Who We Are Together

Scripture: Colossians 3:12-17

 

            A family in my congregation has decoration in their living room that I find unique and captivating.  They have this framed sort of pledge, or Family Code on the wall and here’s what it says:

Image

            Now, I find that beautiful, but it’s not completely comfortable, it’s not cozy, it’s kind of intense.  Because it’s all these statements of fact – this is what we do, and it’s there on the wall to remind you, whenever you start drifting into contrary patterns of living.  It’s bold.

            Most of the time when you see words about values made into decorations for people’s homes, it’s usually just, “Love,” or “Laughter” or “Celebrate Beauty”.  Very easy-going, not so confrontational.   

            And this extends into Bible verses – sometimes people want a little scripture in a frame on the wall, and it’s always something palatable, like, “God so loved the world…” or “Love is patient, love is kind.”  Something that goes down easy.  Nothing that rattles the cages. 

            Our scripture reading for this morning is intense, in the same way that the Alters’ Family Code is intense.  Because it doesn’t just name certain values, or lift up principles that we admire; it says, “Do this.  Be like this.”  It says, “Here’s the thing – this is how you should be.”  It’s direct, in your face. And I have never seen this scripture framed on the wall in somebody’s house.   But maybe it should be. 

            Even though the Family Code of my parishioners is a list of things they do, it’s really a statement about who they are.  Who they promise to be for one another, and also, when they get off track and need to hit reset,  what that realignment needs to bring them back to. 

            Our reading from Colossians does the same thing for the body of Christ.  It says, Church, this is who we are together. 

            I made a list of all the things the apostle Paul says in this passage that we should make our live together all about, things we should embody and share with the world, and that list is on the cover of our bulletin, as if the apostle Paul was saying, in the body of Christ:

 

We do Compassion.

We do Kindness.

We do Humility.

We do Meekness.

We do Patience.

We do Forgiveness.

We do Love.           

We do Wisdom.

We do Gratitude.

 

            But of course, the passage that he wrote was not just a list.   It’s actually part of a long letter that he wrote to his friends, to talk through a lot of important challenges they all faced.  Which is a good thing, because as we’ve already established, a straight list can be kind of intense. 

            So, I thought I’d share with you three interesting things that popped out at me this week as I was studying this passage.  They’re three things about the way Paul talks about the church claiming it’s identity.  Three things about how he instructs people in being the way God calls them to be.

            The first thing is a simple word that Paul uses twice in this passage.   He says that we are to clothe ourselves in the attributes of good people: Clothe yourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Clothe yourselves in love.  That’s a significant instruction, because it assumes that these character virtues are not something that people just have innately or not.  To say we should clothe ourselves in compassion and kindness invokes an image of a person getting up and decide what to put on for the day; We could put on bitterness or pettiness, for example.  Paul says to put on virtues instead. 

            We all know people who have the qualities Paul lists, and often we’re impressed by them.  She’s so patient, she’s so compassionate.   And it seems like that’s just the way she is, I don’t know how she does it, she’s just special.   But me on the other hand, I’m just not like that.  When we read a list of good qualities like this one in the book of Colossians, we sometimes think that there are just some people have these things, and other’s don’t. 

            The truth is, we’re all blessed with ingrained strengths, and challenged by lifelong weaknesses.  There are people who do gratitude very easily, others have a harder time with it.  There are people who look at complex math problems, and they just get it, whereas other people struggle with math.  And there are people who feel at ease and natural to be compassionate and patient with most people they interact with, and others of us don’t.  So each of us comes at life with a certain predisposition, and a set of natural character traits. 

            But that’s not to say that the virtues of a Christian life that the Bible talks about are admirable qualities that you either have or you don’t.  The scripture this morning teaches that, whether it’s easy for us or not, we are to clothe ourselves  in the qualities of Christ.

            This lesson is very challenging, and it’s reassuring at the same time.  It’s challenging because, as Christians, we’re basically not allowed to say that certain virtues don’t apply to us.  “Sorry, I’m just not humble – humility is not my thing. “ We’re not allowed to say that.  Whether it comes easily or not, we’re required by our faith to put these qualities on, and that’s a real challenge.  On the flip side, however, there may be attributes on Paul’s list that you’ve desperately wanted to have shape your life, for a long time perhaps, but feel like you just can’t do those things the way others can. 

            You may want to be able to forgive, for example, but it feel impossible for you.  You don’t understand how other people do it so easily or consistently.  The lesson of our scripture reading today is that you can actually put on noble qualities, and relate to the world the way you think you should, even though certain virtues feel like a longshot for you.   

            Well talk about how we actually manage to pull this off in a minute, but for now, suffice to say that the language of scripture is the language of choice, of agency.  Paul says these are things we are all called to, and they’re things we’re all capable of.  And that’s reassuring.  

            Now, many of us who ponder this topic of putting on the qualities of a good person naturally make the mental step of saying, “Hey, the person who chooses to embrace these qualities that Paul spells out is only part of the picture.” Right?

            I can say that I’m going to clothe myself in kindness, humility, meekness, forgiveness, and so on, but there’s a lot of stuff going on around me that’s working against these thing..   Every day of seems to be full of things that make it very difficult to be the way  the Bible says I should be.   I’ve got major problems that I’m contending with – work problems, money problems, the pressure of trying to do well in school. There are really difficult people around me – rude and mean people who make my life difficult.  And that’s saying nothing about all the random things that happen which seem to have no rhyme or reason, that just disassemble your week.  No matter how much you’d like to clothe yourself in patience or compassion or any of these things, it’s always easier said than done. 

            And that brings me to my second observation about Paul’s instructions to us, something he says in the middle of the passage.  He says, “Let the peace of Christ rule your hearts.” 

            I want to show you something I got this week, from some of the kids at our church.  All of our church school classes have ministries they contribute to:  They collect money for our mission partners, they pack lunches for our homeless neighbors, and our third grade class has really taken on a ministry of encouragement.  The third graders make the candles for almost all the people who are baptized at our church.  And they send cards and art projects to members of our church who can’t leave their homes, and they also send notes to the pastors, just to be nice.   This week I got a little envelope from the third grade class and in it is this card that says:

 

Peace: it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. it means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. 

 

            What a blessing to get this note from the third grade class. I really appreciated it.  But the envelope it came in was kind of thick and as I took this card out I realized there was actually a second card in there.  So as I it down and reached in the envelope and pulled out the other card, which said on it  “Robert Lloyd Leveridge, A.K.A. Dad”, and so right away I knew that card was from my son Asher, who is in the third grade.  And I opened it and saw it’s the exact same card, but up here at the top, it says, “Read this!” 

            Asher knows that peacefulness is something that I value greatly.  It’s something that I want to have shape my life, it’s something that try to teach to my children.  Asher also knows that a lot of the time, I do not let peace rule my heart.  And Asher is one of the people who bears the consequences when I let something else rule my heart, whether it’s anger, impatience, selfishness, you get the idea.   

            It’s a lesson I need to learn, and relearn!  Because again, the language of scripture is the language of agency. 

            Whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in, whatever daunting task we have before us, whatever enticing indulgence we’re considering going after, whatever important decision we’re trying to make, there are many forces that would rule our hearts, if we let them.  Greed, fear, lust, pride, selfish ambition, insecurity, malice, envy, we can name a lot, can’t we?  There have been times when we’ve let every one of those things rule our hearts, at least for a little while.  The Bible says to let the peace of Christ rule. 

            Being a peaceful person doesn’t mean that you don’t experience turmoil, or anger or disillusionment or the feeling of being overwhelmed.  It’s simply a choice that we make as to what force we’re going to let have its way with us.   Let the peace of Christ rule, Paul says, and you’ll be empowered as you clothe yourself in compassion, kindness, patience, forgiveness and all the other things. 

            Well I have to tell you, I especially appreciate the fact that I got this card about peace from our third grade class at church, because it highlights the last point I wanted to make about Paul’s teaching in this passage, and that is that we can do  things like clothe ourselves in compassion, and let peace rule our hearts, because we’re in this thing together.  We’re called and we’re empowered to take on the attributes of the good life because we’re a part of the body of Christ.  Paul says let the peace of Christ rule in your heart, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  The reason that we have this calling in the first place is because we are part of something greater than our individual selves. 

            None of this instruction is a matter of individualized discipline.  We can’t do any of this stuff on our own, and it wouldn’t make sense to try. 

            Which is relevant to those of us who are maybe a skeptical of this whole passage anyway – I mean, letting the peace of Christ rule sounds great, but how do we actually do that, practically speaking?  Many of us ask these questions.  The answer the bible gives is not a set of steps, do this, then do this, then do this, bake at 350 for half an hour, and there you’ll have it – peace in your heart! 

            Instead, the Bible says, you’ve got each other – help each other figure it out (which is mildly frustrating, I’ll admit).  Paul says, at the end of our passage this morning, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude, sing psalms, and hymns together to God, and share your words and your deeds with one another, doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

            I don’t know exactly how to clothe myself in meekness and humility or forgiveness, kindness, compassion.  I’m not exactly sure how to execute that, technically.    But I know that when I’m with people who are focused on being kind and compassion, those qualities are strengthened in me, as well.  When I’m around people who are truly grateful for what they have, I’m powerfully reminded of everything I have to be grateful for.  When I’m around people who like to laugh, I tell more jokes!  When I’m with people who are passionate about social justice, my desire for a more just world is given a new focus and I find myself being mobilized.  When I’m around peaceful people, I feel myself letting peace have it’s way with me, too.     

            Our life in the body of Christ is something we figure out together, because we’re in this together.   And because we’re together we say that in the body of Christ:

 

We do Compassion.

We do Kindness.

We do Humility.

We do Meekness.

We do Patience.

We do Forgiveness.

We do Love.           

We do Wisdom.

We do Gratitude.

 

This is who we are together.  Amen. 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s