Colossians 3:1-17 The Message (MSG)

He Is Your Life

1-2 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

3-4 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

5-8 And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It’s because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.

9-11 Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

15-17 Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

The Power of Words- Religion and Politics

This scripture has captured my imagination this week.  I love thinking about having this new life in Christ –taking off the clothing of the old life – the old, tattered clothes —  and putting on new clothing- clean and new.  This new clothing represents a totally new way of thinking, acting and even speaking.  It is a way of thinking, acting and speaking which reveals to the world that Christ is our life.  You may have heard it said about someone that her children are her life, sports are his life, his career is her life.  But truly Christ is to be our lives!  And when Christ is my life, surely one thing that will be different about me is the way I use my words.

We have spent the last couple of weeks reading scripture and thinking about the power of our words.  And we would all agree that words can either tear down or build up.  We recognize that our tongues are like a spark that can start a wildfire.  We know that if we could bridle our tongues like a horse, our day might be different and even our entire lives might be changed for the better!

So today, I come to ask you to think about the power of words in politics.  This is a tough topic.  Because to me, it seems like we in this country have sunk to an all-time low in the way that we interact with each other over politics.  Maybe every generation says this, but it seems like it has become much more personal and mean.  We no longer engage in spirited, thoughtful debates about issues that are important to us – it seems to me like we engage in personal attacks over politics.  And I think certainly the technology we have today, makes things worse.  Maybe you would agree with me that we see all of the things that our scripture has warned us away from over the last couple of weeks.  In relation to politics we witness slander, anger, and bitterness.  Today’s scripture says:

But you know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.

9-11 Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it.

 

If this new clothing has the Creator’s label on it, things ought to be different in our lives.  But don’t we experience bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk and lying in our political discourse today?  Listen to this quote; the writer said that he feared that the decisions of Congress…

would be dictated by noise, not sense; by meanness, not greatness;        by ignorance, not learning; by contracted hearts, not large souls.  There must be decency and respect and veneration introduced for             persons of authority of every rank or we are undone.  In popular             government, this is our only way.”

Believe it or not, this was John Adams talking about the Continental Congress of 1776.  John Adams was worried that our political system

would be dictated by noise, not sense; by meanness, not greatness;        by ignorance, not learning; by contracted hearts, not large souls.  There must be decency and respect and veneration introduced for             persons of authority of every rank or we are undone.

 

Apparently, politics has always gotten us a little fired up in this country.  And so, I hope we—this body of Christ—might be a small part of turning that fire down and acting and speaking as people who walk around with God’s label in our clothing.

Now, the first thing I want to say up front is that I am not saying that we should not engage in political debate.  We most certainly should!  Our country is designed for debate.  And actually part of our calling as followers of Jesus is to stand up for folks who are being oppressed.  In fact, that was one of the main missions of Jesus that you can read about in Luke chapter 4, to liberate the oppressed.  Throughout scripture in the Old and the New Testament, we are called to think about the needs of the orphan and widow and those in need.  Our own John Wesley the founder of Methodism was very political – he fought against the slave trade.  And American Methodists were known for speaking up for people who had no voice from the very beginning.  Today we have something called our social principles which spell out the church’s official stance on issues that affect the world, and we are called to alleviate pain and suffering in the world in very specific ways through these social principles.  And part of the way that we seek justice for people is through acting and speaking in the political arena.  We are called as followers of Jesus to engage in the political process to accomplish our mission to show the love of God to the world.  However, I think that followers of Christ are called to engage in politics with words that are kind, loving and compassionate rather than hate-filled, angry and bitter.

And we can do this!  One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last three weeks of this sermon series is that we can control our own words, but we cannot control the words that others speak to us.  And I came to realize that while we can’t control the junk that comes out of other people’s mouths, we can control how we react to it.  And we don’t have to put up with it either.  We may need to simply say, “I disagree, and end the conversation.”  We can be the peaceful presence of God in the situation and refuse to engage in angry or bitter political talk.

So with those basics in mind.  I have a few suggestions from scripture.  The first one is so basic – it is so basic.  We are called to love each other.  And we are even called to love our enemies.  So surely Republicans are called to love Democrats and Democrats are called to love Republicans.  Right?  Most of you can probably quote this one by heart.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment is this:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your             soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest             commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as         yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two             commandments.”  Matthew 22:37-40.

And Jesus made it clear, to, that our neighbors even includes those we would consider our enemies, didn’t he?  Listen to this from Matthew 5:       Love for Enemies

                  43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate     your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for             those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your             Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the             good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you      love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even             the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own             people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans             do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus is saying we must love perfectly — and that happens when we love even those we disagree with.  After all, the rain falls on the Democrats and the Republicans.  And the sun rises on both the Republicans and the Democrats.  Look at verse 14 of today’s scripture:

“regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”

Never be without love – even with politics.

Now, allow me to say this.  Love does not mean agreement.  Love and agreement are two different things.  Case in point – 37 years ago at the age of 18 I married Ed Kelley.  I’m not sure, but I don’t think I had even voted when we married.  Neither one of us really thought a lot about politics at all at that age.  However, over the last 37 years we have gravitated to opposite ends of the political spectrum.  Yes – it is true.  A democrat and a republican are married, and we have remained married for 37 years and survived.  Do we talk about politics?  Yes, actually, we do.  Do our conversations get heated sometimes?  Yes, actually, they do.  Do we change each other’s minds?  No, actually, we don’t.  And you know what? That is ok.  We do not have to all think alike, do we.  But the key – is that we respect one another and control our words and our tone.  Even if I think he is wrong – I respect his opinion and allow him to be wrong.  I am kidding, but the point is we can disagree without being disagreeable.  You’ve heard that before.  We don’t have to get angry because we disagree.  Lawyers are really good at this — they can argue a case against another lawyer and have lunch together like old friends when court is over.

The next suggestion I have to offer is to listen to people – and really this is just part of loving people.  Last week, one of your challenges was to practice listening more than talking.  As James 1:19 says: Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.  This applies so well in the political world.  Just take some time to listen.  You might learn something, and you might even agree with something you hear.  And think about this–you might figure out that you were wrong!

And the third suggestion is to begin to see people.  Begin to see people as God sees them.  Begin to see all people as human beings worthy of your love.  Today’s scripture talks about this label that is in our new clothing as Christians.  Do you remember that?  Look back at verses 9-11:

Now [that you follow Jesus] you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

Paul is talking about labeling people.  The Colossians must have been talking smack to each other because he says – we are all one in Christ – stop labeling people Jewish, non-Jewish, insider, outsider, slave and free.  And isn’t Paul preaching directly to us – because we can fill in the blank with so many things today – we label each other – Republican or Democrat, male or female, Black and white, immigrant and citizen, gay and straight.  When we put labels on people, we are not taking the time to know them and to love them.  You know what? God loves that other person I label just as much as God loves me.  That’s a life-changing thing to really figure out that all of God’s children are beloved by God – just as you are.

When we are followers of Jesus, we are called to love.  We are called to love in ways that are really hard.  We are called to love the unlovable and those with whom we disagree.  Part of loving is shown in our words and the way we listen.  Let’s practice seeing people as people rather than labeling them.

The Apostle Paul encourages the Colossian church to act with compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense.  We need practice with this today, don’t we?  Friends, you are going to have time for practice.  We are just a few months from another election day, and every day seems to get more volatile.  So my prayer for us this week has been pretty simple – that this body of Christ would remember that Christ is our life – that we are wearing new clothing now—and that our Creator’s name is on the tag.  I’m praying that we might think about every word, and every tweet and every post that comes out of us.

One of the things I learned this week is that the language of putting on new clothes that Paul used in this scripture would have had a very specific meaning for the Colossians.  You see when First Century followers of Jesus were baptized, they took their old clothes off, they went down into the water and when they came out they were clothed in a new, pure white robe.  They literally took off the old filthy clothes and became clothed in Christ at their baptism – they were born anew – their life was Christ.

May we remember, that we go into the world every single day to live out our baptismal vows – we go out every single day clothed in Christ.  Every single day we will either act as if our lives are all about something else or we will show that Christ is our life.  Friends, the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts ought to bring honor and glory to God.  I pray that the Holy Spirit may transform our hearts and our minds in the love of God, and that we would be clothed in Christ.

Let’s use our memory verses as our prayer.

Psralm 19:14 and Ephesians 29:4