28th July 2019
By The Revd Robert Jordan MA
Colossians 2; 6-15
We have to be careful
Let me give a little background to this reading, in the hope that will help us understand much more what it is referring to and how it continues to be relevant in the world today.
When this letter was written Colossae was a small city, about 200 kms from Ephesus. It had been famous for the production of wool, but by Paul's time it had fallen into hard times. It had had a largish Jewish colony. In about year 61 there was a devastating earthquake which destroyed much of the surrounding area, some places were rebuilt others weren't, Colossae wasn’t, so we can guess the letter was written before then. By the time the letter was written, the Jewish colony was much reduced and the town was formed mainly by believers in the Roman/Greek gods. This then explains the content of the letter, what the author defines as "philosophy" (vs. 8) and how the new believing community was influenced by this mixed religious setting: what are called pagans, the Jewish belief and the new views which we would now call Christianity. Hope this helps grapple with today's reading… but it is a letter that set out to strengthen the faith of wavering believers at the time when things were still new to them.
We too, as those who receive the letter, have to be cautious, because we are living in a world in which a series of ideas, thoughts, beliefs seem to converge and demand our loyalties, and often these ideas seem to be "clothed" in what looks like religious clothing. We too are called to be careful - not all that seems to be teachings from Jesus are, so right from the beginning of the reading today we hear: "continue to live your lives in Christ Jesus, the Lord". We too are in need of encouragement to strengthen our faith; so this letter is worth it, very much worth it.
We should be: rooted in him, built up in him, established in faith. The life, teachings, example of Jesus should be the centre of our life, but these are often challenged by the philosophies of our era: individualism-selfishness, status, wealth, sexism, hatred, violence in the forms of homophobia and xenophobia… you can find them all over the place, and so often they are presented as "christian values". The author of the letter is reminding the believers in Colossae that in Christ they have been "buried in him in baptism and raised with him in faith in the power of God - made alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us".
We are called to be like God in Jesus, in reaching out in love to those we meet, in acceptance, in recognizing the common humanity we share: as Jesus did with women, children, samaritans, tax collectors, socially rejected. Who would these be today? This week I came across the affirmation which I believe sums up the teachings of the text today: "As a Christian, my calling is clear. In this life I don’t get to play God, I get to imitate Jesus". I find that too many in the world seem to enjoy playing God rather than imitating Jesus. Placing loads on peoples shoulders that God lifted in Jesus, excluding those who Jesus loved… you can see this near and far.
Jesus disarmed those powers and authorities, and in our doing our best to live as followers of Jesus we are called to discern the truth that God has proclaimed to the world and create a loving, caring, accepting place for all those who have suffered and are suffering the pain of exclusion, of rejection, of being despised, abused; those who are being judged. We are called to a new life, not because of our value but because of our brokenness, we are loved because we are vulnerable, we are cared for because we are in need. And because we have been loved and accepted, we love and accept. Not from a place of superiority but of equality - as children of God loved, forgiven, made new.
So yes, we have to be careful because just as the early believers- we too are pulled in different directions by different disguises of what presents itself as the right belief, but we have to discern what is loving, what is true, what is caring, what invites people in, and shares as equals. This way we are imitating Jesus, and "continue to live our lives in him"