June 6, 2021 Series on Colossians
Colossians 1:3-8, 13-14 Luke 18:9-14
Some One to rely on!
When thousands of New York Times readers of all ages were asked to share how they are feeling right now, these are the most common words used: unsettled, anxious, overwhelmed, frazzled, tired, hopeful, optimistic, stressful, exhausted, excited.
Some responded that just one word was not enough to describe how they’re feeling.
The Household Pulse Survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that as of mid-May, almost a third of Americans (30.7 percent) were experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. In comparison, in 2019, about 11 percent of adults in the United States had similar symptoms.
Dr. Judson Brewer, director of research and innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center and an associate professor of psychiatry at the medical school, said that these emotions like anxiety, unsettled, feelings of being overwhelmed are likely to stem from the general uncertainty created by pandemic life.
For the brain, feelings of uncertainty are like hunger pangs to your stomach, he said. While a stomach growl is a signal you need food, feelings of uncertainty are a signal to your brain that it needs information. The problem for many people right now is a lack of information about how life looks going forward.
“Information is food for our brain. But when there is continuous uncertainty that we can’t resolve, that leaves people feeling anxious. They can feel overwhelmed because there’s not a resolution; the brain is not able to solve the problem. That leaves them feeling frazzled, tired and exhausted.”
It is a fascinating observation that our brains need information and certainty. Here’s the problem: we live in a world where there is continuous uncertainty. To be more precise, there are some certainties in life, according to Benjamin Franklin there are only two, death and taxes. To be transparent though, I came across this proverb: “Only three things in life are certain: birth, death, and change.”
All things considered then, there are at most, four things in life that are certain: Birth, taxes, change, and death. Everything else is uncertain. Our poor brains don’t have a very rich diet!
You may then conclude that human beings are predestined to feel overwhelmed, anxious, exhausted and tired. The theological answer to your conclusion is a clear and certain NO!
The Apostle Paul, wrote his letter to the Colossians while he is in prison, perhaps in Ephesus, the date sometime in the mid 50’s. He had never visited Colossae. Guided by God’s Spirit he writes his letter to the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Colossae.
From his letter we see that the Apostle had concerns about some religious practices in the congregation. Most interpreters believe that his concerns were that the congregation acknowledged, if not actually worshipping, heavenly powers associated with stars. They believed that heavenly bodies controlled their destination. So, perhaps they too were aware of the uncertainty and randomness of life and trusting the stars countered their uncertainty.
However, in spite of his concerns, the Apostle Paul gives them some unfailing assurances: you are already Christ’s church, you are already saints and you are faithful! These certainties are non-negotiable! They can and should hold onto these certainties. They are saints and they faithful, in spite of their weaknesses, doubts, and in spite of the world’s uncertainties. The certainty was not rooted in their accomplishments and standing in the congregation or in the world. The assurance is in Christ! What they are, is because of what Christ did. It is a done deal, it is certain, and it is firm!
And therefore, he already thanks God for them. There is an important theological truth here: he does not thank them, he does not compliment them. He thanks GOD for what God has done and is doing. He thanks God for what God has accomplished with and to them. He had heard of their faith, their love and their hope. It is the work of God’s Spirit through the Gospel that God made them new and whole. The Gospel transformed them, that is God’s work in them! The Gospel has come to them and it is bearing fruit, and is growing in them. The transforming power is God!
The reformer and theologian John Calvin said: “This is our assurance, our glory, and the sole anchor of our salvation that Christ the Son of God is ours, and we in turn are in him sons and daughters of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven, called to the hope of eternal blessedness by God’s grace, not by our worth.”
You see this is the nature of the Gospel. It is thanks to God that we are who we are, that we are saints, that the Gospel is growing in us, that we are made new and whole. This is sure and certain and an anchor in a world where nothing is certain!
Why does the Apostle start this letter on such a positive and affirming way? The reason is that he does not want people of faith to think that it is up to them to transform themselves. He does not want people to rely on their own power. He is aware that human beings are fickle, doubtful, weak and unreliable. The Apostle Paul is deeply aware of the fact that God is at work long before he wrote his letter. Before he became involved, God was already at work. Long after he is gone, God will still be at work. It is important to be honest about this. If we were to rely on our own efforts, our emotions, our feelings, our power to transform the world or even ourselves, we will constantly be disappointed. We will fail, and we will never leave the abyss of anxiety, exhaustion, stress unsettledness, being overwhelmed, and being frazzled.
Hold onto this truth, God has been at work in us for a long time, God has called us by name long ago, and God will be at work in this world, in this church, long after we are gone! This is certain and reliable!
The Apostle Paul consistently, in different ways, reaffirm that they are what they are because of God’s trustworthiness. He mentions that they are already saints, faithful, growing in faith.
He emphasizes this by pointing out how they once were and how they now are: “once you were estranged, hostile in mind but now is reconciled, holy, blameless and irreproachable before God.” (1:21-22). The mystery was hidden but has now been revealed to his saints (1:26).
There is a reason why the Apostle so often points to the past: Their past, the way they acted in the past, their priorities, their worldview, everything has now been transformed into something new. God has enabled them to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light (1:12).
People of God, this is also true and certain for us today: “you have been rescued from the power of darkness (1:13), you have been transferred into the kingdom of his beloved Son (1:13), you have been raised with Christ (3:1), you have died and your life is hidden with Christ (3:3).
Let me repeat verses 13-14: “God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We are redeemed, our sins are forgiven. Now that is assurance and certain!
It is good for us, in the midst of a fast-changing and ever changing world to remind ourselves: “God has done all this…” Isn’t his exactly what faith is? To take God on God’s Word? To believe what God promises? Yes, faith is to accept that God’s Word is already true!
Martin Luther said that “…. faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace give you joy and peace, it gives you trust in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of this faith, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do”.
We could add to Luther’s words, that faith is to say with certainty that what Christ did is already my own.
Now this does not mean that I place trust and certainty in myself. When I do this, I will one moment feel that I am on top of the world, reliable and capable of doing God’s work. But the very next moment I will have to admit that I am unreliable, weak, sinful and prone to do what is wrong. If I were to place my trust in my own ability to be faithful and reliable, I will again and again be disappointed.
You see faith is to look at what Christ did, without me, before I was born, having no part of that, but embracing that he did so for me!
It is told than the mercurial Martin Luther, in one of his doubtful moments, carved into his desk the words: “I am baptized!” This is true faith – it is all about the work of God in Christ! It is not my accomplishments, it is not about my good work, my sacrifices, my commitment, or my experiences. In fact, people of faith do not say: “I am a Christian because I did this or I believe that..” True faith says: “I am a Christian because God is trustworthy, God is keeping God’s promises, because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
A well-known Dutch theologian was asked, when he came to the faith. His answer: on Golgotha! This is true! What happened there, on that day is the most important, the most certain thing that ever happened. This is the anchor of our faith.
This is the reason why the Apostle Paul writes: “I thank God always ……” It is because God worked in them, redeemed them, rescued them from the power of darkness..”
This is true for us too. And therefor, even in a world where nothing, with the exception of perhaps, birth, death, taxes, and change are certain, we have the certainty and the assurance that God rescued us, redeemed us, embraces us and loves us. Not because we are so special, but because of Christ commitment to us! Amen.