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Sermon based on Colossians 1:11-20
Earlier this fall a friend of mine from my days in high school was passing through town and we were able to get together for coffee and catch up. My friend describes himself as a vagabond banker as his resume will attest. He began working with Bank of America in Tampa, Florida upon his graduation from college and after a few years he transferred with that bank back to Charlotte. After seven years he left Bank of America to work for First Union. He left First Union to work with South Trust Bank. From South Trust he moved to a new bank start up in Charlotte, left that position and went to work for another bank that eventually was bought out by a larger bank. At 50, my friend while happy in his current position suspects another banking institution or two will be listed on his resume before he reaches retirement!
In today’s business world one of the most important documents used to assist in a person’s employment search is a resume. A good resume can open many doors for a person hoping to be recognized by potential employers. Much thought and planning must be used in preparation of a resume. A resume helps to advertise and describe a person’s skills and accomplishments. Human resource managers have been known to say that it is critical to include items that compliment one’s strengths. They go on to say that a resume should be brief and concise, easy to read and have visual appeal.
In our epistle lesson this morning it seems as though Paul offers a resume, highlighting the special qualifications of Jesus that truly make him a Lord to be worshiped. Paul gives a wonderful description of some attributes of Jesus. The church of Colosse was under constant pressure from the numerous religious philosophies floating around. Colosse had become a center for Gnosticism, a hybrid religion and philosophy that mixed Christian, Jewish and pagan beliefs. Paul wrote this letter in prison to warn people about these false teachings. For this reason this passage communicates clearly the supremacy of Christ in all things. In these verses of Scripture we are given four descriptions of Jesus that are worth exploring this morning.
The first description is Jesus the Rescuer. It is no small thing to be rescued. Several years ago a newspaper reported this story: One evening a woman was driving home when she noticed a huge truck behind her that was driving uncomfortably close. She stepped on the gas to gain some distance from the truck, but when she sped up, the truck did too. The faster she drove the faster the truck did. Now scared, she exited the freeway. But the truck stayed with her. The woman then turned up a main street, hoping to lose the truck in traffic. But the truck ran a red light and continued the chase. Reaching the point of panic, the woman drove her car into a gas station and bolted out of her auto screaming for help. The truck driver sprang from his truck and ran toward her car. Yanking the back door open, the driver pulled out a man hidden in the back seat. The woman was running from the wrong person. From his high vantage point, the truck driver had spotted a stranger, someone who had been accused of rape before in the woman’s car. The chase was not his effort to harm her but to save her even at the cost of his own safety. Likewise, many people run from God, fearing what God might do to us. We must remember that God’s plans are for good for us and God rescues us from the hidden sins that endanger our lives. We can take comfort this morning knowing that whatever dangers we may face in life that we do not face them alone for God is always with us. In verse 13 and 14 we read the following:
He 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.
Whether the danger we face is life threatening or whether it is the danger that sin and disobedience can bring into our lives, we can seek comfort knowing that through Christ’s sacrifice we are rescued.
The second description we have is Jesus the Creator. Paul tells us that as the Son of the living God, Jesus was an agent in creation. Since the beginning of creation, humankind has struggled with the following question, “What is God really like?” In a Sunday school class a pastor of a church was leading a discussion about the attributes of God. The pastor began to ask the class to list attributes of God in order of importance. The class put love first, followed by wisdom, power, mercy, truth and holiness. It’s comforting that Christians are able to list so many of the attributes of God, but sadly we live in a culture where some look at God in a much different way. Those who only study the Old Testament might see a God who was a terrible agent of wrath who would punish those who disobeyed commands. Others who have not studied the Scriptures may say that God is a distant being who is far away and far removed from this world. For me, the best description of God comes from the author Philip Yancey when he says if you want to know what God is really like, look at the life of Jesus. Jesus came to give our world a glimpse of God. In verse 15 and 16 Paul writes for us,
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible…
God indeed has been revealed to humankind through the heart, mind and life of Jesus. Through his acts of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, grace and awareness of our needs, Christ has revealed a very different portrait of God.
A third description is Jesus the Lord. Paul is very careful to remind his audience that Jesus is to have authority over both the church and each individual. Paul writes for us in verse 18 the following:
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything
The risen Lord has the ultimate authority yet there are many churches today arguing over power and authority issues. Last Sunday we were reminded in Holy Communion that Jesus Christ is the Chief Elder of the Moravian Church that he has authority in all we do as a congregation and a denomination. In our personal lives sometimes this is more difficult for us to accept. We struggle with allowing our relationship with Christ to take priority over everything else. We live in a society that worships things other than God. A wonderful example of this truth comes in William Bennett’s book, The Book of Virtues about a story that centers on a king and the members of his court who were always full of flattery for the king in the hopes of receiving special favors. Every day they would tell the king how great and how powerful he was and that nobody in the world would ever disobey his commands. The king was a wise person and also a religious person. He soon grew tired of their foolish speeches. One day as he was walking by the seashore he decided to teach those who worshipped him a lesson. He asked them, “So you say I am the greatest king in the world?” They went on and on about how there was no one who was mightier or greater than their king. The king asked this question, “And you say all things obey me?” They replied that indeed that was true that the entire world bowed before him and gave him honor. The king said if that was the case they should bring his throne to the shore and place it down close to the water. Though confused at the request they scrambled to carry the royal chair over the sands. At his direction they placed it right at the water’s edge. The King sat down and looked out at the ocean and commented that it appeared the tide was coming in. He asked them whether the waves of the sea would obey him to stop coming to shore. They said, “Give the order, O great king, and it will obey.” The king commanded the sea to come no further and not to touch his feet. He waited a few moments, and a wave rushed up the sand and sprinkled water at his feet. “How dare you!” he shouted. “Ocean, turn back now! I have ordered you to retreat before me, and now you must obey! Go back!” In came another wave at the king’s feet. The king remained on his throne throughout the day, screaming at the waves to stop. Yet in the waves came anyway, until the seat of the throne was covered with water. All the while members of his court continued to offer their words of flattery to the king. Finally the king turned to the people and said, “It seems I do not have quite so much power as you would have me believe. Perhaps now you will remember there is only one King who is all-powerful, and it is He who rules the sea, and holds the ocean in the hollow of His hand. I suggest you reserve your praises for him!
As Christians we are called to live our lives under the control and authority of Christ Jesus, our ruling Savior. It has never been the will of God for any person to become his or her own authority. No person is the captain of his or her own soul.
One final description provided in this passage is Jesus the Peacemaker. Peacemaking may be one of the most difficult tasks upon earth. Just ask leaders who are trying to bring peaceful resolution to conflicts throughout the world among warring nations. Just ask counselors who try to make peace in feuding families. Perhaps you have heard the story of the last gladiator fight to take place in Rome. There was a monk who lived in the fourth century named Telemachus. He felt God was telling him to travel to Rome for reasons unknown but being a faithful follower he put his possessions in a sack and set out for Rome. When he arrived in the city he noticed the streets were very crowded and an excitement was brewing in the streets, as people all seemed to be headed in the same direction. He was told that this was the day that the gladiators would be fighting and killing each other in the coliseum, the day of the games, the circus. Telemachus was concerned that even after Christ’s death people were still killing each other, for enjoyment and he decided to do something about it. He ran to the coliseum and heard the gladiators saying, “Hail to Caesar, we die for Caesar” and in the heat of the moment he jumped over the railing and went out into the middle of the field. There in the middle of the field he got between two gladiators, held up his hands and said “In the name of Christ, stop!” The crowd protested and began to shout, “Run him through, Run him through.” A gladiator came over and hit him in the stomach with the back of his sword. The blow sent Telemachus sprawling in the sand but he got up and ran back and again said, “In the name of Christ, stop!” The crowd continued to chant, “Run him through.” One gladiator came over and plunged his sword through Telemachus’ stomach and he fell into the sand, which began to turn crimson with his blood. One last time he gasped out, “In the name of Christ stop!” A hush came over the people in the coliseum. Soon a man stood and left, then another and more, and within a few minutes all who had entered had emptied out of the arena. It was the last known gladiator contest in the history of Rome. Telemachus was willing to sacrifice his life to bring an end to gladiator fighting in Rome.
On a much larger scale, Jesus Christ through his blood and sacrifice upon the cross brought to us peace for humankind. It has been said peace rules the day when Christ rules our minds and hearts. As we celebrate Thanksgiving in the days ahead and as we get caught up in the busyness of the holiday season fast approaching, let us be empowered with these descriptions of Jesus and demonstrate in our lives not the powers of authority but the powers of generosity.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
November 18, 2018