Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
It has been said that the two most important things parents can give their children are roots and wings. Mixed metaphors, we might say, but useful for explaining our desire that our children are well prepared for the rigors of life. For Christian parents, “roots” certainly means relationship with God through Christ and the child’s firm knowledge that he or she is loved, as well as values, education, self-esteem and confidence. “Wings” represents something like the ability or the power to live life in its fullness, with joy and satisfaction, despite life’s difficult surprises.
Perhaps the Apostle Paul is feeling a bit fatherly towards the Colossian Christians as he pens this letter, seemingly giving them roots and wings for the living of their lives. It’s important to know that Paul uses the language of tradition when he tells the Colossians that they have “received” Christ. The verb expresses the sense of passing the tradition on to the next generation. It translates the Hebrew verb for handing on of the oral law. So Paul is saying that “…the Colossians have received Christ Himself as their tradition.” In other words, Christ is the tradition above all traditions. (F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmanns Publishing], pp. 226-227).
Paul, of course, is the master of mixed metaphors, and so when he continues to write about the roots he has instilled in his “children,” he speaks of being rooted and the construction of a building in the same breath. To this he adds the idea of stability, which could apply to either metaphor. The point is that they are dynamic and powerful words, assuring Paul’s readers that their roots grow deep and strong. Christ is the source of life, providing nourishment. In Christ, they have the power to live life fully and to experience vigorous and joyful growth. In one sentence, Paul tells his readers that they are stronger than they think they are, and that they have both roots and wings. They are fully prepared to live the Christian life.
Then comes the warning. Perhaps someone of the community has walked into the church kitchen and heard the Colossian Christians gossiping and then written to Paul about their conversation. They are buzzing about the exciting new Bible teacher who has come into town—the one who is teaching some “new form” of faith. Here it is not the metaphors that are mixed, but the teachings of some person or persons—some sort of mixture of human or Jewish traditions, along with philosophies, asceticism and angel worship. Whatever this teaching is, Paul warns the Colossians not to take it lightly. It is dangerous, and it can weave a web of deceit and before they know it they will be trapped, kidnapped by its power.
Paul reminds them that they don’t have to go along with this teaching. Sounding almost Johannine, he assures his readers of Christ’s deity, and tells them once again what the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the fact that they are forgiven, means to them. In Christ, they have fullness of life, and they are alive with the power that raised Jesus from the dead. On the cross, Christ has triumphed over evil spirits and powers. The Colossian Christians, risen in Christ, have that same power to triumph over any spirits or powers that threaten them.
One wonders if the readers of Paul’s letter were left with the question that arises in the minds of people today–the issue of theodicy. That question hovers over the passage for us. If Christ has conquered the “elemental spirits of the universe”—if, on the Cross, Christ has triumphed over evil spirits and the powers that seek to ensnare human beings and to wrap us like the proverbial fly in the spider’s web, then why did Paul need to write to his “children” to remind them of their roots and wings? And, why are we left with the same question that perhaps some of them asked: “Why is evil still present in our world? Didn’t Christ’s death mean anything, if these powers can make our lives miserable?”
The Apostle Paul doesn’t answer that question, and neither does the Bible. We just don’t know why there are spirits or forces that oppose us and make our life difficult.
We can do something about it, however. We can help our people to “translate” Paul’s words into modern life, and to identify the ways these forces masquerade themselves now.
We don’t have far to look to understand that “traditions of human beings” hang out in the church halls quite regularly. How many church kitchens are “Mary’s kitchen” or “Jane’s kitchen”? How many old pianos cannot be given away because “so and so” gave it to the church in honor of his brother? The existence of denominationalism witnesses to different traditions in celebrating the sacraments and even less important things.
Certainly, the philosophies are present at the costume party in the church today, also. Now they adorn themselves with a spirit of rigidity—a spirit that insists upon being right. We get caught up into the webs of these philosophies when we start believing, and then, insisting, that only we, and those who think like us, are Christians.
The powers of evil are present in our churches and in our world when we make deals, or even go along with a deal that someone else has made—not with angelic spirits, but with the forces of society and cultures—so that some people in some countries live under systems of injustice and poverty, while others have plenty.
Sometimes the spirits disguise themselves as one of the “isms” of our culture or our world: materialism and consumerism are forces which can spin us into their web and wrap us up into ourselves until we have become nothing but a bundle of “needs,” so that no one else really counts to us. Spirits like sexism and ageism, along with the spirit of pride, take us captive to the point that we feel free to lord it over others, leading to abuse and violence in our own homes.
Yet another way the hostile spirits trap us and tie us up into knots is by luring us with the desire to please others. We can get so beaten down when someone criticizes us that we fall into the web of low self-esteem and self-degradation, and sometimes we become paralyzed with the poisonous, and false, belief, that we are weak and powerless.
The Colossian Christians had nothing on us when it comes to evil spirits and powers lurking under every rock and behind every tree. We are threatened daily and powerfully by a multitude of masked marauders, luring us into their webs and doing everything in their power to get our attention off Christ. Therein lies the danger. Quite often we don’t recognize the forces as dangerous, because they masquerade themselves in clever ways. What looks like a little flirting with the powers that be is truly like being in a spider’s web? The spider turns upon us and swallows our allegiance to Christ, and with it, our personhood.
Paul would say the same thing to us that he wrote to the Colossians: “Life in Christ is not for wimps. You are not powerless against these forces. You have roots, and you have wings. Use them.”
We, as pastors, can help people internalize the fact that they are stronger than they think they are. We not only can help them to see how these forces masquerade themselves, we can also gently help them to understand when they themselves are taken captive by some spirit. We can intervene in a church meeting and help members find healthy ways to deal with the “traditions of human beings.” We can educate about the injustice of our world, and call people to look to God for justice and righteousness. We can be sensitive to the person who is trapped in the web of domestic violence and offer ways for both the abused and the abuser to unwrap the web. We can teach how to treat each other with the dignity and respect that befits human beings created in the image of God. We can model for them a life that doesn’t please everyone no matter what. We can also help people to look for God and God’s work in the midst of whatever it is that traps them.
We can do what the Apostle Paul did, and help our congregational members turn their attention back to Christ. We can see beyond whatever it is that traps them and help them loosen the sticky webs from around themselves when we encourage them to see who they are in Christ. With good teaching, we can help to sink their roots ever more deeply into Christ, until they stand like mighty trees, stable and strong against evil forces. We can preach Christ crucified and risen.
These verses have a long history of interpretation starting with John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (347-407). This wonderful church father wrote: Rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Paul again takes hold on them beforehand with their own testimony, saying, As ye have therefore received. We introduce no strange addition, he saith, therefore neither do ye. Walk ye in Him, for He is the Way that leadeth to the Father: not in the Angels; this way leadeth not thither. Rooted, that is, fixed; not one while going this, another, that, but rooted: but that which is rooted, never can remove. Observe how appropriate are the expressions he employs. For the faith is in truth a building; and needs both a strong foundation, and secure construction. For both if any one build not upon a secure foundation it will shake, and even though he does, if it be not firm, it will not stand. (John Henry Parker; J. G. F. and J. Rivington. The Homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Epistles of St. Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians [1843, Oxford; London] p246–248)
This is a summons to grow in Christ. It immediately reminds us that the building up of young Christians was a major concern of the apostles. This may be partly hidden by the slightly old-fashioned ‘edify’ and ‘edification’ of the older translations.
Yet the idea of building adequately and firmly on the foundation of Christ is a vivid and important one in the New Testament. We are to make the building up of one another our chief concern. For Paul, many questions can be decided by the simple rule, ‘Let all things be done for edification.’12
So, there is no doubt that Paul has little patience with a constant laying again of foundations, spoken of in Hebrews 6:1. He calls for the Christian, once ‘rooted in Christ’ (a perfect participle), to ‘be built up in Christ’ (a present participle).
Even the metaphor used suggests that conversion is only a beginning. (Incidentally Paul may not be mixing his metaphors here, since the word ‘rooted’ was also used in his day for sinking the foundations of buildings: but in any case, metaphorical language in common use soon tends to lose its distinctive figurative meaning). We hardly bury a seed, or bulb, in the soil hoping to see the last of it. And the mark of gospel seed has always been vigorous growth.
This time the balancing truth is that, as the rooting was ‘in Christ’, so the growing must also be ‘in him’. According to Paul we cannot find (and therefore should not seek) a different element in which to grow than that in which we were planted.
We are called to take this much more seriously than we do. To be ‘in Christ’ is to occupy the richest position that can be ours this side of heaven. We ought to think very carefully before claiming that no growth to full maturity for the young convert is likely, or even possible, unless he is transplanted into some richer soil. For example, we must ask our catholic friend whether or not he believes that full salvation and security can belong only to those who enjoy the sacramental life of his church under the guidance and authority of the Roman See. Similarly, we must ask our Pentecostal friend how he can justify the claim that while baptism into Christ gives life, a distinct baptism in the Spirit is necessary for full vigor and fruitfulness of spiritual experience.
If it is in Christ, and in Christ alone, that all treasures are to be found, are such friends asking us to believe that this Christ cannot be fully enjoyed and known except in circles where their own peculiar (in the sense of special) doctrines are accepted and taught? History knows no church, however rich in achievements, no group of Christians, however blessed, who can hold Christ within their own borders, and therefore demand submission to their authority or teaching as the price of full incorporation into the deep things of God.(Lucas, R. C. Fullness & Freedom: The Message Of Colossians & Philemon [1980, Downers Grove, IL] p 86–92)
The Poison against which Paul warns the Colossians is plainly described in our first verse, the terms of which may require a brief comment. “Take heed lest there shall be.” The construction implies that it is a real and not a hypothetical danger which he sees threatening. He is not crying “wolf” before there is need.
“Any one”—perhaps the tone of the warning would be better conveyed if we read the more familiar “somebody”; as if he had said—“I name no names—it is not the persons, but the principles that I fight against—but you know whom I mean well enough. Let him be anonymous, you understand who it is.” Perhaps there was even a single “somebody” who was the center of the mischief.
“That makes spoil of you.” Such is the full meaning of the word—and not “injure” or “rob,” which the translation in the Authorized Version suggests to an English reader. Paul sees the converts in Colossian taken prisoners and led away with a cord round their necks, like the long strings of captives on the Assyrian monuments. He had spoken in the previous chapter (ver. 13) of the merciful conqueror who had “translated” them from the realm of darkness into a kingdom of light, and now he fears lest a robber horde, making a raid upon the peaceful colonists in their happy new homes, may sweep them away again into bondage.
The instrument which the man-stealer uses, or perhaps we may say, the cord, whose fatal noose will be tightened round them, if they do not take care, is “philosophy and vain deceit.” If Paul had been writing in English, he would have put “philosophy” in inverted commas, to show that he was quoting the heretical teachers’ own name for their system, if system it may be called, which was really a chaos. For the true love of wisdom, for any honest, humble attempt to seek after her as hid treasure, neither Paul nor Paul’s Master has anything but praise and sympathy and help. Where he met real, however imperfect, searchers after truth, he strove to find points of contact between them and his message, and to present the gospel as the answer to their questionings, the declaration of that which they were groping to find. The thing spoken of here has no resemblance but in name to what the Greeks in their better days first called philosophy, and nothing but that mere verbal coincidence warrants the representation—often made both by narrow-minded Christians, and by unbelieving thinkers—that Christianity takes up a position of antagonism or suspicion to it.
The form of the expression in the original shows clearly that “vain deceit,” or more literally “empty deceit,” describes the “philosophy” which Paul is bidding them beware of. They are not two things, but one. It is like a blown bladder, full of wind, and nothing else. In its lofty pretensions, and if we take its own account of itself, it is a love of and search after wisdom; but if we look at it more closely, it is a swollen nothing, empty and a fraud. This is what he is condemning. The genuine thing he has nothing to say about here.
He goes on to describe more closely this impostor, masquerading in the philosopher’s cloak. It is “after the traditions of men.” We have seen in a former chapter what a strange heterogeneous conglomerate of Jewish ceremonial and Oriental dreams the false teachers in Colossae were preaching. Probably both these elements are included here. It is significant that the very expression, “the traditions of men,” is a word of Christ’s, applied to the Pharisees, whom He charges with “leaving the commandment of God, and holding fast the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). The portentous undergrowth of such “traditions” which, like the riotous fertility of creepers in a tropical forest, smother and kill the trees round which they twine, is preserved for our wonder and warning in the Talmud, where for thousands and thousands of pages, we get nothing but Rabbi So and So said this, but Rabbi So and So said that; until we feel stifled, and long for one Divine Word to still all the babble.
The lesson is as needful to-day as ever. The special forms of men’s traditions in question here have long since fallen silent and trouble no man anymore. But the tendency to give heed to human teachers and to suffer them to come between us and Christ is deep in us all. There is at one extreme the man who believes, in no revelation from God, and, smiling at us Christians who accept Christ’s words as final and Himself as the Incarnate truth, often pays to his chosen human teacher a deference as absolute as that which he regards as superstition, when we render it to our Lord. At the other extremity are the Christians who will not let Christ and the Scripture speak to the soul, unless the Church be present at the interview, like a jailor, with a bunch of man-made creeds jingling at its belt.
Every man carries a rationalist and a traditionalist under his skin. Every Church in Christendom, whether it has a formal creed or no, is ruled as to its belief and practice, to a sad extent, by the “traditions of the elders.” The “freest” of the Nonconformist Churches, untrammeled by any formal confession, may be bound with as tight fetters, and be as much dominated by men’s opinions, as if it had the straightest of creeds. The mass of our religious beliefs and practices has ever to be verified, corrected, and remodeled, by harking back from creeds, written or unwritten, to the one Teacher, the endless significance of Whose person and work is but expressed in fragments by the purest and widest thoughts even of those who have lived nearest to Him, and seen most of His beauty. Let us get away from men, from the Babel of opinions and the strife of tongues, that we may “hear the words of His mouth”! Let us take heed of the empty fraud which lays the absurd snare for our feet, that we can learn to know God by any means but by listening to His own speech in His Eternal Word, lest it lead us away captive out of the Kingdom of the Light! Let us go up to the pure spring on the mountain top, and not try to slake our thirst at the muddy pools at its base! “Ye are Christ’s, be not the slaves of men,” “This is My beloved Son, hear ye Him.”
Another mark of this empty pretense of wisdom which threatens to captivate the Colossians is, that it is “after the rudiments of the world.” The word rendered “rudiments” means the letters of the alphabet, and hence comes naturally to acquire the meaning of “elements,” or “first principles,” just as we speak of the A B C of a science. The application of such a designation to the false teaching is, like the appropriation of the term “mystery” to the gospel, an instance of turning the tables and giving back the teachers their own words. They boasted of mysterious doctrines reserved for the initiated, of which the plain truths that Paul preached were but the elements, and they looked down contemptuously on his message as “milk for babes.” Paul retorts on them, asserting that the true mystery, the profound truth long hidden and revealed, is the word which he preached, and that the poverty-stricken elements, fit only for infants, are in that swelling inanity which called itself wisdom and was not.
Another area is the gratification of taste, and the excitation of aesthetic sensibility, which are the results of such aids to worship, are not worship, however they may be mistaken for such. All ceremonial is in danger of becoming opaque instead of transparent, as it was meant to be, and of detaining mind and eye instead of letting them pass on and up to God. Stained glass is lovely, and white windows are “barnlike,” and “starved,” and “bare”; but perhaps, if the object is to get light and to see the sun, these solemn purples and glowing yellows are rather in the way. I for my part believe that of the two extremes, a Quaker meeting is nearer the ideal of Christian worship than High Mass, and so far as my feeble voice can reach, I would urge, as eminently a lesson for the day, Paul’s great principle here, that a Christianity making much of forms and ceremonies is a distinct retrogression and descent. You are men in Christ, do not go back to the picture book A B C of symbol and ceremony, which was fit for babes. You have been brought in to the inner sanctuary of worship in spirit; do not decline to the beggarly elements of outward form.
Paul sums up his indictment in one damning clause, the result of the two preceding. If the heresy has no higher source than men’s traditions, and no more solid contents than ceremonial observances, it cannot be “after Christ.” He is neither its origin, nor its substance, nor its rule and standard.
From all such thoughts Paul would have us draw the conclusion—how foolish, then, it must be to go to any other source for the supply of our needs! Christ is “the head of all principality and power,” he adds, with a reference to the doctrine of angel mediators, which evidently played a great part in the heretical teaching. If He is sovereign head of all dignity and power on earth and heaven, why go to the ministers, when we have access to the King; or have recourse to erring human teachers, when we have the Eternal Word to enlighten us; or flee to creatures to replenish our emptiness, when we may draw from the depths of God in Christ? Why should we go on a weary search after goodly pearls when the richest of all is by us, if we will have it? Do we seek to know God? Let us behold Christ, and let men talk as they list. De we crave a stay for our spirit, guidance and impulse for our lives? Let us cleave to Christ, and we shall be no lonelier and more bewildered. Do we need a quieting balm to be laid on conscience, and the sense of guilt to be lifted from our hearts? Let us lay our hands-on Christ, the one sacrifice, and leave all other altars and priests and ceremonies. Do we look longingly for some light on the future? Let us steadfastly gaze on Christ as He rises to heaven bearing a human body into the glory of God!
All we need is in Christ. Let us lift our eyes from the low earth and all creatures, and behold “no man anymore,” as Lord and Helper, “save Jesus only,” “that we may be filled with all the fulness of God. (Maclaren, A. The Epistles of St. Paul to the Colossians and Philemon. In W. Robertson Nicoll (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible: Ephesians to Revelation [1903, Hartford, CT] Vol. 6, pp 235–239)
Starting off with the idea of mixed metaphors is a wonderful way to get your listeners attention. It is a light start to a very deep subject. The subject is being rooted in the life of Christ. It is all about building your life around the life and teachings and spirit of Christ the Son of God. That is a hard way to live. It is so easy even in our church life not to live our life in Christ.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
As defined in our glossary, a mixed metaphor is a succession of incongruous or ludicrous comparisons. When two or more metaphors (or clichés) are jumbled together, often illogically, we say that these comparisons are "mixed."
In "Garner's Modern American Usage", Bryan A. Garner offers this classic example of a mixed metaphor from a speech by Boyle Roche in the Irish Parliament:
"Mr. Speaker, I smell a rat. I see him floating in the air. But mark me, sir, I will nip him in the bud."
This sort of mixed metaphor may occur when a speaker is so familiar with the figurative sense of a phrase ("smell a rat," "nip in the bud") that he fails to recognize the absurdity that results from a literal reading.
Now and then a writer may deliberately introduce mixed metaphors as a way of exploring an idea. Consider this example from British journalist Lynne Truss:
"Well, if punctuation is the stitching of language, language comes apart, obviously, and all the buttons fall off. If punctuation provides the traffic signals, words bang into each other and everyone ends up in Minehead. If one can bear for a moment to think of punctuation marks as those invisibly beneficent fairies (I'm sorry), our poor deprived language goes parched and pillow less to bed. And if you take the courtesy analogy, a sentence no longer holds the door open for you to walk in, but drops it in your face as you approach."
Some readers may be amused by this sort of metaphorical mix; others may find it tiresomely twee.
In most cases, mixed metaphors are accidental, and the haphazard juxtaposition of images is likely to be more comical or perplexing than revealing. So stick these examples in your pipe and chew them over.
So now what we are dealing with is the rubber meeting the road, and instead of biting the bullet on these issues, we just want to punt."
"[T]he bill is mostly a stew of spending on existing programs, whatever their warts may be."
"A friend of mine, talking about the Democratic presidential candidates, tossed out a wonderful mixed metaphor: 'This is awfully weak tea to have to hang your hat on.'"
"The mayor has a heart as big as the Sahara for protecting 'his' police officers, and that is commendable. Unfortunately, he also often strips his gears by failing to engage the clutch when shifting what emanates from his brain to his mouth. The bullets he fires too often land in his own feet."
"The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been -- but the age of seamless global communication had not yet dawned."
"'I've spent a lot of time in the subways,' said Shwa. 'It's a dank and dark experience. You feel morbid. The environment contributes to the fear that develops in men and women. The moment that you walk into the bowels of the armpit of the cesspool of crime, you immediately cringe.'"
"Anyone who gets in the way of this cunning steamroller will find himself on a card-index file and then in hot -- very hot -- water."
A Pentagon staffer, complaining that efforts to reform the military have been too timid: "It's just ham-fisted salami-slicing by the bean counters."
"All at once, he was alone in this noisy hive with no place to roost."
"Top Bush hands are starting to get sweaty about where they left their fingerprints. Scapegoating the rotten apples at the bottom of the military's barrel may not be a slam-dunk escape route from accountability anymore."
"Rather than wallowing in tears, let this passionate community strike while the iron is hot. It probably won’t cost the National Park Service a single penny, will be no skin off its nose, will heal the community and it presents a golden opportunity for first-person interpretation."
"Federal Judge Susan Webber Wright stepped up to the plate and called a foul."
"[Robert D.] Kaplan keeps getting into scrapes at the keyboard. 'I wanted a visual sense of the socioeconomic stew in which Al Qaeda flourished.' You smile in admiration, as at something rare, like a triple play; it's a double mixed metaphor." (https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-mixed-metaphors-1691770)
Mixed Metaphors: A Dollar Late and a Day Short
Figures of speech use words for more than their literal meaning. There are a number of different kinds of figures of speech, including hyperbole, understatement, personification, analogies, similes, and metaphors. Today, class, our focus is on the metaphor.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two unlike things. The more familiar thing helps describe the less familiar one. Unlike their first cousins, similes, metaphors do not use the words like or as to make the comparison. “My heart is a singing bird” is an example of a metaphor. I don't want to say they lost sight of the big picture, but they have marched to a different drummer,” Victor Fortuno, the general counsel of Legal Services Corporation, said of the individual lawyer's challenges. “Whether it will upset the apple cart, I don't know.”
Like the title of this section, this passage is a mixed metaphor, a combination of images that do not work well together. It's like that old joke: “Keep your eye on the ball, your ear to the ground, your nose to the grindstone, your shoulder to the wheel: Now try to work in that position.” Here are some other mixed metaphors:
Milking the temp workers for all they were worth, the manager barked orders at them.
(The first image suggests cows; the second, dogs. That's one animal too many.)
Unless we tighten our belts, we'll sink like a stone.
(Belts and a stone? I think not.)
The fullback was a bulldozer, running up and down the field like an angel.
(Only Ali could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee; this football bulldozer can't move like an angel.)
The movie weaves a story that herds characters and readers into the same camp. (https://www.infoplease.com/language-arts/grammar-and-spelling/common-usage-dilemmas-mixed-metaphors-dollar-late-and-day-short)
For those who watch the ABC Television show the Bachelorette there was a wonderful example of clashing theologies that brought about one of the bachelor’s being asked to leave, i.e. was not give a rose. The suitor Luke who wanted to marry the Bachelorette for the season whose name is Hannah told her he could not marry her if she had already had sex with one of his rivals on the program. Luke was a born-again Christian who wanted to marry Hannah who was also a practicing Christian. However, they saw their faith very differently.
Hannah and Luke, both 24, went at it during a one-on-one date after he told her that, due to his religious beliefs, he expects her to wait until marriage to have sex. The former Miss Alabama USA reminded the import/export manager that she is a “grown woman” who can make her own decisions before telling him that she already slept with suitor Peter Weber twice in a windmill. She proceeded to send Luke home.
Their final conversation was a lot about their life in Jesus, with Parker referring to extramarital sex as a sin. "I have had sex," Brown said in one of the most quotable moments from the night. "And Jesus still loves me." While this was playing out on screen, Parker decided to dive back into it on his newly created Twitter account, prompting a back and forth that was as much about scripture as it was about shade.
"The difference in how we view sin is seen in the response, I’m weeping at mine and you’re laughing at yours,"
Parker tweeted in response to Brown's “punny” Twitter commentary on the episode. "All sin stings. My heart hurts for both of us."
Hannah then said: "time and time again Jesus loved and ate with 'sinners' who laughed, and time and time again he rebuked 'saints' that judged. where do you fall Luke?"
"I’m not going to lectured on appropriate emotional responses by a guy who threw deli meat in a guy’s lap," she wrote, later adding, "God dealt with shame when he dealt with sin, so I will not allow someone who comes in the name of God to bring me something that God has taken off me."
For anyone on the outside looking in this was a boring bit of Bible Study. But for those who have tried to build their life on Christ we can see the struggle. We easily see Luke’s pride and Hannah’s defense of herself. But neither set of comments were rooted in Christ but instead where rooted in our modern-day culture. Life rooted in Christ is very very difficult for all of us. That is the point of this television inspired struggle. Life is far much harder than a few quick Bible quotes on a popular television show. Paul would have rejected the pride and the lack of self-awareness that we see again and again in our every day lives.
We can preach the wondrous gift of being forgiven, with the slate wiped clean and ready to write the rest of our life story. We can preach the amazing wonders Christ, through whom we have been made alive to a full and joyful life. In so doing, we will give our people wings to soar above the most daunting of life’s perplexities. But make no mistake living in Christ is a daily struggle. Hannah struggles with sexual desires while Luke struggles with pride. It is interesting to recall that the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr always pointed out that pride was the hardest thing to defeat in a Christian’s life. Hannah when she rejected Luke understood the danger of his spiritual pride. But that does not mean her own struggle is over.
In identifying the forces or spirits that the Colossians faced, one writer says “…the proponent(s) of the teaching have taken a number of elements from Judaism and the Christian gospel and linked these with typical cosmological concerns from the Hellenistic world….To label such teaching Hellenistic Jewish syncretism is…an eminently plausible and fitting description of its components. (Andrew T. Lincoln, The Letter to the Colossians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XI [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000], p. 567).
Walter Wink says we should understand the “spiritual Powers not as separate heavenly or ethereal entities, but as the inner aspect of material or tangible manifestations of power.
…These powers do not…have a separate, spiritual existence. We encounter them primarily in reference to the material or earthly reality of which they are the innermost essence.” (Walter Wink, Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984], pp. 104-5).
“The Colossian heresy, with all its taboos, was no syllabus of advanced wisdom; it bore all the marks of immaturity. Why should those who had come of age in Christ go back to the apron-strings of infancy? Why should those whom Christ has set free submit to this yoke of bondage?” (F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977], p. 418).
“If God seems to be in no hurry to make the problem of evil go away, maybe we shouldn’t be either. Maybe our compulsion to wash God’s hands for [God] is a service [God] doesn’t appreciate. Maybe–all theodicies and nearly all theologians to the contrary–evil is where we meet God.” (Robert Farrar Capon, The Third Peacock: The Problem of God and Evil [San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971 and 1986], p. 2).
Cathy told her pastor about a strange tradition in a church where she once worshipped. Just before reciting the Apostle’s Creed, the entire congregation turned around and looked toward the rear of the sanctuary. Finally, Cathy asked someone about the meaning of this. She was told that at one time, the words of the creed had been written on the back wall, in order to help people memorize it. Once the members had learned the creed, the words were painted over, but people still carried on the tradition of turning toward the back of the sanctuary every Sunday morning during the recitation of the Apostle’s Creed.
A pastor served a new church development that was without a church home, other than worship space in a local preschool. The Session was planning a gathering of the congregation for a special event, a kind of harvest festival with a large catered meal, and a celebration of the church’s short history.
Because the church had no building, the pastor began calling the pastors of other churches in the area to find a location for the upcoming event. She began with the largest church, knowing that they had a fine fellowship hall.
Upon presenting her request, the pastor was asked a question by the pastor of the large church: “Do you hold to the five fundamentals?” Fumbling mentally, finally the pastor remembered her church history from seminary days, and said, “Do you mean…?” As she named them off, she stated her belief on each item, explaining why she didn’t find some of the five tenets in agreement with her faith.
At this point the pastor of the large church broke in to her explanation, and told her that of course, the new church development could not meet in his fellowship hall. Only people who held to the five fundamentals were welcome in the building of his church.
A pastor was teaching at a Christian college. Halfway through the school year, a colleague read student notes written in the pastor’s classes. The colleague then submitted a list of complaints to the powers that be, and the pastor was called into a confrontational meeting. He was asked to explain his theology. After a time, one of the other professors asked him about his view on the second coming of Christ. When the pastor explained his views, and the reasons he held such views, the confronter nodded his head solemnly, and said: “Well, I don’t see how you can call yourself a Christian, then.”
The story of Eustace is a remarkable example of what it means to be stripped of one’s old life and raised with Christ. During the voyage, Eustace was seasick, but no one could help him, because he got nastier then. He is an unlikable, lazy boy. Once on shore, wanting to escape work, Eustace went into a cave, stole the treasure a dragon had stored there, and then fell asleep. He woke up an ugly dragon, covered with scales and a horrible sharp ridge on his back. Eustace was miserable. He hated being a dragon, and his arm was swollen from a bracelet that was too small for a dragon’s foreleg.
One day he was met by the lion Aslan, who led Eustace to a beautiful garden on a mountaintop. At the center was a large stone fountain or well. Eustace longed to get in the water and ease the pain in his dragon legs, but Aslan told him to undress first. Eustace peeled off his skin, only to find another layer of scales, and then another. Finally, Aslan stripped him of all his dragon scales, and Eustace was thrown into the waters–where he became a human boy again. Then he was dressed in new clothes, by Aslan himself. (C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, [New York: Macmillan Publishing Co, 1952], pp. 88-92).
Steinbeck’s character Jim shows the kind of single-minded allegiance that the Apostle Paul calls his readers to hold toward Christ, although Jim’s commitment is directed in another direction–that of carrying the farm workers’ strike to success.
“I wanted you to use me. You wouldn’t because you got to like me too well. And sitting here waiting, I got to know my power. I’m stronger than you, Mac. I’m stronger that anything in the world, because I’m going in a straight line.”
Jim succeeds in his mission, but he loses his life doing so. (John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle, from John Steinbeck: Novels and Stories, 1932-1937 [New York: The Library of America, 1994], p. 740).
Fenya Crown is a determined woman, and she knows her own strength. She ran her first marathon in 1983 at the age of 70. Since then she has run about a dozen marathons and carried the Olympic torch. She’s battled cancer three times and has come out of it with good health. Now, turning 91, Fenya still runs about 3 miles, plus a one mile walk to the market daily. She attempted to run a marathon in Ireland last November–but she was so well-known that people kept stopping her to talk with her. Frustrated, Fenya quit after 15 miles. Deciding she would not be stopped by this kind of distraction again, Fenya signed up to run a half marathon where no one knew her–in Southern California. “I want to finish something”, Crown said. “I don’t want to be stopped.” (Don Norcross, No stopping this woman, 90, entered in S.D. half-marathon [The San Diego Union Tribune, January 17th, 2004] pp. A1, A12).
To most people in town, Suzy is just one of the girls, a girl who sometimes gets in trouble because she is so outspoken. Fauna, however, sees something in Suzy that is better. She takes Suzy aside into her own suite. She tells Suzy that she must stop speaking her opinions without thinking. She encourages Suzy to become interested in the other person, and teaches Suzy how to ask questions of others, and then how to listen to the answers. She points out that Suzy cusses, and needs to “dust her words” off before she says them. Then Fauna says, “…you got to remember you’re Suzy and you ain’t nobody else but Suzy. Then you got to remember that Suzy is a good thing–a real valuable thing–and there ain’t nothing like it in the world.” (John Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday [London: Heinemann, 1954], pp 138-141).
Reality Changers, a ministry begun two years ago by Christopher Yanov changes lives and teaches youth how strong they can be in Christ. The group is focused upon getting Hispanic youth off the streets and off of drugs, bringing them to experience new life in Christ, and sending them off to college. Youth meet weekly at the Hispanic Presbyterian Church in Golden Hill, a neighborhood in San Diego. Spiritual growth is coupled with three hours of learning experiences and dinner. One student says that after only one year in Reality Changers, he is earning a 4.0-point average. A girl is taking college courses during her sophomore year in high school. A young man who will graduate from high school with a 4.5-point average this year is planning to go to Harvard or Yale and study to be a medical doctor. (From a Moment for Mission, First Presbyterian Church of El Cajon, CA, February 29, 2004).
During pre-marital counseling, I always spend a few moments talking with a couple about the significance of a wedding ring. Much of the liturgy for a wedding is very heady; all words about commitments of the will and the heart. The ring is placed on the body and becomes a physical reminder of the commitment of heart and mind. For the same reason, many Christians wear crosses around their necks, as a physical reminder of the one to whom we have committed our lives. That physical reminder of commitment, whether from a piece of jewelry, the discipline of fasting, or something else is important for us to continue to remember Christ dwelling in our flesh.
“Why should we keep praying if God can be thwarted? Because God never gives up trying to redeem what has gone before, trying to offer to every creature the best possible future, given the choices already made. God’s power is not irresistible, but it is inexhaustible.” (Jack Keller, On Providence and Prayer. The Christian Century, November 4, 1987, pg. 969) .
“No one should succumb to the error of viewing prayers as a means of changing the individual and his attitudes. Certainly ‘prayer changes me’ — my outlook, orientation and my attitudes. But prayer also changes those situations and circumstances of life which are distinctly divorced from any change which may take place in the individual who prays” (Harold Lindsell, When You Pray [Tyndale, 1969], p. 11)
“God’s ultimate purposes, are unchangeable ... his immediate will is flexible and open to change through the prayers of his people.” “A personal God, who loves and cares, can be solicited in prayer. Prayer can work miracles because God makes ‘himself dependent on the requests of his children.” (Donald Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology [Harper & Row, 1978, vol. 2, p. 57, and Vol. 1, p. 31)
Somewhere Henri Nouwen tells the story of serving as a chaplain on an oil tanker that was entering a hellish storm at sea. Overwhelmed by his own feeling of helplessness, he first went to the bridge and then seeing that he had no guidance to offer the captain struggling to control the ship, he turned in despair to leave. “Stay here, chaplain,” he recalls the captain saying. “This is one time I really need you.” In times of intense distress we do not fully comprehend the strength people need from us or see from us. But it is not necessary that we comprehend this strength. It is necessary only for us to stand nearby as a visible reminder that the Lord of Heaven has not abandoned the people to the darkness seeking to overwhelm them .
“The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer above all prayers. It is a prayer which the most high Master taught us, wherein are comprehended all spiritual and temporal blessings, and the strongest comforts in all trials, temptations and troubles, even in the hour of death” (Martin Luther: Table Talk) .
In 1988 Billy Payne of Atlanta, Georgia was worshipping in his home church. He got a flash of inspiration. Why not bring the Olympics to Atlanta? He shared this vision with anyone who would listen. He built support and he gathered a team of leaders around him. In worship his dream had been given wings. In 1992 the headlines around the world declared: It’s Atlanta! After eight years of preparations on July 19, 1996 the opening ceremonies of the Centennial Games were held in Atlanta with he whole world watching.
Living in Christ is a matter of living in love. That is the basic premise that William Sloane Coffin puts forward in the opening pages of Credo. Coffin contends that Socrates was wrong in claiming that the unexamined life is not worth living. Instead, Coffin says, it is the uncommitted life that is not worth living. Likewise, Coffin believes that Descartes was misguided in his assertion, “Cogito ergo sum.”—”I think therefore I am.” In its place, Coffin proposes, “Amo ergo sum”—”I love therefore I am.” As he sees it, it is better not to live than not to love.
As we mature in our life with Christ, we seek to be less self-focused and greedy, so that we may be more caring and generous toward others. Officials in the African nation of Botswana enacted new laws this past December intended to protect widows and orphans from greedy relatives. The (Botswana) Daily News (12/14/03) says that there is a pattern of selfish family members taking away property from orphans and widows when their parents or spouse pass away. Relatives frequently strip orphans of their possessions and many times end up even abandoning them on the streets. One legislator in support of the new law told a group, “More blessed is the hand that gives than that receives.” One of the president’s aides called upon churches to do more, criticizing many church leaders for driving expensive automobiles while their members wallow in poverty.
As we grow in our faith, one risk is that we might become overly critical of those who have not likewise matured in their life with Christ. According James A. Morone in Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History, the colonial Christian leader John Winthrop chastised fellow clergyman Roger Williams for being so dismissive of less mature Christians. Winthrop suggested that Williams had restricted the circle of saints so severely that he took communion with no one but his wife.
In order to live a life in Christ, a person must seek a thorough knowledge of Christian ways. In The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Philip Jenkins observes that the practice of requiring new Christians to participate in a formal, lengthy process of catechism before being admitted to church membership was largely abandoned during the Middle Ages when it was assumed that such a practice was unnecessary because everyone was being born and brought up in supposedly Christian households. In more modern times, though, many Christian communities are re-instituting the catechumenate, because they realize that many people today who are coming to churches are not firmly rooted in the essential beliefs of the faith.
Sometimes we wonder what it would take to get our church communities to grow in their life with Christ. In Not I, but Christ, Corrie ten Boom tells about how the evangelist Gypsy Smith was asked one day, “What can I do so that a revival will take place in my church?” Smith replied, “Go into your room and take a piece of chalk; draw a circle on the floor and kneel down in the middle of it. Then pray: ‘Lord, bring revival to my church, and begin in the middle of this circle.’”
Pursuing a life in Christ requires much more than many North American Christians realize. In The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World, Douglas John Hall calls the reader’s attention to the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, particularly his volume titled The Cost of Discipleship. Hall suggests that book is a searing indictment of many Christians today who do not realize that Christian discipleship is serious business. Instead, many contemporary church members assume that all their faith demands of them is occasional participation in a Sunday morning ritual, confirmation at age twelve, pretty weddings, and solemn funerals.
In Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, Peter J. Gomes offers his definition of what it means to live a life in Christ. He writes: “I will give you my definition of what a Christian is. To be a Christian is to be a changed man or a changed woman in an unchanged world.”
To live a life rooted in Christ does not mean that temptations will immediately vanish. In fact, the early desert Father Cyrus of Alexandria taught, “If you are not tempted, you have no hope; if you are not tempted, it is because you are sinning.” Essentially he was saying that it is a good thing for a Christian to be aware of temptations that he or she is struggling with. That is a sign that the Christian has not merely given in to those temptations. Cyrus added: “The man who is sinning in his flesh has no troubles from temptation.”
The letter to the Colossians invites us to consider the higher way of life which God opens to us. Soren Kierkegaard lamented that many people are like those who live in a three-story house but who spend all of their time in the dark cellar.
A life truly rooted in Christ will necessarily look different from a life that is without Christ. Three centuries after the time of Jesus, however, John Chrysostom bemoaned the fact that Christians “admire wealth equally with them [non-Christians], and even more. We have the same horror of death, the same dread of poverty, the same impatience with disease; we are equally fond of glory and of rule.... How can they believe?”
The life we live in Christ will ultimately be judged not by us, but by Jesus. More and more people today, however, are attempting to write their own evaluations of their lives. According to Newsweek (3/8/04), there are an increasing number of people who are writing their own obituaries. However, those death notices are not always entirely factual. Newsweek cited an obituary that appeared in a Pennsylvania paper for a Thomas Dahlberg, which was a glowing statement that made him sound like he was one of the most accomplished people in the world. In turned out, though, that the only completely truthful statement in the obituary was the deceased’s name. The obituary, it turned out, had been written by Dahlberg himself.
The writer of Colossians warns his readers to not be deceived by false teachings and lies. Fortunately, many people seem to have an innate ability to detect if someone is lying to them. According to the Los Angeles Times (6/29/03), scientists believe that ability may have evolved from our primate ancestors. That finding was set forth in the July 2003 issue of Nature. In particular, facial gestures often serve as a clue as to whether someone is being truthful or not. For instance, Rhesus monkeys, a species that displays a wide range of elaborate facial expressions, are able to associate threatening and cooing sounds to the appropriate monkey face. The study project found that when monkeys were presented with two videos—one of a monkey making the face associated with the threat call and the other a coo call—but were given only the audio for one of the videos, the monkeys would spend more time looking at the video that corresponded to the correct facial expression. Researchers conclude that such studies indicate that primates, including humans, process words based not only on what is heard, but also on what they see in the facial expression of the speaker.
“To be fully human, then is not simply to have multiple options or even to make a commendable choice, but to make the only choice that genuine freedom allows: the choice to be who one is created, and called, to be.” (Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Cynthia L. Rigby, eds., Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002], p. 147)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
People: The Lord will speak peace to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Leader: Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him.
People: Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet.
All: The Lord will give to us what is good.
Lord God, so often we declare that you are not our God. Through our selfish thoughts, our empty prayers, and our destructive habits, we declare that we are in fact in charge. Forgive us when we try to be you instead of try to be your disciples. Restore us to your ways and lead us in the path to everlasting life. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
For your glory, Gracious God, we bring our gifts to you today. May our tithes and offerings be transformed into ministry and mission in the world. We also bring before you the gifts of our lives. May our actions this week be pleasing in your sight. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
God of Hope and Mercy, you promise to hear us when we pray to you. Confident of that promise, we bring before you our joys and our concerns, our hopes and our fears.
We boldly ask that your Holy Spirit come and be present in our church today, transforming and renewing our lives. We pray that we may be Christ’s hands and eyes and ears to one another this week, seeing the world through your Son’s eyes. Let us look for opportunities to heal, to affirm, to guide, to teach, and to love.
We pray for our nation and our world. We pray that your Spirit will transform our world, so that nations at war can become nations at peace, that those who are hungry may eat their fill, that those who are afraid may be comforted and confident. Let us see things through Christ’s eyes and be ambassadors of your will and your word. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen