Let us pray: God, we pray for your presence this morning, among and beside and inside each of us. Speak to us this morning, we pray, in your name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Shaped by Jesus
Like most people, I think, my family grew up with its own language, shaped over time by memories, like the time I drank all the sugar from the bottom of homemade lemonade and then ran away with my stroller, and shared experiences. In my family, most of those shared experiences were movies. There is no one else to whom I can say, “I care,” and they will instantly know that I am not whining, but quoting Star Wars. And with that knowledge, of course, comes the whole context of the quote: whiny Luke from the first movie, who is feeling ignored and also rather in love with Leia. And so we mostly say it when something isn’t that serious?. Or there’s, “I’m not shouting!” delivered of course at a shout, from the movie Clue, where the character immediately gives in and shouts several times, “All right, I’m shouting!” in a context where everything is wildly out of control.
The people we spend time with shape us. The things we as a group remember and focus on shape us. I, for instance, still love science fiction and fantasy–but more than that, I love a good movie or book and the story it tells. I love media that takes me to a whole new world, or examines our own in an unexpected way.
Our letter to the Colossians this morning is often taken as being about an individual’s Christian life: live lives overflowing with Christ and with thanksgiving, and steer clear of the lies that will send you off in the wrong direction. That is true, of course, but it was a letter written, not to an individual within the church at Colossae, but to the entire church as a community. It is a call for the church as a whole to be shaped by God as well as by the story and example of Christ. How did Jesus live? How did Jesus die? What has Jesus done for us? How is God calling us to live now, in this place?
The letter calls for the community to be deeply rooted in Jesus. If we look to the early church in Acts, they spent time in prayer and worship. They loved one another–they shared all their possessions in common and cared for each other from this common resource. They loved others, providing for widows and orphans in their community. And they preached the gospel to those around them in every way they knew how. They refused to be shaped by the narratives of their culture, which said that the slaves and women who made up much of the early church were unimportant and not fully human. They helped others, not just those who looked like them or those to whom they had a special relationship or obligation. And they refused to worship the emperor because of their deep belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior and God.
The letter, too, reminds the church to hold tightly to the truth of who Jesus is–to not be distracted or swayed or turned aside by the lies they hear, the lies that tell them that they are not enough, that they are not saved yet because of who they are or what they’ve done or how they haven’t done enough yet. Or the lies that tell them that Jesus is not enough, because He was only a human man, or because salvation has only been partly complete, or because the story we Christians tell about Him is impossible and preposterous. No, the writer says, hold on tight to the truth about Jesus, and know that through Him you are saved: your sins are not only forgiven but destroyed, nailed to the cross with Jesus and redeemed with His resurrection. No matter how bad things seem, how powerful your enemies seem, know that Jesus has already defeated them, that they have shown their weakness by knowing no other response to Jesus’ message of hope and love and God’s truth than to try to destroy Him with violence. And we know that it didn’t work, that Jesus is still alive and well and as powerful as ever, but we see too that the powers that be are weak. They couldn’t stop Jesus; they can’t stop us.
This is a call to us, not just as individuals but as a church community, to be shaped by Jesus: to love each other within the church and those outside it; to worship together; to care for our communities; to love one another in every way we can; to speak about Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit to those around us. We are the church. God does and should shape us. And so let us go out with love and worship in our hearts.