"that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord"
Message preached July 15,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Colossians 1:1-14
Order of Worship
Itís always interesting cleaning up after church. Youíd be surprised the things you find. Sometimes pocket change has rolled out into the crevices of the pews. Not a fortune, mind you, but enough to send a letter of two. Often, interesting artwork is left behind, gracing bulletin covers, visitors cards, or other available loose paper surfaces.
In one congregation, which shall remain nameless, a piece of paper was left behind which contained a multitude of messages passed between certain nameless individuals. Such notes are also a frequent after-church find in every congregation Iíve ever been a part of. This one, however, had some disturbing words upon it. Amid all the other notes, some of which were a bit questionable themselves, were two statements in bold print: "I HATE U," and "Iíd murder if we werenít in church."
Now, as with most such messages, much of the context behind these statements is missing for the person cleaning up after worship. Who knows exactly what was going on in the pew of that church which, for us, shall remain anonymous? Often, people write things that they donít really mean. However, words do give somewhat of an indication of a personís state of mind, and of where their attention is focused. That such notes circulated during a time of worship gives you pause, doesnít it? Makes you wonder. Of course, I recall not being all that connected to what was happening in church when I was at an earlier stage of life. Those words could have been my own. Maybe, maybe not - Iíll leave you guessing.
Much of the context behind the words just read from the New Testament letter to the Colossians is likewise missing. Who knows exactly what was going on in that church at that time? We have some clues that seem to indicate all was not well with those folks. Call them "disturbing signs." Folks were "religious" enough there. By that I mean they seem to have been into the sound of religiosity, and certain religious practices that may have helped them feel pious and holy. But it wasnít seeming to carry over into their everyday life, affecting how they lived.
Boy, does that sound familiar! We can come to church and do all sorts of "religious" stuff, ourselves. Between the walls of this sanctuary we can feel "spiritual" and "holy." Furthermore, we can become disturbed (and rightly so!) hearing about certain notes being passed in the pews of a nameless church which indicate that someone was not thinking good thoughts during this set-apart time called "worship." However, many are the weeks when we, ourselves, have left the confines of this room and returned to "life as usual," not allowing God entrance into the rest of our everyday existence.
That was the case, we think, with those believers in the city of Colossae. Of course, some of their "religious" stuff was a bit off base, also. They were borrowing a little from this religion and a little from that religion, and were losing track of the central focus of the faith into which they been called by God, the message they had received in Jesus Christ. In fact, it seems they were in danger of disconnecting from the One who had died for their sake, growing instead to consider Jesus just another way of experiencing God - a God who is distant and approachable only by saying and doing the right sort of religious "stuff."
Next week, weíll continue with this first chapter of Colossians and, in so doing, refocus our own attention upon Jesus Christ as the very center of our faith - as we come to his table and break bread. In so doing, weíll emphasize that God is not distant. In simple, down-to-earth ways, we are in communion with - intimately connected to - the One who made us... Today, however, letís allow these initial verses of the first chapter of Colossians to speak to us about how our faith in Christ is part of every moment of our lives, and not just the time we spend together in this building. It makes sense to lift up a message like this on a day like today, when we have dedicated a child to the Lord and ourselves to the task of helping him to grow in faith. Parenting, after all, is a 24/7 proposition. That is, itís a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week affair. Am I wrong?
One aspect of this letter, as with most of the New Testament letters attributed to Paul, that really impresses me, is that it begins with gratitude. That is no small point to make. Itís probably one of the most profound teachings of our faith. Think about it. This letter is, in a sense, a form of discipline. It was written, in part, to correct some things that werenít quite right, that those who read it, or heard it read, might grow as disciples. It bears repeating, always, that real discipline (in the context of faith in Christ) is disciple-making. It is not punishment for punishment sake. It has a goal - growing into the full stature of Christ, as his disciples.
Thatís something parents, especially, need by way of reminder. To be honest, if that note found in the pew were from our church, and I knew that one of my offspring wrote some of those words, my first reaction would certainly not be gratitude. Ask my kids. The wrath of Dad, or Mom for that matter, can be fearful to behold. That scares me, as it should any parent. Is my discipline disciple-making? Or is it just punishment for punishment sake? Later, in this very same letter, Paul wrote, "Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart" (3:21), or as Peterson puts it, "Parents, donít come down too hard on your children, or youíll crush their spirits." Lord, have I damaged the heart of my sons or daughters? Have I crushed their spirits? Of course, this verse in the letter is preceded by, "Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty to the Lord." Whoa! Not exactly a popular statement.
Remember, though, the beginning of the letter. Paul starts out with gratitude. Shouldnít that be where we stand at the outset, also? I donít mean just on this day of dedicating a little one who has yet to enter the "terrible twos" or "teens." But every day! Not just parents, but young people, also. God has blessed us with one another. Be thankful! Are you truly grateful for your children? Are you really thankful for your parents? Not just on the surface, but deep down.
How can our appreciation for one another grow deeper? Well, Paul shows the way. You see, his thanksgiving is in the form of a prayer. How often do we say, and mean it, that we thank God for someone? Even when we have something difficult to convey that they need to hear? Are we thankful for their growth to this point in the faith, even when their faith is not where it could or should be? Are we truly grateful for the mentors who have been there along the way? Are we thankful to God, who has been and continues to be at work in ways we may not see?
Whether as a parent or as a pastor, I am deeply indebted to God for the growth that happens around me. Much of my debt is invisible, that is - God is doing awesome "stuff" in my children and in this church. I understand that my family and this congregation have been entrusted to my care, even if for but a season. Often it seems like my contribution is minuscule compared to what the Lord puts in. There is, indeed, so much for which to be thankful to God - every day.
In his prayer of gratitude for the folks in Colossae, who were not exactly at the place they needed to be in their faith, Paul asked a number of things for them. Did you catch that? Again, his letter did not launch into a diatribe of everything they were doing wrong. He began with prayer, first in gratitude, then in supplication, asking God for what was needed on the part of those he was seeking to correct. Do we start in the same place? I know I too often falter by not initially placing discipline, disciple-making, in the context of prayer. Iím hardly alone. In prayer, God often sorts out the non-essentials, the junk that is our own baggage - not to be imposed on others.
Again, do we pray for one another. Seriously! Youth, do you pray for your parents? Thatís not just a "parent" responsibility. You see, parents (and all these other older folks) are still growing as disciples, also. Just as you can loose focus of what is most important, so can we. All of us stand in need of prayer. We all struggle to figure out what God is doing in this world, what the higher purpose is behind some of what happens - what Godís will is for us. We all stumble and fall when it comes to making wise decisions in the nitty-gritty details of life, in understanding the bigger issues involved, the moral dilemmas we face - each of us - on a daily basis. We need to pray, like Paul did, for Godís help. "Knowledge, wisdom, understand" are not just a mind-trip, an ability to - on our own - to figure things out. Itís a spiritual matter, involving God (who is, in fact, very near to us in the Holy Spirit) in everything.
Involving God in everything - whether within the walls of this sanctuary, or beyond them - thatís what prayer is all about, why it continues beyond the official "amen." Praying "without ceasing" means that it is not just an isolated affair. Have you (and Iím asking myself this same question - Iím not just preaching to you, brothers and sisters, Iím preaching with you, Iím preaching to myself) turned to God even in the middle of disagreement when, amid our loud "discussion" God feels very distant? Thatís precisely the moment when the Lord is closest, if only weíd allow him entrance.
Iím not suggesting that we stop arguing with a pious, holier-than-thou "let us pray," which may feel like a slap in the face at such a moment. Perhaps the Quakers are on target with their call to silence at times like that. Certainly "cooling off" is necessary when things get hot, but so is letting God in, turning toward the center of our faith. Thatís especially true within the family for, as the police officers among us will attest, some of the most dangerous situations to handle are domestic disputes. "Iíd murder if I werenít in church," that note read, hopefully in jest. The truth is, the walls of Godís sanctuary extend to all of life.
"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer." That prayer from Psalm 19 (v. 14, NIV) is one I turn to constantly. You know, though, it doesnít just refer to times of worship within this building. Yes, it does say something about our behavior here, how the words we speak (or write down on a piece of paper and pass to a friend) in this place, and what weíre thinking about right now, are important to God. But these are important to God at all times. Our Lord lives - not just here, but everywhere: at home, at work, at school, at camp, on vacation - you name the place, he is there.
What would it be like to truly seek to please God in everything we say and do? I didnít say, please our parents (as important as that may be). I didnít say, please our friends. I didnít say, please the people in church. Most directly I didnít say, please ourselves. What about "pleasing" God? It certainly would shift the focus of each and every day, wouldnít it? Thatís what Paul prayed for the believers in Colossae, that they might "be filled with the knowledge of Godís will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that (they might) lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him..." (1:9b-10a) Can that be our prayer as well, for each other and for ourselves, parents and youth, young and old alike?
Would you join me in prayer, using the words of the Psalmist? Repeat after me, if it be the desire of your heart.
"May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock
and my Redeemer."
©2001 Peter L. Haynes
return to "Messages" page
return to Long Green Valley Church page