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In today's sermon, I used wearing our "Sunday best" as a dynamic equivalent for ritual handwashing before meals. There are a number of similarities between the two:

  • They are ways that some people express their religious devotion.
  • They are connected to Biblical commandments but are not commanded themselves.
  • They are external and symbolic acts.
  • They can be stand-ins for deeper devotion.

Now there is nothing wrong with either. To be honest I like dressing up on Sundays. I love seeing my girls dressed up all fancy on Sundays. And I cringe, I cringe when I see people underdressed or wearing things that I would judge inappropriate. I still remember a mid-age church member arriving late, walking down the center aisle with a shirt loudly emblazoned with the initials of the label French Connection United Kingdom. I was offended.

At the same time, as clergy, I've been privy to complaints that some people have made about the 'dress' of others at worship. When I was serving at the same church one of the elders complained about a young man who came to worship with torn jeans. What she saw was a young person who was disrespecting worship. What she didn't know was that he had grown up without any religion at home but had been exploring faith while at university. Soon he would be baptized and be making a profession of faith. Big changes were occurring in his heart.

In this sense, despite his torn jeans, this young man was the poster-child for that church. He was letting Jesus come close to him. He was being transformed from the inside out.

We all need to find ways to express our devotion. External acts like giving and serving and dressing up can express a heartfelt desire to honour God, even be used by God to accomplish God's purposes. But they can also be empty acts, empty acts that become weapons for judging others all the while evading God's call on our own lives.  

So if you want to dress up for Sunday worship, please do so. But don't forget that the clothing God most wants you to wear is "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (see Colossians 3:12 NIV).