Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sermon from this morning: Colossians 4:5-6

The motto of very many Christians, in the west,
as we huddle together with our cups of coffee
worrying about how many people signed up for the jumble sale
and if Father so and so is going to get his garden in order, is,
Preach the Gospel to everyone, and if necessary, use words.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard this quote, attributed,
I don’t know whether correctly or not,
to St. Francis.
The assumption of the quote
is that we won’t ever have to speak out loud—
the testimony of our lives will be so powerful,
we won’t ever have to say anything.
Of course the way we live our lives is important,
we’ve spent an entire chapter talking about how we ought to live with each other, but no matter how beautifully we live,
at some point we are going to have to speak.
Our mouths are going to have to open,
we’re going to have to say something about the hope that lies within us,
that is, who Jesus is, what he has done for the world and for us personally,
and what kind of response the human person is invited to have.
And Of Course this is difficult!
Of course we would rather not.
That’s why Paul gives instructions as to how we ought to speak.
He anticipates our reticence and worry.
Remember, the tri-cities area here
is comparable to the tri-cities of Colossae, Laodicea and Heiropolis.
Just as with the average Central New Yorker,
people in Colossae had largely heard of Christianity,
there were rumors swirling all over the empire that Christians were possibly cannibalistic because of the vivid way they spoke about the body and blood of Jesus.
Many believed that Christians had bad intentions,
that they did strange things at night in the bowels of the cities of the empire, that they were disloyal to the emperor,
that they were irreligious because they wouldn’t worship the gods of the time. People were mistrustful, but also curious.
That mistrust hasn’t gone away. Every time I pop open netflix on my computer,
I always have five or six suggestions for documentaries about how weird and bad Christians are and how they’re tearing down the cohesive and moral fabric of our nation. Try talking to someone about Jesus who is sort of mainstream atheist secular and you will experience a very similar kind of environment to that of the Colossian church. In other words, it wasn’t easy then, it isn’t easy now, it’s not going to be easy tomorrow. But it is possible. So let’s delve in and see what Paul has to say.
If you look up at verses two and three
you’ll see that there ought to be no speaking without first praying.  
There is seamless unbroken transition between prayer and speech.
The Colossians were to be praying in the course of their own personal lives—
and that personal prayer was to drive them to pray for Paul in his work,
which then moves forward to inform and shape their own work of speaking.
Paul wants an open door to declare the mystery of Christ,
on account of which he is in prison.
The first and most precious thing you want,
if you are bound in chains, is an open door, a way out.
But the door Paul wants is not for his own freedom,
but for the freedom of the good news about Jesus.
He wants the mystery of Christ to go out, through the door.
Behold, says Jesus, I stand at the door and knock.
Every human heart is a door.
Every single one of us have the opportunity to open our door,
to open ourselves up to Jesus,
or shut the door and walk away.
The mystery of Christ goes out,
Jesus goes out knocking and knocking,
ready to go in and live with the person who opens the door.
Paul assumes that every single person who is with him in prison,
who attends him,
who guards him,
who delivers him mail,
who comes on an errand,
who tries him in his trial,
that Every Single Person is a door that Jesus will either walk through or not.
But it is even greater than that,
Paul, in chains, in prison,
sees clearly that his bondage in Christ has opened many doors
that would have otherwise been shut.
Do you think that if Paul,
as a free man,
had just written a letter to Caesar and said,
‘I’ve got some great news I’d like to share with you about God becoming incarnate, dying, rising on the third day, ascending into heaven etc. etc. Can I just pop by and tell you all about it’.
No, there would have been a big door slammed shut in his face. But because Paul was arrested and appealed to Caesar and was taken to Rome he actually got the opportunity, in the course of his trial, to preach to Herod, And to Caesar and all his household, and we know from records of the time that some of Caesar's household believed.
We Don’t Know what God is doing.
But he has all kinds of doors for us to walk through and very often,
our adversity,
our trouble,
our unhappiness is an intricate and foundational part
of what God is doing to bring the world to himself.
And so, in sending out the mystery of Christ,

in speaking the Gospel,
not knowing which door may be open and which may be shut,
Paul wants the message to be clear and understandable.
How can we make the message clear and understandable?
Verses 5 and 6 show us how.
Verse 5, Walk in wisdom towards outsiders.
Paul intends us to understand the word wisdom as he has used it through the whole book—Jesus, the Christ, the Preexistent Second Person of the Trinity is the source of all Wisdom. All things hold together in him and fall apart without him. In him, chapter 2 verse 3, are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. If you want to gain wisdom you go closer and closer into God, and you do that by devoting yourself to the study of the Bible,
That is how you gain wisdom.
Its not just that you know a lot of stuff about God
and can rattle off the creed perfectly,
but rather that you know Jesus, you are found in him,
that you are becoming more and more like him,
you are seeing everything through him,
you are hearing his voice, you are growing in his love.
You walk in wisdom.
Towards who? Towards outsiders.
That doesn’t mean people outside of this room,
it means people who don’t know Jesus.
It certainly includes many people outside of this room,
but it includes some inside.
If you lack wisdom,
you will be like a thug with a blindfold on and earplugs in,
swinging your Bible like a battle ax.
Look at where you’re stepping.
Look at the people you love.
Pray for them. Ask God to move them, to work in them, to love them. Ask God to show you what you might say if you were going to say it. Ask God to make you sensitive to their needs. Ask God to give you wisdom. Ask Jesus to remake you like himself.
Paul goes on, ‘making the best use of the time’.
In the old days we used to say, ‘redeem the time’.
We’re not talking about using your time wisely, in the way that we are all told in school--don’t waste time! No, we’re talking about eternity.
We are pitched toward eternity.
We are praying all the time for God’s will to be done,
for the door to be opened,
for more people to come to him, and so,
we are aware and watchful
able to leap up and speak when the moment is exactly right.
And we know what to say because we so love,
we are so founded in him.
We don’t waste time thinking,
oh, I may see them tomorrow,
or the next day,
so I won’t worry about it now.
Now is the moment!
And you know it’s the moment because you are wise in Jesus.
And moreover, because you are wise,
because you are eager to talk about Jesus
and able to recognize an open door when there is one,
you can think about how you might speak.
‘let your speech always be gracious,’ says Paul,
Let it be characterized by the substance and nature of the Gospel.
Let everything you say be measured up against the transforming love of Christ.
So that who Jesus is and his great love is always on the tip of your tongue and clear in your mind as you speak. So that if you had the chance to speak about Jesus, it wouldn’t come as a great shock because of everything you said before hand, and your manner of life.
seasoned with salt.’
Salt, you might remember, does more than one thing--it certainly adds flavor, so therefore you ought not be very boring to talk to. ‘Hi, my name is Anne, I’m a Christian, I’d like to take you on my long journey of how I got to be here.’ NO

Salt adds flavor. Flavor means knowing and being interested in everything that’s going on in the market place of Colassae, Flavor means reading books and philosophy and being an interesting person. More than that, though, the most interesting and fascinating people in the world are those who know how to listen. I’m sure you’ve all had those wonderful conversations--I just had a marvelous time talking to so and so! Why? Because I got to talk! If you want your speech to be flavorful and interesting, be the person who listens. If you’re down at coffee hour and the only voice you can hear is your own, chances are nobody is really listening to you.
But more importantly, salt also has healing and cleansing properties. If you have a sore throat, gargle with salt water. If you have a rash, bathe in the sea, if you have a sore, soak it in salt water. Your speech should be a healing, a life giving balm. This is the substance of the gospel. Is your burden heavy? Jesus’ burden is light. Are you broken? Jesus can heal. Have you sinned? Jesus can forgive all your sins. Are you going to die? Jesus can give you eternal life. Your speech should be a healing speech.

And finally, salt is a preserving agent. Christians stand as a preservation on the earth—drawing more and more people into eternal life. A little bit of salt and the whole piece of meet lasts and lasts. Christians, like salt, are spread over the world, preserving one person and then another and then another against the day of Judgment.
so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
There is no better example on earth than Jesus who is able to see into the heart of each person and answer them according to their need--to some he spoke in parables, others he rebuked, to others, he offered healing.
This brings us full circle back to wisdom--we seek the mind of Christ, the love of Christ, the knowledge of Christ so that we may know how we ought to answer each person.
I’m out of time. Let me end with an encouragement.
Preach the Gospel with your life certainly, and also, it will be necessary to use words, but the Word is Jesus, God, who gives you himself, who gives you the words, who gives you the person to talk to, who gives you the right moment, who is himself the door. Take courage, speak to everybody of the hope that is within you. Rise up like a trained and disciplined athlete, train your spiritual muscles, sharpen your knowledge of scripture, open you your mouth wide and let Jesus be the Word that you speak. That word will not return back empty, but it will accomplish all that God has purposed.
Let us pray.
Open our Lips, O Lord, to speak of your great and holy Name, to fill the world with your glory. Give us courage to speak of the hope that is within us, the Love of Jesus, our salvation.


jeanie said...

Beautiful, powerful sermon! Thank you for sharing when we can't be there...

Kathy Rooney said...

Great sermon! I may print it off so I can really take some time to reflect on it. Just what I need to hear right now. Kathy Rooney