Wearing Dead Men’s Clothes

deadmenclothesSmallOne of the strange aspects of my pastoral ministry is that I’ve ended up wearing dead men’s clothes. This is not something they prepared me for in seminary!

This is how it happens: some man dies in my congregation, someone about my size. Getting rid of a deceased husband’s clothes is a difficult task for the widow. She can give the clothes to a non-profit, but there’s strong emotional attachment to her husband’s clothes. She thinks of a compromise, a way to give the clothes away and still see it worn (my bit of amateur psychoanalyzing here). The widow determines that I’m about the size of her late husband. She offers me his best clothes. (Clarification: I’ve not been offered any clothes the man has actually died in, at least not to my knowledge.)

Such an offer is a risk for the widow. “I don’t want to offend you, pastor, just say ‘No’ if you don’t want them.” I take no offense and accept the clothes, especially if he was a man with good taste.

One of the deceased men and I looked enough alike that people said we could pass for brothers. Some weeks after sharing her late husband’s wardrobe with me the widow, glancing into my office, said, “Oh, for a minute I thought it was Jim.” That particular day I was wearing both her husband’s sport coat and slacks. All in all, I sensed she was glad to see I was making use of Jim’s clothes.

I stopped by the apartment of the widow of our first associate pastor, Ray. His wife Marie had asked if I wanted to come over and go through his clothes. I had been close to Ray. He was old enough to be my father and, in fact, with my own father being deceased, was sort of a father figure to me. I drove home with a collection of his suits, sport jackets, slacks, and ties piled on my back seat, clothes he had often ministered in at our church alongside me. Wearing his clothes has been a reminder that his legacy lives on through my ministry.

Being a preacher/writer means I’m always looking for an illustration, a metaphor, or some kind of applicable principle in almost everything that happens to me, even the strange. What observations are there to be made from wearing dead men’s clothes?

First: if I want to save money on clothes I should target my evangelism to older men in failing health who are near my own size. Just kidding. Seriously now…

Christ “put on” humanity. The apostle Paul wrote that Christ was “…being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man… (Philippians 2:7-8) Our call to pastoral ministry is a call to live among His people, a call to be incarnated among them, in some small way, as He was among humanity.

Empathy is a key characteristic we’re to exhibit as pastors, which calls to mind the metaphor of walking in another’s shoes. As pastors we attempt to walk in our parishoner’s shoes. We “wear” our parishoners’ circumstances by imagining ourselves in their place as best we can. The apostle Paul says to “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (Romans 12:15) Though empathy is to be a characteristic of every Christian, we who pastor His people should lead the way in modeling it.

Walking in a man’s shoes, a dead man’s shoes, or wearing his coat or slacks is a vivid metaphor for incarnational ministry. It may not be listed as a sacrament by any church body but I, for one, have found it to be sacramental!

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