So yes, on Sunday, I wore my tattoos proudly. I’m sure someone’s put pictures up on Facebook somewhere...
Let me clarify that -- I don’t actually have any real tattoos, since real tattoos are both painful and permanent (two descriptors that I don’t normally desire to connect with my personal adornment choices). But for this Sunday morning, I was covered with at least some very real-looking tattoos (including things like a dragon, a tiger, a star, the Latin phrase “nolite iudicare secundum faciem,” etc.), and I wore some dirty blue jeans, my most comfortable but most beat-up shirt, and a hat emblazoned with the words “Wright University.”
Most people clearly understood that I was making some sort of point by dressing that way. A few chuckled out loud when they saw me. More than one of the younger kids wondered if I really did have tattoos that they’d just never seen before. And at least one person was honest enough to say that she was having trouble worshiping because of the way I looked that morning.
I owe her a shiny nickel for being honest and proving the point.
See, as an application for the last seven sermons, I wanted to give a tangible example of what Jesus was talking where we left off last week in the Sermon on the Mount. For five weeks, we looked at the crucial theological foundations of the Reformation -- including that we’re saved by God’s grace and not by what we deserve, and that we’re saved for Christ’s glory and not for our own. And then we talked about why we all need to be constantly, consciously reforming, or else we’ll be tempted to be conformed into the world’s ways of thinking. And then we looked at what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount about how at any given point, with any given word or action or attitude, we are always serving one master and rebelling against another -- so we need to choose whether we serve God or this world.
This week, in application of all of that, Jesus says that if we really do want to serve the Kingdom of God rather than the kingdoms of this world, then we need to let go of the stressing and the worrying and the judging and the focus on appearances that so weigh us down in this place (and so anchor us to this place). Christ tells us that no one has ever added one hour to his life through that sort of stressing... and yet, how many hours have you and I wasted in our worrying about tomorrow, or in our stressing about today, or in our judging about how this person or that person doesn’t measure up to our personal standards or preferences? God doesn’t judge by our clothing or our tattoos or our skin color or any other outward appearances (that Latin phrase above is quoting Jesus in John 7:24 -- “Stop judging by outward appearances”), so why should you and I judge by those things? Why should we judge by those worldly things?
The fact is, we all could use some warmer hearts and thicker skins -- warmer hearts toward those around us who don’t do things the way that we’d like them to, and thicker skins when people get upset when we don’t do things the way that they’d like us to. The Biblical word for that is “grace” -- and since God showed His grace toward us, we should show His grace toward others. Less stress, less worry, less judging... and more trusting in building up the Kingdom that will last than in building up the one that won’t.
NOTE: For those saying, “But doesn’t the Bible forbid tattoos?” please note that the prohibition in Leviticus 19:28 is in the context of avoiding the pagan practices of other cultures -- connected with ritualized cutting, divination, drinking sacrificial blood, etc. The Biblical prohibition isn’t against painting a butterfly on your ankle, but rather against etching cultic symbols into your flesh as pagan incantations. As with so many things in life, the problem with any given tattoo is far more about the “why” behind it than about the mere action itself.