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Journey in Search of Wholeness

Sermon - 12/31/06
John Moore
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Colossians 3:12-17

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 morning.  

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:

If with pleasure you are viewing
Anything a person is doing
If you like them, or you love them, tell them now

Don't without your approbation
'Till the parson makes oration
And they lie with snowy lilies for their brow

For no matter how you shout it
They won't really care about it
They won't know how many tear-drops you have shed

If 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 along.  

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:

As 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 to God. 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:

Without 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 for courage.  

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 follow".  Amen. 

 


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