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Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “Colossians and Spokanians”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Set free, O Lord, any tension or anxiety which may keep us from fulfilling Your vision of what we can be. Fill us with the strength of Christ, the power of Your Holy Spirit, and the faithfulness of all true saints, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
There has always been “Fake News” – we used to call them rumors and gossip; and there always been “alternative facts” – we called them lies and cover-ups. But we now live in a world with Social Media run amuck and, we tend to believe whatever we see in print. But among things like National Enquirer at the checkout stands and TMZ on TV and Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat or any of the over 60 Social Media sites – these stories can now spread like a virus in a crowd of completely unprepared victims.
And that happens in church circles, too. Christian believers get caught up in the foray of fake news just as quickly as the population at large. And sometimes the ways these tales are told change the ways we think and believe.
As we enter into the Season of Lent this week (Wednesday is the official beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday – and while we do not have a sanctioned service in the works, from 8:30am to 5:30pm I will be here to pray with you and anoint you with the ashes of repentance and the oil of reformation), we begin a study in the New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christian Community in Colossae, Asia Minor (today’s Turkey). These Colossians, while living across the planet, 2,000 years ago, in the Roman Empire, weren’t all that different from we Spokanians (or if not the whole city, we Lidgerwoodians, certainly).
Colossae was on the decline, in the midst of a thriving Greco-Roman world – and false teachers and worldly temptations and threats against humanity and fear of domineering governments were all taking over!
Paul writes to remind them who they were, to encourage their discouraged souls, to tell them again of who God is and what God had accomplished in Christ Jesus. In this letter we are invited to experience authentic ecclesia – to practice genuine Christian faith.
Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Letter to the Church in Colossae. Colossians 1:1-14 ….—-
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
In these introductory verses we see four main items of business. Remember, this is a letter – or an epistle, which simply means it’s a letter to be circulated among the people.
So the first item of business is the salutation: From Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and from Timothy. Paul is quick to establish that he did not ever seek this role of missional church planter and over-seer. God stopped him en route from one city of persecution to the next, and God made him as one sent on this mission! To God’s holy people in Colossae, faithful brothers and sisters: Grace and peace to you. Today, we receive this word from the Lord to us: holy people at Lidgerwood – not better than the rest, not holier than Thou, just called by God to be His people – brothers and sisters of faith. Paul’s greeting includes a prayer for God’s grace and peace, shalom, to be experienced and to be real.
The next two main themes in these opening 14 verses deal with the person of Jesus and the practice of prayer. For our purposes, let’s see what Paul says about Jesus first.
In verse 5 Paul says that Jesus is “the true message of the Gospel”. In their world there were a lot of false gods one might choose to worship – what are some of the false gods in our world?
This is the true message of the Gospel – Jesus is trustworthy, His precepts are dependable. Half-truths about Jesus are not good enough – a half-truth is still a lie. What are some half-truths about Jesus we often hear? [Jesus loves everybody and so it doesn’t matter what we believe; Jesus is a good teacher, but not the Son of God; Jesus is a son of God, but so is Buddha and Mohammed.] Believe the whole Gospel or admit that we don’t believe the Gospel at all.
Verses 13 & 14 say that Jesus has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and it is in Jesus that we have redemption and forgiveness of our sins. Certainly that at least implies that without Him we lack redemption and forgiveness is out of reach. When we combine this with several of Paul’s other teachings we discover that this truth is not merely implied, but taught straight out. The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) also teach this about the Gospel. Other religions might have great teachings, wonderful examples, superb lessons – but they lack this fundamental truth: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6)!
The third teaching point in this start to this epistle is the power of prayer. It is riddled with prayer.
We always thank God … we pray for you … we have not stopped praying for you … we continually ask God to fill you … giving joyful thanks …. In John 17 Jesus says that He is praying for us, those who have not seen Him when He walked this planet but believe anyway. We have people praying for us all the time – parents, friends, grandparents, pastors, elders, deacons, teachers. We are prayed for personally, for our individual life situations. We are prayed for corporately, as a church, in our denomination, as Christians in a very un-Christian world.
The fourth, and final, and I would say formative, point deals with the effect of these last two items – the person of Jesus and the power of prayer – on our faith and life. Paul says, in direct correlation to our faith in Jesus and the effect of prayer: so that you live lives worthy of the Lord … pleasing Him … bearing fruit … growing in knowledge … being strengthened … giving you great endurance …
If anyone here has ever wondered if your life mattered to God – if your choices pleased Him – if you might ever “bear fruit” (which I believe could be understood both as bringing new people to faith in Christ and growing in Galatians 5:22 fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) – if your understanding of Scripture might grow – if your faith might gain confidence — all of that requires effort on our part – but when our efforts are supported by prayer, we cannot fail!
Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia means having the truth about the Triune God, and believing that prayer connects us directly to the perfect power of that Triune God! This is a Church on the very verge of truly experiencing all of that – and we are blessed, privileged to be in on the ground floor! Let’s join the Colossian Christians and be that kind of church.
O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee, for Thou, in Thy atonement, didst give Thyself to me; I have no other Master, my heart shall be Thy throne; my life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone! Amen.
Carson, H.M.; Colossians and Philemon; Tyndale new testament Commentaries; 1984; Pp. 11-18.
Chisholm, Thomas O.; Living for Jesus a Life that Is True; 1917.