When we began this letter to the Colossians last week, we learned that Paul had something specific in mind as he prayed for the Colossians. He prayed that they would grow in the knowledge of God and God’s ways. Paul offered up this prayer because he wanted the Colossians to bear good fruit in their lives, fruit in keeping with God and God’s ways. Paul was convinced that the more we know God, the more God’s ways will be born out in our own lives. So, this week, as Paul continues, he offers us an opportunity to really see who God is. Paul does this by pointing to Jesus. And, he points to Jesus by sharing with the Colossians a hymn that many scholars believe to be one of the earliest hymns of the church. Let us listen to that hymn from the first chapter of Colossians, beginning at the fifteenth verse. Listen now for the Word of God…
How can we know God? Very easy, Paul’s says. Just look at Jesus. Why? Because, Jesus is God. In the church we use a fancy word, incarnation, which simply means God in human form. Jesus is God coming to us, as one of us, a human being. To look at Jesus is to look at God. And, as Paul shares this early hymn of the church, there are two images of Jesus that stand out to us: one, the image of Creator; and two, the image of reconciler, or redeemer.
“Jesus is the firstborn over all creation,” Paul tells us. In other words, Jesus is the one in whom creation finds its start because Jesus was there when creation began. More than that, Jesus was the active agent who brought creation into being. “By Jesus, all things were created: things in heaven and on earth…all things were created by him and for him.” Now, we may think, “Ok, that is nice that Jesus is creator, but what does that have to do with us.” Remember that we are seeking to know God more so that our lives will be a greater reflection of God.
So, we can ask the question, “How do we bear fruit that is in keeping with God and God’s ways as creator?” Simple, we get creative. I know that the word “creative” can be a stumbling block to some. I know people who throw up their hands and say, “I am not the creative type.” But, being creative does not necessarily mean painting a picture, or doing arts and crafts. When we think about the creation story, one of the hallmarks of God’s creative activities was that God gave life. So, as we think about being creative, I invite us to think about being life giving. How can our actions be life giving?
When I watch golf, which my children will tell you, happens much too often in our house. But, when I watch golf, the golfer I like to watch is Phil Mickelson. And, a couple of weeks ago at the St. Jude Classic, Phil did something that was really neat. This tournament is a charity event for St. Jude Children’s hospital, and as part of the tournament, children who are patients at the hospital are given the opportunity to walk with one of the PGA players. The children are called “little loopers”. Phil’s little looper was a girl named Allison. She is a patient at St. Jude’s, but I am not sure why. Well, on the eighteenth hole, Phil sunk a 25’ birdie putt and of course, the crowd burst into applause. But, before leaving the green, Phil stopped what he was doing. He took that golf ball and gave it to Allison. Then he signed his glove and gave that to her as well. Phil’s caddie took off his caddie’s bib and put it on Alison so she could have it and wear it. Then, Phil said to Allison. “I just want you to know that we are all pulling for you,” at which point the crowd got up on its feet and began cheering for this little girl. What Phil did may seem like a very minor thing. It certainly was not going to change the world, but it was creative. It was life giving, even if it was life giving only for this little girl. As we live out our lives, we can ask the question, “Am I seeking to be life giving to others whom I meet along my journey through life?” If we can say yes, then we will be bearing fruit that is in keeping with our Creator. Of course, being creative is only part of the story.
Paul’s goes on to say that, not only is Jesus first born over all creation, Jesus is also, “the beginning and first born from among the dead.” The language that Paul is using here is the language of resurrection. Jesus is the beginning of resurrected life, the new creation, of which we are part. Jesus is the beginning of creation and new creation. Jesus is the beginning of life and new life. And, this new life that we have comes to us through the forgiveness and reconciliation that Jesus made possible by his death on the cross. Such forgiveness and reconciliation finds its beginning in a heart of compassion and grace, something that is sorely underused in our word today. So, once again we can ask ourselves, “How do we bear fruit that is in keeping with God and God’s ways of forgiveness and reconciliation?” The answer, by seeking to let compassion and grace be our go to response to the people in our lives.
I almost hesitate to talk about this, and use this story as an example of compassion and grace, but perhaps you read some of the statements made by the families of the victims in Charleston, South Carolina. To the shooter, to the one who took the lives of their loved ones, these families spoke amazing words of compassion and grace. The daughter of one of the victims said, “You took something really precious from me. I will never talk to her again. But, I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But, God forgives you. I forgive you.” The mother of the youngest victim said, “Every fiber of my body hurts, and I will never be the same. We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible Study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. As we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.” Finally, one grandson said, “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So, hate won’t win.” As I said, I hesitate to use their words as examples of compassion and grace, because if you are like me, you may very well be saying to yourself, “I could never do what they did. It is overwhelming. How can they offer such words of forgiveness?” Their example may come across as overly idealistic to the point of seeming to be impossible. But, I invite us to focus of what they were actually doing when they spoke these words.
In another place Paul wrote, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” These families made a decision not to give back what they had received. They received hatred but gave back grace. They received violence but gave back compassion. When we seek to bear fruit that is in keeping with God and God’s ways, we seek to find ways to be compassionate and graceful. As we live out our lives, we can ask the question, “Am I seeking to make compassion and grace my go to response to other people in my life?” If we can say yes, then we will be bearing fruit that is in keeping with our redeemer.
Now, you may be thinking that seeking to be life giving to others, seeking to make compassion and grace our go to response to others, sounds like a lot of work. Well, yes, it’s true. It is a lot of work, but that is how it should be.
There is a show that Denise and I like to watch called “Fixer Uppers.” It is on the Home and Garden channel. The show is about a couple, a husband and wife, who help others find homes that need to be fixed up. Then after finding the home, this husband and wife, whose names are Chip and Joanna, do the work necessary to fix up that home. They repair everything that is broken. They make it beautiful again. Sometimes the change is so remarkable that it is as if the old home doesn’t exist anymore. Instead there is a new home. Once it is all finished, the family moves in, but then it is up to that family to do the work of keeping that home beautiful and fixed up.
Our lives are a fixer upper. Jesus has done the hard work of restoring us, of fixing what is broken. As Paul says, “Now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish, and free from accusation.” We are not that broken down, falling apart person anymore, we are remade. We are new persons. But, now we have the responsibility to do the work of continuing to be the fixed up people that we are. Paul says, “Continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” And, we do that work when we seek to be life giving to others, when we seek to let brace and compassion be our go to response towards others.
In looking to Jesus we learn that God is creative, in other words, God is life giving. We also learn that God is the one who reconciles because the heart of God is a heart of compassion and grace. This is the God we seek to follow in Jesus Christ. It is God’s ways that we seek to make our ways. So, I invite us to ask ourselves two questions, “Am I seeking to be life giving to others whom I meet along my journey through life?” and two, “Am I seeking to make compassion and grace my go to response to other people in my life?” Those times when we say “yes” are those times when we are bearing fruit in keeping with our Creator and Redeemer.