The Church has Issues: Colossians 2:6-3:1

Pastor Carrie Baylis
7 October 2020
Wednesday AM worship
Do Not be Led Astray

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace, peace, and mercy to you from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. 

The question I asked myself when reading and studying this text, especially in the understanding that “the church has issues” is: What does this letter urge the church to believe to hope for, and to do?  And like all the weeks before us, it is amazing how we find ourselves in the same place thousands of years later looking at how we can live fully into the body of Christ without letting the “outside” world distract us, or misguide us, or lead us astray.   

Our faith shall not lead us astray like the world will.  

This letter was written to the people of the city of Colossae who were stretched beyond just the faith and belief of Jesus Christ as the full embodiment of God.  The possibility of religious syncretism was perhaps stronger here than anywhere else in Paul’s world.  (Judaism, local religions, standard pagan cults, gentiles) they could be considered people of a multiethnic church. Throughout the city some were judging others for not following certain dogmatic ideas and self-abasing practices.  There was more than just a faith towards God, but a looking towards authorities and rulers who provide philosophies and promises through practices and beliefs that are not of God, but of human tradition and ideas and that promised good life and needs being met if they put their faith there. 

As Paul heard of this call to faith in people and promises other than in Christ and God the father his response in writing to the people was to urges them to be rooted in the Messiah, in whom the “entire fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Since they too have “come to fullness” in this Messiah — having been baptized into his crucifixion and resurrection — they need not be “dogmatized” by any self-appointed “authorities and rulers” who seek to undermine their faith. 

What might it look like to undermine one’s faith?   

I will venture so far as to say that you can pick up a paper, turn on the news or answer a robocall these days and probably pick out a handful of different places where our faith is undermined by a call to serve the interests of things that are not of God, but of economy, loyalty and tradition. 

Paul warns to beware of anyone who would trap you with deceptive philosophies that strip your experience of life’s fullness and value — whether based on human tradition or ideas about the universe. The writer here is not attacking “philosophy” per se, but rather beliefs and practices (which in this case are clearly spiritual and religious) that are not rooted in the Messiah, those that might undermine one’s faith. 

Looking a little more closely, however, there is another threat to the church, a threat that has been common to the human condition ever since we failed to live our lives in the image of God and embraced earthly/human images instead. While idolatry doesn’t get named until chapter 3, the rhetoric of the argument in chapter two indicates that idolatry is in the author’s sights. Remembering to always read the New Testament with Old Testament eyes, an argument that dismisses an opposing worldview as “empty deceit”, mere “shadow” without substance, a “human tradition”, and a “human way of thinking”? It speaks to our OT understanding of idolatry and reminds us substance is of God. 

So today I invite you to consider the idolatries that continue to have a deathly grip on our lives. Might we need to name something like the financial markets of the global economy as a “shadow” without substance? If our identity is “in Christ,” might it be time to recognize all patriotic nationalism as a “human way of thinking”? Might we need to see where we are living into empty and deceitful practices that don’t provide for the least and the lost, but allow us the self-indulgence of helping the “other” through a self-imposed piety or humility. 

One of the text studies I read this week suggested that this text and the people of Colossae (and I believe us today) were in the midst of trying to understand competing worldviews.  Pastor Karl Jacobson from Good Shepherd in Minnesota identifies three competing views that could be summed up as opposites when trying to understand and live this text.  It includes: 

  1. Philosophy and the true word of the gospel;  
  1. empty deceit and the knowledge of God;  
  1. human tradition and spiritual wisdom and understanding. 

Philosophy is not gospel, nor are human traditions.  Even (and maybe especially) religious, church-related traditions–the same thing as spiritual wisdom or understanding that might be the toughest one for me, I love some tradition but when pressed on the spirituality of all tradition or where we find the gospel in it, I can talk until I’m blue in the face and still just be making stuff up. We don’t need to hold these things in steadfast opposition, but perhaps need to find where it is that they live into the divine reality of Christ for us. Philosophy and the gospel need not be in opposition; nor are human traditions in and of themselves hurdles to wisdom and understanding. When philosophy attacks the gospel, or human tradition, piety, dogma and patriotism becomes a burden to faith it is right to set them aside, but when they serve the church and the proclamation of the gospel they may be embraced. It is only deceit and the knowledge of God which are in pure opposition of each other. 

The tension in Colossians lies in what the governing influence in one’s life is. These opposites we speak of could also be identified as “the elemental spirits of the universe” in one column and t “the Christ,” in the other and it is here that the real tension comes to the fore. Does one orient faith and daily living according to the elemental spirits of the world, philosophy, empty deceit (whatever form that takes) and human tradition or does one orient faith and daily living according to the who fullness of God in Christ through the true word of the gospel, knowledge of God, and spiritual wisdom and understanding (which we are always learning new.)  Will we stumble, will we fall?  Yes, the church has issues, for thousands of years we are still learning to  turn towards God in Jesus Christ, to understand that our loyalties fall to God through the crucified Jesus Christ and authority comes through him, not through people of this world.   

The piece that accompanies this writing to the Colossians and really to all of Paul’s letters, is to remember that there is no embodied faith without forgiveness. When this text comes up with the regular lectionary it echos the OT, Psalm and NT readings and Colossians takes us to the place of forgiveness in the cross. Something remarkable happens at the cross. Our author doesn’t tell us exactly how this works, but at the cross, is nailed all that stood against us, all that held us guilty, all that would strip us of the fullness of embodied life.   Trespasses, transgressions, sins are forgiven and no one gets to rule us out of the kingdom again! 

And if we are to understand this text as a tract against idolatry (and empire), we need to ask today, which rulers and authorities are disarmed at the cross and paraded behind the Messiah in triumphal procession? Dare we imagine these to be our rulers? Our political, economic, military, and even ecclesiastical authority structures? Are we in the captive procession? And if that is where we find ourselves, maybe not all day, everyday, but even some of the time, we should join Paul in learning how to live a life fully embodied in Christ,  and then remembering the final verses of today’s reading, “if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” Amen. 

“Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet” Matthew 22:9

Think about how much Jesus has upended the world and challenged all of our thinking. When we throw parties we almost never invite people we don’t know. But Jesus says the party God wants to throw is meant for everyone. The parable even says that both the good and the bad are invited. I can’t think of many events in this world where the guest list is that wide open. Often we cull the list by only inviting those who can afford the ticket to the event. Or we only invite members and their guests. Or we limit the list by limiting the number of people who can attend and shutting the doors once we are full. It’s easy to see why some think heaven is like some exclusive club that only a few will ever see. But Jesus pushes against all of that kind of exclusive thinking by issuing an invitation to everyone. The church must strive to live up to his example.

-Pastor Travis

You’ve Done it Again!

We set a goal of $2,000 for food for the hungry to reflect what we’d normally collect during our ingathering months. You smashed the goal by giving $3,500 to feed the hungry this month through Care and Share. Great job! Thank you! The church exists to bless those beyond our walls and you have come through as you always do. Well done, good and faithful servants!

The Church has Issues: Philippians 1: 27-30 and 2: 12-18

Pastor Carrie Baylis
30 September 2020
Wednesday AM worship
Hold fast, Stand Firm 

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace, peace, and mercy to you from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. 

Philippians is probably one of my favorite books in the bible.  I love Paul’s writing and truth telling that we need to live into the cruciform Christ Jesus.  In the final verses of the first chapter he tells us to “live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.”   

Whoa. 

Did anyone watch the presidential debate debacle last night? 

Does anyone have someone that they love dearly, but can’t see eye to eye with? 

Do you sometimes wonder if the troubles of today, and there are many, so take your pick, are too insurmountable for us to overcome so we will just live in defeat, in fear, and in doubt? 

The church has issues.  The world has issues. 

What does it take for us to “stand firm and united?”  Paul has us understand that unity is a derivative of faithfully embodying the truth that Jesus is Lord, even in the face of opposition. 

What might it look like if we were able to stand back sometimes and reflect on what separates us from one another?  So often these days I wonder how all of us, people of faith, can look at the world with such radically different perspectives and all claim Christ as Lord.   

I think that is part of what Paul is getting at in his letter to the Philippians.  Paul’s overriding concern in is the unity and integrity of the community in the face of opposition.  He and the Philippians turn to the story of Christ’s life, his incarnation and death, and the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord to also be the story of their lives as citizens in a society that doesn’t always see eye to eye.   

The Philippian community was founded in and continued to live in a climate of suffering for the gospel, yet Philippian believers were both generous and joyful in their affliction. The shared experience between Paul and the Philippians is at the heart of their gospel fellowship, they are united in Christ by their common suffering for him and their common joy in him. 

Paul’s suffering was imprisonment. He composed a letter that relates the story of Christ to the ongoing story of the Philippian community.  Paul wants the story of Christ to shape people who will live out their citizenship in ways that are worthy of the gospel story of Christ.   

What does that mean?  It means we live as Christ lived.  Self-humbling, self-emptying. Obedience to God. 

Paul proclaims love for others that is self-sacrificial, power that is self-emptying rather than self-serving, hope that suffering for God is always followed by divine vindication and exaltation.   

As a community the church has both internal and external responsibilities. Internally we are to love one another, learn with one another, bear one another’s burdens. If one suffers, all suffer, and if one rejoices, all rejoice.  Externally we are to bear witness to our neighbors and to love all, even our enemies.  And if persecuted, like Paul, would be expected neither to be surprised and not to retaliate. We are to share faith, express love, and remain secure in hope as we interact with the world around us. 

In reading on this text, many refer to it as being Paul’s most ego-centric letter.  I think that might also make it one that we most clearly identify with.  And it certainly shouldn’t be discounted as within this letter are many passages of great power and truth.  That itself is due to the grace of which Paul is not yet truly aware. Maybe that’s where our ego lies too, in not yet truly being aware of grace given to and for us.  Sheesh.  Not yet truly aware.   

From the end of the first chapter through the beginning of the second Paul had been encouraging the Philippians to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. He had been teaching on unity, harmony and humility. And he had highlighted Christ’s example of perfect obedience and self-sacrifice. With all this in mind, therefore, Paul urges the Philippians to obediently put this teaching into practice. From verse 2:12, Paul explains to the Philippian church how to apply what he had been teaching them. 

Paul speaks of integrity and commends the Philippians for being people of integrity. What they have done in Paul’s presence as people of faith they continued to do in his absence.  We need to have a faith that is more than just an outward show of Christian values which are displayed in the presence of certain people.  We should expect the same of others. A genuine faith in Jesus Christ should be the driving force in our life, a force that shapes our inner attitudes and our outward behavior. 

Paul persistently taught that salvation is through faith and grace alone, and is in no way dependent on performing deeds or rituals associated with the Jewish laws; but here he tells the Philippians to work out, or work at, their salvation. Which might have us asking just who is doing the work in verse 13? God is the one working within every believer and working within the church. While God is the one working our response is to work alongside of him, to live in righteousness not to earn our salvation but to respond to it through good works.  I like the Greek word for “work” used in verse 13, it is a strengthened form of the word for “work”; it is the word we get “energy” from. God is the one who is energetically at work within each believer and within the church, actively transforming us, individually and corporately, according to his will, according to his purpose. We’re reminded in Romans 8:28 that, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 

Paul didn’t just want to tell folks about Jesus, he wanted people to come reach Spiritual maturity and perfection, that Christ would be formed within us. God is the one who is working in us, and it is up to us to respond obediently to the promptings of the Spirit. Paul wanted the Philippian church to work together and cooperate with God’s work to produce a mature, united community of believers. Individual and corporate spiritual maturity is the product of “working out” our salvation. 

We are not only told to work out our own salvation, but to do it with “fear and trembling.” Isn’t there an expression about a healthy dose of fear?  When it comes to God I think Martin Luther likes to begin his understandings of God remember that we are to “fear and love God so that…” So today, it seems that one of the most lamentable characteristics of our modern Christianity is the lack of fear, awe, reverence and wonder that God’s transcendent and awesome nature warrants. The Bible has so many examples of people who were met with God and by God and were terrified by his brilliance and power. Yet many modern Christians treat God with flippant familiarity. 

While it might seem impossible, at this present time, in this state of our world, to have a truly accurate understanding and appreciation of our holy, majestic God, we need to be wary about being too casual and complacent in our relationship and conversation with him.  

God abides with us in a close spiritual union, he guides us, and graciously and generously assists us. But God is much more than that. God is also gloriously powerful, transcendent, and holy. 

The Creator of the universe is at work within us, using his tremendous power and benevolence to recreate us in the image of Christ. Our part is to cooperate with God in his transforming work and just as Paul told the Corinthians (2 Cor. 7:1) to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God”.  You cannot have holiness without reverence. 

Paul continues his letter with some practical advice: “Do all things without complaining or arguing”. There is something awry about a Christian who always seems to have a pessimistic outlook on life, or a contentious, never satisfied demeanour. Paul doesn’t want the Philippians to be whiners and complainers; he wants them to be joyful. By refraining from grumbling, complaining, and dissension, the Philippians would prove themselves to be blameless and innocent, in contrast with the surrounding pagan society. 

Back in Moses’ time, the Israelites had been guilty of murmuring and complaining. Not only had they grumbled and complained about Moses, they also grumbled and complained about God. God took these sins very seriously. While we need to honestly face problems and difficulties, and not dismiss them with blind optimism and loyalties, we need to be wary about becoming pessimistic complainers, whiny gossips, or promoters of dissension. 

And finally after all of that, which is a tall order, Paul speaks of having joy in the face of sacrifice and death.  The Bible actually encourages us to be joyful and happy as a church. 

In his letter to the Philippians Paul not only says in 2:14, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” he says the opposite, positive command just 4 verses later, “So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” Paul doesn’t just not want churches full of complainers. He wants churches full of happy, joyful, laughing people. 

So one of the ways we obey God is by being joyful. Remember back at the end of the first chapter Paul says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  

Somehow Paul manages to find joy despite his circumstances. 

Paul is being poured out by suffering under house arrest for the gospel. The amazing thing is Paul says, “This sacrifice makes me happy and it should make you happy too.” What could possibly make Paul willing to pour himself out as an offering? He’s willing to do it for their faith.  The faith that ultimately centers on Jesus who was first poured out as an offering. Just as we’ll share in the sacrament here in a moment we remember that offering in our gospels where “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” 

Jesus’s body and blood became the bread and wine of our offering. He poured himself out so that we can have life, and laughter, and joy. Why would Jesus do this? Because saving his people is his joy. Anyone who puts their faith in him. At the cross, Jesus loaded up all the sin and grumbling and complaining of any who trust him upon himself, and then he died. But that means our sin and grumbling and complaining are put to death too. And when he rose from the grave, he left it behind, banishing it forever. Now Jesus offers us joy where we once only knew grumbling.  

Find your joy in Jesus. When we understand Jesus offers us his eternal joy, we realize Jesus is worth our joy. Amen. 

Woodwind Concert on the Lawn

On Sunday, October 4, we will be hosting an outdoor, masked-and-distanced concert by the principal woodwind players of the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs. Enjoy music for flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon on our lawn! Admission is free, but reservations are required through the Chamber Orchestra website, and seating is limited. The program begins at 1 p.m. and will be repeated at 3 p.m. For more information, or to register, visit www.chamberorchestraofthesprings.org/winds-in-the-trees.

“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:13-14

Forgetting what lies behind is going to be hard. With this pandemic changing the world underneath our feet and presenting us with a new reality we are going to be tempted to focus on what life used to be like. But our focus should instead be on what lies ahead, we need to look where we are going. I’ve done a lot of memorial services in the past two months and they’ve got me thinking about my life and what I’m aiming for. This passage from Philippians is a call to get your goals straight, to aim for the thing that matters most. Singular focus on Christ will bring everything else into perspective.

-Pastor Travis

The Church has Issues: Ephesians

Pastor Travis Norton
23 September 2020
Wednesday morning worship
Ephesians 4:17-30 
 
They were stealing for crying out loud
when we say the church has issues 
we’re talking about some very basic things 
Like Christians should obey the commandment 
that says thou shalt not steal 
Paul has to write to the Ephesians 
that Thieves who are now Christians 
must give up stealing 
But he goes beyond just what they  
need to stop doing 
He says that they should instead 
work honestly with their hands 
so as to have something to share with the needy 
There’s a whole other sermon there 
about the point of work being not just to provide for yourself 
but to share with others 
But for this morning 
we are just going to focus 
on the fact that the early church was so messed up 
Paul had to tell them to stop stealing 
I like this series on the church has issues 
because it makes me feel better about the issues 
the  modern day church has 
Well, maybe not better, 
but I take some satisfaction in knowing 
that those early Christians struggled just as much as we do 
At least our congregations 
aren’t full of thieves 
(that I know of) 😊 
Paul insists on something 
that maybe the early Christians weren’t aware of 
He insists that they need to change the way they live 
that they can’t keep living like the Gentiles 
The word gentile just meant  
non-Jew originally 
or the nations 
We would probably say Non-Christians today 
or even more simply 
call on Christians to act differently 
than everyone else 
Christians are supposed to live a unique kind of life 
following the values espoused by Jesus 
We should be known for being a bit strange 
for standing out from the crown a bit 
because we have standards that others don’t follow 
Paul names some of them 
here in Ephesians 
Christians shouldn’t lie 
we shouldn’t misconstrue the truth 
we should put away all falsehood 
When we get angry 
we shouldn’t use our anger as an excuse 
to misbehave 
And we should aim to resolve the conflict 
before the day is over 
No evil talk should come out of our mouths 
but only what is useful for building up 
Do you hear that 
Paul goes so far as to say that Christians should talk different 
We should be known for using our words 
for the purpose of building people up 
encouraging them and giving them grace 
Christians should not harbor bitterness or wrath 
we shouldn’t be known for arguing or slander 
There should be no malice in our hearts 
no wishing ill of anyone 
Instead we are to be kind 
tenderhearted and forgiving 
These are just some of the things 
that Paul urges the Ephesians to correct 
Now we may not have a problem with thievery 
but how many of us have bent the truth? 
How many of us have used our words 
to tear down instead of build up? 
How many of us have been unkind 
or hard hearted 
We have issues too 
don’t we 
Sometimes Lutherans have been particularly  
guilty of this particular issue 
We emphasize that we are saved by God’s grace 
that we can’t do anything to save ourselves 
And that is good and right 
we are unable to lift a finger to save ourselves 
God has done all the work  
in Christ Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection 
Even the Holy Spirit 
is the one who gives faith 
for us to believe and receive Christ 
However, that doesn’t mean 
that we shouldn’t put forth any effort 
into living a life worthy of the salvation we have received 
At issue here is the difference 
between justification and sanctification 
Justification is the act of salvation 
where our sins are forgiven 
and our assurance of salvation is secured 
We are saved by Grace through Faith 
as it says in Ephesians chapter 2 
Not by works so that no one can boast 
 
But then there is sanctification 
which is the process by which the Holy Spirit 
makes us a Holy, Set apart people 
In justification there is no growth 
you are transferred from being outside the kingdom of heaven 
to being inside the kingdom of heaven 
You are either saved or not saved 
there’s no in-between or back and forth 
That is not the case in sanctification 
 
There are indeed some Christians 
who are better Christians than others 
Not in terms of salvation 
but in terms of how their lives reflect 
the commands and expectations of Jesus 
now that’s a bold statement 
and you can argue with me after the service if you’d like 
I might like that actually 
But stick with me for a minute 
 
We are saved by pure gift of God 
but once we are saved we are expected 
to grow up and mature in Christ 
God expects us to get better 
 
to get better at holding our tongue 
and letting our words reflect the one we follow 
to get better at being honest 
telling the truth, even when it’s hard 
to get better at being generous 
sharing with those in need 
from the wealth we’ve built with our honest work 
to get better at forgiving 
those who have sinned against us 
God is at work in us 
 
That famous verse from Ephesians 
chapter 2 vs 8-9 about being saved by grace through faith not by works 
Is followed up by chapter 2 verse 10 
“for we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works 
which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” 
I was thinking about this life we are upposed to live 
as something we improve upon every year 
to offer a better gift to God and our neighbor 
some of you may know  
that I’m an amateur woodworker 
I’m learning how to create furniture 
from wood, mostly cheap lumber from Lowes 
I made this Adirondack Chair 
from $100 worth of Cedar 
But I’m not sure I improved upon the value 
of the wood 
I’m proud of this chair 
glad to sit in it on Saturday mornings and read the paper 
with my coffee sitting in the wide arms 
But it is far from perfect 
there are so many mistakes 
In the arms you’ll see six holes 
even though there are only three screws 
because I had to adjust the arms as initially they were too close together so that only my kids had small enough butts to fit 
 
On the back you’ll see a big piece of pine 
and multiple screw holes where I had to experiment many times 
to get the seat secure enough it wouldn’t break when you leaned back 
One arm is rougher than the other 
because I traced and cut the pattern on the wrong side 
The back is square 
and the whole thing unstained 
because I got so fed up with all the mistakes 
I just quit and said good enough 
But is it good enough? 
it makes me happy 
but I wish it were better 
Our lives are like this chair 
 they are meant for us to enjoy 
but they are also meant to be a gift to God and our neighbor 
And for that reason 
we can never stop growing and improving and perfecting them 
Everyday we get a chance 
to try again, to do better, to honor God with our lives more perfectly 
that’s not meant to dismiss what we did before 
God will always use the imperfect things of our lives 
to bring goodness and value to the world 
We don’t try to be better to earn anything from God 
we try to do better to improve our thanksgiving for what God has done for us 
Verse 30 says 
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, 
with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption” 
What does it mean 
to grieve the Holy Spirit of God? 
I think it simply means to give up 
and prevent the Spirit from doing the work the Spirit 
wants to do in our lives 
The Holy spirit is the one 
who is sanctifying us 
the one who is working on us to make us more like Christ 
Let’s let the Spirit do his work on us 
on our hearts, on our mouths, on our minds 
until our lives reflect the truth about Jesus 
Our salvation is not dependent 
on how well we live a life that imitates Christ 
But wouldn’t it be nice 
if our lives were lived 
so that people saw Christ in us? 
I think we’re all pretty good 
and I know I see Christ in you 
but we’re unfinished 
so let’s let the Spirit finish His work in us. Amen? 
 
 

Pew Partners

Let us greet one another!

Every Sunday morning many of you would come to church and head into the sanctuary to claim your spot in your pew. Perhaps before the prelude or after the postlude you would chat for a moment with the people around you. Certainly, most would be accustomed to sharing the peace with those scattered around you, also in their regular seat.

We would like to continue that time of community and sharing the peace with a monthly zoom gathering of your “pew partners!”

We’re going to need a little help from you to make this happen! While the pastors and Marcia are pretty good at remembering who sits where, we can’t remember everything! Click to sign up here.

Please note that even if you don’t use a computer or tablet you can call into a zoom meeting with just a phone number, so you might not see faces that way, but you’ll be a part of the conversation! When groups have been formed we’ll send you an email with your zoom link and you’ll be set to share the peace!

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