If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3.1-11 ESV)
Reading the Second Lesson for this week, on the heels of General Synod 2016, has produced some interesting interactions within myself. While that trip and work is still fresh and “stingy” in some ways, it provides the challenge to get back on the horse and get on with things.
Colossians 3 is a call to the Church in that City to be more than what they started out as. The purpose of the Letter to the Colossians is to refute a heresy that has arisen in the Church there. To accomplish this goal, Paul says certain things to make it clear where they have fallen away from his apostolic teaching. For example, the Colossians has devalued who Jesus is both as a man and as God. In response, Paul elevates Christ and exalts him to the highest levels possible, naming him as the visible image of the invisible God (1.15). And because of who Christ is, he is completely adequate as Lord and Saviour. What the Colossian heresy held to therefore was a hollow and deceptive philosophy which lack the ability to save and to transform the lives of the people of God or to even restrain the old, sinful nature. It is a study of contrasts between the teachings of the apostle around the complete adequacy of Christ and the insufficiently and barrenness of the religion been pushed in Colossae.
One of the many age old problems that we humans have is that we like to make everything we are involved in about ourselves. We often think to ourselves, “What’s in it for me?”. We want to know how it is going to affect us and if it is going to be good for us and our families and so on. We want to know if we are going to like it. We most certainly want to know if we are going to be able and allowed to control it.
To me, this is where we intersect Colossians and the Gospel for this Sunday (Luke 12.13-21). Jesus, in refusing to deal with a dispute between two brothers over their inheritance, reminds people that solely worrying about this life and what we have or don’t have, leaves us short where God and the next life are concerned. In fact, Jesus points out that such thinking is covetousness – which is a form of idolatry. Only the word and the Spirit can get a soul ready for what is next. What you have in this life, not just riches, but also looks, smarts, gifts and strengths are not going to matter much in the life that is beyond this one. What will matter is what you have given to God in Christ to hold on to. Is God holding onto your heart and your trust? Or are you trying to get everything you can out of this life from God and everybody else because life with God in the next life isn’t something you are too worried about?
All of this reminds me of a visit that I made to an elderly parishioner a few years back. She had been faithful to be in Church every Sunday. I can tell you still where she sat Sunday by Sunday. When she became grievously ill and was thought to be dying I visited her. When I entered the hospital room, she was surrounded by her family who were arguing about her care in the coming days. She asked to speak to me privately and so I asked the family to leave and go across the hall to another room to continue their deliberations. When they had left I closed the door, pulled up a chair and sat down next to the bed. She took my hand as ked me a simple question: “Will God let me into heaven?” So I asked her what she had heard in Church all those years from her spot. I asked her to tell me what the Comfortable Words were. “Come to me all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you... God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...” And so I asked then, “Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus will receive you and that God loves you?”
“Oh, yes. With all my heart I do!” the nonagenarian replied.
“Then you have everything you need. Concentrate on God and when the time comes, you can go with him,” I told her. The interesting thing about that situation, is that not only did she get better and out of the hospital, she went on to have a fruitful ministry in a seniors’ home in the community for years afterward. It is amazing what God can do, isn’t it?
When you set your eyes, your mind and your heart on the things of God, you not only get heaven but the things we need for life here on earth thrown in the meantime. In order that God might be merciful he must execute true judgement. So consider carefully what your idols are and ask yourself, “What can I put down? What can I lose? Am I dead enough yet to the world?”