Sermon 7 Pentecost Yr C

7 Pentecost Yr C, 11/07/2010

Col 1:1-14

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“An encouraging word”

In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul, writes to the church at Colossae, which is modern day western Turkey. Paul’s letters often contain certain trademark characteristics. Colossians is no exception. Here in today’s passage Paul states that he and his co-workers offer prayers of thanks and intercession to God for the Colossian Christians. Paul often reminds his audiences of his prayers for them. He and the other apostles were people of prayer. They knew, from the bottom of their hearts, that if Christ’s work was to be accomplished; if the gospel was going to spread into the world and bear fruit, prayer was necessary. The same is true today. If we as Christians are going to do God’s will, then we need to pray and be supported by the prayers of other faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.

   A man who survived years of captivity in a prisoner-of-war camp in the Last War said afterwards that what kept him going was the knowledge that his family and friends were remembering him daily in their prayers.

   The poet Angela Griffiths might have written these lines for him: Somewhere there’s someone who’s thinking of you,/Somewhere there’s someone who cares./Your name has been spoken/So hold on in faith,/There’s always an answer to prayers.1

   You may remember Jean Waddell, a Christian missionary imprisoned in Iran for several months back in the 1980s. Jean Waddell went through much suffering; she was, among other things, shot, arrested, and locked up in solitary confinement for three weeks.

   While in prison Jean was able to follow the teaching of Jesus–to love and pray for her enemies, hoping that one day they would turn away from their oppressive ways.

   After Jean Waddell was released, she stated that she was set free and alive today only because of the prayers of intercession by her friends throughout the world. Never underestimate the power of prayer and what our prayers, by God’s grace, are able to accomplish.

   Another trademark characteristic of Paul’s letters is that he will often encourage his audiences by speaking well of them. He does this by identifying certain gifts or fruits of the Holy Spirit that Paul either has observed firsthand in specific churches or he has heard of through the reports of his co-workers. In our Colossians passage Paul says: “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you.” So, the Colossian congregation were given the three greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit that Paul had identified in I Corinthians 13—faith, hope and love.

   Any healthy Christian community that makes a difference in the world is a community of faith. The essential nature of faith is trusting in God above everyone and everything else. I like the following story on trust as told by Dale Bruner.

   The best parable of trust we have in our house is our cat, Clement of Alexandria. (He had a companion cat, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, but a local coyote ate the archbishop recently.) When our cat goes outside, he lives in terror. He looks around as though it’s a jungle, and he is terrified. But when he comes in the house, he lies on the floor right between the kitchen and the dining room—where we walk most frequently—and falls asleep in total trust. [My wife] Kathy or I could squash Clement’s head, but he trusts us.

   Our cat lives in complete, total confidence in his human companions. (In this connection, I think the best animal synonym for faith is purring.) Every time I see Clement just lying there, I say to myself, That’s what Jesus wants me to do—to trust him. The kind of trust the cat shows in us is the kind of trust the Lord Jesus Christ invites from us.2 Jesus wants us to trust him more than anyone or anything else in life.

   In the case of the Colossian Christians, Paul emphasised that their faith in Christ was sufficient; they did not need to place their faith, their trust in any other rites or rituals, or non-Christian beliefs and traditions. Christ gave them, and he gives us, all that is needed in this life and the next. Paul encourages the Colossians and us to place all of our trust, our faith in Christ, we have no need for other gods or saviours or ways of salvation—Christ is our all-sufficient God and Saviour and way of salvation.

   Paul also knew any healthy Christian community that makes a difference in the world is a community of hope. Where there is hope there is life and where there is life there is hope.

   According to studies done on hope, people without hope are more likely to become seriously ill and/or die, than those who have hope. Studies also show that those who are seriously ill and have hope live and die better than those who don’t have hope. When people were asked “What gives you hope?” their responses contained five themes: i) Finding Meaning; ii) Having Affirming Relationships; iii) Using Inner Resources; iv) Living in the Present; v) Anticipating Survival.3

   The following story affirms all of these five themes of hope: A king, engaged to be married, had to set out on a long journey. Days, months, and years passed without any word from him. His fiancée waited for him sorrowfully, but without abandoning hope for his return.

   Some of the girl’s companions said with pretended compassion and spiteful glee, “Poor girl, it seems your love has forgotten all about you and will never come back.” Upset and heartbroken by these words, the maiden wrapped herself in grief and wept much when she was left alone.

   She then picked up the last letter the king had sent her, in which he swore that he would remain ever true and faithful to her. Rereading it, her heart once more became peaceful, her spirits lifted, and she continued to wait patiently for his return.

   After many years, the king came home. Amazed, he asked his intended wife, “How was it possible for you to remain faithful to me for so long?” “My king,” she answered, “I had your letter and believed you.”4

   We as followers of Jesus can live more fully in the present because, as Paul says, “of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” Such hope encouraged the Colossians and encourages us today too; since we know that our future is in God’s hands.

   Paul then goes on to say any healthy Christian community that makes a difference in the world is a community of love. Of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to Paul, love is the greatest one. Paul himself took Jesus at his word; and in love made many sacrifices; placing his life in danger and facing much suffering by taking up his cross and following Jesus.

   How do people know that God’s love is real and true? By Christians preaching and teaching the love of Christ in word as well as in action. The following story demonstrates the truth and reality of Christian love in action.

   On one of the M.A.S.H. shows, everyone is eating in the dining hall and enjoying each other’s company, until suddenly the enemy opens fire. Everyone in the dining hall takes cover, except the priest, Father Francis Mulcahy. Mulcahy sees that there are a number of prisoners-of-war locked up inside a wire cage, which was standing right out in the open. Instead of thinking only of himself and his safety from enemy attack, Mulcahy runs out into the gun-fire of the enemy and unlocks the wired cage and frees the prisoners-of-war. When everyone else was thinking about saving themselves first, Father Mulcahy was thinking about saving the lives of others first; and willing to give up his own life even for his enemy prisoners-of-war.

   Such a risky, sacrificial love is the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit and bears witness to the world of God’s love in action. Christ was about loving everyone like this—for it was not when we reach our highest and best that he gives us his love. No. Rather, it was while we were still sinners that he loved us; when we were his enemies he reconciled us with God through his sacrificial love by death on a cross. Such love has the power to reach us in the deepest places of our being to change us and give us new life. Christ’s love, yours for the asking, free and unconditional, all-healing and eternal, yours, mine, ours, here and now and always. For that, thanks be to God. Amen.            

1 Cited from: Francis Gay, The Friendship Book 1991, meditation for May 22.

2 Cited from: Dale Bruner, “Is Jesus Inclusive or Exclusive?” in: Theology, News, and Notes of Fuller Seminary, October 1999, p. 3.

3 Cited from: Robert L. Richardson, “Where There is Hope, There is Life: Toward a Biology of Hope,” in: The Journal of Pastoral Care, Vol. 54, No. 1, Spring 2000, p. 82.

4 Cited from: Paul J. Wharton, Stories and Parables for Preachers and Teachers (New York & Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1986), p. 25.