No one taught these children how to share, but instead they took whatever they fancied and hoarded it for themselves. Whenever they saw something pretty or shiny that someone else had they would demand it be given to them now. If the owner said no, they would first throw a temper tantrum which sometimes made the owner give in. If that didn’t work they would obsess over that coveted thing, conniving and scheming about how they could get it by hook or by crook. They told so many lies they started believing them. Once they got the thing they had been yearning for they played with it for a time – 1 hour, 10 minutes maybe - and then cast it aside where it too became dirty and eventually broken.
In spite of all this the children each thought they were the best, while thinking the worst about everybody else. They gossiped to one another about their neighbors. If the child across the street should happen to pick a dandelion from their front yard, or pick up one of the discarded toys before it had been ruined the children would scream bloody murder, call her a thief and plot ways to get revenge on that stealing, no good cheat. The children believed they deserved the best things in the world and convinced themselves that they couldn’t be happy until they had everything they ever wanted, and so they lived in misery day after day after day. They knew no joy, no peace, no love. They usually stuffed themselves with chocolate ice cream to dull their heartache and most nights they cried themselves to sleep.
One day two big packages arrived on the door addressed to Charis Christiandaughter and Eucharist Christianson. With them was a large envelope with a large royal wax seal. When they opened it a lovely smell came from the page inside, which was made of fancy paper with gold all around the edges. The letter said, “My dear long lost children, it has been many years since you were born and we were separated. I have received word of how miserable you have been and it breaks my heart. I want nothing more than to set you free so that you may come and live with me at the palace. I yearn to be reunited with you."
“Perhaps you are surprised by all of this, the letter continued. “Perhaps no one told you that you are my children. When you were born I named you, my daughter, Charis (grace) and you, my son Eucharist (thanksgiving). I am king Christ, so as my children, your true sir-names are Christiandaughter and Christanson.
I am making preparations for you to return home to me. Soon I will send my servant to guide you home. But for now I offer you these gifts. They will help you to prepare to take your rightful place as my son and daughter.
The children tore off the brown wrapping paper and opened their boxes in no time flat. Inside was a whole wardrobe of gleaming bright clothes. The girl’s box had a long white dress with a full skirt and puffy sleeves, a beautiful shawl, lovely white shoes, white kid gloves, a fancy lace bow for her hair and matching jewelry. The boy’s box contained dress pants, a shirt with cufflinks, a vest and cummerbund, the best Italian shoes, a bow tie, a morning coat and a top hat. All the clothing was decorated with fancy embroidery, gold and silver threads and sparkling jewels of every color. The clothing was so bright and beautiful the children blinked their eyes and looked away.
After one look the girl thought, wow, those clothes must be worth a fortune! I’ll save them, and maybe I can use them to trade for the really cool apps that are coming out like – “shoot em dead” and “angry old farts.” She put the lid back on the box, climbed up on a chair and stuck it on the top shelf of her closet and locked the door.
The boy, on the other hand, liked playing dress-up. So he set to work putting on all of the clothing. He wasn’t quite sure about all of the items. He’d never seen a cummerbund before, and didn’t know what to do with the cufflinks. He used a square knot for the bow tie.
When he finally stood before the mirror he was horrified at the figure looking back at him. The fine quality of the clothes made his dirty face, hands and feet, and sour look on his face stand out in stark contrast.
So he decided to take a bath. It took several scrubbings to get his nails clean and to get all the oil out of his hair. When he got dressed again he didn’t put on everything. First he put on the pieces of clothing that were easiest for him. For several days just wore the pants and shirt. It took a lot of patience to figure out where the cufflinks went, and then learn to put them on. And it took even longer to learn how to properly tie a bow-tie. In fact he finally realized he couldn’t do it by himself so he found a Youtube video with a teacher who showed him step by step what to do. But it still took a fortnight of practice before he could tie around his neck.
From time to time while he was dressed in his new clothing the boy would stand before the mirror. Though he looked vastly better than the first time, he could always see room for improvement. He realized that he would need to make bathing a regular habit – at least once a week for his hair to look good. Once his body was reasonably clean he began to notice more subtle contrasts between himself and his new clothes. One day he caught a glimpse of himself wearing the clothes while he was thinking unkind thoughts about his foster parents. His eyes were small and beady; they did not go well with his clothes. Another day when his sister was crying the boy pretended to ignore her, telling himself she deserved her pain because she was such a miserable wretch. But then he caught a glance of his face in the mirror and realized how ugly he looked – unfitting for one wearing such a beautiful suit of clothing.
It was much harder to change these inside parts of him. But over time, little by little he put down his passions, impurity, evil desires and greed. That improved his countenance. The boy also searched on the internet for examples of people who wore these clothing well. He noticed that they were compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient. Again, it was hard to put all of these on, but slowly with time one could start to see the compassion and kindness in his eyes. He let others go first, he noticed others in need and gave his possessions away. He stopped throwing tantrums when he didn’t get his way, but practiced waiting patiently.
During all this time the boy reflected on the name his father had given him – Eucharist, thanksgiving. The more skill he developed in wearing his new clothes, and working on himself so that his insides matched the outsides, the better they fit him and the more comfortable he became. Gradually he began to really be thankful for this wonderful gift until one day, he decided to accept and start using his name. I am Eucharist Christianson - a thankful Son of Christ the king.
Day after day Eucharist practiced putting on those clothes, day after day he’d check himself in the mirror and notice what he still needed to work on whether it was his outward appearance, or his inward thoughts and attitudes.
All the while, the Eucharist’s sister stayed as ugly and miserable as ever. The gift from her father remained on the top shelf her closet that was kept locked. She couldn’t understand why her brother was so happy, why he wouldn’t fight with her, why he was giving away what he had to other people – even to her. She rarely gave her father the king or his gift a second thought. She never entertained the idea of actually using the clothing in the box. She never bothered to contemplate that her true name was Charis – grace. Her brother’s joy just made her mad, and she felt even more miserable.
Finally the day came when the king’s servant arrived, Eucharist was ready to ride with him to meet his true father and his true home. But the girl was still dressed in dirty rags, greedily wanting more and more and never once had truly felt satisfied or thankful.
This is a story that I just made up this weekend. It might sound like a fairy story, but I’m here to tell you it is true. You can bet your life on this story. In fact it is the story of you and me. It is the story that Colossians 3 is referring to. Chapter 3 starts with the proclamation to baptized members of the Church that we have been raised with Christ. In our baptisms we have died to sin, and our life is united with Christ’s life. The purpose of this is so we can reclaim our true nature as children of God who are made in the image of God – we were always meant to be holy like God is holy. And Christ is the human example of what that looks like.
Yet somehow we have been separated from our heavenly father, separated from Christ, and we end up being shaped by ungodly forces in this world that fill our hearts and minds with bitterness, envy, greed, lust, jealously and pride. As long as we keep wearing these earthly garments we will never be truly happy, never be able to fully give and receive love, never be truly thankful for our lives.
At our baptism God gave to us a set of new, lovely clothing, shining and bright. When we were confirmed or professed our faith as an adult we said with our lips that we would like to receive this gift of new life. But if our lives have not been transformed and become more virtuous, more holy, then we haven’t fully and truly accepted this gift.
We can’t put the new clothes on as long as we cling to our dirty rags of bitterness, envy, greed, lust, unforgiveness and pride. To reclaim our place as sons and daughters of the king we must first bathe in the waters of baptism, and let it wash us clean. And though the baptism covenant is made once and for all, we need to return to the waters often throughout our lives to remember the new life Christ wants to give to us.
Once we remember our baptisms with thanksgiving, then, little by little, we need to give up the dirty rags we’ve been so used to wearing. This is a process that takes time. Lust and greed, envy and unforgiveness are habits. It takes a long time to break a habit, even once we are convinced that it only makes us sick.
Likewise, putting on and learning to wear the gift of new life in Christ is a long and slow process. Learning how to put on and wear the new cloths of righteousness is a long process of forming the virtuous habits of the saints. We can’t do it on our own, we need models and teachers to show us how and to gently and patiently correct us along the way.
So here is the secret of the vertical habit of thanksgiving. The first step in truly being thankful for a gift is to fully receive it. You can’t just open up the box, look at it and set it aside to receive a gift. It really doesn’t matter if we lock it up in the closet, or caste it on the floor to be stepped on. If we don’t receive the gift for ourselves, examine it carefully, learn how it works together, try it on for size until and start to wear new life in Christ so that it overtakes our old worldly lives, we will never be fully thankful to God for the gift.
In worship we gather as children of God, sons and daughters of the king who wants nothing more than to give us new life in Christ. For all of us who were baptized, the gift has been given. But how much of this new wardrobe have you put on since then? Look in the mirror. Are you wearing all of the gift, or still dressed in some dirty old rags?
Listen to the words of Colossians again as you reflect on what you have done with Christ’s gift of new life to you.
14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
15-17 Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (The Message)
God has given us the gift of new life in Christ. May we all, today, accept this most precious gift of all and be thankful.