Proper 12 • Colossians 2:6–15(16–19) • July 28, 2013
By Joel Biermann
True to form, Paul uses the first verse, bluntly to declare his point: you received Jesus Christ the Lord, so walk in him. The rest of the pericope simply unpacks the admonition in a Colossian context—one with more than its share of threats to Christian faith and a life walking in harmony with that faith. The greatest threat in Colossae seems to have been some strain of Judaizers. But there were the added problems of “philosophy, empty deception, traditions of men, and elemental world principles.” Faced with this list, we encounter our greatest threat: trying to make the problems of Paul’s readers relevant to twenty-first century listeners. In case you have failed to notice, Judaizers do not pose a threat to your parishioners. No one in your congregation is being urged to undergo circumcision for promised spiritual benefits. Carefully explaining the problems of Paul’s people (an introduction to the tenets of Judaizers, an overview of first century Greek and Roman philosophy, an exploration of the possible translations of stoiceia) does not help. The problems of Paul’s people are not the problems of your people—at least not exactly.
To make this text speak directly to your people, simply recognize the very real threat to your own congregation that comes from the immediate context of the surrounding culture. Judaizers may not be lurking in your narthex, but the problems of philosophy, empty deception, traditions of men, and the world’s governing principles are there. In fact, they are in your nave. Living as we are on the especially ugly side of the Enlightenment, there is a dominant philosophical human tradition that drives the culture and infiltrates the thinking of every person in your pews. You recognize it even if you don’t name it: the autonomous individual benignly searching for a meaningful life while granting to other autonomous individuals their innate right to seek and find their own meaningful lives.
This basic world principle takes on many forms and is expressed in a variety of innovative philosophies, all of which afflict your people to varying degrees. Add to this the lure of awed, unflinching trust in the radical materialism of science as master narrative, the errant pursuit of a nation founded on biblical principles, and the sequestering of God-talk and God-thought to the corner of life called “spirituality,” and you have a glimpse of the twenty-first- century threats to a Christianity that is walked 24–7. Our people are left believing that the church is there to provide meaning for life, strength for the important things that need doing during “real time,” and refuge from the hurts and sorrows of “real life.” What they are not taught is that the Christ and his church should so capture, conform, and direct the individual into God’s narrative that nothing is the same anymore, and all of life is redefined, reshaped and reoriented in disorienting and dramatic ways. Why such a life-shattering new reality? Simple: Jesus is God. Learning this, people learn to walk in Jesus Christ the Lord. Your task is to teach it.
Goal: Since Jesus is Lord his reign should extend over his people—even the mundane, routine, and “secular” parts of their lives.
Malady: We relegate Christ’s rule to “spiritual” or churchly things and let the driving forces of culture regulate the rest of life—the practical and relevant parts. Or, we use Christ and his church as a tool for finding a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Means: Jesus is God. He has authority. You are joined to him in baptism. In his church he conforms you to his reality.
Who’s Your Drummer?
Introduction: Whether we know it or not, we all walk in step with a certain cadence.
I. Jesus is Lord.
A. He is God.
B. He claimed you in baptism.
II. The world’s ways deceive us.
A. We limit Jesus’s reign.
B. We try to use Christ and his church to meet our world-driven goals.
III. Walk in Jesus.
A. Don’t walk over, around, or through Jesus.
B. Walk in synch with his purposes—drums—for you.
C. Follow his drums in all of life: family, finances, work, politics, and entertainment.