You'll find the text
for today in your pew bibles. I'd invite you to turn to that page,
because I'm going to be doing a bit of bible study here this
Have you noticed how
fast the years go by lately? Here we are, December 31st 2006, and
it seems like this year started just three or four months ago. So
a word of caution: if you haven't gotten around to making your new
years resolution for 2006, you better get with it J.
Time is running out.
Back in the 1980s in
this church family, we had a member by the name of Clarence
Elliot. Clarence was happy to stay in the background pretty much,
because his wife Wilcina was a very up-front person who was very
well-known to us all. Clarence reminded me of an octogenarian
James Cagney -- he was a short little guy who didn't show up much but I
noticed when there was a lull in a meeting, Clarence would make his way
up to the front and he would give his oration:
with pleasure you are viewing
Anything a person is doing
If you like them, or you love them, tell them now
without your approbation
'Till the parson makes oration
And they lie with snowy lilies for their brow
no matter how you shout it
They won't really care about it
They won't know how many tear-drops you have shed
you think some praise is due them
Now's the time to slip it to them
For they cannot read their tombstone when they're dead.
I think in the years
that I served as pastor, I heard that oration from Clarence about 6
times. Other than that, he seemed pretty normal J.
But there's a line in
there that I want to use for my message today, and that's the next to
the last line where he says "Now's the time to slip it to
them". I just want that first part -- Now's the time.
Early this week when
I was asked to preach, I looked over the text in Luke where Jesus is a
12 year-old, brought to Jerusalem by his family for Passover. You
know the story, he gets lost, and they spend three days trying to find
him. They find him in the temple, and he says "I must be
about my father's business". It was a watermark in his life
because he meant God when he said 'father'. And he filled everyone
around him with wonder.
But the aspect of
that period in Jesus' early life was fully of journeys. First the
journey to Bethlehem where he was born and laid in a stable. The
fleeing journey to Egypt to save him from Herod. The journey to
Nazareth where he was raised. And then every year, his family made
a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover and they took him
The comparison of
life to a road is a very ancient one. And perhaps the most
accurate one. We're all traveling through life and it's a good
thing to think of life as a journey. Because it depicts the
un-static nature of life. It's always on the move.
And the text I chose
from Colossians continues with this journey of Christ, after his
growing, and after his ministry of teaching and healing. And
through his dying and being raised from the dead, through the start of
the Christian followers, called the church, our text encourages us for
the ongoing journey of wholeness.
Chapter 3 of
Colossians begins with this phrase: "So if you have been
raised in Christ", and that's where the journey continues.
The followers of Christ have been raised with Christ. For Paul,
the resurrection was not a past event of history. However amazing,
it was not something that simply happened to Jesus, however important
that will always be. It was an on-going dynamic which continues to
operate in the life of the Christian. Now is the time to celebrate
this fact, that you have been raised with Christ, his journey through
life is your journey through life. And that really gets you.
The first 17 verses
of chapter 3 of Colossians are a wonderful, brief summation of the
Christian gospel. I'd recommend it for stand-alone devotion to
start any day. It's particularly applicable this 31st day of
December, because the last day of the year is an excellent day to pause
and have a bit of introspection, to begin to chart where we would like
to go in the days ahead.
It uses language of
getting dressed -- unusual picture Paul gives us. But first,
before we start the journey, we need to strip down, strip off our old
ways -- those things that aren't worth taking into 2007. The
grudges, whatever it may be (you can make your own list). But
before we get dressed with these positive qualities, we need to
unload. And it's an excellent time to think about what isn't worth
taking into the future. Ask forgiveness. Unload. Ask
for God's help for a fresh start.
So if you have been
raised with Christ, get ready to move. Our text goes like this:
Godís chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with
compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear
with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another,
forgive each other; just as the Lord
has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above
all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in
perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ
rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.
And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ
dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and
with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do
everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the
Father through him.
Our text lets us know
that in Christ, we're always beginning, we're always starting out on the
journey. As Christians, we'll never be a completed project, we'll
always be a work-in-progress because there's always room to grow.
And Colossians tries to give us some good markers along the way.
Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and
patience. These are gifts from God, gifts of the spirit.
They're all meant for personal relations. All of them are
qualities that we say that Christ himself had, and we try to emulate the
quality of Jesus Christ in our lifestyle. It's our goal. And
Colossians does a beautiful job of laying it down in one short take.
Stripped of the old
self, we can move on. Layer by layer, it gives us a new way of
seeing others. And the 11th verse, which is the verse that
precedes the [above] text, in that renewal, there is no longer Greek and
Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, slave and free, but Christ is all
and in all. All these old barriers that always divided us are
gone. Christ transcends that. It's a new way of seeing
everybody. A freeing way. We don't have to use the
labels. We don't have to compartmentalize people to put them down
'below' us, or 'above' us. We're all on an even playing field,
through Jesus Christ.
It's his gift, part
of the power of his resurrection. One of the great examples of
historical forgiveness and new beginnings is the story of South
Africa. We can remember, not that long ago, the days of
Apartheid. Where the hatred and the racial difference was so
powerful and so suffocating, people were not able to go anywhere.
And then Mandela gets out of prison, they adopt this new constitution,
and they're not perfect, but you don't hear about them in the news
because they're doing OK.
Bishop Norris was
asked how in the world this much bitterness could be brought under
control and they could begin to build a government. He simply
quoted from their new constitution:
truth, there can be no healing
And without forgiveness, there can be no future
That's in their
constitution! I wish it was in ours. As a country, we could
use a little healing. The gaps are getting wider, and so I think
this text is a healing text. The gifts that are given to us to
join in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.
Three weeks ago I had
the occasion to ride through southwestern Kansas. And we stopped
in the town of Liberal, Kansas, to get some gas. And while we were
stopped there, I was out stretching, and I looked across the road and
there was this big billboard. It said "Visit Dorothy's
House". And there was a Tin Man, and Lion, and a Scarecrow,
and Dorothy on this billboard. And I looked and there was a street
going down that way and it was the Yellow Brick Road.
We didn't go to
Dorothy's house, but while I was preparing this message, I thought, you
know, that's a great parable, that story. Dorothy, because of a
tornado, finds herself in this wonderful land of Oz. As wonderful
as it is, she knows the one thing she needs to do is to get back
home. Back home to Kansas. They told her the only way she
could do that was to go and visit this Wizard -- the Wizard of Oz.
The only way to do that is to follow the Yellow Brick Road. You
know how that story goes.
And so she heads out
on that journey, and along the way she meets the most interesting
characters. The first is a Scarecrow who wants to go with her
because he wants a brain more than anything else. That's all he
lacks is a brain. And the second character they came across was
the Tin Woodsman, who yearns for a heart. He'd make a plea to get
more heart. And the third is the cowardly Lion, who is searching
On their way, they
were confronted by danger, and of course it was the cowardly Lion who
somehow managed to fight their way out of it. And whenever the
obstacle is more of a cerebral nature, it's always the brainless
Scarecrow who figures a way out. And for the Tin Woodsman who is
journeying in search of a heart, he's so moved by the plight of others
that the tears start coming and he starts rusting, and they had to
gather around and apply oil to keep him going.
And the climax of the
story happens of course when they reach the Emerald City and make the
shattering discovery that the Wizard is not a Wizard. In his own
words, he's a "humbug". But then he tells them the truth
that they really needed to hear. The Lion has courage, and he
showed it on their journey. The Scarecrow has brains, he helped
them through his thoughtfulness. The Tin Man has a heart, and has
shown it on the journey.
We want very much to
have what those three wanted, and that is to become fully human.
To be a whole person. And we want it for the same reasons they
wanted it. We know we don't have it all together. And so
we're on a journey toward wholeness.
For us, at Christmas
time, the one who confronts us with ourselves and with the truth is not
a Wizard, is not a humbug, but the risen Christ. Who still lives,
who still loves, who still goes before us. We'll never overcome
it, he breaks the trail for us. And invites us to follow.
And that's the most exciting thing about 2007. We don't know what
it's going to bring, but we know who's leading.
And so we'll take
these next steps. Now is the time to dress up for our
journey. To take on the qualities of love that He offers. So
let us say "Lead on, O Lord, and grant us, all of us, the grace to