What’s In A Coat?

“…I was naked and you gave me clothing…”

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Matthew 25:31-46

Do you know who made the first clothing? [1]

Adam & Eve

After they ate the fruit from the forbidden tree…

Genesis 3:7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

I’m sure this sort of clothing leafs a lot to be desired.

Before I branch out, I’ll just leaf it at that.

Who made the second clothing?  God

[2]

Genesis 3:21 And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.

Do you know what the skins said? “We’ve got you covered.”

After that, God sent them out of the Garden of Eden forever. And clothing has been a necessity ever since.

We’re talking about clothing today because that’s one of the ways Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that we can be serving Jesus.  Clothing the naked.

Our Matthew 25 vision is that God is calling us to be more outwardly focused, missionally oriented, and actively engaged in proclaiming our faith in Jesus through both our words and our deeds.  We hope and pray that people will come to know the goodness and love of God through us.[3]

During these four weeks of talking about Matthew 25, we should note Jesus isn’t giving us a complete list of all the things we can do to serve him.  It’s merely representative of the kinds of things we can do to love our neighbors as Jesus commanded. The greater lesson is that God cares about all people, and so should we.  Thinking about clothing can take us all sorts of directions, it turns out.

In Jesus’ time, clothing was more straightforward and simple than it is now. Basically a tunic and a cloak. Back then people couldn’t afford to have more than a few pieces of clothing. Since clothing was one of the few things people owned, they might have to sell it or pawn it to pay their debts, leaving them literally naked.  That’s why Exodus 22:26 MSG says, “If you take your neighbor’s coat as security, give it back before nightfall; it may be your neighbor’s only covering—what else does the person have to sleep in?”

Despite the small amount of clothing people had, they still worried about having enough.  Jesus said in Matthew, “And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28-29)

Why do we worry so much about clothing?  Well, because if you go naked you’ll get a citation and a hefty fine.

But how much clothing do we really need?  Having closets full of clothing is a much more recent development.  Here’s one way you can tell: We have discovered that one of the biggest challenges of owning an older house is the lack of closets.

[4]

When older houses were built, most people didn’t own more than a few articles of clothing, so they didn’t need closets. The few items they did own were usually kept in a trunk or a chest of drawers, or hung from a hook on the wall. (Did you know the clothes hanger wasn’t even invented until the late 1800s?)[5]

Jesus said in Matthew 25, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”

When we think about all that’s involved in having a piece of clothing, it’s actually quite a complicated endeavor, and there are people involved in every step of the process, people we might overlook. But God loves us all.

[6]

  • It starts with the fiber.
    • Farms growing cotton, flax, or harvesting silk from worms, etc.
    • Or drilling for oil. More than 60% of our clothing is made of synthetic fibers that come from petroleum products.[7]

Then that fiber is woven into fabric

And someone designs the item to be made. That’s a process all by itself.

[8]

  • Then there’s the manufacturing – the sewing.
  • Most of our clothing is made in places like China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Only 3% of our clothing is made in the United States.[9]
    • The New York Times did a story a few years ago about some of the people around the world who make our clothing.[10] Garment workers don’t usually make a lot of money, but their stories are not all the same.
    • Saida, a 38-year-old woman in Honduras, says they never have quite enough to cover all their expenses. She’s been working in the same factory for 12 years. Her employer only has one client, so they worry about what might happen if that client were to leave.
    • Yurani, a 34-year-old woman in Columbia says, “They spoil us here. It’s a job with good stability.” Her workplace blasts music — usually salsa or something traditional — from speakers throughout the day while employees make coats, bathing suits, and sportswear. At 11 a.m., employees get “pausas activas”: active breaks with music.
    • Rumsinah is a 44-year-old woman in Indonesia. She’s worked in the same factory for 26 years, and she says that, “It’s a good factory, so no one really quits. There’s seldom any job openings — only if someone retires.”

After manufacturing, the clothing is shipped around the world.

[11]

–Shipping – often on ships whose crews work hard to have money to send home to their families, and who spend most of their time far away and with little communication.

I have a friend who worked for many years as a port chaplain, which means that she was the chaplain to the people working on the ships that came into that port.  She has written books full of stories about how she would offer prayers and spiritual support, but also help sailors get items they needed, make connections with their families back home, and get medical care.  In 2001, there was a crewman who fell and was injured on a ship out at sea, and the U.S Coast Guard airlifted him to the nearest hospital which happened to be near the port where my friend worked. She went to the hospital to see how she could help and learned that the man was from the Ukraine. He had broken bones in both his arms and face and was being scheduled for surgery. but the hospital needed to know who would be paying the bill.  They’d had no contact from the ship or the shipping company. So my friend tracked the company down and got them connected with the hospital.  She also called the man’s family in Odessa and continued to keep them updated on his progress.  When he was finally ready to fly home, the hospital brought him clothes, but with two broken arms, he wasn’t going to be able to manage the jeans they provided, so my friend went to a nearby store and got him some sweat pants.[12]

[13]

–Selling – In stores and online.  I’m sure some of us have worked in a retail store, or know someone who does.

[14]

–More shipping – Trucks, trains, and airplanes. Fedex, UPS, the US postal service. 

  • Here in Sterling our local Fedex driver Sandra gives us service updates on our community bulletin board group on Facebook.

Then there’s the wearing, and the washing. 

[15]

This is the part we know best, right?  But I did some Googling this week and discovered that I wash my clothes too often. Which means I’m wearing them out faster, and using more water and electricity than I need to.  How many times do you wear your clothes before you wash them?

And then what happens when we’re done with them? 

  • Donating
    • Our Rice County Thrift Shop is a great place to support. 
  • Re-donating
    • What they can’t sell, they pass on to other thrift stores.  Some of the clothing that’s damaged gets cut into pieces and sold as bundles of rags, which I’m told is a hot item at our thrift store.
  • There are lots of other ways to reuse our clothing.
  • Landfill – The reality is that 85% of our clothing eventually ends up in landfills[16]

Every step of that long and complicated process affects our environment, our economy, and most of all the people involved.  When Jesus says, “Whatever you did to the least of these . . . the overlooked and ignored . . . you did to me,” that would include all of the people involved in all of these different parts of the process.  It’s not just as simple as having something to wear, it’s also about all the ways our choices affect the world around us.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, tells us to clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)  Which means we ought to be more concerned about the person inside the clothing than about the clothing itself, and about the people involved in the process of our having clothing.

I actually hope today’s message leaves you with more questions than answers, and I encourage you to do some research on your own to find out more. 

Remember that God is good and loves us very much and has given us the ability to love one another, take care of one another, and given us the resources to share. And grace when we fall short.

Thanks be to God.


[1] Photo by Vincent Erhart on Unsplash

[2] Photo by Taras Kasich on Unsplash

[3] PC(USA) Matthew 25 Bible Study, pg. 7.

[4] Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

[5] https://homebuying.realtor/content/why-old-houses-lack-closet-space-and-how-make-modern-adjustments

[6] Photo by Brandy Calderón on Unsplash

[7] https://www.commonobjective.co/article/what-are-our-clothes-made-from

[8] Photo by Reuben Kim on Unsplash

[9] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jimvinoski/2019/10/31/less-than-3-of-the-apparel-americans-wear-is-made-in-the-us-but-this-company-is-changing-that/?sh=3af7db8566cd

[10] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/19/style/garment-workers-around-the-world.html

[11] Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

[12] Karen M. Parsons OFS, Diary of a Part Chaplain: My Journey of Faith with Seafarers, North American Maritime Ministry Association, 2014, pg. 228-231.

[13] Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

[14] Photo by Zetong Li on Unsplash

[15] Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

[16] https://oilprice-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/How-Much-Oil-Does-The-15-Trillion-Fashion-Industry-Use.amp.html?amp_gsa=1&amp_js_v=a9&usqp=mq331AQKKAFQArABIIACAw%3D%3D#amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&aoh=16511583836550&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Foilprice.com%2FEnergy%2FEnergy-General%2FHow-Much-Oil-Does-The-15-Trillion-Fashion-Industry-Use.html

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