Your true identity is in being a child of God.
James 2:1-9 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Want to know something kind of interesting? The Bible has a lot of mixed-up things to say about Paradise. As in, the Garden of Eden.
Genesis 2 says that God planted a garden, a paradise, in Eden, supposedly a place on earth, a place where 4 rivers meet: Pishon, Gichon, Chidekel, Perat. The rabbis – some of them, anyway – say these are the Nile, the Blue Nile, Tigris, Euphrates. Maybe.
But there’s no place on earth where those four rivers meet. At least, not since the flood. So where is paradise?
Well, fast forward to the 1st century AD. Jesus tells the thief on the cross beside him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Were they going somewhere on earth? Most likely, he’s talking about a place in heaven right?
St. Paul might give us a clue, but it’s kind of confusing – he says, “I know of a guy who went to Paradise, whether in the body or the spirit, I don’t know” — he’s probably talking about himself — “This same guy, he went to the third heaven, whether in the body or the spirit, I don’t know.”
It kind of seems like maybe St. Paul means paradise and the third heaven are in the same place? But wait, there’s more! Jesus says in Rev. 2:7, “If you overcome, I’ll grant you the right to eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God.” Well, that brings us back full circle to Eden in Genesis, where God left the tree of life guarded by a cherubim with a “flaming sword”.
Ok, so maybe Paul’s saying paradise is in heaven, but maybe Genesis says it was planted on earth – so maybe heaven is a place on earth, like the song says?
Who knows. But here’s what we do know about Paradise – whether on earth or in the third heaven, it’s not where the Father lived. Yes, Genesis says that God was walking around in the Garden — but that was before the Fall, and before the flood. We know the Father wasn’t hanging around there by the times of Jesus, because Jesus shows us..
Remember when Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you’ll be with me in Paradise”? Ok, that was on Good Friday. So they went to paradise in the third heaven on Good Friday.
But on Sunday, when he rose from the dead, he told Mary, “Don’t touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” So I guess that means his Father wasn’t in the third heaven, Paradise, when he and the thief went there on Good Friday.
Hm. Very interesting. Why does any of this matter?
Because it tells us where our khakis come from.
Khakis. Why am I talking about khakis? There’s a famous quote from a cult film, Fight Club, based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk. There’s a cult leader named Tyler Durden who’s gathered together a group of depressed and desperate men and he gives them a sense of purpose by breaking down their false sense of identity: “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your ****ing khakis.”
Well, Tyler Durden was wrong about most things, but he wasn’t totally wrong with that statement, in a vacuum anyway. All devils deceive by twisting just a tiny bit of truth, and Tyler Durden was right about this tiny bit: your true identity isn’t in your job, your net worth, your car, your status – and it’s not in your clothes.
You are not your khakis!
When Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise, God gave them “garments of skin” — khakis! Now can you see that the location of paradise matters? Because if Eden was on earth, God probably just gave Adam and Eve some sort of animal hide clothing.
But maybe we can go deeper here. Because if Paradise is a heavenly place, and the Bible sure makes it look that way, then that brings a whole other level of meaning to the Fall. Adam and Eve didn’t just fall from grace, they fell from heaven in some way – the third heaven, anyway — whatever that is! They were spiritual beings cast out of a spiritual place. That means that the garments of skin were mortal flesh, as many early Christian writers also tell us.
Now, the Bible says that when Adam and Eve fell, they were naked, and had to be clothed. It didn’t say, they were naked, and had to become clothing. Instead, they were given clothing to wear. So it really can be said of them – they were not their khakis! They were just wearing them.
Now, this is the mother and father of all humanity. Of every single human being on earth. All of us! It can truly be said of all our bodies that they are handmedown clothing from Adam and Eve. Every single person is carrying their genes – our should I say, we are “wearing their khakis”!
But you are not your khakis. You may have gotten a pair of khakis from Asia; from Africa; from Europe; whatever condition and color those khakis may be now, they’re still handmedowns from the same source just outside of Eden. Don’t forget where your khakis come from, and how and why the first parents got them!
Adam and Eve weren’t their khakis, and you’re not your khakis, either. We’re all just wearing them.
Consider this lesson about clothing, then, when reading St. James’ words: “Show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
This is James saying, in a much more Godly way, what Tyler Durden said when he said, “You are not your khakis.”
You might think, “Man, the folks at James’ church must have been snobs. We don’t cowtow to folks with nice clothes.” Our church is pretty informal. What was going on at James’ church that clothes mattered to folks?
Well, as you can see from our previous study, when James said these words – and he was much, much deeper into the scriptures than we just went here — he probably had more than just fine clothing in mind. So again, what was going on at James’ church where “clothes” mattered to people?
Oh, I don’t know. Maybe some members of the congregation in Jerusalem (where James was) had contributed a little more money to the mission, so maybe they “should have a prominent seat in the meeting”; maybe their patronage kept the mission afloat, and “their name should be on a plaque”; maybe some were from important families, and the church needed to “center itself more in their history”. Don’t forget that Israel was a nation of 12 tribes, each with its own traditional allotment of land and duties, and plenty of squabbles over those very things. Your family, your tribe, your ancestral home, mattered a great deal.
Well that was then, this is now. We like to think that those kind of things don’t matter to people nowadays, but they seem to matter quite a big deal to plenty of people. I don’t have to spend too much time on Islanders’ Talk to find plenty of people who don’t think much of “Summer People” — and just as many who don’t think much of “Washashores”. Who has first dibs on the Steamship? On housing? On parking spaces and Cronig’s discounts!
Then there’s the question of “Natives” and “Settlers”, which hits very close to home at this church, when even last week the question was raised of who has the right to speak, and when, and how, based on ethnicity. This happens in plenty of other churches and organizations all the time.
What’s at the heart of all this but, “You are your khakis.”
This is the way of the world. Our burden is to be patient with it – but our job is to proclaim, “You are not your khakis.” Your good family name; your beautiful heritage; your tribe, your town, your region, your state, your nation; this is your clothing. These are your khakis! And they are blessings from God, and He is to be praised for them. Thank you God for my khakis! Amen!
But all of this clothing is made of a fabric which we did not weave, but the Creator and the Creator alone – He alone deserves praise. Not our khakis!
Therefore, no matter how fine the “clothing” of our ethnic or national heritage is, how gold the “ring” of our family history; or no matter how shabby the “threads” of our individual lives, or how dark the past of our ancestors and relations; we must regard it all as the Lord teaches through his Apostle James – without partiality, otherwise we are “making distinctions amongst ourselves and becoming judges with evil thoughts.”
This is the lesson we learn from the whole story of Paradise, because it doesn’t end in Genesis, but in Revelation: whereas our mother and father were first placed in Paradise by our Creator, and then cast out; we have come to Paradise once again in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because the Bible tells us, the Church is where Paradise is: St. Paul tells us in Hebrews that the Church is the Heavenly Jerusalem, and his friend St. John the Revelator saw a vision of that heavenly Jerusalem descending to earth from Heaven — just as the Holy Spirit descends into us — and he says the tree of life is there, with leaves of healing for all the nations.
Where is the tree of life but in Paradise? And the Paradise we have in Christ is much more than a paradise on earth, or even a paradise in the third heaven, as we studied about earlier. It’s so much more.
In Christ, God reconciles all things to himself, things in earth and in heaven. Paul told us that in Colossians chapter 1. Whereas once upon a time, the Garden was maybe on earth, or maybe in the third heaven; and even though Jesus went to the third heaven of paradise after his death, and he could not yet ascend to the Father, meaning there was an even higher heaven where God was – well, all that is in the past now, because by the time St. Paul wrote Colossians, all things were reconciled in Christ. All the heavens were brought together in Him with the earth.
This is what St. John saw in his vision — that in the church, in the body of Christ, God had brought together the earth; the paradise of the third heaven; and even the highest heaven where the Father Himself dwells; and made them all one — All the earth, and all the heavens, however many heavens there are! — because they all dwell together in the Church, in the Body of Christ.
This is a sublime vision of God, and we must share it with everybody. The people of the world are suffering and causing suffering for themselves and others because they truly believe they are their khakis! But Christ died and was raised to not just elevate us from the Fall and restore us to paradise – but to bring the highest heaven even closer to us than it was before Adam and Eve fell. You are not your khakis! In Adam, you are a beautiful creation of God, clothed in garments of skin – but in Christ, you are even more: you are a Child of God, clothed in His glory and the garments of salvation.
And you have long-lost family out there, and they’re just waiting to be told: “you are not your khakis”!
Spread this message of love with love by the power of the Holy Spirit of God who is Love. Amen.