Sunday, 30 December 2012

Sermon for Christmas 1

Yes it has been a while, but I thought that as I have managed to breathe a little life into New Kid on the Blog (the Mothership of my blogging world) I should really add something here.  There's lots of stuff I said I would put online, some thoughts on silence, my notes on Social Media Spirituality etc and maybe I will get them here, or maybe put them straight onto New Kid - but for now here is my Sermon, preached this very morning and written just hours ago (a sermon about which I got quite excited, as I grabbed my Greek Lexicon and looked up various words) - some thoughts about today's set reading for Colossians...

Year C Christmas 1 2012

Striking Images

One of the things I love about the Bible is the rich and varied images that leap out of the pages whenever and wherever I read it.  From what we might call the ‘mythologies’ of the Creation stories in Genesis 1 & 2, Noah and the Ark, Jonah and the Big Fish to the vivid visions of Daniel, or Ezekiel and St John’s Revelation with creatures covered in eyes or wheels within wheels.  And in between all of that we have poetry, some of it pretty fruity if you read the Song of Songs anytime, we have sublime expressions of what it means to be human, and of both the joy and despair of the human condition in the Psalms, we have earthy wisdom with some very down to earth imagery in the Proverbs & Ecclesiastes – for instance “a fool returning to folly, is like a dog returning to its own vomit” (Proverbs 26.11)

And then there’s Jesus whose storytelling was rich and filled with ideas and images, many rooted in everyday life yet with a twist, gave new insight into a Grace filled world which is intruding into this one, a world called the Kingdom of God, filled with feasts and rulers and sparrows and trees and so much more.  Jesus’ images have stuck in our collective consciousness and our language, even in the meaning behind the images has been lost – sheep and goats, prodigal son, good Samaritan… the list goes on and could get very long indeed.

And then we have Paul and the other letter writers of the early Church, recycling ancient concepts and ideas from Jewish and Greek philosophies and traditions.  They use age old titles and ideas to talk of Jesus and of this new way, this following Jesus way, what came to be known as the Christian Way.  Rich ideas such as Jesus the High Priest, building on the image of the Lamb of God, talking of the Church as the body, or of following God’s way as being like an athlete. 

Paul, and those who wrote the letters ascribed to him, (and Colossians, from which today’s reading comes is one of those letter where authorship is disputed) but the New Testament epistle writers were masters (or mistresses) of wordcraft – they had to write concepts which had never been writer, explain ideas that made use of existing philosophical and religious concepts whilst at the same time broke out of any existing belief or faith system.

The use of words in our Bibles is very carefully done.  In the Epistles there is not a concept or idea in there that isn’t meant to be there – either by the hand of the author or by Divine intervention, or both…  And this long preamble is to say that the images in these five verses are, for me, some of the most wonderful images that we have from the Pauline or Pseudepigraphal letters.  I want us to spend some time looking at three, rich, warm, powerful and thought provoking images – though I will refer to others from this short passage… today’s reading, Colossians 3.12-17 – three images


Here’s the passage again, it bears repeating:

12 As God’s 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.

Paul is keen on the image of Clothing – let Christ be as close as the clothes you wear it says in Romans 13.14 which was probably Paul’s last letter and in his first, passionate, letter to the Galatians, Chapter 3 verse 27 has Paul saying ‘as many have been baptised into Christ have been clothed with Christ.’  It’s a wonderful image of intimacy and closeness, and a sense of being surrounded by Christ in the same way that we are surrounded by the clothes we have on. 

If we are clothed with Christ there are some other things, it says in this letter, that we should clothe ourselves with alongside this too - compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience it says in verse 12 and even more in verse 14 ‘Above all, clothe yourselves with love’. 

It’s important, I think, to note that this is an active process, something you must choose to do.  It’s not offered as an option, though, this is something that goes with being a follower of Christ.  And it begs the question if we are not compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient then in what way are we clothed with Christ too – these are his attributes, they should be ours.  And above all this we put on love – love which is tough, forgiving and giving, which mirrors the love of Christ.  Love which seeks the best for and in other people, that loves God, neighbour and self as the greatest commandment instructs us to.  Love which makes everything complete and whole.  God’s love.  We have to put it on, and just like the clothes we choose to wear every morning we have to choose to put on these clothes too.

The second image that strikes me is the ruling – or βραβευέτω (brab –yoo-o)  determining, or deciding, as the Greek says. (Yes these images were so striking I felt I had to look up the Greek they were originally written in, just to be sure I’d got something approaching the right idea.)  In this context we are to let the peace of Christ determine or decide or rule our hearts.  And that peace isn’t just a bit of quiet, or an absence of conflict, it is a deep and powerful peace – a peace of eternity. Again the Greek is εἰρήνη,  \{i-ray'-nay} a word with layers of meaning, external peace, in the world around, in oneself, between people, but also a peace of salvation and assurance, of fearing nothing from God and being content on earth.

If we truly held on to that peace then our Churches and our world would be significantly different.  We would be seeking always to be at peace with one another and to recognise the grace that has been given to us, holding on not to the things around us, but to the deepest truth of the life and love of God. 

And there’s something quite telling about the fact that we must allow this peace to rule in our hearts.  Perhaps the writer is reminding us how quick we are to actively resist this type of peace, and that we have to let go, perhaps to submit and allow this state of peacefulness, and the longing for this peace, to be that which determines and guides our hearts.

And last, but not least.  The third image which has grabbed me from this passage is the one that made me want to do such an indepth Bible study in this short time here today. It’s a beautiful and deeply powerful image found in verse 16.  This time it takes the theme of allowing something to happen – not active, like clothing ourselves, nor submissive like being directed – this is something else, something wow…
16Let the word of Christ* dwell in you richly, or in the Greek

 λόγος τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐνοικείτω {en-oy-keh'-o} ἐν ὑμῖν 

Again, I’m not trying to impress or befuddle you but I want to point out one word in that sentence – as well as dwell, which is enoykeho – there is this word we have heard again and again over Christmastime – logos, in fact it means (as you will all know) … word…. Jesus is the logos we read of in our Carol services, in our Christmas Night services and throughout this time and through the Christian year when we use the words from John chapter 1 – In the Beginning was the word. 

Now the important thing to remember, and some of you will have heard me say this before, is that a logos, a word, was considered in the philosophy of Jesus’ time not just to be something said and lost – but an integral part of the speaker.  A word remained part of you even when it was out, it contained something of the essence of you.  And so when the eternal Word is spoken by God in that well known passage, then it, or he, is something of the essence of God.

So letting the word dwell in you richly, as that wonderful phrase says, is allowing the essence of Christ to inhabit you.  And just as the Word being made flesh to dwell amongst us in John 1 changed the world so the Word of Christ dwelling in us will change us, and change the world around us.

And it’s both active and passive – allowing the word to dwell, to influence, to motivate and transform – to welcome the word into our hearts and minds, and to be changed by Christ in us.  And then everything we do – from the love we show to our family and friends, to the compassion we reach out with to the needy and stranger, to the lives of prayer, worship and service we lead – all of it will indeed be done in the name of, and with the power of Christ.  May the Word of Christ Dwell in you richly, indeed….