A Weekend of Sermons on Colossians from the All Youth Retreat 2017.
Adapted from a sermon at First United Methodist Church of Orlando.
Friday Night: Full of Creation
Have you ever heard the phrase, a picture is worth a thousand words? It’s usually the case. We see pictures and they can be full of stories and memories. But sometimes, we need a little explanation.
We could have come up with a lot of different interpretations of those pictures, but without the artists’ description, we wouldn’t get the full story. We wouldn’t know the truth that was trying to be conveyed.
Over the course of this weekend, we’re going to look at the book of Colossians. This is a book in the New Testament of the Bible. It was written as a letter to a community in Colossae, which was near what is now Turkey. Colossians was most likely written by Paul, an early follower of Christ, around 50 c.e. The letter is meant to encourage the community and explain to them why they should follow Christ.
The community in Colossae believed in a philosophy known as Gnosticism. This meant they didn’t believe that Jesus was unique, but that he was simply one of many ways to God. They also believed that anything having to do with humanity was evil, that that since Jesus was a connection to God he wasn’t fully human. In their view, Jesus didn’t die and wasn’t resurrected because he wasn’t a person. The community at Colossae also believed that humans had to find their own way to God and that Jesus was just one option.
This is why Paul sent his letter to Colassae. He wanted to give the community the whole story. He wanted them to have the description for the picture they had in their mind. He wanted to clear up the confusing information they had and provide them truth.
This weekend we’re going to use this letter as the source for why we should follow Christ. Like we had to have the artists tell us what their picture is, we’re going to let Paul tell us why Christ is important.
Tonight, we’re looking at Colossians 1:15–23. This is Paul explaining what Christ has done:
The Son is the image of the invisible God,
the one who is first over all creation,
Or firstborn of all creation
Because all things were created by him:
both in the heavens and on the earth,
the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
Whether they are thrones or powers,
or rulers or authorities,
all things were created through him and for him.
He existed before all things,
and all things are held together in him.
He is the head of the body, the church,
who is the beginning,
the one who is firstborn from among the dead
Or first over the dead
so that he might occupy the first place in everything.
Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him,
and he reconciled all things to himself through him —
whether things on earth or in the heavens.
He brought peace through the blood of his cross.
Once you were alienated from God and you were enemies with him in your minds, which was shown by your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death, to present you before God as a people who are holy, faultless, and without blame. But you need to remain well established and rooted in faith and not shift away from the hope given in the good news that you heard. This message has been preached throughout all creation under heaven. And I, Paul, became a servant of this good news.
Paul explains that Christ, being the physical image of God, created all things. “All things were created through him and for him.” Each and every one of us was created by God. That’s worth celebrating! That’s worth being thankful for.
Our theme this weekend in thankFULL. We have a lot to be full of thanks for. Tonight, it’s because we have been created by God. Uniquely and wonderfully made. We’re not perfect, we’ve got our issues, but we’re made perfect in Christ’s image.
In Paul’s letter, he explains to the community at Colossae that they should, and that we should, “remain well established and rooted in faith and not shift away from the hope given in the good news that you heard.” The Good News that he is speaking of is the definition of Gospel — which is the representation of Jesus’ life.
Jesus, God in human form, came to this world to be with humanity. Seeing it first hand, Christ became a sacrifice so that we could all have the opportunity to be closer with God.
In Confirmation, we talk about covenants. These are promises made between God and humanity. They are always sealed with a sacrifice. Jesus is the sacrifice that seals God’s promise that we are his people. This is the Good News that Paul says we should be rooted in and always keep with us.
So tonight, we’re full of thanks for being created by God and for the Good News of Christ.
Saturday Morning: Full of Grace
Sometimes it’s hard to determine what is and what isn’t true. Sometimes we get part of the truth but the rest is muddled in confusion. Do we believe all of it? Do we believe none of it? In our world there’s a lot of information, but where do get our truth from and how do we determine what we believe?
I was watching a news program the other night that was talking about misconceptions on North Korea. They played a news clip from a major network explaining that all male adults in North Korea had to get their haircut like their leader, Kim Jong Un. This sounds like a bizarre story and since it was on the news, it must have been true. But, as the program I was watching explained, the story is not true. It’s loosely tied to a story from over ten years ago about all men needing to have short hair.
That’s just one example of how the information we receive may or may not be true. And that’s just news information. What about information from friends? Where do we get truth there? And what about with our faith? Where do we find truth?
As we said last night, our goal this weekend is to go straight to the source and see what the Bible has to say.
This morning’s scripture is again from Paul’s letter to the community in Colossae. He’s explaining to them, and to us, about the importance of Jesus. Here is what he says in Colossians 2:6–8:
6So live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way as you received him. 7Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. 8See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.
Paul is talking about truth. He is explaining that we should live in the truth of Jesus and not let ourselves be deceived by the way the world thinks. Our truth should be in Christ, not in the world.
It seems like a lot of bad things are happening in the world right now. What happened in Charlottesville last weekend was awful. People who live in a world built upon hate tried to show that their view was more important and better than reality.
Paul is saying do not be deceived by the way the world thinks. Don’t let the anger and hate that Nazi’s spewed last weekend shape your view, live in the truth of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ truth is that all people are deserving of God’s love. All people are deserving of being welcomed and accepted. All people are invited to be part of God’s Kingdom. We are all welcome because of the Grace of God.
Grace is this word that we use a lot in church, but it’s a really powerful thing. We are all given the grace of God before we are born. We don’t deserve it. We don’t earn it. It’s freely given to us because God loves us.
Paul describes grace in Colossians 2:13–14:
13When you were dead because of the things you had done wrong and because your body wasn’t circumcised, God made you alive with Christ and forgave all the things you had done wrong. 14He destroyed the record of the debt we owed, with its requirements that worked against us. He canceled it by nailing it to the cross.
We make choices that maybe God wouldn’t appreciate. Or we’ve done things that have separated us from him. But because of that awesome grace that God provides, we are made new and forgiven. Paul explains that the debt is destroyed because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
We are people who are full of grace. This grace is there for everyone. For those who stand up for injustice and reject hatred and even for those who spew hate and violence. The grace of God is available to everyone, we just have to accept it.
We accept God’s grace by living into his truth.
This morning we are thankful for God’s grace. We’re thankful for the fact that despite our choices, our actions, and our words, that God loves us and wants us to live into his truth. We celebrate this truth by welcoming and loving all that we meet and encounter.
Saturday Night: Full of Life
Its wild what some people buy. While some of those items might have seemed silly, we all have made purchases that others might consider odd. I once drove an hour to a Walmart in a different city in order to buy a Lego X-Wing set that was on sale and in stock. That might seem perfectly normal to some and completely insane to others.
Sometimes we purchase things that make us happy. Whether intentionally or subconsciously, we make these purchases because we want to have a full and exciting life. We figure that this purchase — be it something silly or something delicious or whatever — will bring us happiness and fulfillment and lead to a great life.
Sometimes we look at being a Christian as the opposite of that. Depending on where we find our truth, we might look at Christianity as a set of rules that is the opposite of having a full and great life. If we get our truth from the wrong place, we might look at following Christ as nothing more than do’s and don’ts.
But this weekend we’re going to the source for our truth. In the gospel — the Good News — of John, Jesus says that he has come so that we might all have abundant lives. Jesus wants us to have full and exciting lives. His truth is not a set of rules to follow, just one. The one he presented when asked what the greatest commandment is: (Matthew 22:37–40)
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
That’s a simple rule. Love God with everything and because of that love for God, love your neighbors. The truth is that we should live our lives to the fullest and do everything we can so that others can live their lives to the fullest as well.
When Paul was writing to the community at Colossae, he knew they were having a hard time understanding this. They, too, were confused and thinking that there were a lot of rules to this whole Christianity thing. So he tried to explain it to them as best as he could: (Colossians 3:5–11)
5So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth, such as sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6The wrath of God is coming upon disobedient people because of these things. 7You used to live this way, when you were alive to these things. 8But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. 9Don’t lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices 10and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it. 11In this image there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people.
Paul is saying that if we live by anger and hatred and greed then we’re living for ourselves. But if we follow Jesus’ only rule — to love God and let that love spread to our neighbors — then we will not be divided people. We’ll be honest with each other, we’ll care for each other, we’ll be united in the love of God that we share with each other.
You see, it’s not about choosing not to lie or choosing not to be greedy. It’s not following a rule that says don’t hate others and don’t murder. Jesus comes and says do this one thing:
Love God with all that you can and let that love for God affect the life you lead. And live that life abundantly.
If I love my neighbor I won’t lie to them. If I love my neighbor I won’t want to take advantage of them. And to Jesus, our neighbor is every single person there is.
Tonight we are thankful for being full of life. God has created us uniquely, he’s provided his grace, and told us to live full, abundant lives. That is worth being thankful.
Sunday Morning: Full of Peace
Let’s have a quick recap of what we’ve been talking about this weekend. Paul, one of the early followers of Christ, wrote a letter to the community at Colossae which is in what is now Turkey. This letter was designed to clear up the facts and help the community understand Jesus. We’re using this letter to point to the truth of the gospel and find ways to be thankful for it.
On Friday night we talked about being full of creation — that God has uniquely created each of us in his own image.
Yesterday morning we talked about being full of grace — that God has provided us with grace and love and all we have to do is accept it.
Yesterday evening we talked about being full of life — that God wants us to have abundant lives and live so that others may do the same.
This morning we’re going to talk about being full of peace.
Our world seems pretty violent right now. What happened in Charlottesville last weekend was awful. Hate and violence seemed to be acceptable and the answer. War is being threatened in the Pacific Ocean. Peace seems to be very far off.
Yet, the truth of the gospel is Jesus came so that love and peace can prevail and be what allows us to live abundantly in God’s creation and grace. The message of the gospel is not one of division and anger, which leads to violence, it’s a message of inclusion and acceptance.
Remember Jesus’ commandment? He wants us to love God and let that love for God spill out to love for our neighbor. Neighbor means everyone. Not just people we agree with and not just people that look like us, but every single person since they, too, are unique creations of God.
Yet, the community of Colossae was dealing with division and violence just like we are today. Paul knew this and thats why he wrote this letter. He wrote: (Colossians 3:12–17)
12Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15The peace of Christ must control your hearts — a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.
Just as Paul was telling the community of Colossae, he is telling us today to be compassionate, kind, gentle, and patient people. He’s telling us to live in peace. Paul is saying that because of the love we have for God and for our neighbor, we should be compelled to live in peace and unity.
It can seem difficult, especially when hate is being given a platform in ways that we’re seeing today. But that means that we’re even more compelled to live the truth of the Gospel: that love and peace are the answer.
Some try to use a fake truth, a fake gospel, to justify their hate. But return to the source: Jesus’ gospel teaches about love and tolerance for each other. The truth of the gospel is about peace and unity.
As followers of Christ, we need to stand up and speak this truth. We need to be the ones to say that the truth of the gospel is love, not hate. Peace, not war. We need to, as Paul explains, be kind and humble and patient and forgiving. We need to live in a way that is opposite of the way the world expects.
And it starts with being thankful.
At the end of our passage this morning, Paul says that we should be thankful people. He explains that the gospel must be alive in us and that we should share this truth with each other through songs and speech and actions. Paul says that no matter what we do, we need to do so in thanksgiving to God.
Being thankful is the key to all of this. Constantly turning to God and thanking him helps us to live into the gospel. If we spend our day, as Paul suggests, thanking God for being full of creation, grace, life, and peace then those will be the things we focus on. Those traits will be what our mind thinks about and looks for.
However, if we spend our time not focusing on these things, then our minds will adapt. We won’t see creation, grace, life, and peace. We’ll live small lives, not abundant ones. We won’t be thankful. We’ll focus on division and hate and greed.
The truth of the gospel is simple: love and peace are available to all. We just have to focus on it. We, as followers of Christ, cannot dilute the message — we cannot be responsible for spreading a false gospel.
We must live in a way that returns thanks to God for all things.
We must live in a way that shows love and peace to all people.
We must live in a way that our thoughts and actions and words focus on Jesus’ commandment: to love God with everything and let that love affect how we treat others.
In a few minutes we’re going to eat lunch and get on the bus and head home. Tomorrow you’re going to go to school or work and we’re going to be confronted with the way the world would have us behave and think. This is where we must make our choice:
Will we do what the world wants and give into fear and hate or will we live the truth of the gospel and spread love and peace?
We, as followers of Christ, must set the example. We must let our belief show through our actions and words. We must let the world know that hate and violence are not the will of God. We must share that the truth of the gospel is love and unity for all.
And it starts with being thankful to God for creation, grace, life, and his peace.