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Lori Claudio Lori Claudio

Lori Claudio was Associate Director for Multicultural/Multilingual Congregational Services for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, based in Chicago, IL.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Living in the Fullness of God

Colossians 3:1-11

August 05, 2001

While flying out to present a workshop at the invitation of one of our synods, I overheard a conversation between two passengers--one sitting across and the other directly in front of me. Now, normally after exchanging a few pleasantries with my fellow passengers, I turn my attention to more personal matters. I pull out a book, try to catch up on some work, review my notes for an upcoming meeting or catch the movie of the day that the airlines provide--anything to take the focus off the fact that I will be sitting for hours in a cramped space. This time, however, I found myself unintentionally drawn to the subject of their conversation. I tried to be inconspicuous.

"So, where are you headed?" the gentleman to my right inquired of the man in front.

"My family and I are going to attend my sister-in-law's wedding," he said. "And you?"

"Baptism," the man to my right reported with ill-disguised pride. "My wife and I have been asked to be godparents to a dear friend's little boy."

"Ah," returned the first, in a voice trailing off, full of wonder and delight. "Such happy occasions."

Each year, the Sundays in Pentecost unfold for us the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit in the church and in our lives. We hear anew the stories of birth, life, washing, transformation, and renewal of the early community of the faithful. The stories give witness to the Spirit's refreshing, life-giving water that floods the dry places of our lives and makes of them fruitful fields.

The wonder of the summer months is that we leave behind the gray, cold, and sterile months of winter to welcome, rejoice, and live in the newness of a new season. A delightful characteristic of children is the wonder with which they perceive the world we take for granted. We are drawn to new things: new cars, new homes, new ideas, new partners, new pennies, new clothes and shoes. Our politicians assure us that each new administration ushers in the dawn of a new era. I could never understand what the Fifth Dimension was talking about or sang to when they sang, "This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius." But when things lose their shine, the tendency is to be rid of them. Up go the signs for garage sales and flea markets.

In today's epistle, Paul strongly exhorts the Colossians to live in newness. A careful reading of the chapters preceding today's reading sets the foundation and clarifies for us Paul's plea.

"See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ." (Colossians 2:8)

The winds of gnosticism of the Colossians' day are the winds of secularism blowing in our world today. The winds of empty promises, of motivation that rests on our own doing and not on that which Christ has done for us, threaten to blow us this way and that way.

But we have been raised with Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God, the one who became righteousness, sanctification and redemption, the cornerstone of our faith the Bible calls it, and the first fruits from the dead. We have been raised with Christ in the waters of our baptism. That becomes very clear. Martin Luther tells us that through our baptism we are snatched from death, sin, and the devil to practice the work that makes us Christians.

God comes to us to help us do just that. God comes to us in the Water and in the Word. Water and Word. Comfort and grace. Death and life. Refreshed and renewed.

"Put to death in you whatever is earthly," Paul admonishes. In our society today, putting to death those things that he enumerates in this reading is the last thing we think about. It is distressing to see that the things Paul speaks about in that early community are the very things that we live with today: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. Greed. Do we ever think about what greed is? The scriptures call it idolatry. Martin Luther reminds us that anything that comes between us and our God is idolatry. But we live seeking fullness and so we proceed to amass wealth and possessions, power and status. But these things are the very things that come between us and our God, and the very things that we think are going to give our life meaning and identity strip us from the meaning and identity that is given us in the person of Jesus Christ.

"Put to death in you whatever is earthly. You have been raised with Christ. Seek then the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God." For most of us, that conjures images of living in the hereafter instead of living firmly planted in the reality of our life. What does it mean for us to set our minds on things that are above, not on things here on earth? What does it mean when Paul tells us you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God?

When I think of something that is hidden, I think of something that is safe, out of sight, invisible. When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

In another letter to an earlier community, Paul talks about the things that are hidden to us today but to be revealed in the fullness of time. God calls us to live in newness. What do we understand by newness? In our baptism, we know that we die to sin and are raised in Christ who lives in that very newness of life that Paul speaks about in his letter to the Colossians. Not a life to be discarded when it has lost its shine, as we do with our earthly possessions.

One of those times in life when we seem to lose that shine occurs when we are weighed down by grief and pain, when we are weighed down by worries and troubles in our families and with our children. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, "Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith."

Our call to live in newness of life reminds us that we are called to run with perseverance the race that is set before us. To what then do we run? Toward what goal? The God who came to us in the fullness of time in the person of Jesus Christ offers us today a life in full measure. The Apostle Paul, in his call to the Colossians to a life in newness, reminds them, "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."

Our life and our call and our journey is one headed toward the promise of the resurrection, and the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead has promised in the fullness of time to raise us up as well. The Good News for us today is that, even if weighed down by sin--and that is what sin does, it weighs us down--Jesus Christ promised us today freedom, breaking all chains of sin. Jesus promises to bring us to everlasting life, into a life in fullness here and in fullness in the kingdom to come. Amen.

Almighty God, in the fullness of time you sent Jesus Christ your Son to atone for our sins and to bring us to newness of life. Lord, we confess the many things that call our attention day by day, that make demands on our time, that keep us away from you. We pray this day that you will grant us grace to lift our eyes as David did to the hills from whence comes our help because our help is in you. We pray in your name. Amen.

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