Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “Then and Now”
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.
After watching sales falling off for three straight months at Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Colonel calls up the Pope and asks for a favor.
The Pope says, “What can I do? “The Colonel says, “I need you to change the daily prayer from, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ to ‘Give us this day our daily chicken’. If you do it, I’ll donate 10 Million Dollars to the Vatican.”
The Pope replies, “I am sorry. That is the Lord’s Prayer and I cannot change the words.” So the Colonel hangs up.
After another month of dismal sales, the Colonel panics, and calls again. “Listen Holy Father. I really need your help. I’ll donate $50 million if you change the words of the daily prayer from ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ to ‘Give us this day our daily chicken.’”
And the Pope responds, “It is very tempting, Colonel Sanders. The church could do a lot of good with that much money. It would help us to support many charities. But, again, I must decline. It is the Lord’s Prayer, and I can’t change the words.”
So the Colonel gives up again. After two more months of terrible sales, the Colonel gets desperate. “This is my final offer, your Holiness. If you change the words of the daily prayer from, ‘Give us our daily bread’ to ‘Give us this day our daily chicken’ I will donate $100 million to the Vatican.”
The Pope replies, “Let me get back to you .”
So the next day, the Pope calls together all of his bishops and he says, “I have some good news and I have some bad news. The good news is that KFC is going to donate $100 million to the Vatican.”
The bishops rejoice at the news. Then one asks about the bad news. The Pope replies, “The bad news is that we lost the Wonder Bread account.”
Sorry – that was to explain today’s bulletin cover – what the bulletin cover actually displays is the truth that while the building has changed on the outside, what happens inside that Wonder Bread Bakery is the same Now as it was Then!
Today we begin our fifth full week of the Season of Lent in which we are studying the New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christian Community in Colossae. Paul writes to these Turkish Christians who lived with false teachers and worldly temptations and threats against humanity and fear of domineering governments were all taking over, 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.
We have seen that this means: we have to learn to discern fake news from Good News; we are given Jesus as the visible image of the invisible God; real Christians really suffer, and when we suffer on behalf of another we become more like Jesus; living into these truths makes us free to be who God wants us to be; and last week we saw the beginning of the practical application of these theological truths that when we live like we believe what we say believe, God gives us the ability to shed our old ways of living and become brand new beings, children, in His Kingdom.
Today’s passage provides some evidence of how our relationships with each other effect our relationship with God, and vice versa. And this is just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago when Paul wrote this letter. How we treat each other creates a Communion Community, then and now.
Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Letter to the Church in Colossae. Colossians 3:18-4:1 ….—- Before we get started, take a glance at the passage. There are six short paragraphs about six different people-groups, and they are set up in three groups of pairs: wives and husbands, children and fathers, slaves and masters. Now, let’s listen to this as if we believed it was God’s Word to us, because it is:
3: 18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor,
but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working
for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a
reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is
4: 1 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
Before we start talking about how uncomfortable some of us in this room are with instructions like: wives, submit; children, obey; or slaves, obey; let’s remember how the paragraph immediately preceding these instructions ended: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts; let the Word of Christ dwell among you; and everything you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Yeah, OK, 2,000 years ago, in an utterly patriarchal society, telling wives to submit to their husbands made sense! But we live in America in the 21st Century AD! No longer applies!
Children obey your fathers/parents – OK, that one’s alright.
But wives submit to your husbands, and slaves, obey your masters?! What?! No one would argue that rules about slaves obeying still applies, why would we listen to rules about wives submitting?
And their counterparts? Husbands, love; fathers, be nice; and masters, be fair. How are those equal counterparts to submit and obey?
OK, so is some of your blood starting to boil, or are your nerve synapses collapsing under the strain? Remember that thing about the Peace of Christ ruling? And the Word of Christ dwelling?
To help us see how these instructions still create Communion Community, now just as well as then, look at the number of times the phrase “in/for the Lord” is used in these teachings.
I do not mean that Paul uses this phrase as a panacea – that if he says “in the Lord” then he can say whatever he wants and get away with it. Rather, it refers directly back to allowing the peace of Christ to rule our hearts and the Word of Christ to dwell among us.
And those “easy” instructions to the husbands, fathers, and masters? Look again.
“Husbands, love your wives” means far more than merely “don’t be harsh”! If this is done “in the Lord”, then the love of Christ is what Paul is talking about – look at I Corinthians 13: patient, kind, rejoices with truth, protects, trusts, hopes, endures all things. Husbands, when we love our wives with that kind of Christ-like love, everyone will want to have what we have! Admittedly, I Corinthians 13 is not limited to marital love – in fact that describes what all love should look like – it describes, perfectly, what Christ’s love for us looks like! If husbands actually loved their wives like this, the “submitting” would never be a burden! It, in fact, would not even be considered subservient. We submit to Christ as His co-heirs!
“Fathers, don’t embitter” again takes us to I Corinthians 13: no envy, no boasting, no un-due pride, no rudeness, no self-seeking, no easy anger, no keeping score. When we fathers, or parents, love like this, our children will want to obey and honor!
The “slaves” paragraph is way longer! Toward the end of this letter we see that a run-away slave is helping to deliver this epistle, and that may be the reason for the longer treatment here. Paul neither condemns nor condones the fact of slavery. I really do wish he had. That would have made the Civil War of 150 years ago more difficult to defend from the Confederate side. It might also have made the Civil Rights movement of 50 years ago easier to accomplish. And give stronger grounds for current day slave trade (yes, it still happens, globally).
But look at what Paul does do! He demonstratively treats the slaves as human beings! He declares that they are not just things (chattel), they are fully human beings, men and women, people. And as such they deserve the same love and respect and care as everyone else! While that may not condemn the economy of slavery, it does utterly condemn the way masters have always considered their slaves as mere things!
And in all of these relationships the overriding consideration is always the LORDSHIP of JESUS CHRIST! Did you hear that? Treat each other the way Jesus treats you! He went to the cross for you! And He offered forgiveness to you while on His way, and again while hanging on that cross of condemnation!
Being “moral” is never enough! Conforming to conventional morality is NOT enough! Our lives are not meant to simply please our ourselves, not our neighbor, not our society at large! Our lives are meant to please GOD! That may mean that sometimes we have to go against the grain of our culture-at-large! It might mean we need to invest more of ourselves in prayer so that we can discern God’s ways from human ways! It also means that if we are going to live like we believe what we say we believe, we need to actually know what our Bible says we’re supposed to believe!….
So, as we approach the Lord’s Table this morning, let’s realize the truth that, just like 2,000 years ago, we still form Communion Community when we LOVE with God’s love!
And, if you’re anything like me, you know your own limits, and you realize how impossible that feels. But the truth is, as Corrie ten Boom once said, “The AMOUNT of God’s love is UNLIMITED, but we only receive as much as we USE.” Let’s use a little more today than we did yesterday, and allow God to fill our love reservoir a little more tomorrow!
Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia means living like we believe what we say we believe!! 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 together.
Lord of past ages, Lord of this morning, Lord of the future, help us, we pray:
Teach us to trust You, to love and obey You, and to crown You each moment Lord of today! Amen.
Carson, H.M.; Colossians and Philemon; Tyndale new testament Commentaries; 1984; Pp. 92-95.
Clarkson, Margaret; “God of the Ages”; 1982.