My sermon from November 20th, 2011 based on Colossians 3:1-17.
Last Thursday morning Heather and Hannah and I flew to Seattle for my sister’s wedding. We left the house at about 6:30 to get to the airport so it wasn’t a terribly early morning, but for some reason I was just off. To put it nicely, I wasn’t functioning as my best Christian self. Let me tell you the story, not to make excuses, but by way of explanation.
I had a long Wednesday the day before and didn’t start packing until I got home about 9:30 following a meeting here. So Wednesday night was a late night tending to all of the final details of packing for a trip. Thursday morning we were up early and out the door and I found myself feeling particularly annoyed by little things and on edge in general. Can anyone else relate to this state of mind? I’m not proud of it, but it’s where I was. And then we got to the airport.
I had checked in for our flight before we left home and even paid the 20 dollar fee for our checked bag. I thought it would be as simple as showing our documents, dropping off our bag, and being on our way. The shuttle dropped us off right in front of a woman at a Frontier counter on the curb, I gave her our bag, showed her our documents… and then she put our bag on a scale.
The scale read 54.5 pounds. I asked her what our limit was and she confirmed that it was 50 pounds. She said we could take some things out to put in another bag, but our carry-ons were packed tight and that wasn’t an option. I asked what our other choices were and she said we could pay a $75 overweight bag fee. I almost lost it… “You mean I could check another entire bag with 50 pounds of luggage in it for $20 or I can pay an extra $75 for the 4.5 pounds that this bag is over?” She shrugged her shoulders and nodded her head to which I said something very elegant and Christ-like, “Well that’s just DUMB.”
After getting things settled with the checked bag we went on inside to go through security. The long story short of my security frustrations has to do with liquids and the places they can and can’t be carried or consumed. I had to dump out my water bottle before going through security and once through security there was no place to fill my water bottle. I could, of course, purchase a bottle of water at an exorbitant price. My frustrations mounted.
As we boarded the plane I told myself I wanted to have a better attitude, to snap out of the funk I was in. Then I got into a very confined space with my squirmy, loud, rebellious, and ornery toddler who spent the better part of the next four hours doing all of the toddler things that she does oh so well. For most of the flight I found myself frustrated and wishing that she would just go to sleep or sit still or be quiet and I kept playing through the frustrations of the morning. Again, I’m not particularly proud of any of this, but it is the reality of where I was last Thursday as we traveled west.
Now, in hindsight, I wish I could tell you a different story. I wish I could tell you a story about the fun conversation that Heather and I had and the way in which we joked around with one another as we packed late into the night on that Wednesday enjoying the first leisurely night of our vacation.
I wish I could tell you a story about our fun drive to the airport watching the sun rise and singing songs together as a family. I wish I could tell you a story about the nice lady who waived the excess baggage fee at the airport. I wish I could tell you the story about friendly TSA agent who helped Hannah get through security with ease. I wish I could tell you the story about the good cup of coffee I bought once we got through security. I wish I could tell you the wonderful story of the miracle of air flight that allowed my family to travel thousands of miles in just a few hours to be with my sister for her wedding. I wish could tell you the story about the pure joy and curiosity and energy of my toddler as she flew in a big girl seat. I wish I could tell you the story about how good she really was on that flight.
And you see I could tell you all of those stories, because all of those things happened. But at the same time, I can’t tell you those stories because I was too busy being frustrated and existing in my own little funk that I couldn’t even experience those wonderful and joy filled stories as they were happening.
Today, on this Sunday before Thanksgiving, it is right that we talk about gratitude and thanksgiving. I don’t, however, want to focus too much on what I might call a Norman Rockwellesque Thanksgiving. Or maybe the contemporary version of that would be a Martha Stewart Thanksgiving. I don’t know about you, but I won’t sit down at a table that looks like that this week…
We do, of course, have an incredible amount to be grateful for living in this community in this country in this time. And while it is important to acknowledge our gratitude for all of these things, there is a reality that transcends each of these things; a reality that is far greater than any other for which we are called to be grateful.
This morning’s scripture reading is lengthier than we might typically read in worship, but I thought it important to look at the whole of this text this morning for the way in which it builds a case for living lives of gratitude as people who seek to follow in the way of Jesus. There is a gratitude founded in our relationship with God and the love that God has and does express to us. Let’s take a couple of minutes now to dig in to this text and look at three different sections as we talk about living lives of thanks.
Twice in the first four verses of this passage the author makes a statement about where our focus should be as we seek to follow and to live in relationship with Christ. The author states that we should, “seek the things that are above” and that we should “set [our] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” So what might this mean?
Throughout Christian history there have been times when these sentiments were interpreted to be about a “pie in the sky when you die” theology. The idea that we are to focus on the next life and on things above has often been emphasized to the detriment of care for things here and now in this life.
To read the text in such a way misses an important part of what Christ is about and of what we are to be about as we do Christ’s work in the world. Christ’s life and teaching and resurrection were centered on the idea of reconciliation. To focus on things above, means to focus on reconciliation, in this life as well as in the life that is to come. This is the first of the key themes to pull from this text – life with Christ is a life focused on reconciliation with God and with others both in this life and the life that is to come.
As we seek to be reconciled to God and to others the next piece of this text, verses 5-11, talks about the importance of putting to death the old ways. There are two statements that illustrate well the gist of this: 5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). And “8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.”
Often these lists of prohibitions are overly simplified and become nothing more than empty moral prescriptions. I think particularly of the idea that we are to get rid of anger. Is it always helpful to get rid of anger? Simply for the sake of getting rid of anger? Let’s not lose sight of the first point made a few minutes ago, that our primary objective as Christians is to be reconciled with God and with others. If reconciliation is the ultimate goal, how might that frame our conversation about anger (and these other related prohibitions…)? Let’s unpack that just a little bit.
Being angry to the point where you refuse to forgive your parent or your child or your spouse or sibling can be problematic. If we hold on to anger to the degree that reconciliation is not possible because of our anger and our refusal to forgive then this can create a barrier to Christ’s work to reconciliation.
However, anger, what we might sometimes refer to as righteous anger can be a good thing – if a person learns of the poverty and hunger and disease and injustice throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa and then begins to feel angry and then take action to sponsor a child, their anger can be a part of Christ’s work for reconciliation. I believe that the call to set aside these earthly things as we focus on those things above is really a call to set aside those things that separate us from God and keep us from experiencing reconciliation.
Finally, the closing verses of this passage, verses 12-17, words that are amongst my favorite from scripture. Here there are instructions for how we are to live as we seek to follow Christ. “…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you…” and then in closing, “…whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
As we seek to live lives reconciled with God and with one another I believe this last verse is key, “…whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
We are to forgive one another and to live reconciled relationships just as we have been forgiven and offered reconciliation with God. And we are to do all of this in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God.
I want my life to tell a story of gratitude, not a story of frustration. I want my life to tell a story that is grateful for God’s unconditional love, not bogged down in and consumed by the petty inconveniences of life. I want my life to tell a story that exhibits reconciliation with God and with others. And so I am thankful for late nights and early mornings. I am thankful for airlines and security requirements. I am grateful for toddlers and their energy. I am grateful for today and tomorrow and all of the opportunities that exist to live gratitude and thanks better than I did last Thursday morning on my way to Seattle.
A couple of years ago now a movement of sorts was started to encourage people to really live thanks and to be aware of their blessings and to celebrate them. As we close this morning I want to share a video with you that was put together following this project.
Your life is telling a story. I invite you to be intentional about what story you choose to tell. I invite you this Thanksgiving season and always to be thankful for the gift of Christ’s love and the opportunities that it presents for reconciliation with our God and with one another.