Monday, November 21, 2016

A Place Where a Cross Means Life

Reign of Christ Sunday
Colossians 1:11-20
Chatfield UMC
November 20, 2016

It isn’t often we look together at the scripture from the books of the bible called Epistles. These are the books of the bible in the back of the New Testament. They are the books that don’t tell stories as much as tell us how to live as disciples of Jesus Christ. But the thing with the epistles is that if you don’t know the stories of Jesus, it is hard to discern exactly what the writers of the epistles are trying to teach.

Lots of anti-Jesus messages have come out of bad preaching and teaching from the epistles. Teaching such as: Slavery is ok. Homosexuality is wrong. Women should be silent in the church. Men can demand their wives obey them. Children have to always obey their parents. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Ok, I made the last one up.

Those last books in the bible are written to specific churches, for a specific time in response to a set of specific issues.  We must read them from the lens of the truths we know from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And Colossians  and what was happening in the church in Colossae is a great example of what happens when we don’t keep the Life, death and resurrection of Jesus at the forefront of our discipleship.

The text we are looking at this morning is a beautiful text written to a church that was in the midst of a national crisis. The people of Colossae were conflicted from within and without. Their town had once been an affluent trading city in the Roman territory of Asia. But the trade routes had changed and with them the local economy floundered. Yet, a church was established and it must have been a growing church.

Something else that is important to understand about Colossae is that it was a religious town. Before Christianity came the town was known for its exuberance in its worship of the Greek and Roman deities.  Great displays of emotion, music, dancing and even orgies were part of the worship practices in the Greek and Roman temples.

So it is no surprise that when Christianity was embraced by some of the Gentiles of the town it was easy for them to get side tracked from the truth.
Not that emotional exuberance always leads to heresy, but in this case it did. The Colossae Christians whose religion had previously included lots of rituals and emotion and show and works were not sure that grace alone was enough. They were not sure that everything they knew about Jesus was enough.

Was he truly enough to be their Savior? Was he truly enough to be called their God? Was Jesus truly the one in whom all the fullness of God has been revealed?

The combination of their previous religious experiences, their reliance on emotional highs and rituals and
worshiping unknown and unknowing heavenly deities,
and the need to show somehow their religious fervor.
And the uncertainty of the future of their town’s economy, led the Colossians down a dangerous path:
They began to emphasize works of righteousness, ritualism, abuse of the body and even, worship of angels.
And began to question the deity of the Christ.
Is Jesus really who he says he is?
Is Jesus really strong enough for everything we need?
Is following Jesus and accepting Jesus’ grace enough?

Well, one thing I don’t have to worry about around here is emotional highs, too much dancing in the aisles, or worship of angels. We are a quiet, level headed bunch. But I do think these questions are relevant for us.

As we watch this incredibly strange period of transition from one president to another I see and hear so much raw emotion and fear and anger and angst. Some of it is justified, some of it is overblown.

And it is so easy to begin to think that we need to put that worry into acts that protect ourselves.
Keep our heads down.
Don’t look anyone in the eye.
Don’t confront evil when we see it.
Don’t stand up to oppression in whatever form it presents itself.  
I’ll just go through the rituals of church and make my concerns known to the sky above and hope no one will notice me too much. So that I can be safe.
We are probably tempted to be the opposite of the Colossian Christians. We will revert into our quiet, personal, safe place.

Well Jesus didn’t die and rise again and show us how to live to keep us safe. Jesus said, pick up your cross and follow me.
Pick up your cross and follow me.
Like the prophets of old Jesus said: I hate your new moon festivals and your little rituals that make you feel as if all is right with the world.
I hate your prayers that you pray to make it look like you are a righteous person.
Pick up your cross.
Get out there and do something.

Because I am your King. I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. The First and the Last. I am!
Jesus said: In the midst of the angst, anger, uncertainty, and change, remember My cross, my death, my resurrection gives you a new way to live into a world that needs a Savior.
That is the most important thing right now: that we live into the world that needs a Savior.

Paul writes about Jesus: And hear these amazing words for what they are, a lifting up of the Jesus who lived and died and rose again so that we can have LIFE.
Christ is the image of the invisible God,
All those stories you know about Jesus? Those stories are actually about God. How God would act if God showed up in the world. Because through Jesus God did show up. If you don’t know what God would do, look to what Jesus did. Jesus is the revelation of God.

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together
Isn’t that amazing. Do you feel like things are falling apart? That your very atoms are exploding out into space. Jesus created those atoms, those feelings, those bits of you that seem to be exploding and Jesus is able to hold them all together because he has created a force of Love so strong that nothing can break it apart.

He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
It might feel right now as if in one small stroke something terrible or something incredibly good could happen. But it doesn’t work like that for us. Change takes time. Lots of time.
In reality there has only been one stroke in the history of our world that has changed everything. When Jesus became the first born of the dead. When Jesus proved that even death could have no victory. No power. This one stroke changed everything. Because now we know that we can pick up our cross without fear of death. We can follow the way of the Christ. We can love our enemies and our neighbors and ourselves without fear that we will be stepping over some line that will be the end of us. I have heard so many wonderful stories this week of people who took up their cross and gave life to someone else.
The older man in the parking lot who asked a Muslim woman in a hijab: “how are you doing”. Never met her before; didn’t know her. But knew she needed a good word.
The school in Maple Grove that after a horrible incidence of racial violence came together to say to their students of color, you belong here. We will not let hate drive you away.
The thousands of words of encouragement shared by women to women who are hearing horrible, horrible words of sexual violence.
These and more, I believe are the stories of the Spirit of Jesus the Christ giving life into the midst of what could be death.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
All the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Once again, if we want to know what God is about, get to know what Jesus is about.
and through Christ God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Everything the writer tells us is reconciled. Is brought together in harmony. It really does sound like one of those peace songs. We are the world, we are the children...
Because it is true.
There is nothing that separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
This is the God we worship. Not a God that divides but a God that unites.
This is what Jesus taught us through his life, death and resurrection.

Now hear this carefully.
We tried to divide the world finally and completely by putting to death the one person who lived so that we could learn to live completely as God intends us to live.

We thought that if we silenced the love of the Christ by murdering him on the cross.
We thought that if we mocked him as a false king
We thought that if we totally humiliated him by killing him alongside common criminals
We thought that we would finally divide the world into those who are like us and those who are not.

That we could finally love those whom we wanted to love and despise and abuse those we wanted to hate.

We thought that we could finally say: we killed unconditional love. Not knowing that we were also killing ourselves.

For Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit knows that if we don’t love neighbor we can’t love ourselves. Ever.
And so God wouldn’t let us kill ourselves.
No matter how hard we tried.

Jesus broke through the final barrier of hatred and turned evil on its side. 
Jesus would not let us murder ourselves.

Jesus declared us all reconciled, harmonized, as one.
Now it is our job to live into that reality. No matter how we express our emotions, our job is to take up our cross, quietly, or with great passion, or with tenacity, or with dread. Our job is to take up our cross because we know it will not kill us. Where loving neighbor and enemy means loving ourselves.

Because we live in a kin-dom where a cross means life, not death.

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