July 24: The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, July 24, 2022 was preached in response to Colossians 2.6-19 and was based on the manuscript below.

After two weeks of both me and Paul alluding to it,
we finally hear his specific concerns
for the Colossian church.
“See to it
that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit,
according to human tradition,
according to the elemental spirits of the universe,
and not according to Christ.
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
and you have come to fullness in him,
who is the head of every ruler and authority.”
As Paul writes to the Colossians,
he’s not worried about them using their brains
or thinking through the problems that face them.
He is, however, concerned that
they’re letting things get in the way of
our Christian belief that Jesus is both fully God and fully human
and that through God’s acts of redemption in Jesus
we have been reconciled to God
and called to restore all people to unity with God and one another
through Jesus the resurrected Christ.

Paul is writing to a church that was rooted in Jesus
but found new teachers whose talking
seemed to make more sense.
Paul is telling them that while we explore our reality
with the depths of our knowledge and lived experience
there are times that things just won’t make sense.
People don’t come back from the dead,
and yet we believe that Jesus did.
God is God and we are humans
but we believe that in Jesus
God continued to be God
while also becoming fully human.
The church does not believe that
“A good man is taken up into deity
nor a charade by which the earthly Jesus
was only God role-playing as man.”

And it’s okay to struggle with those things!
Paul isn’t saying to just let things be,
casually, easily, blindly accepting.
He does, however caution against those
who offer new and improved ways to encounter and experience God.
Some of those new and improved ways –
like that matter isn’t real
and that disease is a separation from God
that we’ve caused ourselves –
aren’t even new.
The idea that bodies are bad or not important
is exactly a notion that Paul was combatting
including with the Colossians!
“Philosophy and empty deceit,
according to human tradition,
according to the elemental spirits of the universe,
and not according to Christ”
are not deep thoughts about the nature of Goodness
or how to live an ethical life
in an interconnected society
with variables significantly beyond our control.
They’re rejecting some of the bolder claims
about Christianity,
claims that bring us freedom.
First, in Christ God became fully human
so that our flesh might be sanctified by his presence;
Second, in Jesus’ full experience of death
a death he willingly died out of love
death has been defeated.
It has no victory
and the sting of the grave is gone.
Additionally, as Paul explicitly says today
“when you were buried with him in baptism,
you were also raised with him through faith
in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Throughout this letter
Paul has not held back on his critiques
but throughout it he has been positive and affirming.
He loves the Colossians
and that comes through.
He also doesn’t want them to think they need
to worship or pray to river spirits
or angels who have part of God’s divinity
alongside Jesus who also has just a part.
No, Paul says,
all rulers and authorities of the world
were created through him.
Through his resurrection,
they have been shamed and brought into submission.
Because of this Paul commends the Colossians
“continue to live your lives in him,
rooted and built up in him and established in the faith,
just as you were taught,
abounding in thanksgiving.”

That’s Paul’s call for us, too.
To continue to live our lives in Jesus the resurrected Christ
trusting that in the speck of time we’re here
God is working and active in the long game of time
actively working to restore all things
and build up Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation.
Rooted and built up in Jesus, established in the faith,
and abounding in thanksgiving.
You’re going to hear those words a lot in the coming months.
As we abound in thanksgiving
and begin our fall pledge campaign
as part of our yearlong, lifelong, stewardship efforts
you’re going to hear
“Rooted, built up, and established.”

We as a community are rooted, built up, and established.
As stewards of this place and resources
I hope we stay that way!
I certainly don’t think we’re being called
to move to some other place.
So abounding in thanksgiving,
we’re going to embark on a mini-capital campaign.
If you were are the annual meeting
or have looked at the monthly financials
you may recall that we adopted a deficit budget
of about $30,000.
Much of that deficit
is a result of necessary maintenance
that has been deferred.
When we adopted the budget
we planned to use $15,000 from savings
for capital improvement.
We also planned to match that
with a special appeal
which I’m soft-launching today.
There may be a letter
or a slick video if Tyson can help me
but there will be more information
about this $30,000 improvement campaign.
We’re going to paint the church.
We’re going to replace broken gutters.
We’re probably going to
wash the roof.

Rooted and built up in Jesus, established in the faith,
and abounding in thanksgiving.
Churches, congregations, have life cycles.
Ebbs and flows,
as all living organisms do.
As we find something like COVID-normal
new paths are opening for us
and we have opportunities
to grow in God
as we’re rooted and built up in Jesus,
established in the faith,
and abounding in thanksgiving.
Of the $15,000 that we’re hoping to raise
separate from year-round stewardship,
we already have $3,000 given or pledged
just for painting or this capital campaign.

Jesus has overcome all the powers and principalities of the world
and this mini capital campaign isn’t going to make or break
anyone’s salvation.
Writing to the Colossians,
Paul wants them to succeed in sharing the Good News
they’ve found in Jesus
that he’s risen from the dead
trampling down death by death
and on those in the tombs bestowing life.
The Good News that God made us alive together with him,
when he forgave us all our trespasses,
erasing the record that stood against us
with its legal demands.
That is as good news for us
as it was the Colossians.
It’s good news that I want us to share
and to be able to share into the future.
So we look to the future
remembering the Good News
and live our lives rooted, built up, and established in faith.

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