Monday, August 30, 2010

Sunday 8/29 -- Colossians 2:5-10

The following was delivered Sunday, August 29th at Celebration Church in Fredericksburg by your humble Deacon:

Colossians 2:6-10
Growing/Continuing in Christ

When we look across history and the religions that weaved through the fabric of history, we see a pantheon of deities that were, by and large, capricious tricksters who seemed to take some twisted pleasure in fooling, deceiving, or otherwise tripping up us poor mortal schlubs. Greek, Roman, Celtic and other Mythological accounts are replete with gods and demi-gods playing us humans to be either a source of entertainment or just the butt of their jokes. This isn’t limited to antiquity; the Allah of contemporary Islam is seen to be one who may mislead based on his prerogative while still holding humanity accountable according to a number of suras or verses of the Quran. This is not the case of the God of the Old and New Testaments of our Bible.

Far from being a trickster, deceiver, or liar; the “One God”, the creator of heaven and earth who we confess in the creeds, not only communicates truth, but He is the very personification of truth. He is unambiguous concerning his proclamations and expectations. His demands are steep, so steep that he makes an Olympic gymnastics coach look like a teddy bear by comparison. Yet in His love, He has taken amazing strides to see that those He’s called, those who love and desire to honor Him have a way to do so. It’s a safe axiom to say that; “Where the LORD demands, He provides.”

The God who created us knows that we’re into the “process” of things, or how things work. This is evidenced in the fact that a three year-old can ask “why?” without end and as adults, we’re enamored shows that demonstrate how things work or how things are done. When we consider it, we can see how our God has devoted a significant portion of His Word to the “How to’s” of His kingdom. The passage of New Testament scripture that we heard this morning from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossian church contains a great “How To” direction. St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Chapter two verses 6-10, calls the saints at the church on Colossae to mature in the faith and not fall prey to deceptive doctrines that have crept into that local assembly. The God, who levied this command on that church, also laid out the way for that command to be fulfilled, as we’ll see.

The Church at Colossae was under assault. Now, this isn’t breaking news as all First Century believers were facing external threats from diverse groups that included Imperial Roman authority, the local Jewish community and elements of the indigenous gentile communities. The church at Colossae was dealing with a more subtle, more insidious threat from within; an early expression of whet would come to be known as Gnosticism had crept into their midst and its adherents were seeding the body with lethal heresy. Like contemporary New Age gurus or some aberrant teachers sometimes encountered in modern Pentecostal or Charismatic circles, these false teachers who would later become known as Gnostics brought a slicker, sexier body of teachings that purported to bring a “higher”, more “spiritual” revelation of the Godhead.

St. Paul’s letter to this church was written to not only refute the diabolical teachings of these errors, but to proclaim the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ Jesus as both God and mediator.

Let’s consider these words over the next few minutes. Viewing how their instruction was urgent and timely for the Colossians, and reflect too how they’ve not lost their edge in directing us in our growth in God.

“What you did” v. 5

“For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
(Col 2:5)”

The Apostle Paul was delighted to share his joy with the Colossians concerning their faith in Christ. He commended the Colossians in proclaiming that he “delights to see how orderly [they] you are and how firm [their] your faith in Christ is.” Unlike immediate concern for their Galatian brothers and sisters, whose faith had appeared to run aground, the saints at Colossae were maturing in their walk with the Almighty. Their relationship with the risen Christ was steadfast and firm. This kind of faith was and continues to be the type that provides a robust framework that supports continued growth and facilitates a bounty of spiritual fruit in the lives of God’s elect.

Paul knew, as he reminded the saints in Rome, that faith was “Received through hearing,
“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:17)”
Not just any hearing but the hearing of the counsel of the Almighty God”. The Colossians weren’t won over by shock and awe or “signs and wonders” ministries, but rather by the pure and complete message of God’s Gospel. God, through His Spirit and prevenient grace, allowed these Colossian saints to be sensitive to the word and spirit; belief and repentance followed.

“What you do” vv.6-7

Because we ostensibly came to a faith in Christ Jesus in the same manner as the Colossian saints, we should expect to press on towards a spiritual maturity in the same way that the Apostle has instructed them. And with this, Paul lays out the “Next step” in declaring:
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Col 2:6-7)”

The walk of faith is exactly this; its not an event or a moment in time, its solidly relational and characterized by continued, forward motion. Sometimes walking, sometimes running or even sometimes limping or even crawling on our knees; regardless, our walk of faith is a sacramental, sanctified journey from the miry clay spoken of by David in Psalm 40 where He rescued us, to the glories He’s prepared. These are those “incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” which St. Paul spoke of in his letter to the Ephesians.

As we continue in this walk of faith, we’re called to root down and build up.

Roots are perhaps the most underappreciated structures in the plant kingdom. They’re mostly invisible, often cursed by gardeners and plumbers alike for their ability to invade and spread. In a healthy plant, the roots account for upwards of 50% of the plant’s structural mass. Its very easy for us to look at a tree and see something shaped like a trowel, or lollipop or even a well-crafted Slazenger tennis racquet. Yet if you could uproot that plant, shake loose the trapped soil and you’d have something akin to a dumbbell or a two-headed tennis racquet. Now, this occurs for reasons beyond symmetry and aesthetics. A robust network of roots exist in a healthy plants for two primary reasons, these being a method for providing structural stability and a means to provide nourishment to the plant. No plant without adequate root structures would be able to even withstand the basic demands of gravity; it would collapse under its own weight. Too, it would whither and die in even the lushest climates.

Taking the queue from the natural order, we can see the necessity in the Apostle’s instruction to sink deep roots. We’re not poplars, pines or oaks; so how and wear does a believer sink their roots?

We root our lives in Christ Jesus. Those spiritual roots augur down in to the depths of the Christ, holding fast to His love and mercy. They wend their way, clinging onto His promises. Like the natural tree withstanding gravity, the rooted saint can stand against the forces of doubt, faith that’s susceptible to wavering, and temptations to sin against our God, our neighbor and ourselves. Those roots take a firm hold into promises like “I’ll never leave or forsake you”, or that “way of escape” in the face of temptation. Once anchored, we can feed on the life-giving Word of God, lift our voices in praise and meditating on the rich counsel offered to us in scripture.

Rooted, we can build. When we build in this state, we become like that builder in Matthew 7 who built upon the solid rock. The nourishment, security and strength derived from rooting and building on the foundation provided by the Christ will result in a visible witness to the world around us. This, Paul tells the Colossian saints, and us, will bring about a spiritual strengthening. We can see that the saint who roots well and roots deep, builds high and builds to the glory of the Almighty.

This rooting, building and growing will inevitably bring about tangible, visible fruit in our lives and the lives of all saints who live out this exhortation. As sure as to ignore this command results in a sick, grumbling, anemic Christian, obeying this command will result in a believer whose life is overflowing with joy and thanksgiving. This is a thanksgiving that overflows and surpasses not only our own imaginations, but one that causes those in our lives, saints and pagans alike, to stop and take notice. This thankful heart is a heart that won’t be easily shaken, or distracted from what the Almighty has already accomplished. This heart, beating in the life of the saint, will equip and empower that saint to continue and persevere in the pressing on to the mark of the higher calling in Christ Jesus.

There is still one more thing we need to think about as we consider the call to and the importance of being rooted. This is something that we can easily observe in nature and can apply its principle to the spiritual realm. Well rooted trees that stand in groves or woodlots or forests stand stronger than solitary trees. The lone tree in a windswept field lacks the protection of those trees that stand together. I mention this as a reminder that we root and grow as a community of saints in normal, healthy Christianity. We’ve not been called to be the “Lonesome Pine”, growing out there on our own. In this community, not only do we exist in vertical communion with our Lord, we exist in horizontal communion with our brothers and sisters. We feed from on high, while strengthening those around us.

“What you avoid” v. 8

After giving positive exhortations to the saints at Colossae, St. Paul lays out a strong, serious warning, where he says:
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Col 2:8)”

The Apostle lays down a strong warning against those insidious philosophies and beliefs that were quietly being injected into the Colossian church. These teachings had an initial appeal and a promise of enlightening these saints beyond the “simple” and “pedestrian” message of the Gospel, yet under their veneer laid a bitter poison that could leave the Colossian saints with shipwrecked faith. This esoteric teaching did nothing whatsoever to proclaim the Gospel, the words of Christ or the teaching of the Apostles. What it did was focus speculative arguments about angels, arguments about Mosaic Law and the Jewish traditions. Falling into these would have the similar effect of stumbling into a mud bog where one would soon find themselves stuck and unable to escape. Paul reminds these saints that these philosophies have no origin, nor nothing to do with the Divine. Instead, they are hollow straw men with origins outside of God and His holy counsels.

We here today have been blessed in the sense that our blended family is one that said no to the insipid teachings that had crept into our respective churches, taking them hostage. Through God’s help, we were able to see through those hollow philosophies and thoroughly repudiate them. This said, we’re called to remain alert and not to rest on our laurels.

Some philosophies and doctrines are easily seen for the schmutz that they are, and are indefensible despite the best efforts of those peddling them. Others can be more delicate, more subtle and yet as equally destructive. Looking across the landscape of American Christendom, or flipping through the train wreck that represents a considerable segment of “Christian media”, it doesn’t take long to discover the grandchildren of those who were attempting to influence the church at Colossae. These are those whose teachings have derailed the faith of many who have wandered far off the path in the pursuit of these contemporary philosophies. Instead of endless genealogies teachings on the ranks of angels, there are saints this morning across this County and this Nation who are having their ears tickled by everything and anything BUT the Gospel of our Lord. They’re being held captivated by conspiracy theories, or being lambasted by a gospel of social justice. Others are chasing hard after signs and wonders or watching and waiting for the gold dust to fall upon them during altar services. Others have been captivated and ultimately discouraged by the prosperity gospel that has crept through the church like a spiritual kudzu.

The warning serves to amplify and restate the importance of the Apostle’s exhortation to root and grow. Not only does nature abhor a vacuum, but the heart of man won’t tolerate a vacuum either. Remember Christ’s parable concerning the bound and bum-rushed strongman. If we’re not feeding on Christ through word or through prayer and meditation, we will feed on something in order to stop the growling in our spirits. And in this we have a choice; we can choose to feed on the prime rib that the Almighty has set before us, or we can stuff ourselves with the pork rinds and RC cola set out by our adversary.

“What you possess” vv. 9-10

There is a powerful takeaway in all of this, as the Apostle continues:
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (Col 2:9-10)”

Paul is making a powerful pronouncement in describing Christ’s nature to the Colossians, but he simply proclaiming what was already a solidly established matter of Scripture and Christian thought.

In answering Phillip’s request to be “shown the Father”, Jesus declared in John 14 that “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” John’s preamble to his Gospel narrative, as speaking of Jesus (as the “Word”) proclaimed “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Christ’s deity was affirmed externally on two particular instances within the Gospel narratives. I’m not referring to some extra-biblical sources, I’m speaking of the extra-natural where the Father, the supreme and almighty temporarily disrupted the impenetrable barrier between the physical and ethereal to assert and celebrate the full divinity of Jesus. Probably, the first event that comes to mind is the Father’s pronouncement, and the Holy Spirit’s brief incarnation at Christ’s baptism by John in the muddy Jordan River. As the Spirit of God appeared as a dove, the Father’s voice shook the Jordan valley as he proclaimed “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Again some time later on the mount of transfiguration, the Father makes the same pronouncement, only adding the imperative to “Listen to Him.”

While the Colossians may have been tempted to earnestly seek a greater, more powerful revelation along with higher knowledge of the Divine, they already possessed the revelation of the Almighty in the person of Jesus the Christ.

While the apostate teachers were contending that Jesus was a mere Demiurge who was subordinate to the true God, Paul would have the Colossian saints know under no uncertain terms, that not only was Jesus the Christ of God, but that within him was the fullness of God.

“For in Christ all of the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form v.9”

Jesus was no tin-horn, second string divine personality who answered to a mightier, more complete Being, he was and remains the complete revelation and the fullness of the very Godhead. There is none other and anyone attempting to make this claim is an outright imposter.

John, referred to Christ as “The Word”, the perfect expression of God.

In perhaps the most powerful and climactic words of the Apostle Paul’s exhortation, he tells these Colossian saints that they are, as children of God who are rooted and growing in grace, that this fullness of God now resides within them! Not only were these false teachers attempting to sell them a wagon of junk, they were attempting to sell what the saints of God possessed in real time!

Saints, not only may we take huge comfort in the knowing that we’ve been introduced and know the God of the universe, we may take an even greater comfort in knowledge that that God dwells now within the us. Take a moment to get a hold of this; the one who spoke photons into existence, the one who opened his mouth and neutrons began to spin around protons lives within all who have called upon His name in repentance.

* * * * *
So, what can we take away from this timeless counsel to the Colossian church? I do say timeless because as King Solomon told us, there is nothing new under the sun. As long as the church marches forward in these last days before our Lord’s return, there will be frauds and false teachers attempting to interject their poisonous, false teachings into the family of faith. Knowing this, we take St Paul’s instruction to do those “first things”. We root ourselves into our God and His word. We watch and guard against fruitless teachings and doctrines that oppose the pure counsel of the Gospel. And, we take the encouragement, and encourage one another that as Saints of God, we are not only in possession of the complete revelation of that God, but that same God has enthroned himself in our hearts.

Monday Chuckles

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thursday Reverie

Deep Forest's Sweet Lullaby was taken from recordings made from the songs of indigenous tribesmen from deep within equatorial Africa. I listen to the melodies and the ethereal voice of the young mother singing to her little one and I have to wonder if I'm hearing an echo of Eve's voice as she attempted to quiet Abel or Seth under the antediluvian starlight.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Being "Slow to Speak"

Casual, and less-than-casual visitors to The Catbird Seat may wonder why the Catbird is usually late off the starting block in weighing in on events Anglican, cultural, political or otherwise. This “sub-Drudge” speed may even tempt to cast the blog as sub-relevant.

There is a reason that I rarely fire off responses and that being that I would rather think something through before flipping the selector to full auto and firing off some missive. I want (the serious stuff) that’s posted on the seat to have deliberation, weight and hopefully, some gravitas. My goal, concerning the serious issues, is to apply a principle voiced by James the Less in his General Epistle. This is the admonition for us to be “Quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angered”.

Mrs. Catbird (Ms. Robin) and I have something that we affectionately refer to as the “outrage of the morning”. As she’s usually up first, first to see the paper and first to hear the morning news, I’m typically the one to as “So what’s the outrage of the morning?” Typically it will involve some nanny-state foray into the land of the unconstitutional, or yet another bum check that’s being written by the compulsive spenders currently occupying Capitol Hill. True, there is plenty of bone headedness coming out of DC to keep any thinking person in perpetual rant mode. Fun as ranting may be at times, I would much rather toss something out to the marketplace that will give folk something to think about beyond a dismissive “There goes another Libertarian nut job.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tuesday Afternoon

From the Lorica of Saint Patrick:
I bind unto myself today,
the power of God to hold and lead.
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward.
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

To quote Lon Solomon, "Not a sermon, just a thought."

Friday, August 06, 2010

A Wedding Homily

Last Sunday, I had the blessing of presiding over my first Anglican Wedding at a stellar facility, Glenn Garden in picturesque southwest Stafford County Virginia. The text of the wedding homily follows. The bride and groom's name are listed as "Gracie" and "George" to aide in keeping the privacy of the new couple...
1 John 4:7-16 (Let us love one another for love is of God)

We’re gathered here together this morning to witness and celebrate the covenantal joining of George and Gracie, as they pledge themselves to one another in the presence of Almighty God, their family, and friends.

Christian Marriage, towers high above other marriages as it is rooted in love. Unlike marriages that focus on what amounts to an economic transaction, or an act of diplomacy, Christian marriage is founded on God’s love for His creation and demonstrated in the love we have for our beloved. Scripture bears witness to the value our God places on marriage. Not only do we witness the joining of a man and women in the garden, we also see a picture of marriage in the depiction of Christ’s relationship to His bride, the church. In fact, St. John tells us in his gospel account even notes that our Master’s first miracle was done on behalf of a bride and groom.

The Command to Love

Already in this great day, Gracie and George have pledged their love to one another and will do so once more before their first official smooch as husband and wife. This is neither mere coincidence nor gushing sentimentality. Love is pledged because we’ve been called to love. We’re called to love because this is a gift of the Almighty given to each of us. Not only has God loved us, but by creating us in His image, He’s given us the capacity to love one another as He loves us. St. John, who once sought permission to call fire down on a village, now calls us to: “Love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” Its only logical, and reasonable that we would love one another, as the beloved apostle reminds us: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

But what is Love? How can we tell the difference between the genuine and a mere quiver in our liver? Surely if we’ve been called to love one another, its helpful to know love and its expressions. We don’t have to sweat this because the God, who called us to love, has described love and demonstrated it in the life of His son, Christ Jesus.

The Characteristics of Love

St. Paul provides us with a masterful description of love and its characteristics in his writings to the Church in Corinth. He tells us that rather than being self-focused and narcissistic, love is directed outward towards its intended recipient. Love is patient and kind and certainly not arrogant, self-serving or begrudging. Love protects and trusts the object of its affections. Love seeks the very best for its recipient.

Friends because God is love as told by St. John, love will conquer all and love will not fail.

The Chrism of Love

Gracie and George, your love for one another is one very visible sign of the covenant relationship that you’re entering into today. Each expression of that love and kindness towards one another emphatically says “I’d marry you all over again.” It’s a visible sign, and oasis in our dry and graceless world that the Almighty God who brings two hearts and joins them as one, empowers them to love beyond their greatest expectations. As you grow together in Him, your love will become a beacon that will shine further than you’ll know this side of eternity.

Ya' Think?