Sermon Options: August 4, 2019

April 13th, 2019

HEAVENLY LOVE FOR A HELLISH WORLD 

COLOSSIANS 3:1-11

Having established in chapters 1 and 2 that we are brothers and sisters with Christ and members of the family of God, Paul uses the third chapter to exhort the Colossian Christians to live up to their namesake.

The world makes much of the tension in which we live between the heavenly and the hellish. A popular country song several years ago was entitled, "Heaven's Just a Sin Away." The Righteous Brothers comeback record was, "If There's a Rock-and-Roll Heaven, It's Got to Have a Hell of a Band." St. Sinner's Restaurant in a southern resort town advertised its homemade ice cream as "sinfully delicious." Its logo was a monk in a robe. Hanging out the rear of the robe was a pointed tail. How many cartoons or commercials come to mind picturing a perplexed man or woman at a crucial decision-making crossroad with a tiny angel perched on one shoulder and a tiny demon on the other? Life, art, and advertising confess the tension in which we live, the tension between the heavenly and the hellish.

Paul counsels the Christians in Colossae that they can no longer be satisfied to remain in such tension. Like Joshua of old, he challenges: "Choose this day whom you will serve" ( Josh. 24:15) . Those new Christians are members of God's family. They are witnesses in a pagan world, called to be converting examples of a radically new lifestyle. No more fence-sitting for them.

Here, said Paul, is how the world does business. "Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry) . . . anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another" (vv. 5-9). If that style of living remains our modus operandi, then what chance is there the world will journey in our direction? The truth is, it has already made the journey to "impurity, evil desire" and so on. Instead, to win persons to God's family we must provide a visible alternative, a new way of doing business with one another.

So, Paul suggests an optional list of behavior choices: "compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, . . . forgive each other just as the Lord has forgiven you. . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (vv. 12-14). Effective evangelism is not so much dogma as it is charity. Billy Graham said: "The first mark of discipleship is not orthodoxy, but love."

Addressing representatives of her denomination, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton made the statement: "We should act outside the church the way we act within it." That's pretty much what Paul was telling the Colossians. The first mark of their discipleship was to love people, to act outside their church the way they acted within it.

One-hundred-year-old Lillie Yow keeps a scrapbook by her bed. She taught Sunday school in a small southern town for sixty years. She was not politically powerful. She gained neither fortune nor fame. This doubtless marks the first time her name has appeared in print beyond the bounds of her hometown news. Week by week she simply told boys and girls about Jesus. She brought in cookies and listened to our trials and troubles (whether problems at home, at school, or in love). She laughed with us and cried with us.

We who sat in her classes do not remember many of her words, which presumably were not greatly different from so many other words directed from so many sources. What we remember is her kindness, her patience, and her obvious love for us. The scrapbook is filled with names and pictures of child after child who went on into ordained or diaconal ministry. Page after page the faces appear: missionaries, chaplains, preachers, and educators, all spending our lives in the service of Christ, church, and people, and all wearing her fingerprint upon our souls. It was not her words that so deeply influenced us but rather her great, full, abiding, unconditional love that pointed us toward a "love divine, all loves excelling."

As the hymn says: "They'll know we are Christians by our love." Show that to the world, Paul challenged. Make that the first mark of your discipleship. And little by little, a world trapped in the tension between heaven and hell may inch closer to the former, drawn onward by the converting appeal of unrelenting love. (Michael B. Brown)

WHO NEEDS BIGGER BARNS?

LUKE 12:13-21

Madeline was going to her college reunion. It would be the first time she would see her former classmates since graduation day, and she was anxious about the event. "What can I say about myself?" she asked. "I've read the alumni news column in the college magazine, with all the success stories. And look at me; I've put on a lot of weight in the last ten years. I didn't get a job in the field I prepared for. At the moment I'm not even employed. How could I be, with two toddlers at home?"

Madeline worried that she would be considered a failure, compared to classmates whose lives seemed more glamorous and affluent. Her former roommate reassured her that on the contrary, many would admire her; she had a devoted husband and healthy, lovable children. She was a good mother, a leader among the laity at church, and had plans to further her education once her daughters were older. Yet Madeline knew that a college reunion can be a "day of reckoning" of sorts. She was taking stock of her life, and wondering how she would be judged.

I. Bigger Barns Indicate Spiritual Myopia
If Madeline was overconcerned with human opinion rather than God's, the "rich fool" of the parable was concerned with no one's opinion save his own. His only point of reference was himself: his crops, his barns, his pleasure, his supposedly unlimited future. As center of his own universe, he gave no thought to ethical responsibility toward others or accountability to God.

In Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah described such an attitude as "Sheila-ism." Sheila was a woman in one of Bellah's case studies who acknowledged no external point of reference in spiritual or moral matters. She believed in "my own little voice . . . just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. You know, I guess, take care of each other." Sheila thought she was a religious, ethical person if she adhered to these internal (and entirely subjective) principles. There was no point of reckoning outside herself, no judgment from a righteous and holy God.

The bigger barns built by the rich fool and the Sheila-ism practiced by so many people today indicate spiritual myopia: failure to think beyond today and oneself. Such people may lay up treasure for themselves, but they are not rich toward God, and the consequences are grim.

II. Look to the Lord of the Harvest, Not Bigger Barns
Jesus says that a person's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. We might add that it also does not consist of an abundance of accomplishments, applause, or self-indulgence. All that we are and have ultimately belongs to God, and as stewards, we will have to give God an accounting of the use of our time and gifts and energy.

Unlike a class reunion, we have no idea when the Lord will take stock of what we have done with our lives. But it will happen to every one of us. It may be tonight. It may not be for years. To be "rich toward God," Christians must learn to think of themselves as laborers in the Master's fields, rather than private landowners answerable to no one. The harvest is Christ's, not ours, and our Lord calls us to use the resources at our disposal to help others and thus glorify him. (Carol M. Norén)

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