7th Sunday after Pentecost

July 28, 2019


At any time and place

6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:6-15 ESV)

At the end of the 19th Century there was a hope for a new ‘world golden age’ in the next century –particularly after the depression of the 1890s. That ‘golden age’ didn’t eventuate but the world certainly changed with the industrialisation of war, the marvels of medical improvements, the technological and engineering revolutions – we even walked on the Moon – and the social changes – particularly in the second half of the last century – which have all affected us.

In the late 1990s I remember the social and political pundits peering into the 21st Century and predicting ongoing clashes – clashes of civilisations – religious, economics, political – the trajectories of the 20th Century suggested where the world would go. 9/11, in my view, didn’t essentially change that idea but dominated the last decade in terms of religion, politics, and security so that together with the global financial crash of 2007-2008, it seems that now, as we head towards the end of this century’s second decade, we have a more fragmented world – more tribal – there are more groupings within countries, within philosophies, within religions – and whereas possibly in the past we were grouped by place of birth, class, religion at home, social expectations, education, today people – as individuals – align themselves in all sorts of ways on social media, in society, in relationships. If there is a pendulum between individualism making society conform and society making individuals conform then perhaps we are tilting towards the individual as norm, as authority, as judge – which, I see, at least in the discussions, debates, and disputes about competing human rights.

How would you describe the philosophy of this age? Do we default to a version of democracy in the spirit of Churchill’s “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” (W Churchill 11th November 1947) but can’t work out how to count, who counts, and what leadership, responsibility, and accountability mean?

Do we basically regard capitalism as the best economic world view but desire it to be limited or regulated in some way? There’s a tension.

Do we nod and affirm the concept of ‘equality’ as sacrosanct but perhaps struggle with what it should mean in practice?

What else? Have I missed a ‘sacred cow’ or two?

Ok, enough of my commentary on the state of the world. I could be right about things, misguided about things and you may agree or disagree with me but knowing who we are and where we are living and how we are to live are the basic ingredients of human living – if we are more than animals or plants – and so finding ourselves under the vast night sky or deep in a forest or amid the city skyscrapers all connects us with others and our environment and we make and define meaning about living with purpose each day – not just survival living – eating, shelter, and roof – but also to create art and to love and to make music and to laugh, and to enjoy life. These really are the things we want – and we want for our children and grandchildren – so that our life has – we have – meaning and purpose.

Christianity is a proclamation that irrespective of where you live, when you live, the shape of the night sky, the state of the forests, the height of the skyscrapers that Jesus Christ walks with his people and he builds people up so that they have this meaning and purpose that we all crave. This Jesus doesn’t make it easy per se for us to live – we still have to think, to study, to learn where and when we are – we still have to understand the relationships with those around us – whether that be political, social, class, economic – we still have to be aware of the philosophies of the day that are part of us – nationalism, gender, sexual behaviour, how to have authority and be under authority – and having done all that, Jesus still calls us to follow him as we go forward.

Today much of the world thinks, it seems to me, that the Christian Church is part of the problem of this planet – that it is tribal, oppressive, not equal, abusive, controlling – and I think we could all find evidence to support such a case – but what is often missed – or rather who is often missed is Jesus himself. Three things can happen here – firstly, people push Jesus away so to speak because they don’t ‘like’ his followers – or rather his followers’ behaviour which might be not good but it also might be different, counter cultural and challenging to them. Secondly, people push away the Jesus that doesn’t fit with what they believe religion or God should be about in terms of freedom or individuality or behaviour – essentially they want Jesus to fit around them and reject the idea of having to shape themselves or their behaviour around him. Thirdly, people push away a caricature of Jesus that they’ve picked up somewhere – often a caricature that we, too, wouldn’t follow. This means unpacking how people regard Jesus and his Church can be quite complex.

Paul when writing to the Christians in Colossae who would be having their own issues about how Jews and Gentiles related, how men and women relate and behave, how to live in the Roman Empire with its power structure and its supermarket of religions directs people to Jesus and he makes two key links and states a philosophical and physical nonsense.

Paul starts with Christmas and baptism and says that here Jesus and his followers are linked. Jesus – and here is the philosophical and physical nonsense – the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily – the finite can contain the infinite – which, of course, is celebrated at Christmas and at each Holy Communion – is truly God for us and he has joined us to him – established a relationship, a promise, a covenant – circumcision without hands in baptism – so that as God’s child and as God’s people we are not to be captured by philosophy, empty deceit or human tradition – but walk – that is, live – following Jesus.

Why follow this Jesus? Because according to Paul – and to Jesus’ followers ever since it happened, his death on the cross and his empty tomb has changed everything because Jesus has dealt with what all our world views, politics, economics, culture recognise and deal with – problems, human failure, doing wrong, having wrong done to us, inequality, oppression, death – but which rejects the root cause – rebellion against God. Jesus – that is, God – has dealt with our rebellion against God. He has confronted the root cause of the problem humanity doesn’t want to confront and instead spends its time trying to fix one bandaid problem after another.

The forgiveness God gives; the grace we discover in this God; this undeserved love creates new life in us – we call it faith – and we then spend our lives each day in the century and country in which we live following Jesus, knowing full well that no human system of politics or economics is perfect, that no relationship is perfect, that the mystery of injustice, violence, and evil have some causes which we can see and work on but there is a mystery here, that our justice will never be perfect and in this world – our world, whether we’re thinking globally or locally, as humanity or as an individual – the followers of Jesus will follow him and it will lead, at times noticeably, to walking in a different direction to the world around them.

It can be hard. Doubts can arise. Struggles. Rationalisations. Different interpretations of God’s Word can be found. How can we follow Jesus? By returning again and again to that cross and looking at that man and going back in time to when he turned up – Christmas – and seeing that this God is mysterious and he won’t fit neatly into our world. By going back to God’s word – all of it – not just our favourite parts and understanding it both as a verse and as a totality from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus still doesn’t fit neatly – using water, words, bread and wine – and giving himself so that we can live with the freedom and joy that comes with this reconciliation and then look around at our time and place – at our relationships – and see where Jesus wants us to walk this week.

Bible References

  • Colossians 2:6 - 15