Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Prayer for a Family

Lord, behold our family here assembled.
We thank you for this place in which we dwell,
for the love that unites us,
for the peace given us this day,
for the hope with which we except the marrow;
for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies
that make our lives delightful;
for our friends in all parts of the earth.

Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind.
Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.
Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors;
if it may not, give us the strength to endure that which is to come;
that we may be brave in peril,
constant in tribulation,
temperate in wrath and in all changes of fortune
and down to the gates of death,
loyal and loving to one another.

As the clay to the potter,
as the windmill to the wind,
as children of their parent,
we beseech of you this help and mercy
for Christ's sake.


Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Technorati Tags: ,

Monday, July 30, 2007

Stick with What You Know

Stick with What You Know
Colossians 2:6-19
July 29, 2007
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

© 2007 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: In this scripture passage, Paul is giving important advice and encouragement to the Christians in Colassae. He wants them to remain steadfast in the apostolic faith that was given to them. He also encourages them to maintain their Christian freedom in the face of those who would pressure them into the prevailing spiritual culture.

Sermon Function: To repeat the proclamation that Jesus is Lord of all, and to ask listeners to reflect on the idols of their lives which function in a similar way to the competing spiritual influences of Colassae, and to encourage listeners to remain steadfast in their Christian faith.

[Click to Show/Hide Sermon Text]


Last week, we discussed the spiritual milieu confronting the Christians in Colossae, and related how spiritual temptations and divisions were adversely influencing the faith our early brothers and sisters in Christ. I related the situation in Colossae with our contemporary situation, and I talked about some contemporary influences on the spiritual landscape that continue to distract us from proclaiming the truth about our Lord. This theme continues into our text for this week. Here, Paul becomes more specific about how the church is expected to respond to the situation in which it finds itself. Although he is confident in the faith of the Colossians, he nonetheless wants to be sure they cling to the truth of the Cross, rather than the competing spiritualisms in that area.1

Listen now for God’s Word.

[Read Scripture - Colossians 2:6-19]

Opening Illustration

A few weeks ago, I drove away from Portland, heading over the causeway and the Harbor Bridge, then onto the Crosstown Expressway, and exiting on South Padre Island Drive near the mall so that I could visit the local AT&T mobile phone retail store. Some of you may have already guessed the reason why I made the trip – I wanted to hold, touch, and try out the fancy new Apple iPhone.

And so I did. I held the sleek device in my hands, impressed with both its workmanship and overall simplicity. Before goofing off with it, I used it to place calls to Sara, my father, and my mother. After confirming that this latest of cool gadgets would actually perform this central task of successfully making a phone call, I moved on to other more interesting things. I checked out the internet web browser, I played with the built-in camera, I “flicked” through the sample music and photos that the AT&T people had helpfully placed on the little device. I wondered that I could watch whatever YouTube video I pleased, streamed directly over the network. Amazing stuff.

I love the latest technology. I get caught up with it. I still suffer the pains of wanting the latest thing. Despite all of my longing, I still don’t have an iPod, let alone an iPhone. But I still feel that need, the need that says – “I must have that thing!” The need gets particularly acute when I read the papers and see someone triumphantly leaving an Apple store, bag held high, with surrounding crowds actually applauding the purchase of this greatest of all telephony devices.

That really says something about us, doesn’t it? Receiving kudos and having one’s picture in the paper is easy – just be one of the first in line to buy the greatest gadget ever created.

Life’s filled with similar such moments. Fame and fortune is just a 30-second video away on YouTube, if you can come up with something really clever. Everybody and their brother and sister creates and publishes podcasts these days – including many churches.

Jesus Christ Is Still Lord

Last week, when we were talking about the spiritual milieu facing the Colossian church, I demonstrated how there is a similar kind of spiritual smorgasbord today. This week, we see that there is even more here than we thought. You see, it’s not just the spiritual influences that affect us and our ability to proclaim the truth of the gospel. It is also the non-spiritual things that detract from our spiritual lives. Our expectations for a successful life, even if we confess to be Christian, are still clouded by our expectations for happy lives filled with the things we like to have, or the things we think we need. They are also governed by the subtle oppressions of a culture that looks with particular suspicion on the faith we share in Jesus Christ.

I’m a staunch capitalist – one who believes that American political and economic institutions give us unprecedented opportunity not just to follow our own dreams but the freedom to obey the will of our Father in Heaven. But the trick is this: We must first stick with what we received - Jesus Christ the Lord, remembering to live our lives in him, as Paul writes in verse 6 of today’s lesson. We are called to “live [our] lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (vs. 6-7).

Our lives, says Paul, ought to be governed not by the instant consumer passions we experience, or by our own personal desire to be known by others, or to achieve fame, but by Jesus Christ, the one we proclaim to be Lord of our lives.

We Think We Need More

All of the other trappings of human life and our human institutions can be classified as things that captivate us. We are not satisfied with our lives and the degree of success that we seem to enjoy. So we try to make up the gap in other ways. Sometimes, abiding by the philosophies of our own culture, we put Christ last instead of first.

Tom Sine once wrote in Discipleship Journal that we talk a lot about the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives, but we don’t really want any part of it. He says: “I’ve got to get my career underway and well along, my house in the suburbs, our upscale living started first and fast. Then, with whatever time or energy is left, I will follow Jesus.”2

Frank Harrington, late Presbyterian pastor and mentor, commented on this passage, saying, “It sounds good, but it won’t work. When we get all of our things in place, a pattern is set and we have little time or energy for following Jesus.”3

Paul’s amazing letter to the Colossians, written almost two thousand years ago, still shines the light on the human condition even today. He writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8 NRSV).

[The moral of the story, says Tom Sine, is this: “Pursuing the American Dream with a little Jesus overlay isn't biblical and it will not impact the world around us.”4]

Baptism, Death, and New Life

Paul then moves into a discussion of circumcision and baptism. Baptism is, for Paul, a “spiritual circumcision.” Baptism, like circumcision, is a sign of our incorporation into membership in a community of faith. We prefer to think of baptism as a sign of new life in Christ, and it is. But it is also something else – something deadly serious, because in the Sacrament of Baptism “we participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection.”5 The waters of baptism, then, say something different for us, because we proclaim through Baptism what Jesus Christ has done for us. That’s the profound message of Baptism, and one of the reasons I like the doctrine of infant Baptism is for the practical reason that baptizing an infant makes this message much more profound, because we take what we consider the most precious, innocent form of human life and, by sprinkling the infant with water, emblematic of the precious blood of our Savior, the infant joins with us in this profound journey where we die to the old ways and cling to Jesus, in whom we place exclusive faith for our ultimate redemption and resurrection.

Baptism is the first step of walking in Christian faith. And that means we are called to remember everything that Christ has done for us, so that we might know him better. Philipp Melanchthon, Martin Luther’s protégé, said, “The knowledge of Christ is to know his benefits.”

What are those benefits? Do you remember what they are? Here are some of the benefits of Christ as citied by Paul:
  • Inclusion into the communion of faith in Christ, through the spiritual circumcision we receive in the sacrament of baptism.
  • Forgiveness of our trespasses and sins. “God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14 NRSV).
  • Liberty from all the “rulers and authorities” that claim ownership over our lives. Paul rights that Christ has “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it” (Col 2:15 NRSV).
Christian Liberty

Paul concludes this part of his letter with an appeal to hold fast to the liberty we enjoy in Christ. Christ is Lord of all. When we appeal to baser, temporal things, we lose focus on the One in whom everything else subsists, Jesus Christ. Other matters, the food or drink we eat, the festivals we celebrate, the sabbaths we observe, these are just pale substitutes for the fullness we have in Christ.

“Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God” (Col 2:18-19 NRSV).

Do not let anyone disqualify you from the body, insisting on worldly satisfactions of the flesh and unhealthy addictions, insisting on clinging to the party line, while dwelling on visions of fame and grandeur and all the other detritus of life, like iPhones, that can separate us from Christ. And moreover, don’t dwell on the things that pass away through death. Believe in Christ, the head of the body.

Friends, our faith is an organic thing. It’s not just pie-in-the-sky hope that ignores our frail and oftentimes tragic human lives. Instead, our faith is grounded in Christ, who is the head of a living organism because he himself lived among us as human being. And I wish I could describe to you the full wonder of this mystery, but we can enjoy a taste of what is coming now, in that joy that we feel when we think of everything Christ has accomplished and will accomplish, so that we might live has faithful servants, finding all fulfillment in Him, while remembering that the Light of the World is coming again.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas.

1Martin, Ralph. Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching). Richmond: John Knox Press, 1991, p. 113.

2Sine, Tom. "A Different Discipleship." Discipleship Journal. January/February 1989, 49:6.

3Harrington, W. Frank. Who Am I? Sermon preached in the fall of 1998 at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, Georgia.

4Sine, op. cit.

5Presbyterian Church (USA). Book of Order. W-2.3002.