Sermon Options: July 14, 2019

April 7th, 2019

BLESSED ENCOURAGEMENT AND ASSURANCE

COLOSSIANS 1:1-14

Letters like this remind us what a powerful medium letter writing can be. These opening lines of the letter to the Colossians summarize its mission to encourage and reassure the believers in this young congregation. Knowing the slippage, confusion, and temptations young (and all) churches are prone to, Paul sends out this anchor of blessed remembrance and hope to help them hold fast to the promise planted in them.

The climax of the "staying" and "growing" power in this little missive is the assurance of forgiveness; the ultimate redemption of all losses. And over everything is the mantle of prayer with which Paul so generously attends to their coverage, building them up and sustaining them there—always thanking God for their faith, hope, and love, "we have not ceased praying for you" (v. 9).

I. Personal Salvation History
Paul lifts up their teacher, Epaphras, who not only shared the gospel with them, but also told him about their growth in love. Paul is ardent in his concern and prayers that they continue to grow and bear fruit, as he reminds them that the gospel is also growing throughout the Roman Empire. They are not alone. The unspoken earnest desire is that the seeds of goodness planted in them will not have been nurtured there in vain.

This enduring pastoral concern is nicely rendered by a story in which all church people will hear the "ring" of truth. Three ministers all had terrible problems with bats in their church belfries. The first one trapped the bats, took them far away in his car and let them go in a forest preserve. But in just a few days they were all back. The second pastor piped them away with his flute. They followed him as far as he could walk for three days. But when he stopped, they all flew back and were at his church again before he was. The third minister told the others that he had found the solution. "I just baptized or confirmed them all," he said, "and I haven't seen them since!"

Paul reminds his fledglings of their personal relationship to the one who brought them to the faith, knowing how powerful those bonds can be in helping them to keep the faith. Everyone has their "embodiments" of the faith, hope, and love of Christ in persons who have brought these to life for them. Recalling and sharing these puts the metal back into the beam.

II. Present Safe Passage
"Look at the resources you have!" Paul says. The Colossians have received "the word of the truth" (v. 5). Just allowing this to be present in their awareness will result in its growth and bearing of fruit among them. They have "love in the Spirit" (v. 8). What a blessing it is to be reminded of our assets! How it can strengthen and even make real for us those qualities that others "see" in us—good or ill! Here Paul reinforces the goodness of the community as he recounts and celebrates its graces.

He is also invoking "spiritual wisdom and understanding" (v. 9) on the wings of prayer for their discerning of God's will. Add to all this the strength of God's "glorious power" (v. 11), and we might imagine that such an outpouring of gifts and graces would have them feeling by this point very strong indeed. This will enable them to have the patience and spirit of thanksgiving in everything that Paul knows they will also need.

III. Endless Assurance
There will be no shortfalls in the retirement insurance for the community of faith. The hope is "laid up for you in heaven" (v. 5). God has already "transferred us into the kingdom" (v. 13). It's a done deal. They are safely insured with the ultimate pension plan in place for an unlimited time. Fortunately, everything in this letter is for us, too. (Kathleen Peterson)

NO SERIOUSLY—WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?

LUKE 10:25-37

In Austin during the summer of 1996, a female college student from the University of Texas was walking home from class when she was suddenly attacked. The assault occurred in broad daylight on the sidewalk of a main thoroughfare adjacent to the campus. As the assailant began to rape her, people gathered along the opposite side of the street to watch. No one tried to stop the attack. No one called for help. They just stood in silence, watching the brutal crime. Finally, a twelve-year-old boy ran to a public phone and dialed 911. Fifteen minutes into the attack, the police arrested the rapist. One investigator noted that at least fifty people witnessed the scene, but refused to aid the victim.

As American morality continues its downward spiral perpetuated by selfishness, materialism, and the survival of the fittest, the story of the good Samaritan sounds a wake-up call to contemporary Christians caught in the trend. Jesus reminds would-be disciples that Christ-centered compassion extends beyond one's comfort zone and requires a degree of risk. For Christians, the circle of concern should include all people. To broaden this circle, believers must follow three steps.

I. Overcome Restricted Love
The legal expert asked Jesus a very pertinent question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" But he already knew what needed to be done: love God with your entire being, and love your neighbor as yourself. And like a child who only wants to fulfill the minimal requirement of his chore, this legalist sought to validate his interpretation. He wanted to justify the number of people he comfortably placed within his circle of concern.

Yet, Christ shatters restricted love by telling how the good Samaritan exhibited inclusive compassion. The Samaritan did not know the victim: his nationality, his occupation, his income, his religion, his education, or his diseases. He merely saw someone in need, took pity on him, and provided for his restoration.

The first step in broadening one's circle of concern is to view people with the eyes of Christ; to see them as human beings in need. Not only when someone is brutally victimized, but also when they are lonely, alienated, or hurting on the inside.

II. Use Personal Resources to Provide Restoration
The second step is the toughest of all. Merely recognizing a person in need is not enough. One must do something about it.

Unfortunately, many Christians pattern their behavior after the priest and the Levite. They "practice" religion when it is convenient, like shouting "amen" to the preacher's sermon, but when Monday comes they neglect obvious needs and pass by on the other side.

Jesus noted the cost of compassion. The Samaritan relinquished his time, medicine, transportation, and money, as well as the promised follow-up visit to reimburse the innkeeper. In addition, the Samaritan risked his reputation (religious defilement) by touching a bloody body; his safety, because it could have been a trap or the robbers might still have been in the area; and his health, because the man might have had a contagious disease. Despite the price, the Samaritan used his personal resources to provide total restoration without expecting anything in return.

III. Start Asking the Right Question
The final step in broadening one's circle of concern is to start asking the right question. At the conclusion of the story, Jesus asked the legal expert which man acted like a neighbor to the victim. In other words, he was trying to show the legalist that his focus should not be on who qualifies for love. Instead, Christians must analyze their own lives to see how they measure up to the example of Christ.

In the midst of society's oppression and despair, believers must stop rationalizing their inactivity and start applying the mercy of God. God so loved the world that he did something about it; he gave his one and only Son for the sins of humanity. Unfortunately for the church, too many disciples are still stuck in the legalist rut. Christ's answer is the same, "Go and do likewise." But when confronted by the cost and the risk, they turn to Jesus and ask, "No seriously—who is my neighbor?" (Craig C. Christina)

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