A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on August 1, 2010.
Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
The Scripture lessons today from Colossians and Luke address a three-part problem.
First, can people truly live for God?
Second, if we truly can live for God, how does that affect the wider world?
And if it is truly possible for us to live for God and if that living can affect the world, how do we go about it?
At Colossians 3:1-11, Paul makes the bold claim that in Jesus Christ we really live with, in, and for God! We are alive through Christ in God. In Christ we are God-focused, not self-focused. In Christ we are God-interested, not self-interested. In Christ, we are God-directed, not self-directed. Paul says that because Christ is the fullness of God, those who follow Christ can be filled with the ways of God.
Yes, we are imperfect creatures. Yes, the sin affliction and addiction is part of our moral DNA. Yes, there are countless times when humans have blown it, individually and as a race. But Christ is the fullness of God’s Deity. Christ has reconciled fallen humanity to God by giving Himself completely to God, even to the point of death at Calvary. And in the resurrection, Christ is our guarantee of present and future fellowship with God.
Faith in Christ means that we are part of all that Christ is, all Christ has done, and all Christ will do. So because of Christ, high living is possible for us. Holy living is possible for us. Forgiven living is possible for us. Glorious living is possible for us. Life-changing living is possible for us. Christ has already brought us close to God, reconciled us with God, and made it possible for us to experience ongoing fellowship with God. Because of Christ, we live for God! We are not tied to earthy notions of what living is and can be. Because of Christ, our perspective on life and living is holy, heavenly, and Godly!
Because Christ is our stamp of approval with God, we have no reason to be tentative about our living. We belong to God because God is in Christ, and we belong to Christ. We have peace with God because God is in Christ, and we have peace with Christ. We have fellowship with God because God is in Christ, and we have fellowship with Christ. We have life in God because God is in Christ, and we have life with Christ. Life in Christ is Life in and with God! Now that’s the real “high life.” Paul urges followers of Christ to live “up” because of who we are.
Paul reminds us that life in and with God through Christ is as different from life before Christ as a living body is from a corpse. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. If one has died and been given new life, who among us would want the corpse condition again? In Christ, we have been delivered from “corpse” condition and given life in and with God.
Now what does this mean for followers of Jesus and our relationship with the wider community?
· It means that the Church (followers of Jesus) encounters the world with God’s redemptive purpose in mind. The Church of Jesus Christ is a redemptive enterprise, not a meditation society. Christ came to accomplish much more than my “personal salvation.” Christ came to redeem the world to God and to lead the redeemed in glorifying God through our living. God has called you and me for living that involves much more than having a good prayer and Bible study discipline. We are part of all God is doing through Christ to restore truth, love, justice, peace, and joy to a world built on lies, hate, oppression, violence, and despair.
· The Church (followers of Jesus) is a living example of the high life with God. The loving, forgiving, patient, humble, kind, gentle, and joyful people of Christ are to be a working contrast to the biting, fighting, malicious, abusive, and oppressive ways of the world.
· Followers of Jesus are not greedy. Paul mentions at Colossians 3:5 and Jesus cautions at Luke 12:15 against the moral cancer of greed. Basically, greed is an exercise in self-worship and self-indulgence that exposes a moral failure to recognize when one has enough. In the lesson of the rich fool, Jesus exposed how greed consumes us and blinds us. The rich fool had more than enough grain, yet was not satisfied. He wanted bigger barns that would hold more grain. He was materially rich and morally bankrupt.
When we claim to follow Jesus and obsess about how to put more money in our pension funds, are we like the rich fool?
When “Christian” business leaders cheat working people out of decent wages and working conditions so they can produce bigger dividends for shareholders, are they like the rich fool?
When “Christian” people work up schemes on how to build new communities rather than provide safe streets and basic services such as grocery stores, effective schools, and parks in older and lower income neighborhoods, are they like the rich fool?
When “Christian” people hold garage sales because we have too many things in our closets, but continue shopping for more things to put in our closets, are we like the rich fool? Notice that in a garage sale people sell what they obviously don’t need rather than donate it to those who need but cannot afford to buy what is being sold.
When we focus on finding ways to build bigger worship spaces that will hold more people who need more parking places rather than focus on ways to be more mobile, nimble, and missional in our discipleship, are we like the rich fool? What do we truly care about when “bigger barns” are the standard by which we evaluate effective living and ministry?
In order for us to truly exercise a redemptive influence on the world, Christians must live from a radically different set of values than the crass materialism, consuming greed, and rampant viciousness that characterizes so much of life. Perhaps one reason the world is in such sad shape is that so many followers of Jesus are living more like the rich fool than like children of God. One unfortunate yet obvious example is how Christians in the United States, while supposedly a majority of the population, have embraced the anti-tax mindset and opposed public funding for services to children, the elderly, poor, and other vulnerable people while championing spending for war-making and the contractors that profit from it. When the high life people think and act like the corpse society, we should not be surprised that our society is toxic.
The Bible shows how God intends us to exercise a redemptive influence on our community and the world. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we see recurring clues. Strangers are to be welcomed, not offended or mistreated. Those who have more than enough are to generously share with those who don’t have enough, not try to profit off them. People who are weak, vulnerable, and poor are to receive special protection, not be ridiculed, victimized, and treated as scapegoats. This is how living based on the radical values of God’s love looks.
And in the Gospels, we get an even more vivid and personal example of the influence God expects us to have in the world. In Jesus Christ, joy comes to a wedding that has run out of wine. In Jesus Christ, compassionate healing without charge comes to sick people, free food comes to hungry people, and free forgiveness comes to fallen people. In Jesus Christ, God shows us how the children of God are influence a community. Because children of God are so different in our living, our living is to make a difference for, to, and in the lives of people around us.
We are not to behave like the rich fool. We are not to behave like the corpse society from which we have been redeemed by God’s grace through the work of Christ. No. We are to be God’s bold agents of truth in a lying world, grace in an unforgiving world, hope in a cynical world, peace in a vicious and violent world, love in a hateful world, justice in an oppressive world, and joy in a despairing world. In Christ, we are to make a difference for God, not be different from or indifferent toward God.
We are not of the corpse society. We are God’s redemptive agents of life and love each minute of each day, and everywhere we go. Because of Christ, we live in and with God. Because of Christ, our outlook is fundamentally different, hopeful, loving, generous, and joyful. Because of God’s life in and with us through Christ, schools and neighborhoods, workplaces and parks, street corners and rural highways are to experience a heavenly alternative to corpse-like notions that otherwise define life and living.
God has called us to experience this living with and for God in Jesus Christ. Christ has shown us how to do it. The life of Jesus and the whole record of Scripture declare that this living will make a redemptive difference for our community and world. The issue is whether we are willing to share that living with God. Are we willing to share the love of God with the people and community around us? Are we rich towards God or rich fools?
Let us each ponder God’s call to embrace that living through Jesus Christ. Let’s make our community a more loving place because God is love. Let’s make our community a more just place because God is just. Let’s make our community a more compassionate place because God is merciful. Let’s make our community a more peaceful place because God is gentle. Let’s do these things by our living because in Jesus Christ, we are alive with, in, and for God, here and now.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.