Sermon Options: July 28, 2019

April 10th, 2019

CHOSEN TO BE GOD'S FAMILY

COLOSSIANS 2:6-15 (16-19)

The second chapter of Colossians reiterates a theme proposed in chapter 1: God's Spirit dwelt in Christ and Christ's Spirit is to dwell in us. "For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in him" (2:9 RSV).

"Life in him" was a powerful image to early Gentile Christians. Judaizers had sought to convince them that their only link to God was through the Law—through foreign ritual, rites, and services they did not understand. The countless laws seemed both oppressive and impossible to honor. Paul says to them that a new sign has been given, a covenant of grace, not of law. They can have "life in him" without adhering to ancient behavioral codes. "In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands" (2:11 RSV). Jesus has chosen us not because of merit but rather because of grace.

Charlotte, a second grader adopted at age four, brought home her first report card of the new year. It was less than impressive, and she feared her parents' reaction. Mom and Dad reviewed it carefully. "You could have done better," they counseled. "You should have worked harder. We want these grades to improve." Late that night Charlotte's mother heard soft cries from her daughter's room. Peeking through the door, she asked, " Honey, what's wrong?" The soft cries suddenly opened full throttle, breaking into great sobs. After Charlotte had been sufficiently cradled and calmed, her mother asked again, "What's wrong?" The little girl replied, "I don't want to live somewhere else."

Inquiry established that Charlotte feared she had so disappointed her parents, so miserably failed to achieve their expectations, that her contract as daughter would be canceled and she would be sent to a different home. Through tears of her own, Charlotte's mom said, "Sweetheart, we are family. We will always be family. And family doesn't depend on making straight A's."

So said Paul about life in Christ. We are his family not because we have earned that status but rather because his heavenly Father has chosen us (adopted us, ancient theologians said) to be brothers and sisters with Christ. We have been given the family name ("Christian"), and family doesn't depend on making straight A's. Such is the reality of grace.

In truth, Paul tells the Colossians that circumcision (the sign of obedience to the Law) has been replaced by a greater sign. "You were buried with him in baptism" (v. 12). Baptism is the Christian's sign of covenant. We belong to God's family by God's choice, not by our merit. It is not a profession of faith that gives us status as part of the Christian household. It is God's parental adoption of us as sons and daughters, even before we can call God's name.

Several years ago, I witnessed William Sloane Coffin baptize an infant at Riverside Church in New York City. After administering the water and reading the liturgy, Coffin held the baby in full view of the congregation and said: "This is our most visible reminder of the New Testament words, 'We love God because he first loved us' " (1 John 4:19) . Baptism is our sign of being chosen. We no longer bear an emblem of having earned our place in the family. God freely chose us as God's own. Baptism has replaced circumcision.

To the new members of the family, Paul writes: "You, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses" (2:13 RSV). God's offer of gracious acceptance includes forgiveness. Again, we do not have to make the grade to earn our place in the family. We are loved not because of our merits but in spite of our iniquities. And though our report cards may leave much to be desired, the Parent does not expel us from the family. We are instead cradled and comforted, then gently counseled to learn from past mistakes in order to improve our performance in the great classroom of life. (Michael B. Brown)

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE?

LUKE 11:1-13

One myth of the Cold War period that I remember vividly was the story of how Communists were training the children of the Soviet Union to be atheists. According to the legend, they would instruct children in school to try praying to God for candy. Of course, after the "amen" no candy had miraculously appeared on their desks. Then the children were told to try praying to Lenin, and, as you might guess, the teacher would put candy on each child's desk while eyes were closed and heads bowed. This was alleged to "prove" the nonexistence of God and the godlike qualities of Lenin.

The story aroused the indignation of Westerners each time it was told. Imagine manipulating children this way; what a cheap trick! Whether or not the myth was based on a real event, its influence touched the lives of Christians in a way atheists did not expect. Christians reacted against the presupposition of the training; they knew that God is not a celestial Santa Claus who brings candy or toys simply because people decide to put him to the test.

I. We Don't Ask for Much
Unfortunately, many Christians today don't expect much of God. Not only do they not pray for candy; they also don't pray for healing, for forgiveness, for conviction, for their daily needs, or for the spiritual gifts necessary to do the work of Christ in the world.

An adult Sunday school class was studying the phenomenon of divine healing. Several class members were troubled by it, saying, "Then why doesn't God heal everyone? I have problems with a God who cures some people and lets others die." The pastor of that church would pray for God's presence to "surround" the sick and comfort them, but not for healing per se. When a leader of the congregation was miraculously healed of cancer, they looked frantically for a medical explanation. It seemed they didn't believe God could do anything more than Lenin or another human being could.

II. What to Ask and How to Ask It
It is dishonest to dress up our prayers in elaborate, socially or politically correct language rather than addressing God truthfully, openly. When a loved one is ill, we want healing. When we are hungry, we want bread. When we are weak, we want strength. Our Lord knows the frivolity of "candy prayers," but God also knows the real needs and desires of our hearts. Jesus taught the disciples to pray with the honesty and vulnerability of children, addressing God as Father and acknowledging the need for daily bread.

Christ promises that if we ask, seek, and knock, God will hear us, answer our prayers, and give us his Holy Spirit. Paul reminded the Philippian church that God is able to supply every need of ours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19) , and the book of James observes that "you do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions" (James 4:2 b-3 RSV).

The Bible tells us there is no such thing as unanswered prayer, but sometimes God has a better thing for us than we ask. As the children's prayer reminds us, "God is great. God is good." Do we believe that enough to pray with the confidence of children? God delights in giving good gifts to those who come to him, whatever hour of the day or night. (Carol M. Norén)

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