A sermon preached on July 17, 2016, by visiting pastor, Jeff Wright
A sermon on Colossians 2:6-14
Some time ago, I was riding home from work and heard Robert Duvall being interviewed on the radio. I really like his work, and have seen a handful of his films, but I heard him talk about one I hadn’t seen yet. I was 10 years old when it came out, so it makes perfect sense that I missed it. When you’re 10, you just don’t watch movies like Tender Mercies.
Not long after I heard that interview, I turned on the TV one night and guess what was on?
It was late, but I decided to start watching anyway. And this story about a former country music star named Mac Sledge (played by Duvall) began to unfold. From the beginning, it was clear he was losing a long and hard fight with alcohol. His career was gone; his marriage had crumbled years before; he had a daughter he hadn’t seen for most of her life; and he had spent all the money he’d ever made. If there had been a train and a dog in the opening scene, it really would have been the perfect country song.
After a night of drinking, Mac wakes up in a roadside motel owned by a young widow named Rosa Lee. Years before, her husband had been killed in Viet Nam, and she was left to raise their young son, “Sonny” by herself.
With no money to pay the bill, Mac asks Rosa Lee if he can work oﬀ what he owes and she agrees. As they work together, the two of them eventually begin to share some of their stories–the kind we all have but seldom get to tell, and eventually a relationship develops.
Now, I told you it was late, so I dozed oﬀ for a while. While I was asleep, Mac quit drinking, married Rosa Lee, began going to church, started writing songs again, and talked to his daughter. I know all this because I watched the movie again to see what I missed. When I woke up, Sonny and Mac we’re getting baptized. Now in my experience, when you wake up to something like that, it’s best to pay attention because there’s probably some meaning there. In the next scene, Mac, Sonny, and Rosa Lee are riding home in their truck after church.
Sonny says to Mac, “Well, we did it Mac. We got baptized. Everybody said I was gonna feel like a changed person. I guess I do feel a little diﬀerent but not a whole lot diﬀerent. Do you?” To which Mac replies, “Not yet.”
Then Sonny says, “You don’t look any diﬀerent. Do you think I look any diﬀerent?” Again, Mac replies, “Not yet.”
There is a lot of meaning in that phrase, “Not yet.” At first it seems to imply some degree of disappointment, some expectation that wasn’t met. But the way Robert Duvall said it, it seemed to imply something else. It had a level of confidence to it. “Not yet,” meant something happened, but it’s going to be too much to be contained in one short moment.
Everything has changed, but for it to show, for it to be understood, is going to take the rest of the days we have.
So I wonder, how do you see your baptism? What does it mean for you? Do you feel any diﬀerent? Do you look any diﬀerent? Are you any diﬀerent?
Baptism marks who we are. It connects us to the death of Jesus on the cross and to his resurrection. But there are two kinds of baptism. There is a physical baptism. This kind we see with our eyes. We hear the water slosh around in the pool. We smell the hint of chlorine in the air. And if you’re the one being baptized, you feel the temperature of the water, and in the church I came from, you feel the heat of a candle, and the sharp, dry taste of salt sprinkled on your tongue.
Then there is the other kind. The kind we don’t see, at least not right away – the spiritual baptism. It is deep and has to be sensed discretely but it is by far the more radical of the two. It’s the one where what was paralyzed and dead begins to breathe and live again. It’s the one where healing happens; where redemption and salvation envelope every bit of who we are. It’s the one that happens in this broken and beautiful place where we encounter the God that made all that is, and we are caught in the act of our need for him; we are forgiven, accepted, loved, and never left the same.
Which kind do you remember when you see someone baptized? What do you feel when you see someone stepping into the same water you stepped into?
I need to say a little more about Colossians here. Baptism is a big deal in this letter. It is a big deal because it is a symbol as charged with meaning as any symbol can be. It defines our identity just as much as circumcision defined the identity of Abraham. It says who we belong to. It says who we are.
There was a good deal of controversy in the church to which this letter was originally written. It seems that there were some ideas, beliefs, and
teachings that were working their way into and fracturing the life of this community. These teachings and ideas were contrary to what it meant to live in Christ, to be rooted and grounded in him, and to find fullness in him. They challenged the completeness of salvation in Christ. They said something to the eﬀect of, “Jesus is a great start but to make it complete, you really need all this other stuﬀ, too.”
But this letter reminds the Colossian church of their baptism. It reminds them of the completeness of their salvation in Christ. It urges them to remember the truth they were taught and live from it. It’s all the other stuﬀ added to it that diminishes it.
So what about us? Have we been raised with Christ? If we are, how do we live together in this new life? What responsibilities do we have to each other and to the world? If we have been raised with Christ, we live in community with each other. We are a part of the body–Christ’s body–the church. We belong to the same one. Because of all this, we are a part of one another.
Because of this, we can grow into a community that no longer sees our faith as something that doesn’t impact the rest of our lives. We can share who we are with each other and with the world. We can let go of all that we’ve been killing ourselves to control and hide and we can follow Jesus more fully. We can open all of who we are to the Holy Spirit and we can let the Spirit guide us. We can become more loving, more gentle, and more kind. We can become more generous and more faithful. I don’t mean for any of this to be some sort of self-critical analysis that we can never measure up to. I don’t believe that helps anyone. I don’t believe that kind of a process is from God. But we can open ourselves and let the Spirit in.
We can breath that same Spirit. We can dream about what God dreams about. We can long for what God longs for in the world, in each other, and in ourselves. We can remember that each one of us is created in the image of God and we can value one another and ourselves accordingly. We can learn to see that each person around the world is created in this same image. We can begin to seek what God seeks.
All of this changes everything for us. Jesus doesn’t politely rearrange things so we will be slightly kinder more thoughtful neighbors, citizens, and churchgoers who remember to get our trash cans in on the day we’re supposed to. He radically and completely breaks us apart and puts us back together again all the while giving life, redemption, mercy, and grace to such an extent that we never recover from it. And that is a beautiful thing.
We have been raised. You have been raised.
How would things be different if we were to risk living from this truth?
How would we pray? Would we be more intentional about it? Would we pray together–really pray together?
How would we read and study the Bible? Would it involve all of who we are? Our minds, our hearts, our souls, and even our bodies? Would our stories more fully merge with God’s story until there’s no dividing the two?
How would our devotional lives change? Would we collectively begin to set aside time to be with God, to be open to God, and to be changed by God?
How would we worship? Would those quiet, but clear restraints we’ve designed to make us feel safe begin to weaken and fray? Would we be free enough to let go, to give up the distorted belief that we’re supposed to be in control?
And if we do this, what about our children? What about our teenagers and our young adults? What would it mean to them to see us, passionately living out in every part of our lives: what it means to be in Christ; what it means to be baptized (not just physically but spiritually, too); what it means to find the kind of fullness that has found us in Jesus Christ; what it means to be risen? What would it mean to us to see them doing the same thing?
What would it mean to each other if we lived this way? Would the distance between us begin to shrink? Would we find encouragement in one another? Would we find healing? Would we begin to grow together? Would we sharpen one another just as iron sharpens iron? Would we understand what it means to be community and more fully experience it?
What would it mean to our community and world? Would we be a part of the hope and redemption that God so generously gives, in even the most despairing places and circumstances? How might we learn to see injustices that we’ve become used too? How might we respond to a world injured by violence?
In Christ, you are risen. You are no longer tied to the weight of sin, to the weight of brokenness. You are free from all of that. While we still live in a world that is in need of healing, and while we ourselves wear some scars and even some open wounds, in Christ we are risen.
So we’re left with these questions: What will we believe? What will we think? How will we live? Do we want this? What will we do?
An interim time is diﬃcult for a church to go through, but it can be a great gift, too. It can be a time to draw together, to grow close, to learn to depend on each other even more. And it is most certainly a time to learn to depend on God in new and life giving ways and it can become a time to remember that “…when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” May it be so.