Saturday, July 30, 2022

Pentecost 8C

Colossians 3:1-17

1Because you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is our life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living among such people. 8But now you must get rid of all such things: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices

10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all!

12Therefore, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians, Week 4

• More about Colossians from Pentecost 5

• More about Colossians from Pentecost 6

• More about Colossians from Pentecost 7


Broad Overview

Textual and other evidence shows Saul/Paul of Tarsus almost definitely didn't write this fairly early NT letter. Part of its message relates to how people in the house church at Colossae had gotten involved in activities that contradicted the sufficiency of Jesus Christ—"Christ Alone" as the Reformers would express it. Colossian congregants had dabbled in spiritual practices minimally unnecessary for Christians, maximally harmful to their own well-being and that of their neighbors.

The last part of Colossians that's not part of this lectionary series includes an example of "household codes," a type of instruction common in those days and found elsewhere in scripture. Household codes typically outline proper behavior for relationships that can include slaves, masters, children, husbands, wives, servants. They require serious study of the historical and anthropological background and in general are not suitable for reading or interpreting during worship.


Colossians Chapter 3

Today's passage advises against any spoken or bodily activities that separate us from each other. Don't misinterpret words or actions, don't be angry without cause, don't slander anyone. Doesn't most slander and libel happen because the individual thinks making someone else look worse will make them (the speaker or writer) look better? Avoid sexual activities that objectify others, which would include viewing or reading pornography.

Verse 11 parallels Galatians 3:28 and affirms our essential unity in Jesus Christ: "…there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all!" God loves healthy diversity of all kinds; of course distinctions remain and we value them, but don't place any characteristic, ethnicity, or ability above another, don't celebrate anything as more important than each individual's – and the community's – identity in Jesus Christ.

For some reason the lectionary suggested only verses 1 through 11, leaving out verses 12 through 17 that answer "if we're not supposed to engage in those things, then how are we supposed to act?" Engage in behaviors that bring us together! If you've been online recently you may have noticed, "If you can be anything, be kind. Kindness always is possible."


Empire and Grace

We began this Colossians series by noting members of the church at Colossae were colonials amongst the inescapable reality of Roman imperialism. Like every empire from Egypt through Babylon and Persia, to Spain, Russia, Royal Dutch Shell (that maybe believed changing its name to simply Shell a few months ago softened its corporate image), Amazon, and Toyota, Rome dealt death by making production and profits primary, always at the cost of life.

Empire literally is restless, never ever slows down or rests. Empire never takes a time out.

We can help fulfill our baptismal vows to work for justice, in current parlance to "resist" death and empire with life-generating behaviors. Be kind. Love each other. Care for creation. Keep a time of sabbath at least once a week! Cease from work, quit that busyness, welcome life as gift. Acknowledge existence as graced.

As an individual who sometimes feels powerless, I still do my best to live locally, buying food, household items, etc., that have been grown and manufactured in ways that don't exploit workers, that don't cause more environmental degradation in making and transporting them. Only China manufactures KN-95 masks I still wear everyday, though in time I hope to revert to standard masks I've bought from small entrepreneurs. Near-constant congestion at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach helps keep me super aware.

What else can we do? 3:16 "…with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God."
living local 2022

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Pentecost 7C

Colossians 2:5-15

5For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your orderly conduct and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

6As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to walk in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

8Watch out that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental principles or spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by the removal of the sins of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ;

12when you were buried with Christ in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13And 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, 14erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

Colossians Continues

• More about Colossians from Pentecost 5

• More about Colossians from Pentecost 6

The second lesson this week is third in a series of four from the letter or epistle to the house church at Colossae. Today's scripture again affirms the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Jesus is sufficient or "enough" for everything there is, for everything that happens, because he has reconciled everything on earth to heaven, has annihilated all death-dealing powers on the cross, and reigns with merciful loving justice. Jesus' ascension means Christ is sovereign over all creation—not only over earth and its inhabitants. This cosmic Christ fills creation to the extent of humanly unknown galaxies, yet inhabits individual humans.

Although the apostle Saul/Paul of Tarsus almost definitely didn't write Colossians, the author addresses his readers with affectionate language very similar to Paul's in his seven undisputed letters. We don't know who planted the church or who their pastors might have been, but Epaphras was their pastor and teacher at the time of this epistle.


Today's Reading

Scholars believe and textual evidence shows the Colossian parishioners had been experimenting with spiritual ideas and practices other than Christianity. Verse 8 mentions "philosophy and empty deceit." They may have denied the goodness of created matter—including human bodies. As a result, the church at Colossae leaned into ideas that viewed bodies as not essential, as lesser-than "spirit," yet at the same time they thought the way people treated their bodies didn't matter. They may have engaged in what we'd call New Age type activities. From our perspective some of those are a bit crazy, and many are harmless, but as this author reminded their first readers and us as well, Christ and Christianity are complete in themselves and don't need add-ons.

Just as with last week, today's scripture affirms Jesus as completely divine, elegantly proclaiming "in him the whole fullness of divinity dwells bodily." Jesus of Nazareth embodies God! Remember Christ is the image of the invisible God… how do you picture, image, or portray something that can't be seen?


Living Locally

As twenty-first century Christians in a culture far different from that of the early church, much different from many twenty-first century countries, we need to remember Christianity by definition is incarnational, literally clothed in realities and artifacts of human endeavor. Jesus spoke the same language as his contemporaries, wore the same type of clothing, enjoyed the same kind of cuisine. As Christians in our communities, we speak a version of the local language or languages (or are in process of learning it if we immigrated from a place that spoke a different one), dress in similar ways, prepare almost identical meals. We baptize in plain ordinary water. We use everyday bread and fruit of the vine for holy communion. Christianity is a global way of life, but its expression always is local.


Baptism and Empire

Most scholars think "spiritual circumcision" in verse 11 refers to baptism; verse 12 says we've been buried with Christ in baptism, and already resurrected with him. In Romans 6 Paul seems to reserve our resurrection from death (our second birth) for when Jesus returns, although he clearly says the baptized "walk in newness of life."

Written amidst Roman imperialism and colonialism, Colossians emphasizes resisting empire. Today we hear about Jesus disarming the "rulers and authorities" after erasing all debts, sins, legal violations, and transgressions on the cross. I remember one bible translation says Jesus "made hash of the powers and principalities." That sounds like Eugene Peterson's The Message, but when I looked to confirm it, it wasn't. Jesus completed the work and reality of salvation in his death, resurrection, and ascension, yet in some senses it remains unfinished. God calls us in our baptism to resist empire and to work for justice, to do everything possible to "make hash" of agents of death and destruction.

Stay tuned for the fourth and last in this series of four readings from Colossians.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Pentecost 6C

Colossians 1L17 in him all things hold together
Colossians 1:15-20

15Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to Godself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.


Colossians

This is the second of four weeks that the second reading comes from the epistle to the Colossian church. Last week's blog gives some background on the church at Colossae and the letter to the Colossians.

Probably written by a ministry companion, friend, student, or younger brother (my favorite speculation) of Paul/Saul of Tarsus about three decades after Jesus' death and resurrection, in Colossians we find theology (the word about the divine), Christology (words about the Christ), and cosmology (words about the scope and reach of all creation) that anticipates the worldview of John's gospel close to a half century later. In the seven epistles he definitely wrote, the apostle Paul is about outward from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth; the cosmic Christ of Colossians moves beyond planet earth into immeasurable time and space.


Authority Sovereignty Rule

God gifted Israel with the Ten Words – decalogue – or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant after their rescue from imperial Egyptian slavery, before their crossed the river into the land God promised Abraham. The commandments are life-giving words that help us remain free as we honor our neighbors (whose neighbor we become) amidst temptations to idolatry and frivolity.

"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth." Deuteronomy 5:6-8

"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below." Exodus 20:2-4

Reformer John Calvin insisted human brains are idol factories.


Sedition – Resistance

Last week I recommended Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat. I got a "like new" copy on eBay for $6.56 that included shipping, but then the price escalated to $127 (yes, $127.00). It looks as if I wasn't the only one who noticed the commentaries on Working Preacher and on Center for Excellence in Preaching that referenced it and as a result, many many knew they had to own the book.

Over the past couple months in the January 6th Congressional Hearings, "sedition" and "seditious" have emerged as buzzwords. Sedition is speech or activity that subverts and intends to overthrow the authority and presence of established government.

For the past couple years I've been fairly active on twitter; among politically blue tweeps, resist, resistance, and resister are trending hashtags.

Resistance means acting directly against as well as doing nothing (passivity) to stop agents of death and violence. Some of those actors are governments like those of the Russian Federation, North Korea, and Hungary; purveyors of death include transnational corporations that exploit workers and disproportionately reward top level executives. Treating employees as subhuman in order to price output competitively low, leads to transporting what they produce ("products") to destinations where consumers live, which leads to excessive use of finite natural resources, environmental degradation, etc. Those are starkly obvious ones. You probably can name dozens more.


gods God Images

Imperial Rome and its colonies were full of coins stamped with the emperor's image. The Roman Caesar supposedly was the son of a god, bestowing on him a slice of divinity. Formal church history well may (it does) locate the confession of Jesus as fully human and fully divine in the Definition of Chalcedon from the ecumenical council that convened in the year 451, but this pastoral letter to Colossae declares Jesus divine four centuries earlier. A couple thousand years ago it was commonplace that you'd be talking or walking with a person who was half human and half divine. In Jesus Christ we meet a Savior who is fully human and fully divine.

Today's reading that describes Jesus' as God's authoritative presence and the actual ikon / icon / image of the invisible God is so relevant to our contemporary political and economic concerns! How do you picture something that's invisible, that can't be seen? Do you remember Genesis 1:27 tells us God created humanity (us!) in the divine image—imago Dei? Over the centuries, theologians and philosophers have had diverse ideas about what aspects of humanity are divine.

Early Christians perceived – "saw, viewed" – Jesus as fully imprinted with God. In terms of the first century's (and this twenty-first's) status quo, these words from Colossians are seditious and subversive! They proclaim the person, power, and rule of Jesus Christ in terms that only are supposed to belong to the emperor. If Jesus is supreme, then caesar isn't.

If – because! – Jesus rules the cosmos and us as individuals, then Samsung, BP, and Shell don't. If Jesus is our ultimate authority, then the Russian Federation and the United States government aren't. Because Jesus is Lord, national flags and corporate logos aren't our central symbols. The cross of Calvary is.

I had a lot more notes I wanted to develop, but even using less than half the lectionary reading I'm out of space and out of time. I'll try to include my ideas over the next two Sundays.

Saturday, July 09, 2022

Pentecost 5C

Colossians 1:11
Prayer for Transformation and New Life

Everlasting God, you build up and tear down. We confess that we have erected idols that need to be demolished in our time. We embrace complacency and comfort over following your vision of beloved community and liberation. We measure ourselves not against your precepts but by the standards of this world. We close our ears to voices we do not want to hear and our eyes to sights too painful to see. Tear down the fear of discomfort within us and rebuild us with the pillars of holy love, compassionate care, and Spirit-led action. In your mercy, make us new. Amen.

By Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology, United Church of Christ.
Copyright 2022 Faith INFO Ministry Team, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115-1100

Colossians 1:1-14

1Paul, 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 our 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 walk 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 God's glorious power, so that you may have all endurance and patience, joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13God has rescued [exodus, a new deliverance, a new freedom from slavery] us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians

Four Sundays in a row the second lection will come from Colossians. The apostle Paul almost definitely didn't write the epistle to the Christians who assembled at Colossae. Despite the greeting referencing Paul and his ministry sidekick Timothy, its grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and sentence structure depart from the style of Paul/Saul of Tarsus' seven undisputed letters, although Colossian's overall theology and especially its cosmic Christ go in directions Paul likely would have traveled. Could God have inspired this poetry and these proclamations in one of Paul's ministry companions, students, or a slightly younger sibling?

Even in translation, Colossians' poetic splendor takes Paul up a few notches. It's as if original Paul was super-concerned about carefully articulating formal theology, and Colossian's author already has all that down and feels confident to riff and gloss on those basics. This is the Christ who embraces and rules all creation, yet affects individuals at their core.

Scholars date this letter from 60CE to as late as 75CE, about three decades after Jesus' death and resurrection, predating the gospels. Colossae was in current western Turkey, 120 miles inland from the Aegean Sea.

The letter itself doesn't clearly describe the Colossian church beyond indicating Epaphras was their pastor and teacher. However, in Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat tell us this church met in the home of Philemon, Apphia and Archippus, from which the slave Onesimus had run away. They strongly advise, "Read Colossians with [the book of] Philemon and Onesimus in mind." I was almost literally ecstatic to discover Colossians Remixed, though given how much the world has changed since the 2004 publication date I'd love a revision or at least an additional chapter related to global events since then.


Today's Reading

After a classic Pauline-style salutation and greeting, this week's reading reveals the author's prayer-filled hope for the Colossians' future in Christ as it affirms the fruitfulness that has resulted from their comprehending or grasping grace. Future weeks will refer to the social and religious location that had the Colossian church pretty heavily involved in a syncretism that sounds a whole lot like some recent New Age religious smorgasbords, potlucks, and buffets. Apparently they were on the edge of heresy, so all along the letter affirms the sufficiency, authority, power, and divinity of Jesus Christ, in constant contrast with the supposed authority and divinity of the Roman Caesar.

All along the letter reminds its recipients of their position and transformation in Christ. As in Paul's authentic letters, Colossians are "in Christ," rather than followers or disciples the way the gospels describe Jesus' people. As with all of the New Testament, when we read Colossians we need to stay aware of the overall Roman imperial context as well as assorted deities, and practices of non-Jewish neighbors.

We live baptized into Christ, yet we necessarily also live in a particular earthbound geographical location. Because of that reality, it's necessary to contextualize and adapt Christianity in ways that make sense to where we are.

The end of today's selection, verses 13-14, God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. is basic gospeled Good News that especially echoes Paul's theology and that of Luke, who's mentioned in 4:14, "Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings."

Friday, July 01, 2022

Pentecost 4C

Luke 10:1-11, 16

1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way; I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' 6And if a person of peace is there, your peace will rest on that person, but if not, it will return to you.

7"Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'

16"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

The Original Setting

"After this" in 10:1 refers back to events reported in chapter 9 that include feeding 5,000+ people with five loaves and two fish, Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah, Jesus' Transfiguration (reported in 9:31 "They spoke about Jesus' departure or exodus, which he was about to bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem"), casting out a demon, Jesus' exceptionally radical call to discipleship that excludes expected human activities of burying the dead, saying goodbye before leaving.

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven (ascendancy, authority, Lordship), Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Luke 9:51

Particularly in Luke's and Mark's gospels, Jesus' journey to Jerusalem is relentless and incessant. Jesus mostly grew up and lived in small town Nazareth in semi-remote Galilee; Jerusalem was the center of religious power and the seat of Roman imperial control. Jews considered the J-Temple the axis mundi or conduit between heaven and earth.


Where We Live

The Lord sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. Luke 10:1

I definitely need to consult a few more commentaries and opinions about this verse because most of scripture reveals God already has been at work there before God leads us to a particular situation—God has been to our future! In addition, I've heard many many real-life (contemporary) testimonies of that fact, as likely you have, too.

In a very similar way to what Luke 9:1-6 reports when he sent out the original twelve, Jesus gives instructions for going into the world as itinerant missionaries. We all need this direction because like Jesus and his first followers, all of us itinerate from one place to another, from one ministry to another.

Paralleling Moses and the seventy elders, Luke's Jesus picks up on the number 70. Seventy combines seven, the number of perfection and ten, the number of completion in Hebrew numerology. He wisely advises everyone to travel in pairs, which has become the way to go for anyone anywhere.


Comments and Questions

Travel light! Why? Always? Is that a good idea for us today? Why does he say "Greet no one on the road"? Are these guidelines only for humanitarian and proselytizing missionaries in less-developed countries or remote rural communities? Maybe for short-term high school and college mission trips to nearby places (Habitat for Humanity Houses, for example) or across the international border? Or can they apply elsewhere?

The very first thing is to speak Shalom, the fullness of God's loving, merciful, presence to everyone they meet. How can we do that in words and in actions? Church-speak and Christianese are foreign languages to a lot of people.

Accept the hospitality and act as guests of households we visit. Eat whatever people give you! Local cuisine helps us learn about our hosts. "You are what you eat" – "we are what we eat" As we enjoy their hospitality and their food, we become our hosts. This scripture presents food and lodging as compensation. What's your opinion of pay-your-own-way ministries versus ones that pay in dollars and cents and/or housing and vehicle allowance?

If the people don't welcome and receive us? Shake the dust of that place off your feet! Get rid of the evidence. Try to shake off memories of them? Or maybe not? What's your experience?

We go everywhere as Jesus' own presence. Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me. Luke 10:16

One of the very helpful outcomes of prayer can be discerning when to quit trying to engage an individual, a family, or a group; figuring out when to move on to the next place.

After spending some time with this passage, I don't know if I want a live discussion of the questions I've asked, or if it's time to move on to next week.