fact, he seemed perfectly comfortable when the pastor took him into his arms.  He seemed to be completely aware of what was happening and did not flinch when the pastor touched his head with water.  But when the pastor said, "Christopher, you are a child of God, and you belong to Jesus Christ forever," the two year-old looked him in the eye and said, clearly and articulately, "Uh-oh."1

Now, I have no idea what was actually in that little guy's mind, but it strikes me that he may have spoken the same thought that surfaces with adults and older youth who have seriously considered what it means to belong to Christ.  Uh-oh, this is big.  Uh-oh, this isn't something to do today and put aside tomorrow.  Uh-oh, this is life-altering.

In this morning's passage from Paul's letter to the Christians living in Rome, he gives them an idea of what it means to belong to Christ.  Paul says, "You know what time it is.  It's now the moment for you to wake up."  Then, he calls on them "to put on the Lord Jesus Christ."

Where do you suppose Paul is going with this line of thinking?  What does he mean when he says that we are to "put on" Christ?  Is it merely a handy metaphor for living faithfully, or is there more to it?

I think Paul has several things in mind.  For one, he is urging us to wake up; to be fully attentive to the moment.  On the last page of Walden, Thoreau writes: "Only that day dawns to which we are awake."

How many days do we sleepwalk from morning until night?  How many hours pass in which not even a single thought about God whizzes through our brain or pulses within our heart?  To put on Christ means to be acutely aware of what is happening around us and to expect every encounter to be ripe with rich possibilities.

On most days our senses are dulled to the opportunities surrounding us.  Our treadmill existence diverts our gaze from precious moments that hold potential for something grand - a new friendship, a fascinating insight, a scene of beauty, a fresh understanding of our loved one, a just cause to stir our blood.

Jesus was fully present in each moment.  He was tuned in to people and aware of both the joys and the sorrows around him.  That enabled him to touch a deep place within others because he was sensitive to each situation.

Does your life feel as if it is just one blasted thing after another, or does it feel more like an adventure?  Are you rushing toward death or are you awake each moment to how you can truly live?

Jon Kabat-Zinn began college at the age of 16 and earned a Ph.D. in molecular biology from MIT.  He is the author of several books about the mind and currently works at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  He studies the impact that both stress and meditation have on the bra and he is changing the practice of medicine with his findings.  He says that when we are alert to the precious nature of each moment and how we can be fully present in it, it changes our brains.  He says "Your brain changes in both form and function, your immune system changes, your body changes.  (When) we really take care of what's most important, there are very tangible results at the level of the body, the mind and the heart."2

In Max Beerbohn's story "The Happy Hypocrite," he tells of a wicked man who loves a virtuous young woman.  The man knows he has no hope of wooing her if he approaches her as the unscrupulous person he is, so he dons a mask- the mask of a saint.  As expected, the young woman falls in love with him - or at least falls in love with who she believes he is.  A few years later, a spurned lover of the hypocrite discovers his deception and confronts him.  She challenges the man to shed his mask in front of his beloved and to show his face for the repulsive thing it is.  After considerable protest, he finally pulls off the mask.  And when he does, everyone is surprised: under the mask of the saint his face has been transformed.  His face has now become that of a saint.3

When we put on Christ, transformations occur within us.  Our brain and our body changes and we evolve ever closer to the person God wants us to become.

Did you notice that in the beginning of this morning's passage, Paul spells out the essence of Christianity?  He says, "Love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law."  Paul was devoted to Jewish law.  He knew deep in his bones that God had given the law so that people would know what enriches life and what destroys it.  Writing to the Romans, he rattles off: "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet," because if you do these things you will wreck your relationships and wreak havoc in your community.  Yet, Paul came to realize that there was a downside to attempting to faithfully fulfill each law.  One could fulfill a legal obligation, but never become merciful or just.  After his encounter with Christ, Paul realized that all of the law could be summed up in Christ's great commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

When Jesus spoke of love, he did not have in mind feelings and emotions.  He was speaking of actions - actions aimed at the well-being of another.  Such actions emanate from a Christ-like orientation toward life.

During the past three weeks, people around the world have held their breath as we watched the protests in Egypt unfold.  People poured into the streets of Cairo to demand an end to the regime and the advent of democracy.  The people wanted to be freed from Pharaoh.  Before Mubarak finally relinquished power, there were several tense moments and times when police beat protestors and fired tear gas into crowds.  Journalists and protestors were arrested, several hundred people died.  There were also some very special moments.


Ten days ago was dubbed the "Day of Departure."  Protestors crowded into Tahrir Square calling for President Mubarak to resign.  There was tension in the air when a group of Muslims bowed to the ground for their noon prayers.  But Christians stepped forward to insure that they could fully devote themselves to prayer without fear.  The Christians formed a human chain around the Muslims to protect them.  Those Coptic Christians knew what it meant to put on Christ by loving their neighbor.


Finally, to put on Christ means to draw light out of those we encounter.  When Jesus encountered people, he made an enormous impact on them.  He inspired the best in people who were open to God's Spirit.  After being in the presence of Jesus, Zacchaeus became generous, the disciples became courageous, ordinary people became more concerned about their neighbor.  When Jesus encountered those who opposed him - those who were closed to God's Spirit - darkness emerged.  But from those open to God's Spirit, Jesus drew forth light.

Have you ever thought about your job as bringing out the best in others?  When you treat someone as a precious child of God, as a person of worth, as a person who deserves respect and attention, you ignite a spark of joy within her.  When you reach out in a caring way to someone who is hurting, you lift some of the darkness and relieve some of the pain.  By focusing on others rather than yourself, by listening rather than talking, by forgiving rather than meeting anger with anger, by complimenting and praising and congratulating you bring out the best in others.

What do you do to inspire the best in your loved ones?  Your friends? Your neighbors?  First time acquaintances?  When we put on Christ, we take on his mission to coax out of others what is right and true and beautiful.



  1. John Buchanan, "The God Who Calls," November 7, 2010.
  2. Jon Kabat-Zinn, "Opening To Our Lives," an interview with Krista Tippett on Being on National Public Radio, January 27, 2011.
  3. Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver, This Odd and Wonderous Calling, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), p.65.