Sermon from Sunday, July 17, 2016

In Christ ~

From our Epistle Reading, Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 1, verse 28: It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

My last few sermons have been a bit challenging, a bit on the heavy side. Back-to-back sermons warned against the dangers of pushing God to the perimeter of our lives, urging us to examine our priorities, our pocketbooks, and our calendars to assess whether or not God is not only our highest priority, but is at the very center of our lives. 

Based on texts from Paul’s writings, we considered admonitions like this one from Galatians:  For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  Also from Galatians, here’s an even sterner warning: Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 

Last week we considered the challenging implications of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In that teaching story Jesus made it clear that loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, means that we are to love and serve anyone who is in need, and we are to serve them without limit.  Now today we hear of warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 

Is all of that challenging enough for you?  Maybe after all of this we are left asking, “How is any of this even possible?”  It could very well be that we are left feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, and perhaps more than a bit guilty.  Or it’s possible we become defensive or dismiss it all as too radical.  Just give me grace and stop talking about what’s supposed to happen next.

There are two words in our text that may help bring some clarity here: “in Christ. Everything begins, continues and ends with our being in Christ.

I realize that at times my sermons seem to be about what might be called behavior modification.  Truth is, we can sometimes interpret the Bible—including the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels and the writings of Paul in his letters—as being all about changing our behavior.  We define sin as bad thoughts we think and the bad things we do.  We speak of being a Christian as correcting our thought and our deeds, of working at becoming better people.

Please listen: that is NOT what is at the core of our faith.  It’s truly all about understanding what it means to be in Christ.  When we understand that, we see it’s not at all about changing our behavior. It’s about changing us.  It’s about complete transformation.  It’s not about changing how we think and act, but about coming to a whole new understanding of whose we are and who we are: children of God.  We are a new creation, and that creative process is ongoing.

Perhaps this can get lost in all of the busy-ness of the church.  We focus too much on what we do: Go to church; take communion; read the Bible; go to Bible Study; help out at church; give to the church; say our prayers.  If we are not careful, our lives can become defined by what we do or don’t do, instead of being defined by whose and who we are. 

All of this church activity can become a means unto itself, rather than means unto an end.  The end, the purpose of all of these things we do, is that they have the potential to contribute to our being transformed from the inside out.  We are--by virtue of God’s doing-- children of God.   God had redeemed us.  God has adopted us into His family.  Now it’s all about becoming more and more of what we are: children of God.

We see this affirmed in our Gospel story as well.  Martha is busy doing what seems like needs to be done.  She is practicing good hospitality, and wants some help.  But Mary is doing what most needs to be do: sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening and learning.  There’s a place for the things that Martha is doing, but what must come first is listening to- and learning from- Jesus.

Here’s an insight that was new to me, something I learned recently from our friend Lindsey Greene, who describes himself as a “Jewish follower of Yeshua”, that is, Jesus.  The name of our church, Zion, is etymologically related to an old English term scion, which can be understood as being a young sprig or shoot that is grafted into a larger plant. 

That’s us!  We are branches that’ve been grafted into a vine.  These words of Jesus, recorded in John’s Gospel, describe this beautifully: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.  He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.  Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.  You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” 

In truth, everything relates to those two words: “in Christ.”  Everything we do and say hear in this place must contribute to our growth in understanding what it means to be in Christ, and to understand it organically.  By grace we have been grafted into Christ.  Our growth and ability to bear good fruits, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, all flows through our life-producing and life-changing connection with Jesus.

We gather here, we do everything that we do here, because we are in Christ and in order to grow in Christ.  If we are primarily moved to do all of this stuff by feelings of pressure or guilt, or in order to avoid punishment or earn reward, then something very important is missing.  We are practicing religion rather than living, dwelling, abiding in Christ.  Religious activities end up empty of meaning or purpose.  Transformation brings wonderful growth.

When you worship, study, pray, and serve here at Zion, do not just go through the motions.  Do not just show up.  I urge you to seek the Spirit.  Ask God to open your heart and mind and spirit to receive His Spirit, so that you might be transformed more powerfully as a child of God.  Don’t simply listen to me.  If God isn’t speaking through me, then I am not worth listening to.  Listen for the Spirit.  Seek the Spirit. 

I’ll close with a few more words from Paul, this time from his letter to the Romans, the twelfth chapter: I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.  That is why we are here, Zion.  Amen.

   April 2019   
Bible Search