Please allow me to begin this morning by telling you a story. Long time ago in a kingdom far away lived a princess. This princess was beautiful both inside and out — brave, kind, forgiving, compassionate and wise. Many people say she was exactly like her father. And as many fairy tales go, this princess met a girl and fell in love. Now we are an inclusive church so please don’t let me box in your imagination. Go ahead and choose the genders that you might prefer for the princess and the girl she fell in love with in your mind. For example, you might prefer a prince falling in love with a gender-neutral person? But for the sake of convenience, I’ll tell this story based on my preference, ok? So going back to the beautiful princess..she fell in love and everyone in the kingdom was excited to find out more about this lucky girl. Surely she must be an amazing person for the princess to fall for her!
When they found out who she was, everyone was surprised because this girl was not very pretty. In fact, she was quite plain and she came from a peasant family. What’s worse is that she wasn’t even very beautiful inside! She liked to gossip and was a bit argumentative, especially when she didn’t get her way. She wasn’t unkind but she can be selfish at times and people wondered what the princess saw in her. But the princess loved her with all her heart and one day as they were taking a walk in the fields at sunset, the princess asked her to marry her. The peasant girl excitedly said yes and the princess was delighted. The princess told her she had to go away to do some kingdom business for a while. But when she got back, they would get married as promised. The peasant girl said okay and the princess left, promising to write everyday. One would think the peasant girl would be excited about her wedding and start preparing for it, right? But no, she went about her life as if nothing has changed and there were times she even forgot about the princess when she got busy with her chores and friends. The princess would write her everyday, reminding her how much she’s loved and cherished, but the peasant girl would only write back once in a while when she felt like it. How preposterous is that! Many wondered if the peasant girl truly loved the princess?
What do you think of the peasant girl? Well, this story is really a portrayal of us. We are the bride of Christ but often we don’t act like we’re engaged, do we? Jesus made us an eternal promise of love and raised us up with him but if we are being honest, how are we living up to that love? How are our lives any different?
Please turn with me to Colossains 3.
Colossians 3:1-17 (MSG)
1-2 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.
3-4 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
5-8 And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It’s because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.
9-11 Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.
12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
15-17 Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.
Now, a quick background and overview of Colossians so you understand the context better.
These images are from The Bible Project and you can find their videos of various books of the Bible on youtube. Paul was imprisoned in Rome and he was writing a letter to the church in Colossae. This was not a church he started and he was hearing about them from Epaphras. Epaphras told him the church was doing well but they faced many pressures around them. So Paul wrote to encourage them and to clarify some issues for them. He began by telling them how he thanks God for their faith, love and hope, and says he is praying for them to have greater wisdom and understanding. Something we all still need today, don’t we?
Then he explains to them about who Jesus the Messiah is through this beautiful poem. He makes sure they understand that Jesus wasn’t a created being. In fact, he’s the author and king of creation. Not only that. Jesus was bringing in a new creation – the church. This church is the Messiah’s new, multi-ethnic family where everyone is included!
At that time, some Colossians were struggling with the belief that there were many gods and perhaps Jesus was just one of them. They were also afraid of the many mystical powers that they believed existed around them. Others believed the only way to God was through the strict observance of the law. Paul told them, “No, Jesus triumphed over all spiritual powers and Jesus fulfilled all the laws, which lacked power to change the heart.” So we have been made new because of God’s love for us and we should live like it.
The old humanity is full of destructive speech and distorted sexuality. The new humanity exhibits compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline and love. Some of the immediate changes will be seen in one’s household. You know, I used to have issues when I read passages like this about wives being submissive to their husbands and slaves being obedient to their masters. When we read such passges with modern day lenses, they seem so unfair and non-egalitarian. One thing we need to understand is that in Paul’s time, the Roman household was extremely patriarchal. The patriarch held the power of life and death over his wife, his children and his slaves. In suggesting what he did, Paul was recommending something quite radical for his time. He was telling the patriarch to treat his family and slaves with love and consideration. He was implying Jesus is the Lord of the household and we need to reshape our households around Jesus, with love as our most important expression.
What Paul was saying then was very radical for his time! How can we live radically now in our time? How can we change systems, cultures and communities so that they are infused with Jesus’ life and radical love? “From now one, everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.” How are we involved in living out this truth in a radical way today? We are living in a time when xenophobia, sexism, racism is rearing its ugly head. What can you do to make sure everyone is included in Christ? Each of us are called in a unique way. Our church is called in a unique way to be involved in changing systems, cultures and communities so that they are infsued with Jesus’ life and radical love.
But how can we do that? By going back to the source of all life and wisdom — the foundation of our love — constantly. Paul is saying get the sequence right. We need to return in order to be sent out. There is always a rhythm of returning to God and being sent out in love. So first realize you have been given a new life with Christ in God. We have already been given this new life. It doesn’t come from our own striving and hard work.
We’re not striving so that Jesus will love us. We strive because Jesus already loves us. We strive to live out our new lives in the best way we can because we are spoken for…because we are already loved completely…just as we are.
How can we live out our new lives in the best way we can? In Col 3:2, Paul explains what it means to be serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ. He says, “Look up and see things from Christ’s perspective.” Have any of you been in love before? Do you notice how much you want to see and hear the other person’s perspectives about everything? You want to understand deeply, soak it all in, allow their perspectives to influence you. And in the best-case scenario, their life and perspectives inspire you to become a better person. It’s the same with Christ. We want to see things from his perspective. We want to allow God to renew our hearts and minds until Christ becomes all that matters and consumes our beings. The only way to do that is to set our hearts and minds on things above — on Christ, on what he has accomplished and on what is to come. When we’re able to do that, it changes our entire perspective, our priorities, our practice.
As described in Colossians 3, this is a life that is consistently being shaped by the all-encompassing love and presence of God. For many of us, we may know we are deeply and unconditionally loved and yet we continue to strive to earn love…not just from God but from people. Isn’t that true? It is profoundly hard to make genuine progress in the school of love. We talk a lot about it but have you taken the time to reflect on how you have grown in love over the past year? The past month? Maybe the past week?
Love is God’s character, not simply an emotion. What a small god we would have if God’s character was dependent on our behaviour. We are loved steadfastly by God through the ups and the downs, through the light and the darkness of our souls. Nothing about us surprises God because God was the one who created us and continues to breathe life into us even in this very moment. How do you think God sees you? I am asking because how you think God sees you has important implications for your spiritual journey.
If you think God is judging and keeping score based on your behaviour, your motive for any obedience you attempt to offer is fear rather than love, and there will be little genuine surrender. If you know deep in your soul that you are loved unreservedly, your motive for obedience is love, and there is genuine surrender. Learning how to surrender to God’s perfect love holds the promise of wholeness and holiness.
God loves you deeply, recklessly, extravagantly. Your sins don’t surprise God. Your sins don’t reduce in the slightest God’s love for you. The question is: how will you respond to a God who loves you like that? How do you live up to such love?
Like the peasant girl in the story, will you be absentminded and forget about the one who loves you so unreservedly? Will you take that love for granted and just sit there and feel comfortable in the knowledge? Or will such reckless and extravagant love compel and inspire you to live differently, to give meaningfully, to love with all you’ve got? If only we can live up to such love that calls us, embraces us, empowers us, inspires us to be all that we can be in this world!
Do you see yourself through God’s eyes of love? Do you see others through God’s eyes of love? Is there something in your life that is keeping you away from God? Is there someone in your life that you need to see anew with God’s eyes of love?
Most of us never experience the joy of union with God! We fail to pursue God with the same reckless abandon with which we chased or will chase our potential spouse or partner. We don’t put in the same effort, time and energy. Imagine if we all put in that kind of time, effort and energy in our relationship with God? What would it be like to be in a community like that? We settle for brief encounters instead of intimate dialogue and become content with the promises rather than the relationship. Most of us don’t take the time to walk this less-traveled road — the path of true intimacy, oneness, and union in our relationship with God.
Don’t get me wrong. When talking about our relationship with God as a romance, I’m not saying this is the only way we relate to God. God is many things to us – caring Parent, soverign Lord, compassionate Saviour, Lover of our souls! I am also not saying as long as we have God, we don’t need anyone else. When writers in the Bible allude to the concept of romantic love between God and God’s people, or how the church is the bride of Christ, it is to give us a glimpse of how much God wants to be close to us, to be intimate with us, to be in union with us.
Do you realize that the metaphor of the bride of Christ doesn’t refer to us as individuals but to us as a community of believers? Together, we are the bride of Christ. So it’s not just about each of us drawing close to God, although that is very important. What’s equally important is us helping one another to draw close to God…to be transformed in Christ.
So how can we do that? Perhaps we can start by meeting God in the depths of our beings. One way we can practice the presence of God in our lives is to:
1) Center ourselves in God’s presence: “New every morning is your love, dear Lord. Open my eyes to see how you are at work in the world.”
2) Desire to have God as the primary reality in your life: “Stir up in me the desire to be yours in all things today.”
3) Let Scripture become a place of transforming encounter with God. Read slowly, sink down into the text, listen to what God is saying to you in the passage. Reflect on how this Word might become incarnate in your life in the world. (Col 3:12). I was meditating on these verses over the past few weeks and at each word “compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline, love..”, I let it sink in and reflected on how I have grown (or not grown) in compassion, kindness, humility, etc. I asked God to speak to me and I prayed that God would transform me (and all of us) in these areas of our lives.
4) Spend some time in stillness and silence before God (Psalm 46:10). That’s when we discover God is at the core of our being and God is our true life. “Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life.” (Col 3:3)
Pray individually and in community.
As we set new intentions for this new year, I hope prayer will be one of your intentions. God doesn’t need us but God desires to be close to us. Will you open your heart and commit to spending time with God? It’s as simple as that. As a community, we are also wanting to create more time and space for prayer. If this is something you’re interested in, please come talk to me after service.
The other thing we want to focus on together this year is spiritual formation. This is something the pastoral team has been discussing about. We will be starting with the cg and ministry leaders first and then we hope to cascade this down to each one of us. We will be giving you more details in the coming weeks so please look out for it!
So how did the story end?
Well, the peasant girl realized she was taking the love of the princess for granted and decided to write her a letter every day. The love between them deepened as she began to see the wonderful perspectives the princess had about the world and the life they were going to have together. Inspired, transformed and emboldened by love, they came together and changed the world.
Now how will our story with Christ end?
I’m hoping it will be something like this:
“Christian spirituality is taking on the mind and heart of Christ as we recognize Christ as the deepest truth of our being. It is actualizing the Christ who is in us. It is becoming fully and deeply human. It is experiencing and responding to the world through the mind and heart of God as we align ourselves with God’s transformational agenda of making all things new in Christ. It is participating in the very life of God.” – David G. Benner
May we experience and respond to the world through the mind and heart of God today. May we align ourselves with God’s agenda of making all things new in Christ..beginning with us.