SEPTEMBER 16th, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
“Mail From Jail” Colossians 1:1-14; 15-23
“WHATTA YA GONNA DO?”
(look up and around as if just noticing everyone...)
So whatta ya gonna do? It's awkward at best! I mean think about it – there you are, chained to this crazy dude from Tar-pit, wherever that is! They put him on house arrest as soon as he arrived in Rome and assigned you to be his guard! So just like that, you and this Jew are like you're own little chain gang! I mean, what's with that? You didn't sign up for this, am I right?
You're thinking, what did I ever do to deserve this? I mean this guy shows up off the boat – half-starved, ship-wrecked, unshaven, unkempt, unshowered and ugly as sin and you're supposed to stay linked up with him? Yikes! What did I ever do, you wonder, to warrant this?
So, whatta ya gonna do? And mean there you are, chained to the prisoner in question, this traveling wilbury, this nut from Tar-put... (Voice from congregation): It's Paul – from Tarsus!
Uh-huh! Anyway, day after day, this Paul fellow, a reformed pharisee, or so I'm told, starts dictating letters. That makes sense. I mean what else is there to do, when you're under house arrest, other than entertain guests? And he does entertain guests. Lots of guests. It's like grand-central station over there! You know what I'm saying? It's crazy.
You recall that one guest, Epaphras, I think was his name, came to visit this guy from Tar-pit...
Whatever – and this guy, Epaphras, hugs the prisoner like they're long lost pals, and then tells him about some church he's helped plant in his home town of Collosae. It's a city over in Asia Minor near where the prisoner passed through on his third missionary trip, apparently.
Anyway, Epaphras informs the prisoner that things had been going well until just recently. Now everything is getting confused, he says. The prisoner was captivated, so to speak. He urged his friend, his scribe, Timothy, to grab quill and ink to dictate a letter.
Now normally you'd be all in favor of prisoners writing letters. It helps distract them from the certain doom that awaits. With most prisoners, that would give you a chance to relax but not with this prisoner. When he dictated letters he paced like a race-horse. Back and forth he'd pace, and being chained by the wrist, you're going with him, stride for stride, you see what I'm saying? And I'm telling you, that when he paced, that guy from Tar-pit really raced...!
Yeah – right! So whatta ya gonna do! You're going to pace back and forth too! Criminay! So you let out some slack in the chain and as he starts to dictate this letter he tells Timothy to address them as his faithful brethren – which basically means he's calling them his brothers and sisters. And you think, okay, he's dictating to his family but then as he gets going you realize that he's writing to a place he's never been, to a group of people he's never met!
“We are writing to God's holy people in the city of Colossae, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ...., for we have heard of your faith..., (how) you learned about the Good News from Epaphras, our beloved co-worker... He has told us about your love for others...” (Col 1:2,4,7-8)
He's dictating a personal letter to city of strangers – like they're his own brothers and sisters! So back and forth you go – oh, that annoying pacing – and you realize that this is no ordinary letter! His response is both eloquent and profound. Only in retrospect do you realize what you were privy to...!
At the time, you can't help but wonder why he writes such a letter to complete strangers. But now...? You can see it, can't you? As you consider it, you can see that here in the opening to this letter to his foreign family, Paul unpacks four reasons for his writing this inspired letter...
First, to connect; second, to correct; third to encourage; and fourth to elevate. Check it out...!
Paul, the prisoner from Tar-pit.... (same voice: It’s Tarsus!) You seem awfully sure of that!
Yes, him, Paul writes this letter to connect. Epaphras pleads with Paul to reach out and connect with his friends back home in Collosae. They need your help, he says. They're sinking into confusion.
It reminds me of the German coastguard who is handed a pair of headphones his first day on the job, knowing that he is the voice of connection with those in trouble at sea....
[run YouTube video, the Berlitz commercial, “What Are You Sinking About?”]
So what are you sinking about? Fortunately, as one of God's rescue workers, Paul is a bit more skilled..., and he knows the value of good communication. So he writes to connect. He refers to their mutual friend, Epaphras and of their common faith in Jesus Christ. His opening words establish his credentials, if you will. He informs them of his apostolic authority: “This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from Timothy...” (Colossians 1:1)
They know and trust Epaphras, a follower of Christ who came to faith thru Paul's ministry, and by that connection Paul establishes his authority and the means by which they can trust him, like a skilled coast guard, to navigate and shepherd them to safe harbor.
So what danger are they in? It would seem that Epaphras has brought word that there is some confusion in Collosae and that they could use some advice. Reminds me of my young friend, Calvin...
Calvin: I think our newspaper needs a new advice columnist, so I'm applying for the job.
See, I've written some sample answers to people who write in.
Hobbes: “Stop whining and get a life, Bozo.” “Don't tell ME your stupid problems. I've got
plenty of my own.” “Go soak your head, you big baby.” Want some advice? Drop dead.”
I guess that covers about everything.
Calvin: Can you imagine doing this for Money? What a racket!
(from The Days..., p. 53)
What a racket, is right! Thankfully, the advice Paul offers is a bit more sound. That brings us to the second reason Paul writes – to correct. He writes, in part, to clarify their confusion. Apparently, they are some in Collosae who are teaching an alternative and false gospel. Evidence, from within the letter, reveal that he writes to confront an early form of syncretism and gnosticism.
Syncretism combined ideas from various philosophies and religions to make a watered down version of the Christian faith. There's a rise of such thinking today as well. Whatever works for you, is the litany of this way of thinking. In Paul's day this led to the development of gnosticism. Gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge wherein it was believed that the goal of life was to accumulate 'secret knowledge' of the cosmos, a belief in which no savior was needed because we can all become gods...
So it is that Paul prays, “We ask God to give you complete knowledge of His will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding..., growing as you learn to know God better and better.”
In contrast to the gnostics, who say we compete for secret knowledge, Paul writes that complete knowledge is available to all, that God wants to be completely known as revealed in His Son, and thru that relationship comes true wisdom, by learning to know God, personally, experientially!
Colossians includes one of the only early Christian hymns, articulating the understanding of Christ as found in the opening to John's gospel: “In the beginning was the Word...” (John 1:1f) For “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God...!” In him, we come to know what is true & of God!
Knowing him, which is clearly a process, a relationship, as we learn to know God more and more, better and better, day by day, ultimately changes us in the most wonderful of ways. This is the third reason Paul writes the Colossian Christians – to encourage them and to celebrate how they them-selves, are evidence of God's plan, his will, to reclaim the world, one changed life at a time.
As noted last week, Jesus was and is a come as you are kind of Savior! He loves you exactly as you are – but loves you way too much to leave you that way, working from within, by the person and power of the Holy Spirit, to change us – to give us new longings for the things that bring life, to give us vision for living lives of deep meaning, lives reflecting the love and grace of God into others.
As Paul put it: “This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God's wonderful grace... (For) God made peace with...you who were once far away from God... As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault (due to Christ's death on the cross)”.
Whatta ya gonna do?! (Colossians 1:6, 20-22)
That's a major change, at least for me, who was once far from God, and am prone to roam, to be made so holy and blameless, as to be able to come into God's presence. Paul says this is what we have in common in Christ – that God sees us through his Jesus' filter and sees us as without a single fault. That's a major change! So you're faultless – not because you're so good – but because he is!
Realizing that God now sees you that way, wants to relate to you in that way, that you are guiltless because of his grace, his unconditional love and forgiveness, changes us! If we get that we become major dispensers of God's love and grace to those around us. That's a big change...!
That's one reason I love Alpha so much. As people open up and share with one another and begin to pursue Christ with less and less baggage, they begin to change! No wonder one of the classic Alpha books in print is a series of books called, Changed Lives! We could write a book here based on our own testimony to the same. Last week, Amy got up and shared of her and George's story.
Care to hear another? How many of you know Pete and Rebekah's story...?
I love Colossians 1 because Paul writes it, in part, to celebrate changed lives. In doing so, he seeks to encourage his siblings in faith. And fourth, he writes to elevate their faith. That is, he offers to pray over them and in putting that prayer to paper he has provided the church a model for a great prayer for us to pray over others, over one another, in the power of the Holy Spirit. I'd like to close by doing so now. I've asked a couple of others to join me as I do so. So sit back....and receive....
“We ask God to give you complete knowledge of His will...,
...and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding.
And that the way you live will always honor and please the Lord...
And as you live to please Him may your life produce every kind of good fruit...
and in so doing, may you grow up with him, learning to know God better and better!
We also pray that you will be strengthened with all God's glorious power
so you will have the endurance and the patience you need!
May you, in turn, be filled with great joy, always thanking God the Father...,
mindful that He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to His people,
those who live in the light of his truth and grace.
May you always recall how he rescued you from the kingdom of darkness and transferred you into the Kingdom of His dear Son, who purchased your freedom and forgave your sins!”
(In Jesus' name. Amen!)