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Sermon for Ordinary Time, Colossians 3:1-15
We have been working our way through St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, broken up a bit by holy days of course. In this letter, we have seen that the Colossians were facing certain teachings that would lead them astray from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Apparently, people were teaching that there was a deeper, secret knowledge of God to be drawn from philosophy, but that contradicted parts of the gospel as handed down to the Apostles. It included ideas about elemental powers, entities that populated the spiritual world and ruled our world; it required obeying these supposed creatures, through requiring certain pagan feast days, ascetic practices like what can and can’t be eaten, and other rituals that had nothing to do with the gospel.
In response, Paul has been clearly and firmly stating that these philosophies and traditions are purely of human nature, and since they point away from the pure gospel of Christ, are false, because Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God, and the very image of God embodied: God and man, the incarnate Lord.
Now we come to the end of the letter, and Paul does as he usually does in his letters, and brings together the theology, the principles and beliefs he has been arguing for their unique situation, together with ethics, with the behavior of the Christian life. We await our final resurrection, but the new life is actually true of us now and we must live into our regenerated state. Christian theology, or ideas, must take embodied form in the changed action of God’s people.
He says, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
That is essentially the gospel, and the first point of this sermon: Saved by grace through Jesus, God incarnate who is Lord over creation. And so Paul continues, because this is true, because you have been saved by the work of God, because you have had faith, meaning whole-hearted acceptance of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done, because Jesus is Lord, your lives should reflect that reality. In other words, if you know the truth, why would your life look the same that it once did? Or, to put it another way, Be what you are!
There is an ancient story about a jackal, who by accident came to be covered in blue dye or paint. When another beast failed to recognize him and ask who he was, the shrewd jackal claimed to be king of the plains. Even his own jackal kind accepted him, building him a throne to sit on. But they began to suspect, and one of the older, wiser jackals said, “if we all howl at one time, if he is a jackal, he will join in, as he won’t be able to help himself.” So they planned it, and at the appointed time, all howled together. The jackal in blue, before he could think, howled too, thus proving that he could not change what he was. So what are we? If we think of the blue as sin, this compulsion we have to be king of the world ourselves, then what we must do is return to what God intended for us to be. Not the sinful person anymore, but a new person, transformed by God’s grace, and part of Jesus’ kingdom. That is the only basis of a transformed life, that Jesus has already transformed us.
If Jesus is Lord of creation, then point 2 is, Because of what God has done, put off evil acts. We await our final resurrection, but the new life is actually true of us now and we must live into our regenerated state. As one commentator I read put it, “Be (in actual practice) what you are (by divine act).”
Verses 7-8 help us understand that our part is the renunciation of the old life, of the sin within us, so that the new life may take expression through us. God is the one who enables people to live in a holy manner, by the Holy Spirit, because he is all in all; but we have to renounce our sin and embrace Christ for his work to have true effect in us, and to produce a holy life in us. The language Paul uses is to put those things to death, to kill those sins, AND to put them off, like clothes. We shed the old clothes of sin, in sex, speech, anger, and most of all, coveting, which is idolatry (making something else more important to you than God).
We must cast off those old clothes, clothes that don’t fit us anymore; like the Jackal, we have to rid ourselves of the blue paint of sin, the alien thing imposed on us that makes us think we are king.
And if we truly have faith in the God who is King in Jesus Christ, than point 3 is what follows, that as we take off the clothes of sin we put on the clothes of holiness, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.”
In other words, we are people who have been saved, and Jesus is Lord over this creation and over us. Faith, then, is embracing the truth that Jesus has saved us from sin, from death, and from the devil. And so, Be what you are! Not people still enslaved to death, but those liberated from your evil impulses and that which keeps you from joy, thankfulness, and love. What you are is image-bearers of God, with dignity, and strength, and peace, all from God. And so in faith, repent, cast off your pride as a false color and coat, and by doing so, embrace and receive the gracious love of God that alone can transform you and put upon you new, clean, and pure clothes that are your true inheritance. Do it through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, who reigns forever and ever. Amen.
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