Just one thing (words for the journey 6.12.16)

by susan on June 12, 2016

What is at the core of your faith? What is one thing that is sustaining you?

In times of transition and change and terror,
through shifts of faith and belief,
in the midst of the many pressures that pull at us &
the numerous options that surround us,
what are we holding on to?

Much has changed since the words of scripture were written, but some things have not.

Then and now, to be human means to be pulled in many directions.
Then and now, to be human  demands our choosing what will define our lives.

colossaeAlthough we do not know much about the early church in Colossae, we do know these early Christians were dealing with a lot of pressure – they were new to this rapidly growing Jesus movement, they were still part of the old power-driven Roman empire and they were dealing with threats of persecution.

Although there is no evidence that he ever spent time there, Paul wrote to them from prison. His friend, Epiphras had passed along stories about what was happening through this new community.

He begins his letter with words of encouragement. He is excited and impressed by what he has heard about these Christ followers. They are bearing fruit.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

3In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. 7This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

9For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully

12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:1-14, NRSV

Miles from the center of Jewish religious life, somehow these men & women have heard stories of Jesus that have begun to re-shape their lives.

Paul calls their faith “faith in Christ Jesus”. We can easily skim over this huge claim. After all, in our southern American culture, Christianity is still quite commonplace. To be “christian” can mean little more than attending a church service once a month – but not in Paul’s day.

To declare Jesus to be Christ was to have your life overturned.

Christ, the title used to refer to Jesus over and over again in Colossians meant anointed one. It meant declaring Jesus to be your “King”. Christians were those who placed their loyalty in the things that Jesus was loyal to, they  loved the people he loved, they were learning to live as citizens of God’s kingdom (like Jesus did).
This was radical & dangerous. They were not just joining a new religion – they were experiencing a shift in their core identity.

Perhaps that is why Paul & Timothy are concerned praying for these men and women – this is no ordinary road they are walking together.

In their provocative book, Colossians Remixed, Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat give us a loose, modern day interpretation of this letter to the faith community in Colossae. Set in our context, here are what Paul’s words might sound like:

At the dawn of a new millennium, and in the face of a world of terror, may you experience the all-encompassing shalom and wholeness that is received as a wonderful gift from God our Father. We want you to know that thankfulness permeates our prayers for you. We continue to give thanks to God the Father of our sovereign Messiah Jesus, as we hear the stories of struggling and daring discipleship that continues to characterize his followers. We have heard that your faith and trust in Jesus is proved true because it takes on the real flesh of love in your midst – a love that is manifest in your care for the poor, providing shelter to the homeless, food for the hungry and hospitality to the stranger. Such faith and love are inseparable: one cannot exist without the other. But neither is possible without hope.

And here at the end of a century of bloodshed, betrayal and broken promises, it is an amazing thing to be a community animated by hope. May that hope sustain you in a world addicted to violence.

To make Jesus king meant many things.
It did not initially mean creating a tidy tower of beliefs.
It meant taking on a new identity.

hopeAnd at the core of this new identity, there was one thing – it stands out in this passage and it will be reiterated again and again as we keep reading.

It’s hope. And, hope is simply believing that new life is possible.

If you think about it, isn’t that the overarching story of scripture?

God is constantly making something new
out of the past,
out of our failures,
out of our our pain and our giving up.

As things shifted and changed, hope is something these first century Christians could hold on to and hope is something we can also hold onto. And, that can be enough.

Friends, let us be encouraged that faith does not have to look like a nice, neat system of beliefs.
Let us be reminded that faith in Christ Jesus is filled with challenge & change.
Let us hold onto hope – the belief that new life is possible at every turn.

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