Sermons

"Clothed in Love": Sermon for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

Aug 04, 2019

Passage:Colossians 3:1-11

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Pentecost

Category: Love, Faith, Faithfulness

Keywords: love, faith, discipleship

Summary:

The Letter to the Colossians finds a community with difficulty understanding what, exactly, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. Is it about having special knowledge in order to have salvation? Is it about "who is in and who is out?" These same issues are still present in our society today. This sermon addresses how we can find inspiration from this letter in our lives as Christians.

Detail:

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

Today, we heard from the letter to the Colossians. This community was in a Roman province in Asia Minor, and the Church there had a strong start.

But, it’s also clear from this letter that there are a few problems in this church and this community.

And that’s normal, right? No place is perfect.

The Colossians, like many early Christians, were still trying to figure out what, exactly, was “the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Some in the Colossian community taught that if you trained or studied a particular way, you could have special knowledge of salvation.

Some Colossians even argued about who could be part of the church and who couldn’t.   

The letter to the Colossians was written to help straighten out these issues.

But I think you might be shocked to hear… many of these issues are still here![1]

Last summer at our church’s General Convention I was privileged to be in Austin for all the proceedings. One of the great aspects of last year’s convention was that our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, had just a little over a month before preached at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Bishop Curry’s message at that wedding sermon was, essentially, that we should “imagine a world, where love is the way.” The God who created us, and loves us, wants us to love one another. This wedding was watched by a few billion people…

Bishop Curry was on the news day and night for a couple of weeks. He told people that if they read the Bible, if they read anything into it that’s “Not about Love, then it’s not about God!”

By the time our convention came around, Bishop Curry and the Episcopal Church had gotten “on the map”—millions and millions of people who had never taken notice of us before, now were paying attention.  

So here were at our big National Convention. We were riding high on our “Love is the Way” and “The Way of Love” tee-shirts and buttons. Surely, nobody could object to this idea…

But a few days into the convention, I find myself walking to a restaurant in Austin with one of my priest friends. We have on our collars and “Love is the Way” buttons, and other identifiers that make us stick out from the regular “Keep Austin Weird” crowd.

We are waiting outside on the sidewalk for a table to be ready, and I’m holding one of those electronic buzzers that will light up when its time. As we stand there talking, we are approached by a man with a Bible in his hand… And THAT look in his eye… I’m sure you know the one.

I try to find a place to hide… There’s no where to go.

My friend and fellow priest, however, politely… even eagerly turns to the man, almost inviting conversation.

The man says: “So, I see you must be part of those Episcopals in town this week.”

“Yes, we are,” says my friend.

“It’s a shame this whole blasphemy that your bishop brought to the world with this ‘Love is the Way’ stuff at that wedding. He will be judged for that squandered opportunity.”

I have to admit, we are both taken aback. My reaction? I stare down at the buzzer in my hand, trying to WILL IT to buzz. It doesn’t work.  

My friend perseveres: “So what’s blasphemous about Love?”

“Nothing in and of itself,” says the man. But then he holds up his well-worn, floppy Bible. “But the message he should have been giving is that we are supposed to submit to Christ, so we don’t burn in hell. He missed the chance to tell all those people that!”

My friend asks: “So what does submitting to Christ look like? What I read in that Bible you’re holding there, Jesus told his closest followers just before he died, ‘Love one another as I have loved you, this is my commandment, that you love one another.”

I’m thinking, “That was a good one… now we can go eat! (Come on, buzz already!!! when is our table going to be ready???) But it wasn’t over…

The man continues: “Jesus may have said that before he died, but after he was resurrected, he said we Christians are supposed to go out into all the world and make disciples, so we can save them from hell.”

My friend smiles and says, “Well, you’ve done a little editorializing there. In Matthew, Jesus says to go into all the world, baptizing and teaching them what he has commanded. But, what did he command?... That they love one another… And by the way, the Great Commission doesn’t mention anything about hell. And Mark’s version, it even says to go out and to teach the Good News…. What’s the Good News? That we are created by a loving God who wants us to love one another.”

Getting angrier, the man pounds his Bible: “Why would we do that unless we are afraid of going to hell?”

Kindly and gently, my friend answers: “Because Jesus has shown us a different way. We can live a different way without fear. It’s what God wants for us… here and now… and for eternity…”

I suddenly jump when the buzzer in my hand goes off… Our table is ready!

I’ve often thought back to that exchange on the streets of Austin.  

And in reading this passage from Colossians, it comes rushing back to me.

That man, with Bible in hand, is representative of the fact that we—the Church—are not a unified Body of Christ. We are like the Colossians. We have many different and contrary teachings about God… about Jesus… about how it all works.

Many preachers in the Christian church today will say, “in order to be saved, you must do X, or pray Y. In order not to go to hell when you die, you must say this prayer or accept Jesus in your heart.”

Others will say that this type of person is okay to worship or be part of the Body of Christ, but that type is NOT… They may use vague ideas like: “Love the sinner, but hate the sin,” as an excuse to exclude people… But “Love the sinner and hate the sin” is not even Biblical. It’s simply an excuse to exclude.  

These are the types of teachings that the letter to the Colossians is trying to address as problems.

  In this third chapter, the letter becomes practical for us in the church. More or less, it’s about how we go about living a life of loving one another.

What does this look like?

This is a message of assurance. We are raised with Christ. We are with Christ, and Christ is with us…

We hear: “Set your minds on things that are above…”

The Greek from which this phrase “set your minds,” comes, is in the present continual tense. In other words, it’s saying: “continually be thinking about what God wants you to do.” Or, “stay focused on the good.” Or… Always try to do the right thing.”

This is the basis of the message. Setting our minds on good, is setting our minds on God.

And of course, we fall short of this “continual” setting of our minds, don’t we?

This is NOT a “one and done” kind of thing!

It’s much more like we say in our Baptismal Covenant: “I will persevere in resisting evil, and when I fall into sin, I will repent and return to the Lord, with God’s help!” Note that we say commit to persevere, which is the same as continually setting our minds toward the good. But we also admit that it’s when we fall into sin, not if….

But, the question is, do we do all of this “in order to assure our place in heaven” or to “avoid being doomed to hell”?

Actually, what the letter to the Colossians tells us is that we when we set our minds on doing right… part of our future is hidden from us. We cannot know all that is to come.

But this is what faith is. God guides and protects us. And we will have to wait to see what that looks like for eternity. We cannot know the specifics of the details.

But we can know that we are loved. We are “clothed in the image of the creator.”

And what does the image of the creator look like?

The letter tells us, in the section just after what we read today. We are to clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” We are to forgive each other as our Lord has forgiven us. And “above all,” we are to clothe ourselves “with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Our faith in Jesus should be a catalyst of unity for us as believers.

It should be something that helps us all to see that God is not distant. God is not far away and waiting to pounce on us for our misdeeds.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ… the Good News that we should be spreading near and far is this:

The God of creation, the God of all the universe, knows and loves even you… and even me… no matter what.

That is the Way of Love.

Period.

End of sentence.

Amen.

 

[1] Much of the exegetical and historical information from this sermon comes from: David E. Gray, “Colossians 3:1-11: Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year C, Eds. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).