Learning to live loved & free [words for the journey, 6.26.16]

by susan on June 27, 2016

barbed wireAs you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

– Colossians 2:6-15, NRSV

How are you struggling to live like a loved & free child of God?

No matter where we are on our spiritual journeys,
getting off track is easy.

No matter how open our thinking becomes,
or how fully we understand & value our new identities in Christ,
we still resort to old ways of thinking & living.

We struggle to live like loved & free children of God.

This is not a new struggle. It was also the challenge confronting Christ followers in Colossae.
Having experienced the revolutionary love of Christ,
they were now being led backward –
back into a system of dos and don’ts,
back into teachings that told them they were not enough –
that Jesus was not enough – that they needed to do and be more.

Paul warns: “See to it that no one holds you captive”.
That word “captive” is loaded.

First, the particular Greek word chosen here for “captive” is very similar to another word in the Greek. That very similar word is “synagogue”.

The synagogue was becoming a place too consumed with rules & rituals. It was burdensome, heavy and oppressive & it conflicted with the life-giving way of Jesus. Synagogue was becoming synonymous with captivity.

“Captive” was loaded in another way, too.
Whenever captivity was brought up,
it immediately reminded Christians of their history
as people struggling to live as God’s loved & free people.

It brought to mind the Exodus story.

According to the Exodus story,
God’s chosen people, the Israelites,
had been enslaved to an Egyptian empire.
They became Pharaoh’s cheap labor,
spending their days building up Pharaoh’s surplus
under oppressive work conditions.

God had a plan, though, to rescue them from injustice & to lead them out of captivity. And, that is exactly what happened. Under God’s direction, Moses led the Israelites out of slavery & into a new life of daily dependence on Yahweh.

As much as life in captivity was hard though, freedom had its own challenges.
Captivity might have been burdensome, but freedom was risky.
Captivity might have been unfair, but freedom was unpredictable.
Captivity might have been oppressive, but freedom felt like too much responsibility.

So, the Israelites complained & demanded more – they wanted more structure and more leadership – more black and white – and, every time they got what they asked for, they suffered the consequences … and, they still struggled.

This struggle went on for centuries, until God responded definitively through Jesus. Through Jesus, God showed once and for all what love & freedom look like.
Through Jesus, a new Exodus occurred.

Jesus resisted captivity –
he refused to live by any laws,
any systems,
any labels,
any hierarchies &
any divisions that blocked love.

Instead, he initiated a new law –
one that was less about religious rules & rituals and
much more about our relationships.

This is what talk of captivity brought to mind for these Colossian Christians-
an overbearing synagogue & their history of being slaves to an Egyptian empire.

What does it bring to mind for us?

What lures us in with promises of sucess & security, only to consume & use us?
What expectations, what demands, what habits, what ways of being church?
Instead of feeling alive, what leaves us feeling bitter and resentful?

Sometimes, captivity creeps in without our even recognizing it.

In Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber tells the story of how this has looked in her own life & it’s a story I can relate to all too well.

rally dayIt was Rally Day at House for All Sinners and Saints (the small, new church she pastored then & still pastors). Rally Day is a day in the Episcopal church when the end of summer is celebrated and you try to get all of the families you can to show up AT THE SAME TIME. Truth is they did not have any children but hers in the church, but still, SHE had decided they were having Rally Day.

Perhaps that is why it was her trunk that was packed full with a huge & heavy cotton candy machine, hot dogs, buns, balloons, chips and sodas. So maybe it would cost a few hundred dollars, she thought, I’ll put a basket out for donations.

Her chronic back pain was in full flare up and she was worried she wouldn’t have enough of everything for the event. It would all be worth it though – today was going to be great. She was so consumed with the details that she didn’t arrive into the sanctuary until 5 minutes before the worship liturgy would start. As she made her way up the stairs toward the sanctuary, it was noticeably quiet. And, that’s when she counted. She was hoping for more than 40, the most they’d had all summer.

There were 26. After all that she had done, twenty-whopping six. Fewer people than they’d had all summer.

Feeling a surge of bitterness, she ran to the restroom, knelt down on the floor and began to pray:

Dear God, I just hate everyone right now. If you don’t remove this anger and resentment, I’ll never get through the liturgy. Please, please, please, I beg you. Please help me.

She made it through the liturgy, but the bitterness kept resurfacing. While cleaning up, Stuart, one of the parishioners, noticed her demeanor and asked if she was okay. “My back’s just really bad today”, she responded, only telling part of the truth. Stuart gathered friends to pray over Nadia and she writes,

As Stuart’s big drag queen hands lovingly rubbed my lower back and he sweetly asked God to heal me, the muscles in my back went from being a fist to being an open hand. The spasms released.

But, minutes later, Jim arrived with the empty basket. The completely empty basket. People had the nerve to come, eat and enjoy the festivities, but not one donation had been left behind. “Now”, she explained, “I not only hated all the people who didn’t show up, but I hated all the people who did…I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.”

After venting to a friend all the way home & falling asleep that night, she was awakened at 2 a.m. to the sudden realization that her back was not hurting – at all.

I had received a healing and I was too wrapped up in myself and my feelings and unmet expectations to even notice…and come to think of it, I hadn’t really noticed the joy people had in being together and handing out cotton candy in the street. I hadn’t really noticed that some hungry people in Triangle Park got to eat iron-rich burgers for dinner that night. I hadn’t really noticed that Amy, Jim and Stuart got to have the blessing of caring for their pastor and that it was a blessing to them. I had decided the event was a failure since there wasn’t the right number of people and no one chipped in any money. How small.

The voice of captivity loves to focus our attention on small things – to things on the surface that we can control and manipulate – things that might impress or make us seem strong.

That voice is rooted in old ways of thinking –
ways rooted in a an Egyptian empire that
values such shallow smallness.

The kingdom of God is about greater things.

Sisters and brothers,
through Christ we have been
led out of captvity & into living loved & free.
When we choose to return to a system of
measuring, judging,
worrying about what others are doing (or not doing),
& trying to earn & achieve God’s favor ourselves,
we have gotten off track.

That’s how these Colossian Christians were struggling,
but Paul reminds them that it’s time to grow up.
It’s time to move on.
It’s time to mature into people
who are free to live & love as Jesus lived & loved.

What holds you back?
What holds you and I captive?
What tells us we are not enough or Jesus is not enough?
What leads us toward resentment and bitterness & away from love?

The good news is that God invites us into a new way of being.
With God’s help, we can move out of captivity
and into Jesus-centered love & freedom.

**During our worship gathering, we also watched this video clip featuring Sarah Bessey.

In which these are the unforced rhythms of grace

 

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