July 15, 2001
Proper 10
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary
Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalm 25:1-10
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

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A Sermon on the Gospel Reading


"Worthy Living"
Colossians 1:1-14

"It's the real thing!"

What does this slogan call to mind?

In 1970 they came up with, "It's the real thing." With this slogan, they accomplished the advertising equivalent of striking gold. In January of 1971 seventh-billionth gallon of Coca-Cola syrup was manufactured and the billion gallon marks started coming so quickly they stopped counting. If all the "Coca-Cola" ever produced were to erupt from "Old Faithful" at a rate of 15,000 gallons per hour, this geyser would flow continually for over 1,577 years.

But - "is" Coca Cola the real thing?  A human tooth placed in a vessel containing Coca Cola for an extended period eventually disintegrates, utterly disappears! Place a lot of sugar in water, put in a special secret admixture of chemicals and, voila! - the "real thing!" But the world has bought this slogan, as well as cans and bottles by the billions. How did the Coca Cola company manage to convince the world that their product is the "real thing?"

In his article on the topic, Rabbi Pinchas says that Coca Cola is not the real thing at all. It is "HaShem" that is the real thing -- namely, God is the real thing. Our epistle reading for today says that faith in Jesus Christ is the real thing and love for one another in the church is evidence of the real thing.

***

The reading from Colossians gives us a wonderful inside view of the apostle's heart for the people of the local church through his prayer. The prayer gives insight that is essential for the life of the church today.

First of all, this prayer gives insight into the priorities leadership in the local church should have. The things that bring joy to the apostle's heart and the things he most prays for the people of the church represent the church's critical agenda. Paul tells the Colossians that he is always giving thanks for then in his prayers because, "...we have heard of your faith in Christ and of the love that you have for all the saints."

Churches have reputations. Did you know that? You can go to any town or neighborhood and ask even unchurched people, "What do you know about First  Presbyterian (or Methodist, Congregational, Christian etc.) Church?" There will always be a response. "Oh, that's where all the people with money go." Or you might hear something like, "First Church? That's the church that went through all that scandal a few years ago." Or perhaps even, "Yes - that's the church that is always fighting over something or another."

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the reputation of a church resulted in a non-member saying, "First Church? That's the place where people really care about each other and they are known for their faith." It is critical for those of us who love the church of Jesus Christ to know that news travels. And... Bad - or negative news travels really fast!

One of the essential tasks of the leadership of a local church is to have a handle on the church's reputation. What are we known for? This can be a difficult question to ask and even more difficult to open our ears up fully to hear. One way to approach the question is to ask, "How many people... besides the members of this church... would care if for some reason we had to close our doors?"

If a church was known for its faith and for the love the members of the church had for each other, regardless of their station in life, their past, or their financial status -- then such a church would be sorely missed.

What a question to ask. "Would anybody out there miss us?" One of the absolute priorities for leadership in a local church is to attend to the question, "What is our reputation? It is not just for ourselves that we ask the question. We need to understand that it is not just our reputation as a church -- an organization in our community -- that is at stake here. If you read the epistle carefully, it becomes clear that the reputation of Jesus Christ is on the line in our life together!

"You are known for your faith in Christ and love for each other!" Paul says. What a great thing to say about a church. All of us know very well that far too many churches are more known for bitter squabbles than they are for authentic mutual love. Clearly, the priorities of the Church in our time need to be evaluated in light of the fact that the world around us sees Jesus Christ through the window of our reputation in the community.

Secondly, the prayer points to what takes place when the church attends to its God-given priorities. Namely, "...that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God." [v.10]

As we live with faith in Christ and keep the commandment of Christ to love each other, something wonderful happens. The Spirit of God works in our lives in such a way that our lives are more fruitful and we grow in our knowledge of and relationship with God.

All of this comes together in the epistle reading where there are three dimensions to Paul's prayer that stand out. [1] The apostle's joy, [2] The apostle's request, and [3] The people's thanksgiving. These fourteen verses are filled with meaning and could provide a source of study and reflection for weeks, but we can at least gain a glimpse of the heart of these verses.

[1] The apostle's joy

There is a most significant phrase in this text. "In our prayers for you..." A key ingredient of effective spiritual leadership is that the leader prays for the people she or he is called to care for. As you pastor, I am anxious for you to know that I pray for you regularly. I am always grateful to receive your prayer requests, but I take our church directory and pray specifically for our people each day. It takes about a month to go through all the names, but it is important that we pray for each other. In some traditions, each Sunday includes prayers for the leadership of the church during the "Prayers of the People."

But it is not just that the apostle is praying for the people of the church. He does not simply pray for the people -- "In our prayers for you we always thank God..."  What a great spiritual environment that must have been. Here is a place where a leader can say, "We always thank God for you!"  Certainly it is no accident that a healthy spiritual environment has the strongest prayer support of its leaders.

There is much organizational work that has to be done in a church and we want leaders who pay attention to organization. There is also much planning and committee work that has to be done in a church and we are grateful for leaders in our church who work on committees and give time to planning.

But there is one area of leadership ministry that gets shortchanged frequently. Namely, the work of praying for the church. An increase in this would likely bring about an increase of the apostle's joy.

[2] The apostle's request

As well as giving thanks for the people of the Colossian Church, Paul has very specific requests for them. "W...we have not ceased praying for you," he says, "And asking that..."  And there are four specific things named:

  • To be filled with knowledge of God

  • To live lives worthy of the Lord

  • To bear fruit

  • To continue growing in the knowledge of God

When we understand our faith, it becomes apparent that Christian faith is a "life long learning" commitment. Growing in knowledge of God through reading of the scriptures and meeting together to share our spiritual journeys will have a dramatic impact on our living. We will have a growing sense of fruitfulness in our inner lives.

There is direction here for our the health of congregations. As we pray continually for a congregation where all are growing in their relationship with God, we will see a new kind of fruitfulness in the life of the church.

[3] The people's thanksgiving

The result of a leadership committed to a ministry of prayer for the congregation results in a church where all are, "...joyfully giving thanks to the Father..."  The people's thanksgiving is for:

  • A share in the destiny of God's people

  • A rescue from the power of sin

  • A redemption wherein sins are forgiven

Our relationship with God and each other in the community of faith will never fade or be taken away. The power of sin which has broken our world has been defeated by the redemptive plan of God and our sins are freely forgiven.

***

The Rabbi was right. Coca Cola is not the real thing.  Faith in Jesus Christ is the real thing and love for one another in the church is evidence of the real thing.

May God give us the joy of knowing the real thing and of living lives that are worthy of the Lord.


Coca Cola memorabilia and such >>> Click Here

See the complete article by Rabbi Pinchas Kantrowitz on this slogan >> Here


 

Reflection on the Texts

To turn to God with all one's heart and soul as in Deuteronomy 30:10 leads to the blessing of God. In the epistle, the blessings of God follow the faith and mutual love of the believing community. As people grow in the knowledge of God their lives become fruitful. This is reflected in both the Deuteronomy and Colossians texts. The gospel is an illustration of how authentic love for God translates into action in our lives. As in our text above, faith in God and growth in knowledge of God produces the "real thing."

Deuteronomy 30:9-14

This text comes as Moses rehearses the blessings that will accompany them as they take possession of the promised land. Prosperity and security will be theirs along with a renewed sense of belonging to God as the Lord's covenant people. 

IF -- if they will simply embrace the Lord with all their heart. Without a growing relationship with the God who brings them into the land, they will loose it all. Prosperity and security will turn to poverty and foreign domination. the commandments of God are not, however difficult to comprehend or keep. They are taught the world of the Lord - have the Law of Moses - on their lips and it is within their will to keep or not keep. The choice that faces the gathered people of Israel just before their entrance into the land of promise is set before them in very stark terms in the words that immediately follow this text:  "I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity." [30:15]

 

Luke 10:25-37   (From our first cycle)

Here are two organizations that are deeply involved in work among the poor and dispossessed in the world. Good information and resources:

1. One Great Hour of Sharing     2. Samaritan's Purse  

***

v. 25 Lawyer is "no-mi-kos, " an expert in the Mosaic Law. For our folk, this might simply be, "An expert Bible teacher"

The lawyer stood up to "test" Jesus. The word for "test" is intense -- "ek-pi-rad'-zo" -- "to test thoroughly or scrutinize -- to examine closely in order to prove". The language suggests this is much more than an honest question. The lawyer's agenda was clearly to entice Jesus into a public error with respect to the Law of Moses.

v. 29 The lawyer's wanting to "justify himself" may not be just in the strict religious sense of "I need to know who my neighbor is so I can keep the commandment that leads to life." It may also carry the meaning "he wanted to make himself right" in the eyes of all the people who were listening to Jesus teach.

v. 30 The distance from Jerusalem to Jericho is about 17 miles. It led through rugged, bleak, rocky terrain which was notoriously dangerous to travel in Jesus' time. People would normally not travel the Jericho road alone.

vv.33-36 The Samaritan crosses prejudicial barriers -- not because of an outward expectation , but because of inner feelings. The word translated "took pity" "splagchnizomai" -- lit: "To have the bowels yearn" -- to take pity, have compassion. Calls to mind Paul's use of the term in Col. 3:12; "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies -- "splagchnon". The Samaritan acts out of godly compassion.

vv.36-37 Jesus' question forces a choice the lawyer would rather not have to express... Indeed, he does not say "The Samaritan..." but "The one who showed mercy." If this were a Samaritan victim and a Jewish rescuer, the story would be more acceptable. Jesus forces examination of prejudices with this story.

Colossians 1:1-14

Colossians is one of the prison epistles and deals with a damaging form of teaching that threatened to weaken the church. This teaching system is seen by some as a developed gnosticism and may point to a later dating of the letter. It is likely, however, a more primitive form of a philosophy of wisdom and ascetic living. The church already has what it needs for fruitfulness and a good reputation.

Some notes from our last cycle expand on the sermon above.

"It is really great to hear how well you are doing!" The Apostle's heart is made glad by the progress of the church at Colossae. Their reputation is that they are people of faith, love and good works.

What a relief.! Corinth is filled with division and corruption, Galatia is struggling to remain truly Christian and Thessalonica has people quitting their jobs and sitting around waiting for the Lord to return. Now comes news of a church that is doing well.

Mark it down. A church that pleases the Apostle's heart is pleasing to the heart of God. And a church that is pleasing to the heart of God will have a reputation that draws people to its fellowship. Ask your folks... "Have you any idea how powerful a church's reputation is?" Some churches are known for division and fighting. Others are known for power struggles. Still others are known as the church of a particularly family. Explore with your people the characteristics of a church that pleases the heart of God. (To say nothing of the pastor!)

Here are the things that gladden God's heart - the marks of a faithful church:
1. They are known for their "faith" [v. 4]
2. They are known for their mutual love. "love for all the saints" [Calls to mind Tertullian's remark in his defense of the faith when he says, "Even the pagans say {of Christians}, 'see how they love one another.'" [v4]
3. The gospel (not the people, but the "word of truth - the gospel" - v.5) is bearing fruit. That is... when a church is known for its faith and love, the gospel has a chance to "bear fruit"

Paul then goes on to say he is praying that they will grow in two ways: In Knowledge and in strength. Knowledge so that they will bear fruit and strength so that they may endure when times get tough.

It will take our prayers and our commitment to faith and love to develop a reputation whereby others will say... "We've heard good things about your church!"

 


 Worship Helps
(From Previous Cycle)

A Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 25)

L: Let us reach out with heart and soul to the Lord.
P: O Lord, our God, in you we place our trust.
L: Let us ask the Lord to lead us.
P: Help us O Lord to find the paths we should take.
L: Lead us in Your truth O God,
P: And we shall rejoice in your love and goodness forever! Amen!

A Prayer of Confession

O Lord God, full of mercy and compassion, give us courage today to see ourselves in the mirror of Your Son Jesus Christ. We confess that we fall so short of all You have made us to be. Give us grace, O gracious Lord, lest we be overcome by the truth of our shortcomings. Give us understanding, O Lord of truth, that we might receive and grow in the redemption so freely offered in Jesus our Savior. Amen.

A Prayer of Dedication

The gift You seek most of all O Lord, is the gift of our love. As we brings our gifts today, may we have grace to offer our hearts, our minds, our bodies and our souls to You. And as we give all to You, we discover that in the giving we are receiving more than we can imagine. May the mystery of our love for You and Your love in us, bring true peace to our lives and to the world around us. Amen.

A Responsive Benediction

L: You have come to receive the truth of God.
P: We leave to share the light!
L: You have come to grow in the love of God.
P: We leave to share the love!
L: May it be so!
P: Amen! Let it be!