Earlier this week, I arrived at church just as the children in the neighborhood were arriving back at school. One little girl, a kindergartener if I had to guess, caught my eye. She was decked out in this beautiful, floral dress with the most enormous pink bow perched atop her pulled back hair. In an instant, I was brought back to all of the back to school outfits that I carefully selected year after school-aged year. Getting the perfect back to school outfit was crucial. I am not sure I ever wore a floral print and a big bow, but do remember carefully orchestrating what my look would be at the start of yet another year.
The stores are full of back to school sales and advertisements beckon us to the malls, but I realize that a new back-to-school outfit it is a privilege. I realize many families this year will be struggling mightily to cover the cost of the school supply list, leaving a special outfit completely off the table. I realize that going back to school can be a time of great financial strain for the vast majority of families.
But the importance and gravitas that that back-to-school outfit played in my own life, makes me think of what I see as a dominate pull in our culture to dress ourselves up in what is socially acceptable so that we can hide all that may not be behind it. I remember how it felt to put on that perfect first day of school outfit. Looking good and fitting in bought me the courage and confidence that I could not muster for myself. If I looked good on the outside, perhaps no one would know how scared and nervous I really was.
Tonight on the news there was story after story of horrible xenophobia. People seeing others as less than, different, dangerous and not belonging. We live in a world right now that seems more and more to have a dress code. Be a certain color, from a certain demographic, dress a certain way and you are going to make it. God help you if you do not.
But the Good News is that there are no back-to-church sales or the expectation of first day of church outfits. We are freed to walk up the stairs into the sanctuary dragging all of what we think may be socially unacceptable with us. Our pain, our shame, our fear, our hurt, our humiliation, our lack of confidence – all of it is welcome and beautiful in the upside down world walk of faith that Jesus walked.
But there is something more. This is the paradox of our faith. We seek love and belonging and so we dress ourselves up to be worthy of it. But it never seems to come. It is only when we find the support, courage and faith to show up as we truly are that we amazingly find the love and belonging that had eluded us.
So, my beloved congregation, on our back to church Sunday, September 9th, 10”00 am. Let’s feel free to go ahead and show up with beautiful floral dresses and bows in our hair or bow ties around our necks if that bring us joy. But let us also show up in the fullness of who we are not needing to hide so that the grace of emergence and transformation may be ours. This is the good and holy work we are to be about. Thanks be to God and to this community where we can show up as we truly are. Amen